the windsor draft

Ice Infantry: Soldiers from the Newfoundland Regiment, starters and spares, pose in hockey garb, and not, in early 1917, in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Back, left to right: Rex White, Sydney Bennett, Jack Strong, Duke Winter. Middle: Hayward Williams, Charlie Strong, Lionel Duley, Stan Newman. Front: Ernest Churchill, Harry Mews. (Image: The Rooms, Provincial Archives Division, St. John’s, Newfoundland)

They’d been bank clerks and accountants in St. John’s, where they’d lived on Mundy Pond and on Forest Road, on Monkstown and on Rennie’s Mill Road, the sons of jewelers, of civil servants, and of sea captains, and were 18 and 19 years old, several of them, when they enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment for the duration of the war at the Church Lads Brigade Armoury, and then attested, some in the First Draft in 1914, others later on, in the Twelfth. They shipped over to England on the Bowring Brothers’ steamship Florizel, and trained at Salisbury and Aldershot and in Scotland at Hawick, and were promoted corporal and colour sergeant, and reinforced 1st Battalion at Suvla Bay, at Gallipoli, in 1915, and took ill there, before the Allied withdrawal, with catarrhal jaundice. Some of them who subsequently returned to duty in France were wounded by splinters of a bomb in raids on enemy trenches at Beaumount Hamel a few days before the disastrous attack on July 1, 1916.

In October of 1916, the plan was to reinforce the Newfoundland Regiment with a draft of recruits sailing from St. John’s to Halifax. From there they’d sail to England. But then there was an outbreak of measles in town, and the plan was postponed. Reports of German submarines hunting in the Atlantic further delayed a departure. The Florizel finally delivered what became known as the Windsor Draft to Halifax in early February of 1917. The second leg of the journey still wasn’t yet worked out, so the Newfoundlanders trained over to Windsor, Nova Scotia, 319 of them, all ranks. They found temporary barracks (some ranks) in a sawmill — some (the officers) checked into the Victoria Hotel. Waiting for what was next that damp winter, they fell sick, many of them, with measles and mumps, influenza, pneumonia, which meant that once again, plans were changed. At the end of February their sailing orders were cancelled until they were healthy.

They recuperated and, as they were able, kept busy: “route-marches, Swedish drill, platoon drill, and squad drill figured prominently in the training time-tables that appeared in Daily Orders,” G.W.L. Nicholson writes in The Fighting Newfoundlander (2006). It’s not surprising that hockey figured into the recreational program. By Gregory White’s account, the regiment had already been playing in Scotland, taking on (in one case) a team of Canadian students from the University of Edinburgh and defeating them 16-1. In Windsor, that ancient hockey capital, the Newfoundlanders skated against teams from town as well as from nearby King’s College. The visitors had to adjust their game to the local landscape, White notes: while the Newfoundlanders were used to playing a seven-man game parcelled into two halves of 30 minutes each, in Nova Scotia they converted to the six-man version, with its three 20-minute periods.

The regimental line-up seen here included several subalterns who were returning to European duty from convalescent leave in Newfoundland. Second Lieutenant Ernest Churchill, down in front in the photograph, was the Gallipoli jaundice case. In the middle row, second over from the left, is Second Lieutenant Charlie Strong, who survived that bomb — a hand grenade — at Beaumont Hamel.

It was April before the Windsor Draft continued on its way to war. Most of them: one soldier had died in February, and was buried in Windsor, while 25 others were too ill to leave hospital when the majority departed for Halifax to take ship for England aboard ships called Ansonia, Grampian, and Northland.

Among the hockey players, Harry Mews went to Ontario, after the war, where he was a sales representative for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. Ltd. of Canada. When he returned to St. John’s in 1927, he went into insurance and municipal politics. He served as the city’s eighth mayor from 1949 to 1965.

Sergeant Marmaduke Winter would, by December of 1917, be at Wandsworth Hospital in London recovering from a bullet wound in the back. In the summer of 1918, Newfoundland Prime Minister Sir John Crosbie came to see him there, and the regimental band was on hand, too, to play as Sergeant Winter received his Military Medal, having (as the citation read) “displayed great personal bravery in attacking two snipers single handed and killing them.”

Sydney Bennett would transfer to the Royal Flying Corps with whom, promoted captain, he won a French Croix de Guerre for his part in an air raid on German positions. He was commended for having “given proof of great courage and activity” by way of “a personal encounter” during which he “forced two enemy machines to descend.”

In June of 1917, when the Newfoundland Regiment’s 2nd Battalion deployed to the Ypres Salient in Belgium, Lieutenant Ernest Churchill was in the battle through the summer and fall in the country around Passchendaele. By March of ’18 he was back in England, in hospital in Sheffield, suffering from the effects of “shell gas poisoning.” A Medical Board report listed his symptoms: “vomiting, cough, fever, loss of voice, and pain across chest, his eyes were closed for a few days.”

Captain Charlie Strong was at Passchendaele and then, early in 1918, with 1st Battalion as they tried to hold a German advance at the Franco-Belgian border. He was commanding two companies when he was wounded by a shellburst on April 12 around 3 p.m. near a crossroads called De Seule. Transferred to a Canadian casualty clearing station near Poperinghe, he died there of his wounds, at the age of 28, at 9.15 p.m. He’s buried at Ligssenthook Military Cemetery in Belgium.

Second Lieutenant Lionel Duley is the goaltender in the photograph. He was 20 in September of 1918. He was leading his platoon forward near a Belgian village called Kieberg, not far from Passchendaele, when he was hit in the thigh by machine fire. It was 11 in the morning when he died. “He was buried where he was killed,” his commanding officer later noted, “a cross being erected by the Regiment.” His remains were moved after the war, not far: he lies now at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery near Zonnebeke.