01 July 2016

On came the Newfoundlanders...


"On came the Newfoundlanders,  a great body of men, but the fire intensified and they were wiped out in front of my eyes."

Private F.H. Cameron, 1st battalion, the King's Own Scottish Borderers,  watched the Newfoundland attack from a nearby shell hole. His battalion had been part of the initial attack by the 29th Division that had failed as German soldiers recovered from the initial barrage and manned their trenches and machine guns.

The Newfoundland battalion attacked alone across open ground from reserve trenches as the communications trenches and front lines trenches were already full of wounded.  Many fell dead or wounded before reaching their own front line and many more died trying to get through the few gaps in the wire that had been cut by the preparatory bombardment.

The battalion war diary recorded 26 officers killed or wounded and 658 other ranks killed or wounded.  Private Ron Dunn lay bleeding for most of the day from a pair of leg wounds and a chest wound before crawling back to his own lines later in the evening. He staunched the bleeding with his own field dressing and with clumps of bright green grass he pulled from the earth within his reach.  Dunn made it back to his trenches,  survived the war, and died in 1993.

Owen Steele was a young lieutenant and the officer commanding D Company.  He and 16 of his men survived the assault uninjured.  Steele was wounded by German shellfire within a week of the attack and died of his wounds.

The 29th Division, of which the Newfoundland battalion was a part, was a Regular Army Division made up of overseas service battalions recalled for active duty.  The Newfoundlanders joined the division in Gallipoli in September 1915 and covered the withdrawal from the beaches on two occasions in January 1916.

The Newfoundlanders were the only Dominion troops to take part in the attack on the opening day of the Somme offensive.  The South African 1st Infantry Brigade served as part of 9th (Scottish) Division and was in reserve on the first day of the Battle of Albert (1 to 13 July 1916).  It first took part in action on July 7, 1916.


The scribes on all the people shove
and bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love 
lay down their life; they do not hate.

Wilfred Owen
"At a Calvary near the Ancre"