Five impressive bronze caribou memorials in Beaumont-Hamel, Courtrai, Gueudecourt, Masnières and Monchy-le-Preux immortalise the suffering and worth of soldiers from Newfoundland.
This province, the oldest colony of the British Empire, had a population of 250,000 inhabitants in 1914. Its citizens participated in the Great War and during the four years of the conflict, the Newfoundland Regiment mobilised over 6,000 men. 1,200 died in Belgium, in the north, the Somme and the Pas-de-Calais.
1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, near Beaumont-Hamel: 802 Newfoundlanders attack the enemy trenches… the following morning only 68 of them were still capable of fighting. On 12 October 1916, the same regiment is involved in the Battle of Le Transloy and takes the German entrenchments in Gueudecourt.
On 14 April 1917, the 1st battalion of the Essex Regiment and the Newfoundland Regiment capture Infantry Hill to the east of Monchy-le-Preux. However, they walk straight into a huge German counter-attack and almost all are killed or captured. In Monchy, the military leaders of the Newfoundlanders put up heroic resistance (thanks to their elite snipers) to all enemy attempts to take the village. A dozen or so men succeed in holding 200-300 Germans at bay for four hours before relief arrived. The Newfoundland Regiment is almost obliterated: 166 dead, 141 wounded, 153 taken prisoner. At the end of June 1917, the Newfoundlanders were posted near Langemark in Belgium, returning to France in mid October, distinguishing themselves once more near Masnières. Their determination resulted in the king of England awarding the title “Royal” to the Newfoundland Regiment, who, in September 1918, took part in the last major offensive of the war around Ypres.
The “best sniper” in the regiment was one of the fifteen Inuit volunteers from Labrador, John Shiwak, a hunter and trapper who was killed during the Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1917.