One hundred years ago today, the RMS Franconia sailed out of St. John’s Harbour with a draft of Newfoundland Royal Naval Reservists destined to man His Majesty’s Ships in the war against Germany and Austria Hungary.
Twenty five years ago a picture of a sailor appeared in the Grand Falls Advertiser with the caption: “Can you identify this man, if so please contact the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 12.” Immediately my mother recognized the seventy five year old photo. A very similar picture hung in her parents’ living room. So mom took the paper out to Pop who took one look and said “It’s the old man.”
The old man was Eliol Baker and the picture was taken in Scotland sometime in 1914 or 15 while he was an Able Seaman aboard theHMS Patuca. Both pictures were taken with the Patuca cap tally on his hat.[i] I still don’t have a clue how the legion came into possession of the picture, although Dadder, as the family called him, was a member of that branch.
Eloil Baker was born in Gooseberry Cove, Trinity Bay in September of 1891 or so the parish records say. His headstone says 1892 and his enlistment papers state October 4, 1890. When he was about 9 his father died-froze to death in the woods Pop used to say. Dadder was raised by his Uncle and Aunt in Petley on Random Island and later in Black Brook near Hillview.
In his teenage years Eloil came into Grand Falls to work on construction of the mill. He no doubt lived in one of the tar paper shacks that dotted the landscape during this time. Once construction finished up he started going into the woods as a logger, teamster and driver. He would have been on the drive about the same time the “Badger Drive” was written and used to say that he was on the “Badger Drive”-which I later realized meant THE “Badger Drive.”
In January of 1912 at the age of twenty he enlisted in the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve at St. John’s. For some reason he, like so many that cmae after lied about his age and made himself a year older even though he was 20. He signed on the do about a month of training each year for a period of five years. So each winter for the next few years he came into St. John’s to train on the HMS Calypso. In 1914 he did two months according to the records. When he left St. John’s that year he had about 28 days left in the navy.
According to pop Dadder was “on the Labrador”, with skipper Will Smith” when in August of 1914 the news reached the schooners crew from Trinity Bay that War had broken out between Great Britain and Germany and all Naval Reservists had to St. John’s as soon as possible. Most of crew were reservists including the skipper and they were in St. John’s in a few weeks.
One hundred years ago this week Dadder sailed out of St. John’s Harbour on the RMS Franconia with a number of other reservists. Once in the UK the Newfoundlanders underwent further training to supplement what they had received on the Calypso. Dadder was trained at the gunnery school on Whale Island Portsmouth. Then he was posted to Scotland where he would join the newly formed 10thCruiser Squadron.
The 10th Cruiser Squadron would be home to many Newfoundlanders during the war. It was tasked with enforcing the blockade of the North Sea, making sure no war material made its way to Germany in German or Neutral ships. The Ships of the squadron were not traditional warships they were Armed Merchant Crusiers converted passenger and cargo liners pressed into service and armed. The particular ship Dadder was on; the Patuca was converted banana boat. The Patuca was shiksed away from the sunny Caribean fitted with naval guns, crewed with reservists and set to work patrolling the North Sea.
Dadder would never talk about the war he said “it was not fit to talk about,” “I had my arse in the water more than once” and that he was in the water for three to five hours once. So I have done quite a bit of research on his service. Crews on the Armed Merchant Cruisers were tasked with boarding and inspecting suspicious ships. If they were deemed suspicious the men were posted as an armed guard who escorted the suspicious ship back to a British port for inspection. The Newfoundland reservists were well suited to handling the small boats used by the boarding parties. This was risky business in itself made all the worse by the fact that it was done in the freezing latitudes between Scotland and Iceland.
Armed gaurds from the AMC’s routinely got lost, the ships they were taking back to prt were sometimes sunk, sometimes they were boarded by the Germans ad if the armed guard were unlucky they were captured. In one case an armed guard from the Patuca was posted on a Norwegian ship. On their way back to Scotland they were signalled by a German submarine for inspection-if they were found to be carrying supplies for the British they would be sunk. The seamen from the Patuca scrambled to throw their guns over the side and to disguise themselves a Norweigian sailors. The ruise worked and the sailors from the Patuca escaped capture. Another Armed guard was captured but somehow ended up in South America after the German ship they were on was captured.
