During the summer of 1914 the predicted European War that had caused Lord Northcliffe to look at moving paper production to North America erupted. On August 4th Britain declared war on Germany and a Royal Proclamation went out across the empire. On that day the news would have reached the remote little town of Grand Falls.
All around what once was wilderness, there was evidence a town was taking shape. Churches had been built for the major denominations, houses were everywhere and the high street was now lined with a few stores, shops, boarding houses, a new government building/post office and a town hall. Not far from the high street, the pulp and paper works had produced its first rolls of newsprint less than five years previous.
Depending on the time of the year the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company provided employment for close to 3000 men. During the summer months over 1500 worked at the mill. A large proportion of those on the payroll were young military aged men. They would volunteer in droves from the Central Region.
Sensing the impact of the war, additional warehousing was obtained and as much paper was shipped to Great Britain as was possible. The storm clouds of war would bring a time of great difficulty to the AND Company and Grand Falls.
With the formation of the Newfoundland Regiment in September of 1914 a large number of men from the area left to fight overseas. Already men who had commitments to the Royal Naval Reserve were in St. John’s preparing to go overseas. Though the number of reservists from Grand Falls was very limited, a large number of men that made up the woods labour force served in this force.
Ironically, the fear that shipments of wood, pulp and newsprint from Northern Europe had been one of the reasons the Grand Falls mill had been built, the scope of this war would lead to similar difficulties in exporting newsprint from Newfoundland to Great Britain. Shipping problems would plague the AND Co’s operations throughout the war.[i]
Very quickly the war lead to difficulties and additional expenses in obtaining mill supplies and parts. Since so much shipping was engaged in bringing war supplies to Great Britain from locations around the world, it became harder and harder to move paper from Botwood. In 1915 in a move to ensure that the minimum amount of paper could be shipped, the directors of AND bought two ships. As the war wore on in 1916 the British government cut news print imports by one-third and new markets would have to be found just to keep the Grand Falls mill in production. The shipping situation became more and more desperate in to 1917 and 1918. The menace of German submarines, which prowled the whole of the North Atlantic coupled with the entry of the United States into the War in April of 1917 caused a major slow down at the mill. The situation became so desperate that the AND Co decided to build two large ocean-going schooners; the Sordello and the Bella Scott at Botwood in an attempt to mitigate the shipping situation.
Because Newfoundland is an island, the shipping difficulties caused by the war led to many difficulties in the operation of the Grand Falls mill. While newsprint imported to the United Kingdom were curtailed, the price of newsprint and pulp in the North American market rose steadily. Demand for sulfite pulp was so strong that the Company invested in the construction of an additional digester, steam dryer and digester house in 1917. This expansion required additional steam and power. To meet this demand three 250 hp Dillon boilers were installed, that would enable the operation to burn wood and mill refuse to create additional steam in case of coal shortages.
And the war was causing coal shortages. Newfoundland has some coal deposits, but nothing major like those in Nova Scotia. To try to mitigate this situation the AND Company undertook a number of initiatives. One included the opening of the Howley Coal mine in Western Newfoundland to supply the mill, the other was the burning of up to 5000 cords of wood per month in the mill’s boilers.[ii] There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that wood had been used to supplement coal prior to the war. Most evidence, anecdotal and photographic, suggests that most of this wood was birch and it was cut from what must have been a substantial stand between Grand Falls and Badger near Cassandra Brook. Here a rail siding was used to load the wood. Photographic evidence suggests that this is why and where the Number 7 Engine was used. Wood for burning would have been cut here and transported directly by rail to the mill, birch does not float and the delivery of this wood would have been for immediate needs.
The shortages in manpower created by enlistments also caused issues at the mill. There are reports of women and boys well below military age being employed in the mill. Hundreds of outport workers were also brought in to work in the mill and on the various projects associated with the town and Company. During this period, most of the migrant workers still lived in the shacks that could still be found at various sites around town.
