The Blue Puttees is the nickname given to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. I highly recommend you play the song below as you read their history.
When the First World War began in 1914 the Dominion of Newfoundland had a population of about 240,000 and was not yet part of Canada. The outbreak of the war led the Government of Newfoundland to recruit a force to fight with the British Army – enough men volunteered that a full battalion strength of 1000 men was formed and maintained throughout the war. But a lack of military stores required them to fashion uniforms from scratch. Not having khaki broadcloth they made their puttees from blue broadcloth – and the nickname “Blue Puttees” was given to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
The regiment trained at various locations in the United Kingdom and after a period of acclimatization in Egypt was deployed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula with the 29th British Division in support of the Gallipoli Campaign. On September 20th, 1915, the regiment landed at Suvla Bay where the British, Australian, and New Zealand forces had been attempting to seize control of the Dardanelles Strait from Turkey. Over the next three months thirty soldiers of the regiment were killed or mortally wounded in action and ten died of disease; 150 were treated for frostbite and exposure. Despite the terrible conditions, the Newfoundlanders stood up well. When the decision was made to evacuate all British Empire forces from the area, the regiment was chosen to be a part of the rearguard, finally withdrawing from Gallipoli with the last of the British Dardanelles Army troops on 9 January, 1916. With the close of the Gallipoli Campaign the regiment spent a short period recuperating before being transferred to the Western Front in March 1916.
In France, the regiment regained battalion strength in preparation for the Battle of the Somme. The regiment, still with the 29th British Division, went into the line in April 1916 at Beaumont-Hamel. Beaumont-Hamel was situated near the northern end of the 45 kilometre front being assaulted by the joint French and British force. The 29th British Division, with its three infantry brigades, faced defences manned by experienced troops of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment of the 26th (Wurttemberg) Reserve Division. The 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment had been involved in the invasion of France in August 1914 and had been manning the Beaumont-Hamel section of the line for nearly 20 months prior to the battle. The German troops spending a great deal of their time not only training but fortifying their position, including the construction of numerous deep dugouts and at least two tunnels.
The infantry assault by the 29th British Division on 1 July, 1916 was to be preceded ten minutes earlier by a mine explosion under the heavily fortified Hawthorn Ridge Redoubt. The explosion of the 18,000 kilogram (40,000 lb) Hawthorn Mine underneath the German lines successfully destroyed a major enemy strong point but also served to alert the German forces to the imminent attack. Following the explosion, troops of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment immediately deployed from their dugouts into the firing line, even preventing the British from taking control of the resulting crater. When the assault finally began, the troops from the 86th and 87th Brigade of the 29th British Division were quickly stopped. With the exception of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the right flank, the initial assault foundered in No Man’s Land. At divisional headquarters, Major-General Beauvoir De Lisle and his staff were trying to unravel the numerous and confusing messages coming back from observation posts, contact aircraft and the two leading brigades. There were indications that some troops had broken into and gone beyond the German first line. In an effort to exploit the perceived break in the German line he ordered the 88th Brigade, which was in reserve, to send forward two battalions to support attack.
At 8:45 a.m. the Newfoundland Regiment and 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment received orders to move forward. The Newfoundland Regiment was situated at St. John’s Road, a support trench 250 yards (230 m) behind the British forward line and out of sight of the enemy. Movement forward through the communication trenches was not possible because they were congested with dead and wounded men and under shell fire. Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lovell Hadow, the battalion commander, decided to move immediately into attack formation and advance across the surface, which involved first navigating through British barbed wire defences. As they breasted the skyline behind the British first line, they were effectively the only troops moving on the battlefield and clearly visible to the German defenders. Subjected to the full force of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment, most of the Newfoundland Regiment who had started forward were dead, dying or wounded within 15 to 20 minutes of leaving St. John’s Road trench. Most reached no further than the Danger Tree, a skeleton of a tree that lay in No Man’s Land that was being utilized as a landmark.
So far as can be ascertained, 22 officers and 758 other ranks were directly involved in the advance. Of these, all the officers and slightly under 658 other ranks became casualties. Of the 780 men who went forward only about 110 survived unscathed, of whom only 68 were available for roll call the following day. For all intents and purposes the Newfoundland Regiment had been wiped out, the unit as a whole having suffered a casualty rate of approximately 90%. The only unit to suffer greater casualties during the attack was the 10th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.
Although significantly understrength, the Newfoundland Regiment continued to see service and after a period of recovery coupled with additional reinforcements the regiment returned to full strength. Six weeks later they were beating off a German gas attack in Flanders. Subsequently they distinguished themselves in a number of battles; back on the Somme in October 1916; on 23 April 1917, at the Battle of Arras, where they lost 485 men in a day but checked a German attack. In November 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai the regiment stood its ground although outflanked. In April 1918 stemmed a German advance at Bailleul. Following a period out of the line providing the guard force for General Headquarters at Montreuil, they joined the 28th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division and were in action again at Ledegem and beyond in the advances of the Hundred Days Offensive – during which a Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldier, Thomas Ricketts, became the youngest soldier of the war to win the Victoria Cross.
In recognition of the unit’s valour during the later battles at Ypres and Cambrai of 1917, King George V bestowed the regiment with the prefix “Royal” on 28 September, 1917, renaming them as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This was the only time during the First World War that this honour was given and only the third time in the history of the British Army that it has been given during a time of war, the last occasion having been 101 years earlier.
When Newfoundland joined Canada as its 10th province in 1949 the Royal Newfoundland Regiment became the primary militia unit for the province. The regiment is ranked last in the order of precedence of Canadian infantry regiments due to Newfoundland’s entry into Canada long after other Canadian regiments were recognized in the order of precedence. Since 1992, soldiers and sub-units of the regiment have served to augment Regular Force units in Cyprus, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan on peacekeeping and combat missions.
On August 30th 2010, Corporal Brian Pinkson died of his wounds eight days after being injured by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, making him the regiment’s first combat fatality since the First World War.