Bay Roberts shows off its First World War connections

Nicholas Mercer
Published on April 22, 2014

The Royal Canadian Legion in Bay Roberts was a hive of activity this afternoon (April 22) as residents from around the Trinity-Conception-Placentia region brought in pieces of history from the First World War.

There were pictures, medals, manuscripts and even a full uniform, which was found in a home purchased by HarbourGrace’s John Abbott.

Waiting for these prized pieces of Newfoundland history was Kerri Button, a curator at the Rooms in St. John’s. She and her team met with those who brought in the pieces, documenting, cataloguing the materials and hearing their stories.

But, why was this happening?

It was a part of the first-ever First World War Road Show and Tell. The show and tell is a travelling showcase of this province’s connection to the Great War.

“We are here to learn the stories Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have of the First World War and its impact on Newfoundland and Labrador,” said Button.

David Dawe was one of the residents who brought in a couple of pieces to be examined and catalogued.

A history teacher at Holy Redeemer Elementary in Spaniard’s Bay, David had Button look at two pictures of his grandfather, Cpl. Frank Gilbert Dawe.

One was a picture of Frank in his uniform, while the other was one and the rest of his platoon who trained on the famed Lewis Gun.

“This is absolutely great,” said David.

Being an historian, David feels the First World War is a part of this province’s identity.

“I think this is necessary,” he said. “The Newfoundland experience in the First World War is something that defines Newfoundland. It keeps us separate from the rest of Canada.

“We were a dominion of our own. We sent our own men over, we weren’t a part of the Canadian contingent it’s a part of how we are, and a great sense of pride.”


It was dirty

David’s grandfather spoke freely with his grandson of his experiences during the war. Frank was at one point stationed in Gallipoli as a member of D Company. Later he was moved to the western front and the Battle of the Somme in March of 1916.

Excited to be a part of the "big push," Frank would be wounded two weeks before the Battle of Beaumont Hamel.

David’s family has letters sent home by Frank while recovering at Wandsworth Hospital in London, England expressing his disappointment at being injured.

“Little did he know how lucky he was not to be in the big push,” said David.

A year later, Frank would spend the next 17 months as a prisoner of war after being captured by enemy forces at Monchy-le-Preux during the Battle of Arras.

One thing that always stuck out to Frank long after the war was over was how dirty he was.

“He was dirty and lousy for four years.”


Centennial year

July 1 will make the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War. It is for this reason The Rooms is undertaking the task of travelling the province in search of family stories.

“Families have the most amazing stories to tell,” said Button. “They’ve preserved the memories of loved ones, they’ve kept those memories alive and they’re proud of those who served so it’s been an incredible experience so far.”

The community outreach project is a first step in bringing together a new permanent exhibition about the First World War, to open on July 1, 2016, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont Hamel.

Button is unsure of what she will find when the tour continues next month in Grand Bank, but if it is anything like Bay Roberts, she is sure to be impressed.

“If today is any indication, it’s just going to be amazing,” she said.