The war also led to a program of forced diversification, a byproducts division was created. A glue was developed by them, as well as a sweeping disinfecting agent called “Andaco”. Waxed paper, wallboard, tar paper, cardboard and even coat hangers were also produced at the mill during this period.[iii]
Despite all of these adaptations the mill had to go on short time operations in the fall of 1917. [iv]
As you may have gotten the impression by now, shipping concerns were a paramount issue for operation at Grand Falls during the war years. Faced with ever mounting shortages in shipping, the AND CO decided to undertake the construction of two of the largest wooden ships ever built in Newfoundland. They were the Bella Scott and the Sordello. The intention of building these ships was for them to handle the shipping of pulp to North America and the shipping of coal and other supplies to Newfoundland. They were capable of undertaking trans-Atlantic voyages and they reportedly did.[v] They were built of local materials under the supervision of master ship builder Adam Chalk. Chalk had built the Lady Mary for the Company at Millertown in 1908. Working with Chalk were other builders from the Botwood area like Thomas Hancock,[vi] there is also little doubt that some of the talented ship builders from the Evans family of Northern Arm also assisted in the construction of these two ships. Although the war created the need for these ships, they came too late to be very usefully utilized. The Bella Scott was launched less than a month before the end of the war and the Sordello was not completed until a year later.[vii]
On the home front at Grand Falls, the various patriotic associations were very active money was raised for machine guns and aeroplanes, women knit socks and sent packages and tobacco to the servicemen overseas. To cope with rising costs and shortages, the growing of vegetables for home consumption was encouraged and small garden plots sprung up all over town. The Company even assisted by providing gardening tools to people on loan.[viii]
Over 600 men and boys from the area had volunteered to serve overseas and few families were not impacted by the fighting. The post office was no doubt a busy place as it was the place where most of the war news would have been received and posted for the public. In addition to the fighting units, a large number of men from the area enlisted in the Newfoundland Forestry Corps. Many of the men in this unit had extensive experience in lumbering, logging and sawmilling, included in the ranks of this unit were men who were or would go on to become woods contractors or higher-ups within the AND Company woods staff. Some notable examples were Joe and Ken Goodyear who went back overseas with this unit after having been wounded in France with the Newfoundland Regiment and Bryan Potts, who would later become Millertown Divisional Superintendent and Hugh Wilding Cole, long time Badger Division Superintendent.[ix] The Lt. Col of the Unit was Michael Sullivan, engineer and manager with the AND Co who had played a large role in the early operations at Grand Falls. The Anglo Newfoundland Development Company played a large role in organizing and supporting this unit in Both Newfoundland and the United Kingdom.
The War ended on November 11, 1918. It is often reported that only St. John’s contributed more men and suffered more casualties in the War than Grand Falls and at the time St. John’s had about ten times the population. For close to one hundred years it was thought that 55 men were lost from the town (though some of the names on the Cenotaph were residents of Badger or Millertown according to my research), later research suggests that the number was actually over 60. As previously noted there were 600 volunteers from the area, most of which worked in some way for the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. The Goodyear family alone sent five sons overseas (they did not work directly for the company, but in cartage and as woods contractors for the Company) with their only daughter serving as a nurse. Three of the five boys would end up on the war memorial.
The Company had made a guarantee to the men who served that they would be hired back on in either their old positions or higher paying positions. This did create some problems during 1919 as they returned to the town, but it is reported that the issues were dealt with soon afterwards.
The town that the servicemen came back to had grown. Housing shortages were still ever-present, but the shacktowns would soon be a thing of the past. The AND Company had started a new house building program during the war in the area behind Church Road. The first street, an improvement on what is said to be an old logging or Native portage, was called Beaumont Avenue, after Beaumont Hamel where a number of soldiers from the town had lost there lives. There is a pretty good chance that this was the first street in Newfoundland to memorialize the battle. The other streets built as part of the same housing program all bore names of Battles from the Great War: Suvla Bay, Polygon Wood, Monchy all had streets named for them. In addition Haig Road was named for the British Field Marshall, later so vilified for the failure of the Somme Offensive, who commanded the British Expeditionary Force, which included the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
When the servicemen arrived at Grand Falls Station, they must have noticed growth as a number of stores had sprung up during the war and a few more houses began to appear as this settlement began to take shape. The housing shortages in Grand Falls and the increasingly paternalistic policies of the AND Co meant that people coming into the area looking for work took to building their own dwellings on land north of the railway tracks.
The years directly after the war were transitional. Shipping shortages lingered into 1919 as did high prices. The high prices of pulp and paper products and cod fish did lead to boom for the Newfoundland economy. Plans were put in place for more expansion at the Grand Falls Mill.
Not only had the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company weathered the storm of the Great War, the war had also forced it to adapt and in some cases expand. During the war Lord Rothermere had actually bought the AE Reed Newfoundland Company, which owned the Bishop’s Falls Pulp mill, this, coupled with that smaller mill’s increasing dependence on the Grand Falls operations for shipping and other services, paved the way for its absorption by the AND Co during the 1920’s.
Most communities in Newfoundland were impacted by the First World War, but few as significantly as Grand Falls and the surrounding area.
[i] Price, FA 50 Years of Progress at Grand Falls, 1959
[iii] Unpublished manuscript attributed to George Hicks