Most of the approximately 6,000 members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who took part in the First World War were, as would be expected, born in communities around the island of Newfoundland or along the coast of Labrador.
However, there were a significant number, somewhere between two and five per cent, who were foreign-born.
‘Fighting the same enemy’
Some of these were men who had emigrated to Newfoundland, often as small children, with their families. Others were here for work, employed in the Canadian banks that operated on the island; with the paper mill in Grand Falls; the Reid Railway Company, which ran the trans-island railway and coastal boat service; or with the various mining companies.
Two men who joined the Regiment, Clifton Earle from Barbados and Dominic Foaley from Russia, were known to have jumped ship and found work in Newfoundland. Joseph Teixeira from Portugal had come across from Oporto on a Grand Bank fishing schooner and settled in Pushthrough, near Harbour Breton.
For men in their situations, it was convenient to join up in Newfoundland rather than to travel back to their hometowns to enlist. No matter where they signed on, they would all be fighting the same enemy.
A dozen or more enlisted in Ayr, Scotland, where the Regiment had a training headquarters. While they ostensibly joined to become members of the Regimental Band, they were also part of the fighting force and several were killed in action.
The list of foreign-born members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment is incomplete. So far, men from 14 countries have been identified, including Canada (as Newfoundland was a Dominion at that time), England, France (including St. Pierre), Germany, Ireland, Lebanon, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Scotland, Syria, the United States and Wales.
At Memorial’s 2016 Ceremony of Remembrance, students from four of those countries — Norway, Russia, Syria and the United States — recognized and honoured members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment from their home country by each placing a bouquet of forget-me-nots on a wreath.
Memorial Univeristy students Kristin BØe and Helle Egger Stjern, from Norway, honoured Pte. Ralph Christianson.
Elvira Gasanova and Igor Gribanov, from Russia, honoured Pte. Charles Bowman, Pte. Charles Chuck, Pte. George Chuck and Pte. Dominic Foaley.
Hussam Al Hamdan and Rouba Isshak, from Syria, honoured Pte. Joseph Sheehan.
Aidan Diamond, from the United States of America, honoured Sgt. Ernest Braithwaite of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Pte. Donald Matheson of Maine, Sgt. John Wall of Boston and Sgt. Percy Wolverson of St. Paul, Minn.
The students’ active participation in the Ceremony of Remembrance re-enforced the fact that Memorial University was built as a living memorial; and that each one of us, students, faculty, staff, retirees and alumni, have a responsibility to remember all members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, no matter where they came from.
When we do this, we remind the world, “That in freedom of learning their cause and sacrifice might not be forgotten.”