Nfld. & Labrador

8 WW I stories passed on through generations in Newfoundland

As Newfoundland and Labrador prepares to commemorate one of the most iconic and bloody battles in history, we're taking a look at some stories from families in the First World War and the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel.

Letters sent to CBC, Chris Andrews as part of 100th anniversary of WW I

More than 700 young men from Newfoundland and Labrador were wounded or died at the battle of Beaumont-Hamel. (CBC)

A story of being buried alive with the war dead, a mysterious bullet that stayed logged in a soldier's chest, undetected, for decades, and tales of camaraderie round out the collection of stories received as part of CBC's 1916 project.

As Newfoundland and Labrador prepares to commemorate one of the most iconic and bloody battles in history, we're taking a look at some stories from families about the First World War and the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel.

In 1914, members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment traded the rugged cliffs of Newfoundland for the muddy trenches in France and Gallipoli.

Their families have shared their stories as part of CBC's 1916 project. 

Newfoundlander helps Newfoundlander

From Sandra Shallow

"My uncle, a messenger bicycling through the turmoil, came upon an injured comrade from his home in Newfoundland.  Somehow my uncle lugged him to the medic who saved the man's life — although the injury required that his arm be amputated."

"I heard this story from the man he saved. As a child I was always curious about his missing arm. The empty shirt sleeve — folded and tucked — was intriguing! He always applauded my uncle.  And, my Dad was always proud of his brother."

Buried alive

From Michael Maidment

Eleazar Saunders from Point Leamington walked with a limp after returning from the war, a fact which piqued the curiosity of his great-grandson.

"My father told me the story that pop had been injured by shrapnel from a bomb blast in Passchendaele, thought to be dead and was buried in a mass grave."

"Someone spotted his thumb moving from his outstretched hand and he was subsequently pulled out of the grave. Doctors couldn't remove the shrapnel, although with the help of my great-grandmother, he removed it himself in their kitchen, earning him a limp for the rest of his life."

Pte. Eleazer Saunders served with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the First World War. (Submitted Michael Maidment)

Blyde brothers

From Scott Fitzgerald

Pte. Michael John (Jack) Blyde (Reg. No. 280) was the second solider to fall in Gallipoli, on Sept. 26, 1915. He was just 19. He lies buried in Hill Ten Cemetery, Suvla Bay.

The next year, Jack's younger brother, Pte. Phillip Henry Blyde, enlisted and was one of the few that answered the call following the bloody battle at Beaumont-Hamel. He was wounded, according to his great-grand nephew Scott Fitzgerald. He lost his leg some time later. 

The notification of death sent to the family of Pte. Michael John (Jack) Blyde (Reg. No. 280) in St. John's. (Submitted by Scott Fitzgerald)
Pte. Michael John (Jack) Blyde (Reg. No. 280) was the second solider to fall during the Battle of Gallipoli. He was just 19-years-old. (Submitted by Scott Fitzgerald)

One of the survivors

From Phil Murphy

"My great-grandfather George Hicks originally from Carmanville moved to Grand Falls in 1906 as a schoolteacher (The first and only teacher at the time). He joined the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at the beginning of WW I. He went overseas and was wounded at the Battle of Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916."

"He reached the rank of captain and received the Military Cross and Bar for his distinguished service. When he recovered from his wounds, he returned to Newfoundland and recruited for the Regiment (he got in a small boat and sailed around the coastlines/bays/inlets/harbours asking young boys to go to war … unbelievable). His tunic with the bullet hole in it is on display at the Interpretation Centre in Beaumont Hamel."

Escaping death 

From Lloyd Hobbs

He fought in the First World War, cleared mines in the English channel and escaped the Halifax explosion. Walter LeDrew of Change Islands lived an extraordinary life, but rarely wanted to speak about it. 

"While my grandfather never ever talked about the war, parts of his old uniform hung in the third floor attic of their home and a basket made out of an armadillo shell, which he brought home from the war, sat on a table in the front room as reminders of his experiences," said his grandson Lloyd Hobbs.

"But in the last days of his life, as he dozed in and out of reality, he went back to the war, thinking he was there some 65 years after the war had ended. Obviously it had all remained within him all his adult years probably hidden just below the surface. I would think he was not alone in this respect and a whole generation on Newfoundlanders lived their normal daily lives with the experiences of World War I uncomfortably hidden away."

Geman bullet

From Trevor Tetford

​From 1919 to 1973, Pte. Allan Tetford of Laurenceton, southwest of Lewisporte, carried a German bullet in his chest from the battle of Nieppe.

"Among items left to me which have since been donated to The Rooms include postcards to his sister, Mildred, a hand grenade brought back from war, his picture and medals."

Tetford took three bullets — one in the arm, one in the leg and one in the chest — at Nieppe in April 1918. Decades later, when Tetford was in his fifties, chest pains forced him to hospital in Botwood, where an X-ray discovered a bullet still lodged in his chest. It stayed there until his death in 1973.

Pte. Allan Tetford of Laurenceton fought in the First World War in France. He was injured in battle and carried a German bullet from battle in 1919 until he died in 1973. (Submitted by Trevor Tetford)
An X-ray of Pte. Allan Tetford's chest shows a German bullet from the First World War. (Submitted by Trevor Tetford)

Friend or foe?

From Ben Gardner

"My father, Thomas Gardner Regimental # 2305 from British Harbour, was in the Regiment during World War I. He was a runner."

Despite his aversion to speaking about the war, Gardner "did relate one story about being wounded by a bullet passing through his thigh above the knee causing a fractured femur. While lying wounded on the battlefield he was discovered by a German soldier. When he saw that soldier approaching, he of course thought that his life was over.  The German soldier, however, helped him towards the Newfoundland Regiment lines."

"The soldier spoke a little English and said 'This is as far as I can go. You will be found here.'

On the day he was released from hospital — Nov. 11, 1918 — the war ended.

Camaraderie

From Mike Pickett

Michael Roberts from Grand Falls-Windsor enlisted at the age of 16 along with his best friend Reg Hamilton. Together, they entered the Battle of the Somme. 

Roberts was shot once in the arm, was treated and returned to the frontline where he was hit again — this time in the leg by shrapnel.

His brother, John, carried him on his back for about five miles to find a doctor. 

"He later returned home and lived out his life in Grand Falls. He bought the house across the street from Mr. Hamilton where they remained best friends until their passing."

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