Dadder spent three years on the North Sea. Once the Americans came into the war there wasn’t such a need for the 10th crusier squadron since the British no longer had to worry about supplies going to German from a neutral USA. Dadder was posted back to Newfoundland for about six months. It is likely that he was training other sailors or serving in the Newfoundland and Labrador patrol protecting the fishing fleets. During this time he married “Mudder” at St. Thomas’ in St. John’s. Shortly after his marriage he was sent back to the UK. It was December of 1917 and all convoys were going out from Halifax. I am unable to gather if he was there when Halifax was devastated by the explosion or the day after, but he like many other Newfoundland reservists was there to witness the carnage.
Back in the UK Dadder spent some time as a supernumerary. Which menat he was basically a substitute sailor. If a ship needed extra crew they took on supernumerary. Unfortunatly it is impossible to know which ships he was on as a supernumerary. It was during this time he was most likely “In the water.” Towards the end of the war in 1918 Dadder was on the minesweeper HMS Croxton which sweapt the English channel for mines and brght men and supplies back and forth across the English Channel. According to one interview with another Newfoundlander on a minesweeper at the time they were also tasked with taking prisoners back to England.
Dadder was on the Croxton when the war ended. They were given the option to staying overseas to help clear the sea mines that choked the English Channel and other waterways. He satyed overseas clearing mines for a number of months. Clearing mines involved towing a paravane (a type of sea kite attached to a cable that would cut the chains or cables holding the mines) cutting the mines and then blowing them up by shooting them with rifles. It was very dangerous work and a number of Newfoundlanders were killed doing it.
Dadder sailed back to North America in May of 1919 with 100 other reservists aboard the SS Caronia. The Caronia sailed into Halifax as most of their passengers were Canadian soldiers, the Newfoundlanders came back to Newfoundland on the Sagona. At the end of May he was demobilized at St. John’s after 7 years in the Royal Navy.
“Dadder and Mudder” settled in Dark Hole, Hillview, Trinity Bay. They had two children. He worked in the woods mostly, as a logger, teamster and building camps. He and his two brother in laws operated a waterwheel sawmill near the present day Trailside Motel near Goobies. He also worked for a few years on construction of the powerhouse at Deer Lake. He always had a horse and teamed wood for himself and for the AND Co. On the last voters list in which he has a listed occupation he is listed as a river driver. He must have spent quite a few years on the drive and must have been pretty good at it since at the time he was in his late 50’s.
Even though he lived in Hillview Dadder wasn’t a member of the legion there. He was however a member of Branch 12 at Grand Falls. It was probably easier since Nan and Pop moved out to Windsor in 1954 and “Dadder” spent most of his time in there as he got older. Every day he would walk from 8th Ave in Windsor to the Legion in Grand Falls for a beer and maybe a game of cards. He was usually accompanied by “Uncle Lew,” Lewis Saunders another Great War veteran who lived in Windsor. He was also attended the reunions of the Central Newfoundland Naval Association. At the reunions he was by the looks of the pictures, the oldest person there, since the association was made up mostly of Second World War Navy vets from Grand Falls and Windsor.
Dadder passed away just shy of his 82nd birthday in August of 1973 and is buried in Hillview. To this day I don’t know how his Navy picture ended up in the Advertiser or in the hands of the legion or why they were compelled to publish it in the newspaper. what is a little funny is that he spent quite a bit of time at the legion, and appeared in the paper as a member at least twice. It may have had something to do with The Last Post Fund which was dedicated to putting markers at the graves of all veterans and since he was an unidentified man, they needed to check into it. The legion was contacted by my mother and grandfather who filled out the appropriate forms to get a marker placed. It took a few years but a foot marker is now on his grave in Hillview bearing the same incorrect birth year from his enlistment papers. Because the War “wasn’t fit to talk about” most of his wartime service remains a mystery, besides what has been deciphered from log books, medal roles and a varity of other sources.
[i] A cap tally is band with the ship a sailor served on printed on it.
“Their Name Liveth for Evermore”
There are fifty five names inscribed on the Cenotaph in Grand Falls-Windsor. One for each of the men and boys from the town who lost their lives in the First World War, The Great War. These bear a testament to the tremendous sacrifice made by the infant town in that bloody conflict.
There are fifty five names on the memorial, but the true toll may be much higher. Grand Falls Windsor: The Place and Its people lists
58 and there were no doubt people who lived at Grand Falls and Grand Falls Station that were listed under their places of birth when they were killed. It is a staggering number when one considers that the population of Grand Falls was just a little over 1600 people in 1911, three years before the war began.
When the war started the men and boys volunteered in droves. This was true for all of Newfoundland and it is said that for each successful volunteer at least one was rejected due to hearth reasons. From what I have read and observed over the years just about every man between the ages of 15 and 30 in the Dominion tried to do their part. Grand Falls would have been a young town, young in its physical age and young in the ages of its inhabitants. There would have been scores of military aged men that had come to the new town to work in the mill and then there would have been the sons of the early families-these first pupils of GFA and NDA.
