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A Fighting Newfoundlander

A conversation with the son of a Great War veteran

Campus and Community

By Nora Daly

According to former Justice Gerald Lang, July 1 was like Christmas Day growing up in his house.

His father, 2nd Lt. James Patrick Lang, Regimental No. 870, would don his uniform (the only day of the year he did so) and march in the annual parade on Memorial Day to the National War Memorial in downtown St. John’s.

He would join hundreds of his comrades-in-arms, proudly carrying the colours of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

After the ceremony, his father and others were invited to Government House on Military Road to reminisce and remember the fallen. No wives were invited.

‘Never talked about the war’

Gerald Lang is 85 years old now, likely one of only a few left whose fathers served in the First World War.

“My father never talked about the war to his family,” he said in a recent interview with the Gazette.

“That was something reserved for his buddies in the Great War Veterans’ Association, and later the Royal Canadian Legion.”

According to his attestation papers, the senior Lang was a stenographer in St. John’s prior to signing up. He was 19 when he enlisted on Jan. 2, 1915, and was sent overseas on Feb. 5, part of the second group of Newfoundlanders to ship out.

To war

The Regiment was assigned to the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, which was part of the British Army at Gallipoli and Salonika.

Gerald Lang
Gerald Lang holds a photo of his father, James Lang, Royal Newfoundland Regiment No. 870.
Photo: Mike Ritter

The Newfoundland Regiment had landed on the shores of Gallipoli by 3 a.m. on the night of Sept. 20, 1915. When the sun set the next day, 15 soldiers had been wounded by Turkish shells. Pte. Lang wasn’t one of them. Of the 1,076 men that originally landed, he was one of 487 troops to safely walk out.

In 1916 he was with the British Expeditionary Force; on March 14 he was posted to France.

He was at Beaumont-Hamel on that tragic day when so many Newfoundlanders were killed or wounded. Pte. Lang wasn’t one of them.

As his name does not appear on the roll call, it is likely that he was of the 10 per cent of the Regiment held in reserve that day as he was with the battalion in the field on July 4.

His luck would not hold out, however.

From July 30-Oct. 5, the Newfoundland Regiment was stationed in Ypres. And although Ypres was a “sleepy hollow,” as the 29th Division’s historian put it, the enemy’s guns were never silent.

Pte. Lang’s turn came on Sept. 15 when he was shot in the leg and shoulder. According to the Newfoundland Regiment diary, from Sept. 11-16, “All companies working every available man on various work under Royal Engineers.”

He was taken by field ambulance to a casualty clearing station and admitted to hospital in Oustreau on Sept. 20. The next day he was transferred to London General Hospital in Wandsworth.

Pte. Lang would spend the rest of the war in England. In November, has was attached to E Company depot. In 1917 he attended a gas course, obtaining 69 per cent. In 1918 he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and posted to F Company in Winchester.


James Lang
Second from right, 2nd Lt. James Lang carrying Royal Newfoundland Regiment colours at a ceremony of remembrance in St. John’s.
Photo: Submitted

On Jan. 30, 1919, he left Liverpool on board the S.S. Corsican for St. John’s and demobilization.

James Lang worked at Bowring’s department store after the war. He would go on to marry Jean Gosse, also from St. John’s, and have three children — David and Gerald and a daughter, Lorraine, who died of leukemia at age 10.

The younger Lang remembers his father was never well.

“He was quite sick when I was was growing up and spent a lot time in hospital as a result of the wounds he received in the war — wounds he never talked about.”

Until perhaps, he met his old friends on July 1, and it was Christmas once again.

Second Lt. James Patrick Lang died at the Veteran’s Pavilion in St. John’s in 1957.

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