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The Church Ladsí Brigade, Newfoundland Regiment, and the Great War

Researched by Terry Hissey

The Church Lads' Brigade was formed in England in 1891 by Walter Gee as an Anglican youth organisation. He had been impressed with the non-denominational work of the Boys' Brigade and wanted to create a Church of England section within it. This was not allowed by his Vicar and so he formed his own separate organisation. The influence of the CLB soon spread and by the following year a company had been formed in Winnipeg, Canada. Newfoundland, then a British Colony, was not far behind in forming its first Company in St. John's, which was enrolled on the 31st December 1892.

Soon after the outbreak of war, on the 10th August 1914, a meeting was held at the Colonial Office at which the CLB, the Methodist Guards, the Catholic Cadet Corps, the Newfoundland Highlanders, the Legion of Frontiersmen and St. John's Rifle Club were all represented. The outcome of this meeting was to make good an offer of 500 Soldiers. A Reserve Force committee was set up to be responsible for the administration of raising and maintaining the new Newfoundland Regiment. The Chairman was Sir Joseph Outerbridge, a former Colonel in the CLB.

The enrolment of recruits into the new Regiment started on the 21st August at the CLB Armoury on Harvey Road. The CLB Headquarters had been offered to the Government free of charge by Col. Robert Rendell, Commanding Officer. On Bell Island, the CLB Armoury there became the central recruiting station for the Island. In addition the CLB provided a number of tents, rifles for drill purposes, and other equipment for the first training camp at Quidi Vidi. At this time nine CLB Officers volunteered and were rewarded with army commissions. The inaugural CO, Major William Franklin and the first Adjutant, Captain Walter Rendell were both CLB Officers. Twelve Warrant Officers and NCOs joined the Nfld Regt. becoming the nucleus of its leadership. They directed its training in the Armoury and on the camp ground at Peasantville, forming its initial officer and NCO cadre.

The original draft of the R Nfld R was given the nickname the 'Blue Puttees'. This was because the cloth used to make the puttees came from the CLB Quartermaster's stores as no khaki cloth was available. (After the war, to have been a 'Blue Puttee' was considered a badge of honour.) Out of 537 Blue Puttees, 108 came from the ranks of the CLB, a ratio of 1 in 5 from the organisation. In fact, the first man to be accepted was a CLB lad, Leonard T Stick, who had been nicknamed 'Eagle Eye' in the Brigade. He eventually rose to the rank of Captain and served in the Indian Army. In the book "The Fighting Newfoundlander", Col. Nicholson wrote of the CLB: "no other youth organisation in Newfoundland made a more valuable contribution to the war effort".

On the 29th January 1915, a farewell banquet for 28 members who had volunteered for the second contingent was held at the Armoury. The volunteers were presented with CLB Prayer books and clasp knives and the best wishes of the Brigade for a safe return. By then 11 members of the CLB Avalon Battalion band had enlisted and their absence from the Brigade was deeply felt.

The contribution that the CLB in Newfoundland was making to the war effort did not go unnoticed in England. A letter received from England read: "Field Marshal Lord Grenfell, Governor and Commandant of the Church Lads' Brigade, desires to express to Col. Rendell, the officers and N.C.O.'s and lads of the Nfld. Regiment, his great satisfaction at the splendid response which the C.L.B. has made to the country's call in sending so many of its members to the Nfld. contingent of the Imperial Army. He is convinced that they will uphold the best traditions of the Church Lads' Brigade in a worthy manor, and wishes the Nfld. Regiment every success in the future."

Two former CLB Officers, Lt. Col Adolph Bernard of 'C' Company, Bishop Feild College and Capt. Arthur Raley of 'C' Company, St. John's, rode at the head of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment when it marched across Cologne Bridge into Germany.

As a way of honouring the men who gave their lives in the conflict, it was decided by the Brigade to adopt the boys of the Church of England Orphanage by supplying them with proper CLB kit. They would be an ordinary company, with friends of the Brigade responsible for the upkeep of uniforms and equipment. The girls of the orphanage would be supplied with outdoor training to make them stronger and healthier.

For some 70 years a War Shrine of Memory was affixed to the western wall of the old CLB Armoury on Harvey Road, St. John's. It was a gift from Col. Rendell and consisted of a teak cabinet containing 134 plates each detailing a Great War casualty. In December 1992 a massive fire completely destroyed the Armoury and much of the surrounding area. However the CLB soon rebuilt its former Headquarters on the same site and an almost identical shrine now has pride of place. Next to it is another shrine to the casualties from the Second World War. Yet another memorial, which commemorates the 37 lads who served in the Great War, 5 of whom paid the supreme sacrifice, occupies the rear of the church of St. Cyprian & St. Mary, Bell Island. It has been estimated that some 500 CLB members and ex-members had been part of the war effort including the Royal Naval Reserve and Canadian Units. The conclusion of the war was not the end of the links with the R Nfld R as Sgt Thomas Ricketts VC later served as a Warrant Officer in the CLB. Each year the R Nfld R Band is supplemented by the CLB Regimental Band on the 1st July parade.

Some 52 members and ex-members of the CLB have no known grave and are commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Newfoundland Park, Beaumont Hamel, France. Every year on Remembrance Day, a wreath is laid by the CLB Governor & Commandant at the National War Memorial in St. John's.

This poem by John V Rabbitts, a former Brigade officer, is based on the CLB motto 'Fight the Good Fight'

Only a motto 'Fight the Good Fight',
when darkness assails us it leads us to the light,
Strengthening weakness, guiding the strong,
Helping each lad to shun which is wrong.

A stay to the lads who, in the Great War,
Left home, friends and loved ones, to see them no more.
They set an example for me and for you
still guided on by their motto so true.
Their souls have gone on to that Heaven of light,
Still the echo comes back to us -
'Fight the Good Fight'.

CLB Memorial at the Armoury HQ of the Brigade in St. John's

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