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Regimental History

Newfoundlanders were called to defend their Island many times against the Spanish and the French in the 1500-1700s. The French were particularly successful. As a result, military units were formed, disbanded and reformed over the years.

The following are excerpts from Paul O'Neil's book "The Oldest City".


1618, there was mention of a fort built by the inhabitants of St. John's. This was probably in the area of Fort William.

1680 Sir Robert Robinson began work fortifications which later became Fort William.

1705, Thomas Lloyd was made Captain of the Independent Company in Newfoundland and commander of the Forts and Garrisons located therein.

1713, with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht between England and France, the military forces and fortifications in Newfoundland fell into decay.

1740 with the War of the Austrian Succession, England and France became enemies once more. Hasty repairs were carried out in an attempt to restore Fort William.

1743, Capt. Thomas Smith arrived as military governor. He had with him a body of marines, and under his direction they carried out much of the work of restoration.

1745 to 1750, Fort William, and the battlements nearby, were garrisoned by four companies of foot, a captain with about fifty men, forty pieces of cannon, and well-stocked stores.

1762, with the Seven Years' War, a French fleet of four ships of war, thirty-two officers, and nearly seven hundred troops, under the command of Count d'Haussonville, sailed from Brest. The squadron, under Admiral de Ternay, took Bay Bulls on June 24, then marched into and captured St. John's.

1763, Fort William was rebuilt and work commenced on three other installations. Queen's Battery, Crow's Nest Battery, and Fort Amherst.

In 1770, a heavy chain was stretched across the Narrows from Chain Rock to Pancake Rock, preventing enemy vessels from entering the harbour.

In 1773, Fort Townshend was begun.

1792-93, Capt. Thomas Skinner of the Royal Engineers stationed in St. John's raised four companies of volunteers at his own expense, known as the Royal Newfoundland Volunteers.

1795, the king granted Skinner, then a major and commanding officer of the Royal Engineers in Newfoundland, permission to raise a regiment of fencible infantry, consisting of six hundred men.

1795-96, the barracks at Fort Townshend and Fort William were not ready to receive Skinner's completed levy of recruits and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment spent its first winter in scattered billets around the town. A camp was provided on the parade ground, at Fort William, in June 1796, and the regiment began field training. By August it was ready for the defence of St. John's.

1802, the Regiment was disbanded.

1803, Britain and France were again at war. England's forces were spread around the world with Napoleon's grand army of 100,000 preparing to cross the Channel. Britain called home all the units of its army scattered throughout its colonies to defend the British Isles. The garrison at St. John's was no exception.
Newfoundland now undertook her own defence, and within a few months the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles were formed from veterans of the disbanded Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

1804, the Voluntary Armed Association was formed. By the autumn of 1805, a force of two hundred men had been raised to defend the town. General Skerret ordered "an allowance of four pounds per man for clothing, that rations be given them from the King's stores when they are called out for drill." They adopted the Rules and Regulations of the British Volunteers in order that they might become a truly organized defence force.
They became the Loyal Volunteers of St. John's and were provided with a proper uniform when on duty. The Corps paraded for arms and foot drill twice a week and each man had to give twenty-six days to drill during the year. Officers were elected by popular vote within the Corps and, with the Governor's approval, were equal in rank to regular officers of the garrison. There was one great advantage. A member of the Volunteers could not be pressed into service in the Royal Navy.

War of 1812. The Loyal Volunteers of St. John's were about to disintegrate and disappear when on 9 July 1812, news was received that the United States had declared war on Great Britain and her colonies. St. John's once more faced invasion, this time from New England.

1867, when Newfoundlanders refused to confederate with the other colonies of British North America, England decided to punish her by withdrawal of the garrison. The soldiers were marched to the dock on the morning of 8 November 1870, loaded aboard H.M. Troopship Tamer, and transported to Halifax. The ramparts of the forts were levelled and the buildings fell into decay.

In 1901-02, a branch of the Royal Naval Reserve was formed with headquarters on board H.M.S. Calypso. In addition, there were four boy cadet groups. The Church Lads Brigade of the Church of England was founded in London in 1891. The St. John's branch was formed the following year and an armoury was erected on Harvey Road, opposite the top of Long's Hill. Roman Catholics had the Catholic Cadet Corps, Presbyterians had the Newfoundland Highlanders, and Methodists had the Methodist Guards Brigade.

1914, a military camp was established briefly east of Virginia River, then Rutledge's Brook. Here the First volunteers for the Newfoundland Regiment of World War I were encamped. These soldiers, known as the First Five Hundred, or Blue Puttees after the colour of their leg wrappings, broke camp on October 3 and embarked for England on board S.S. Florizel.

Their motto is "Better Than The Best".

Their Regimental March Past is "The Banks of Newfoundland". Better known to Newfoundlanders as "Up the Pond", played at the Royal Regatta in St. John's.

They are remembered on July 1st, Memorial Day in Newfoundland, when the "Forget-Me-Not" is worn to remember those from the Great War.


Return to the Regimental Index

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Return to the Main Military Records Index

Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen

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