No sto­ries to tell

St. An­thony First World War veter­ans kept ex­pe­ri­ences to them­selves


Speak­ing with de­scen­dants of war veter­ans, you hear a fa­mil­iar re­frain — their loved ones never spoke about the war.

In St. An­thony, chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of those who served in the First World War don’t have many sto­ries to pass on about their par­ents’ ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing those times.

Their an­ces­tors who fought on the bat­tle­fields of Europe 100 years ago rarely opened up about those times.

Wil­fred Boyd’s fa­ther, Joseph Boyd, served in the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment from 1915 to 1918.

When he re­turned home, Joseph worked on the Gren­fell Mis­sion boat, car­ry­ing doc­tors and nurses and med­i­cal sup­plies all around the North­ern Penin­sula and Labrador.

He was later light­keeper at the Fox Point Light­house on Fish­ing Point in St. An­thony for 14 years.

Joseph was also one of the men in­stru­men­tal in start­ing the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion branch in St. An­thony.

He raised five chil­dren with his wife El­iz­a­beth, in­clud­ing Wil­fred who was born in 1931.

Joseph lived to the age of 96 but all through the years he never spoke about the war.

“He wouldn’t tell noth­ing about the war,” Wil­fred told The North­ern Pen.

The only thing Wil­fred ever learned about his fa­ther’s ex­pe­ri­ence was that he got a bul­let in his right heel.

“Fa­ther had one bul­let right in the heel of his foot, he showed us that,” he said. “That was the only bul­let he took.”

Doc­u­ments from The Rooms con­firm this, show­ing that Joseph Boyd was hos­pi­tal­ized twice dur­ing the war — once for acute ap­pen­dici­tis on Sept. 12, 1918 and the first time for a gun­shot wound in the right foot on Nov. 27, 1917.

Wil­fred says other veter­ans also stayed quiet about the war, such as his fa­ther’s cousin, Wil­liam F. Fen­nemore (Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment) of St. An­thony.

Ge­orge Car­roll’s grand­fa­ther, Caleb War­ren of Cook’s Har­bour, served in the New­found­land Royal Navy and he never spoke about his ex­pe­ri­ences ei­ther.

Car­roll can re­call hav­ing a few drinks while play­ing cards with his grand­fa­ther one day, hop­ing it might loosen his tongue.

But noth­ing could open him up about the war.

“He said, ‘Ge­orgie, there’s bet­ter stuff to talk about than that,’” re­called Car­roll. “I thought when he’d get two or three drinks, he’d might speak about some­thing like that.”

Mov­ing on

Ac­cord­ing to Justin Fan­tauzzo, a his­tory pro­fes­sor at Me­mo­rial Univer­sity in St. John’s whose re­search fo­cuses on the First World War, this was typ­i­cal for war veter­ans.

“A lot of veter­ans com­ing back from the war sim­ply were un­com­fort­able talk­ing about what had hap­pened in the war,” he told The North­ern Pen.

Fan­tauzzo pro­vides a cou­ple rea­sons for this.

Firstly, he says they wanted to put the ex­pe­ri­ence of the war be­hind them and move on with their lives, re­turn­ing to civil­ian life.

This was a process that was dif­fi­cult and re­hash­ing mem­o­ries with fam­ily mem­bers may not have helped.

Fur­ther­more, they also felt that only other veter­ans could fully un­der­stand what they went through.

“For them, try­ing to ex­plain what it was like to be on the western front in 1916 or 1917 to their wives or their small chil­dren didn’t make a lot of sense to them,” he Caleb War­ren of Cook’s Har­bour served in the New­found­land Royal Navy dur­ing the First World War. His grand­son Ge­orge Car­roll says he could never get War­ren to open up about the war.

said. “Not to all of them of course, but to a lot of them.”

Fan­tauzzo says it was rarer than we think for First World War veter­ans to open up about the war ex­pe­ri­ence.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, as the world en­tered the Great De­pres­sion, some veter­ans at­tempted to come to grips with what had hap­pened dur­ing the war and whether it was worth it.

This was re­flected in lit­er­a­ture such as “All Quiet on the Western Front” writ­ten by Erich Maria Re­mar­que, a Ger­man First World War vet­eran.

Even though this may have in­flu­enced the pub­lic’s pop­u­lar con­cep­tion about the First World War veter­ans, Fan­tauzzo says this was not typ­i­cal. He stresses that most sol­diers were not writ­ers and did not have the clas­si­cal or univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion of those writ­ing lit­er­a­ture in the af­ter­math of the war.

“They were from work­ing class or lower-mid­dle class back­grounds,” he said. “These weren’t guys who nor­mally kept diaries in their civil­ian life or wrote au­to­bi­ogra­phies.”

More of them were like Joseph Boyd and Caleb War­ren, keep­ing their sto­ries to them­selves. Joseph Boyd’s hel­met and bay­o­net are on dis­play at the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion in St. An­thony.


Wil­fred Boyd, 87, holds a pic­ture of his fa­ther Joseph Boyd who served in the First World War and his brother Arthur Boyd who served in the Sec­ond World War, in his St. An­thony home.



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