N.L. con­tri­bu­tions to the Sec­ond World War

The Compass - - Front page - BY QUENTIN HOLBERT

Crisp au­tumn winds blow through Novem­ber, cap­tur­ing all within its icy grips. Le­gions en­dure, per­se­ver­ing to hal­lowed grounds across the is­land.

This week, Re­mem­brance Day will take hold of the pop­u­la­tion of New­found­land and Labrador. Dif­fer­ent peo­ple have dif­fer­ent ap­proaches to the day; some at­tend lo­cal memo­ri­als; some make pil­grim­ages to dis­tant bat­tle­fields and memo­ri­als; some con­tem­plate in si­lence; and some carry on as they would typ­i­cally, re­mem­ber­ing but car­ry­ing on.

For my­self I con­tinue with my stud­ies, ex­plor­ing the sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences of those that lived, died, and en­dured con­flicts span­ning his­tory. While Nov. 11th ap­proaches, we can re­flect on some of the New­found­lan­ders’ sto­ries.

New­found­land faced sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic chal­lenges in the late 1930s. The af­ter­math of the First World War, be­tween the mass loss of life and sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial ex­pen­di­ture, di­rectly re­sulted in se­vere eco­nomic dif­fi­cul­ties in many ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

These is­sues com­pounded with the Great De­pres­sion in 1929 and, by 1932, the is­land was bank­rupt. Great Bri­tain as­sumed ad­min­is­tra­tive con­trol of the is­land by 1934, and this au­thor­ity was cod­i­fied when World War II erupted in 1939.

The Great War Veter­ans As­so­ci­a­tion, mainly to pop­u­lar ac­claim across New­found­land, pledged full sup­port for the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment dur­ing this sec­ond global con­flict. The fi­nan­cial prob­lems of the province meant that New­found­land could not raise its in­de­pen­dent reg­i­ment like dur­ing the First World War, but New­found­lan­ders still found ways to help.

New­found­land it­self be­came a mil­i­tary base; as the front line against po­ten­tial Ger­man ex­pan­sion into North Amer­ica. The Cana­dian and Amer­i­can mil­i­taries constructed air­fields across the is­land and used the is­land as a fi­nal out­post be­fore con­voys crossed the perilous At­lantic, which U-Boats prowled for their prey. These bases have had mul­ti­ple im­pacts: sev­eral vi­tal fa­cil­i­ties de­vel­oped across the Is­land and some, in­clud­ing the air­port in Deer Lake, are

cur­rently in civil­ian use. There was a con­sid­er­able in­flux of labour, al­though one neg­a­tive was that New­found­lan­ders were fre­quently paid less than their Cana­dian and Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts. Amer­i­can and Cana­dian cul­ture ex­ploded in St. John’s, which has had an enor­mous im­pact with link­ing New­found­land to con­ti­nen­tal North Amer­ica.

Some peo­ple were dis­lo­cated for the con­struc­tion of these bases. For many young women there was an in­flux in vi­able suit­ors; like all courtships, the re­sults var­ied widely from im­mea­sur­able hap­pi­ness to de­spair.

Sol­diers and sup­plies still needed to reach Bri­tain. To do so, they had to cross the At­lantic Ocean, which dur­ing 1942 and 1943 was at its dead­li­est. The Mer­chant Marines, un­der the pro­tec­tion of mas­sive con­voys, en­sured that these es­sen­tial re­sources reached Bri­tain. Ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 New­found­lan­ders vol­un­teered for the Mer­chant Marines with an es­ti­mated 333 killed in ac­tion.

Even in sce­nar­ios with no di­rect ser­vice, New­found­lan­ders still ex­pe­ri­enced war on the sea. On Feb. 18, 1942, the USS Trux­ton (DD-229) and the USS Pol­lux (AKS-2) cap­sized at Cham­bers Cove and Lawn Point re­spec­tively with 203 dead. The SS Cari­bou, a New­found­land pas­sen­ger ferry that ran be­tween Nova Sco­tia and Port a Basque, also sunk in while travers­ing the Cabot Strait in Oc­to­ber 1942. This U-Boat at­tack di­rectly re­sulted in 137 deaths and a chill­ing re­minder of how close war was.

New­found­lan­ders did serve over­seas in Cana­dian and Bri­tish reg­i­ments. Ap­prox­i­mately 1,160 men en­listed in the Cana­dian armed forces, and at least 500 women in the Cana­dian Women’s Army Corps. En­list­ment in the Bri­tish forces re­sulted in two dis­tinct units: the 57th and 59th Heavy Reg­i­ments.

The 57th reg­i­ment was ini­tially sta­tioned in Eng­land in case of a Ger­man in­va­sion. When this risk was abated mainly by 1941-1942, which was when large-scale aerial at­tacks on Eng­land ended, the 57th was con­verted into the 166th field reg­i­ment and re­de­ployed for later com­bat in Italy.

The 59th was de­ployed in North Africa against the Afrika Korps in 1941 and 1942, and in North-West Europe in France, the Nether­lands, and Bel­gium from the spring of 1944 on­wards.

Fi­nally, there were the non­com­bat­ants that served the armed forces. The New­found­land Forestry Corps en­com­passed 3,600 men that were es­sen­tial for pro­vid­ing much-re­quired wood to the Bri­tish and Cana­dian mil­i­taries. There were also sev­eral hun­dred New­found­lan­ders that worked as mechanics and labour­ers on Bri­tish air­fields, pro­vid­ing crit­i­cal ser­vice to the Bri­tish Royal Air Force.

Mem­ory is not the same for ev­ery­one, and dif­fer­ent peo­ple re­mem­ber events and in­di­vid­u­als dif­fer­ently. Com­mu­ni­ties forge their mem­o­ries to­gether, usu­ally in New­found­land Labrador on July 1st and Nov. 11th, and share their his­to­ries and share sto­ries.

This Novem­ber, think about the sto­ries you have heard. Are they of hero­ism or sac­ri­fice? Are they of grand im­por­tance or use­less wastes? Some­where in be­tween the two ex­tremes? When the wild winds blow through your homes on Satur­day, there may be a whis­per of a story that you have never heard be­fore. Lis­ten.

When the wild winds blow through your homes on Satur­day, there may be a whis­per of a story that you have never heard be­fore. Lis­ten.


The men on this mer­chant ship sur­vived a tor­pe­doe at­tack dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. This was the scene as they docked in St. John’s, Septem­ber 1942.

The S.S. Cari­bou was tor­pe­doed off the south­west coast of New­found­land in 1942. 137 peo­ple were killed.

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