Regiment hopes for major presence at Gallipoli

Beaumont-Hamel commemoration will be in N.L. with Princess Anne

Barb Sweet
Published on August 7, 2014
Ron Penney had four great-uncles who served in the First World War. Only one came back. He is shown with photos and mementoes.
— Photo by Barb Sweet/The Telegram

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s plans to commemorate the First World War include travelling to Gallipoli in 2015, but staying home for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel in 2016.

Princess Anne, the regiment’s honorary colonel-in-chief, will be in the province for ceremonies related to the July 1, 2016, 100th anniversary of Beaumont-Hamel, the most tragic battle for Newfoundlanders, with the regiment nearly wiped out that day.

 Ron Penney, chairman of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s advisory council and co-chairman of a joint planning committee with the province, said the next big event will take place Aug. 17 when the regiment joins the Church Lads Brigade (CLB) to recognize the first enlistments, which took place at the Harvey Road armoury.

A church service will be held at St. Thomas Church, which served as the garrison church. The CLB members, the regiment, a combined band and re-enactors of the Signal Hill Tattoo — which has featured members in First World War uniforms this summer — will march to the armoury through the original arch, which survived a 1992 fire that destroyed the building.

Three plaques will be unveiled, one commemorating the reformation of the regiment, one for the CLB and a third for the other cadet corps — the Catholic Cadet Corps, the Methodist Guards, the Legion of Frontiersmen and the Newfoundland Highlanders. More than half the First 500 came from the cadet corps. The CLB is the only one left.

British military historian Martin Middlebrook will give a series of lectures at The Rooms. There is an Aug. 26 session and the Aug. 27 evening event requires tickets.

Penney had four great-uncles who served in the war.

Three of them didn’t come home. Josiah Penney of Carbonear was killed at Beaumont-Hamel. Harold and George Coates, from Fogo, and members of the Royal Naval Reserve, were lost at sea.

Penney’s great-uncle, Frank Taylor, was the only one of the four to survive.

“I have always been interested in history and the First World War in particular, but what really piqued my interest was the family connection,” said the retired St. John’s city solicitor and chief commissioner.

“Most families have a personal connection. There is hardly a person that you talk to who doesn’t have a connection.”

On Oct. 5, the march of the First 500 to the SS Florizel will be re-enacted with an after-event at Harbourside Park, the nearest spot to where the SS Florizel would have been docked.

The Second Battalion of the regiment — based in Corner Brook, Stephenville and Grand Falls-Windsor, will be in town to join the First Battalion for the event.

The regiment is expecting to have a significant presence at ceremonies to mark the Battle of Gallipoli, a peninsula of Turkey. The federal Department of National Defence is yet to approve funds for that.

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment landed at Gallipoli in September 1915 and was one of the last to evacuate.

On July 1, 2016, while there may be a modest representation by the regiment at ceremonies in France to mark the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, most of the regiment will be in St. John’s at a ceremony at the National War Memorial on Duckworth Street with Princess Anne in attendance.

“Even the 90th anniversary, the logistics (when the regiment went to France) were very difficult, so we made the decision we were going to base our (100th) celebrations in Newfoundland,” said Penney.

He wasn’t involved when that decision was made, but said he understands the logic, which includes giving people in the province an event they can attend.

In late June 2016, Princess Anne will present new colours to the regiment’s Second Battalion in Corner Brook to mark the regiment’s role in the War of 1812.

She will also attend the annual mess dinner on June 30, 2016 and July 1 ceremonies, the largest event of the First World War commemorations.

Another major event will honour hero and Victoria Cross recipient Tommy Ricketts in fall 2018 with joint events here and with France and Belgium.

The regiment isn’t the only organization marking the 100th anniversary of the war. Other events are being planned by The Rooms, Memorial University, the Newfoundland Historical Society and others.

The provincial government has budgeted more than $3.6 million for the First World War commemorations.