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Recruitment and Training 1914

When Great Britain declared war on Germany, it did so on behalf of the entire British Empire. Newfoundland, as Britain’s first Colony, was eager to make its contribution and willingly joined the war effort. The Dominion of Newfoundland initially offered 500 recruits for overseas service with more to follow. The military had been absent from Newfoundland since 1870 however there existed four church sponsored cadet corps which would provide the vanguard of first recruits.

At the onset of the war, the Colony faced a choice with serious ramifications: would Newfoundland contribute individual volunteers to join the British Army, or would it provide a full regiment to be identified as the Newfoundland Regiment? Taking the latter option meant the Colony of Newfoundland would be responsible for outfitting, arming, and paying for its own Regiment. This included uniforms, weapons, transport to and from the UK, and pay and allowances, a decision with significant financial committments. It also meant a serious obligation to provide reinforcements to keep the battalion up to full fighting strength in the event of casualties. It appears that the second choice was made by Newfoundland very soon after the Declaration of War.

Governor Sir Walter Davidson established himself as Chairperson of the Newfoundland Patriotic Association charged with raising and equipping a force of 500 men to be formed into the Newfoundland Regiment. Within days the process of selecting the men and officers began. As soon as the recruiting offices were established a wave of patriotism swept over the island and the recruits volunteered by the hundreds.

The new Regiment trained at Pleasantville in St.John's under tents donated by the city brigades and by local merchants. They lacked for all necessary supplies including the of khaki material for the leg wrappings, or puttees, which they substituted with a navy blue material forever commemorating the first five hundred as “The Blue Puttees.” By mid September there were 492 soldiers recruited which was just short of the promised 500. The first commissions in the new regiment were issued on 21 September. Governor Davidson appointed himself Lieutenant Colonel and Officer Commanding the Newfoundland Regiment. On Saturday 3 October a large crowd gathered in St.John’s to watch the soldiers parade through the streets as they made their way to the harbour front where the troop ship had docked. At the pier was Governor and Lady Davidson, Premier Morris and members of both branches of the Dominion legislature.

On October 4th the First Five Hundred of the Newfoundland Regiment (The Blue Puttees) departed St.John’s on the S.S.Florizel enroute to Plymouth, England and an eventual date with destiny.

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