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|One of The Original 500|
John Breen was born in 1894.
When the First World War broke out,
John presented himself at the Church Lads Brigade Armoury to enlist. He was
20 years of age. The date was 28th Aug. 1914.
His enrollment form stated that he was 5’ 6” tall and weighed 117 pounds.
John's mother, Catherine, was living on Alexander Street. His father,
Jacob had passed away. |
The Medical Examiner was Cluny Macpherson. (Note: Lieut.-Col. Cluny Macpherson devised the gas helmet used throughout the whole of the British Army until superseded by the box respirator). On 2nd Sep 1914, John was accepted into the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and assigned Regt # 67. His enlistment form stated that he had dark completion, dark hair, and blue eyes. John was sworn in on 1st Oct. 1914, witnessed by Capt. George T. Carty of “A” Company (note: George Carty was eventually promoted to Lieut.-Col). His Attestation Paper stated his residence as 18 Nunnery Hill. His mother was listed as a laborer making $2.00 a day.
Pte John Breen was a Member of the First Contingent, “A” Company, Engaged for Service Abroad. They were known as the BLUE PUTTEES . John was among the Five hundred and forty men who went aboard the S.S. Florizel on 3rd Oct. 1914, and sailed on the following night for England.
They joined a large convoy that reached Devonport on the 15th Oct. 1914. They spent the late autumn on “Pond Farm Camp, “Salisbury Plain, and early in December went to “ Fort George”, Inverness, Scotland, where they trained until 19th Feb. 1915. They were transferred to the Castle garrison at Edinburgh where they were joined by “C”, “D”, and “E” Companies. The whole Battalion moved to Stobs Camp, near Hawick, on 11th May 1915, and continued training; receiving another Company, “F”. Early in August the 1st Battalion moved to Aldershot en route to active service. John re-engaged for the duration of the war on 14 Aug. 1915 at Aldershot. The 1st Battalion left in August for Egypt and from thence entered actively into strenuous service.
John embarked for Gallipoli on 14th Nov. 1915. John's Conduct sheet states that he was charged with gambling while on board H.M.S. Transport Olympic. The date was 18th Nov. 1915. Witness was J.W. Vance. Lt Col. FA Anderson awarded him 14 days CB on 20th Nov. 1915. John was with “E” Company at the time. John landed in Suvla Bay on 1st Dec 1915 and took part in the Allied evacuation. He arrived in Alexandria on 15th Jan 1916. He proceeded to the Suez on 16th Jan 1916 and the 88th Brigade camped in the desert just outside of Suez. Here in comparative comfort, with a fairly well stocked canteen, the 1st Battalion remained till orders came for the 29th division to move to France. Except for constant rumors of a Turkish advance on the Canal, the time had been a very peaceful and pleasant interlude of rest for all ranks. John embarked Port Suez with the British Expeditionary Force on 14th Mar 1916. He disembarked at Marseilles on 22nd Mar 1916. On arrival in France, the 88th Brigade was billeted in various villages in the Abbeville area. Conditions were only fairly comfortable, and the weather was cold. But the surroundings were peaceful, far away from the front line. In April the 29th Division began to move up towards the front, and gradually took over the line in the neighborhood of Beaumont Hamel. On the whole it was at that time a fairly quiet sector, and the system of relief allowed a lot of time out of the line in support and reserve.
But it was a strenuous period, as the Army was energetically preparing for the Battle of the Somme. There was constant digging while in the trenches, and very intensive training behind the lines while in Reserve. Before long we learnt that the 1st July had been fixed for the beginning of the operations. The role of each Brigade and of its different units was settled, and the training was intensified to get everyone acquainted with their particular task.
The first attack of the 86th and 87th Brigades failed, and the 88th Brigade was ordered to renew the attack. On the left of the Brigade, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was ordered forward towards Beaumont Hamel and the Y Ravine, the strongest and most difficult part of the enemy's line. On 1st Jul. 1916, Pte John Breen fought in the battle of Beaumont Hamel, France and was killed in action. John's mother received the following letter from the Colonial Secretary: Jul. 31, 1916 Dear Madam
I regret to have to inform you that a report has this day been received from the Record Office of the First Newfoundland Regiment, London, to the effect that Private John Breen, No. 67, has been posted as missing. Should any further information be received concerning him, such information will be at once communicated to you. Yours faithfully
Colonial Secretary Some months later, a second letter arrived: 23rd November, 1916 Dear Madam
For some time past the Imperial Government have been making inquiries in relation to those men of the First Newfoundland Regiment who have been reported missing since the action of the 1st July. I very much regret to state, however, that from the correspondence which has taken place, a copy of which I enclose, it is evident that none of them are Prisoners of War in Germany, and the authorities are, therefore, reluctantly forced to the conclusion that all these gallant men, whose names are given in the enclosed list, and one of whom was very dear to you, were killed in that fateful action on the 1st of July.
I desire to express to you on behalf of the Government, as well as for myself, the sincerest sympathy in this time of sorrow. We feel the loss of our loved ones, but it will, no doubt, be some consolation to you to think that he, for whom you now mourn, willingly answered the call of King and Country, did his part nobly, and fell, facing the foe, in defence of the principles of Righteousness, Truth and Liberty.
Though he has laid down the earthly weapons of warfare, he now wears the Soldier's Crown of Victory, and his name will be inscribed upon the Glorious Roll of Honor, and be held in fragrant memory by all his fellow-countrymen.
When the victory is won, and Peace again reigns upon the earth, it will be a comforting thought to you that in this glorious achievement he bore no small part. I trust that you may have the Grace and consolation of the Great Father of us all at this time. With sincere sympathy,
Believe me to be,
Your obedient servant,
Colonial Secretary. On 15th Dec 1919, John's mother received the 1914-1915 STAR medal.
On 9th Jan 1922, she received the Victory and British War Medals.
In Feb. 1922, she received a Memorial Plaque issued in respect of services of the late Pte John Breen.
At the time of his death, John had a balance of 13 Pounds, 13s and 8d in his pay account. His total service was 1 year and 303 days.
His name is engraved on the Beaumont Hamel Memorial in France. There is no designated grave. His name is also in the Newfoundland Books of Remembrance at the National Archives in Ottawa. On 8th Jul. 1918 John's family placed a picture of John in the Evening Telegram as a memorial to his sacrifice.
Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen
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