Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, May 22, 2015

Newfoundland’s Enduring Memorials: Six Caribou, a Park, and a University

Contributed by James Patton

Royal Newfoundland Regiment Badge

Founded in 1583, Newfoundland (NF) was the Crown’s longest-held colony when it was granted dominion status in 1907 (confederation with Canada didn’t come until 1949). In August 1914, in response to patriotic urgings, the small nation (population 241,000) created the Newfoundland Regiment, and as a dominion, it was expected to bear all of the costs. The regiment never served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and was always much too small to form even a brigade, and so it was part of the British 88th Brigade, 29th Division. The Newfoundlanders served with heroism and distinction and on 28 September 1917 they were designated by the King as a Royal Regiment, the only regiment to be so honored during the Great War (only three Royal designations have ever been bestowed during wartime). 

The Newfoundlanders had a hot war:  they landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, then came their tragic and heroic attack at Beaumont-Hamel on 1 July 1916, they were behind the tanks at Cambrai in 1917, and (as part of the 9th Division) chased the Germans from the Salient in the last hundred days. However, the story of the regiment is not the subject of this article. 

About 8,500 Newfoundlanders served in the Great War (the number of sailors isn’t exact); there were 1,570  killed or died and 2,314 wounded. 

In 1919, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s Catholic chaplain, Lt. Col. (Hon) the Rev. Thomas Nangle, who was also the NF Director of Graves Registration and Enquiry and NF's representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission, determined to create an impressive set of memorials independent of the IWGC. 

His plan had three parts:  to honor all who served, a traditional-style war memorial in the center of St. John’s (dedicated on 1 July 1924 by Field Marshal the Earl Haig); to honor the sacrifices of the regiment, the acquisition and preservation of the entire Beaumont Hamel battlefield and the erection of six distinctive Caribou statues following "the trail of the Caribou" through every major site where the Newfoundlanders served; and for the brighter future that the fallen would never see, the establishment of a college at St. John’s.  

Three of the Caribou from Top Left:  Newfoundland Memorial Park;
Courtrai/Kortrijk, Belgium; Bowring Park, St. John’s

Fr. Nangle led the formation of a charity to raise funds by public subscription. Every family in the country was asked to give NF$1, and about NF$35,000 was raised. Additionally, Sir William Coaker’s Fisherman’s Protective Union (a political party) kicked in NF$10,000, and the government eventually contributed funds from the sale of the Tobacco Monopoly. 

By 1921 Fr. Nangle had completed the purchase of 74 acres at Beaumont Hamel (10 more acres were acquired later), having come to terms with nearly 250 claimants, and thus the largest preserved area of the Somme Battlefield was created. He also purchased small parcels at Gueudecort, Masnieres, Monchy-le-Preux, and Courtrai/Kortrijk (in Belgium). Nangle’s group paid cash for all of the memorials, which a country about the size of Delaware could ill afford. Canada, on the other hand, was later given the 250 acres at Vimy Ridge by France "freely and for all time".

Sixteen memorial designs were submitted to Fr. Nangle. He recommended British sculptor ex-Captain Basil Gotto's plan to erect identical bronze caribou statues at locations where the regiment played a significant role. Fr. Nangle wrote that Gotto's design was "most distinctive, his idea being a giant caribou somewhat like the 'Monarch of the Topsails' carved in bronze on a rough cairn of Newfoundland granite about ten to fifteen feet high. This will be distinctive of the Regiment and of Newfoundland. It will be artistic and cheap, all five being cast from the same mould." The caribou statues cost approximately £1,000 each.

In the end, six of Gotto's caribou were cast — one for each of the five European sites and one possibly envisioned for Gallipoli but which ended up at Bowring Park in St. John's. Landscape architect R.H.K. Cochius designed all of the parks. The caribou in Europe overlook battlefields where Newfoundlanders fought and died. They were dedicated on 7 June 1925, again by Haig, in a ceremony at Beaumont-Hamel. 

Hard times were ahead for the little nation that tried so hard. In 1932 the government was declared insolvent, and Newfoundland reverted to Crown control, much to Whitehall’s chagrin. There were several reasons for this failure, and war costs, pensions, and the memorials program were on the list.

Contemporary View of Memorial University, St. John’s Campus

Impressive as the Beaumont-Hamel Park and the caribou are today, the unmatched and everlasting remembrance to Newfoundland’s service and sacrifice will always be Fr. Nangle’s little college, which opened in 1925 with 55 students to prepare young Newfoundlanders to teach or to attend British universities. Ninety years later the Memorial University of Newfoundland has over 18,000 students and 1,100 faculty at four campuses, including one in the UK, and is one of Canada’s leading universities, internationally recognized in education, engineering, business, and medicine, and ranked fifth in Canada by Macleans magazine in 2013. 


  1. Have seen all the Newfoundland memorials in France. The one on the Somme I believe the most poignant. When I last visited in 2001, we met two young Newfoundlanders docents. One lad showed the names of his uncles. One killed at Beaumont Hamel and no known grave and the other a sailor lost at sea.

  2. I had no idea -- thanks for the education and insights into Newfoundland and its brave soldiers.

  3. Very interesting Youtube presentation about 30 minutes on the Royal Regiment.

  4. Newfoundlanders still remember "The Regiment" as if it was yesterday. The city of St. John's virtually shuts down on Remembrance Day.