The Newfoundland Regiment

The history of Newfoundland’s involvement in the First World War is usually recorded separately from the Canadian story, given the province’s status then as a separate dominion. Yet the Canadian and Newfoundland wartime experiences were often intertwined, perhaps nowhere more so than at Vimy and Arras in April 1917.

On 9 April 1917, as the Canadian Corps surged over Vimy Ridge north of Arras, British Third Army attacked eastward from Arras, only a few miles away from Vimy Ridge. The Newfoundland Regiment formed part of that force.

British 3rd Army success east of Arras from 9-12 April matched the Canadians at Vimy on their left. They too made use of the latest Allied tactical and technical innovations helping them win control of the heights commanding Arras to the east.

The Newfoundlanders faced a different challenge east of Arras where the German Army set up a deep defence zone reinforced with reserve troops held behind the frontline waiting to counter-attack.

The Newfoundland mission was to press the offensive further east, beyond the newly captured fortified village of Monchy-le-Preux, crowning the heights east of Arras. Their dawn attack on 14 April 1917 collided head-on with a German counter-attack to re-capture the commanding village. The regiment fought in three directions against a German force some three-times their number until most Newfoundlanders were killed or wounded.

At mid-morning, the commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel James Forbes-Robertson, assembled his headquarters staff and rushed forward to a house and hedge at the edge of Monchy-Le-Preux. There the “Monchy 10” as they were later known, blocked all German attempts to re-take the key village until British reinforcements arrived nearly five hours later. All ten men were later decorated for gallantry.

The Commanding Officer of the Newfoundland Regiment and his headquarters group that successfully held the commanding village of Monchy-le-Preux against a major German counter-attack on 14 April, 1917. Courtesy of the Rooms Provincial Archives Division (VA 36-38.1), St. John's, NL.

Newfoundland losses at Monchy-le-Preux amounted to the second worst day of the war after the infamous action at Beaumont-Hamel on 1 July 1916. 159 were killed, 134 wounded, and 150 taken prisoner, many of whom were also wounded, 28 later died of wounds in captivity.