Most of the volunteers from Grand Falls signed up for the Newfoundland Regiment, the Cenotaph does not bear the name of a single Royal Naval Reservist even though close to 200 were killed in the war and aftermath. They would have left town on the train, headed to St. John’s for rudimentary training and then shipped to England. From England the first volunteers went to Egypt and from there to the Dardanelles to fight in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. In the hills and scrub of those windswept straits the Newfoundlanders received their baptism of fire. They would be some of the last to leave that front when the Allies snuck out in early 1916. To the best of my knowledge nobody from Grand Falls was killed at Gallipoli.
From Gallipoli the Newfoundlanders were posted to the western front, in France. It was here on July 1st 1916 the regiment was devastated during the first day of the Battle of the Somme near the town of Beaumont Hamel. A number of men from Grand Falls lost their lives that day.
Not all of the names etched into the granite were members of the Newfoundland Regiment. Many residents of the town were Canadian or British and joined or rejoined units in these countries. Notable examples being Vincent Jones-the mill superintendent at the time and Hedley Goodyear. Jones was an officer in an Indian Army unit and Goodyear left a promising career in academia in Canada to enlist as officer with the Canadian Army.
Hedley Goodyear was one of five brothers that enlisted, four of whom became officers[i], three of whom died in the mud of France and Flanders.[ii] A tragedy that is well known in Grand Falls and immortalized by David McFarlane in his book the Danger Tree.
The bloodletting did not stop at Beaumont Hamel. A quick analysis of the records indicates that at least as many, if not more, men from Grand Falls were killed or wounded at the Battle of Monchy Le-Preux in 1917.
The Great War impacted Grand Falls to a huge extent, if the conflict as seen as the event that solidified Canada as a nation, to Grand Falls it was a weathered storm that forged a town.
Not only were many of the able bodied men gone in the regiment and other fighting units but dozens if not hundreds were had enlisted and gone to the United Kingdom as part of the Newfoundland forestry Corps. Amongst them were many that were or would become the upper echelon of the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company’s woods staff. They Included: Harry S. Crowe and Bryan Potts both of whom would become superintendent of Millertown Division at different times; Hugh Wilding Cole, future Badger Superintendent, Kenneth and Joe Goodyear of J. Goodyear and Sons which was the biggest private contractor for AND Co.[iii]
It has been noted that some 600 men from the area served in the Great War.[iv] The mill was left with a skeleton crew. I have read that boys as young as 11 and women were pressed into work at the mill. Significant numbers of men from the outports also found temporary employment there. Even with the measures taken, production had to be curtailed due to shortages of both labour and shipping. Shipping problems became so bad that AND resorted to building its own large Schooners at Botwood; The Sordello and Bella Scott.
The war ended in November of 1918 and those that survived began to arrive home. Those who had left their positions with the AND Co were guaranteed their old jobs back. The Company made good on the promise. One of the first Branches of the Great War Veterans Association was formed, spearheaded by the likes of L.R Cooper and George Hicks, the former headmaster of GFA who had left teaching gone to war and come back a Captain with a Military Cross.
In 1922 a memorial park was designated, where the old mill managers house (Wood House) once stood on Station Road. At its centre there was a Granite Cenotaph erected to honor the 55 men from the town who lost their lives in the Great War.
A hundred years on they are still remembered, though it is hard to make a connection, all of the Great War Veterans are gone, most of their children are now gone as well. Some of the family names on the memorial are gone, maybe the son on the cenotaph was the only son, and maybe they left after the war. They came from all over to Grand Falls and from there they offered to serve.
Most were mere boys, teenagers like Eli Abbot killed in action on the Somme and Mackintosh Frew killed at Monchy. Some were older and left families like 2nd Lt J Roy Ferguson and Company Sgt Major Robert Porter ages 27 and 29 respectively both of whom like so many others were cut down at Beaumont Hamel, Michael Joseph O’Flynn killed at Beaumont Hamel. Some we even know the address Private Thomas Southcott of 4 Riverview Road, 18 Year old Herbert Wills of Exploits Lane,[v] just a couple of minutes’ walk from the memorial that bears their names.
[i] Though it should be noted that two of them became officers in the Newfoundland Forestry Corps, having re-enlisted in this unit after being discharged from being deemed medically unfit due to wounds that they had received.
[iv] Grand Falls the Place and It’s People. 2005