Second World War: 1939-1945

With the outbreak of World War II Newfoundland found itself again the precarious position of having no permanent military force. With the assistance of the British War Ministry a military unit to be called the Newfoundland Militia was formed. The stated objectives of the unit was to guard important sites and to offer resistance to enemy landing parties. Recruiting was initially conducted through the office of the Chief of Police, Chief .J.O’Neil, but was later transferred to Captain Fanning-Evans, an officer with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. Recruits were enlisted and trained at the Constabulary grounds at Fort Townshend. In October, the Militia Act was signed given full authorization for the Commission of Government to raise a voluntary force for home service to be called the Newfoundland Militia. The first Commanding Officer of the new unit was Lt Col Walter F. Rendell. Rendell was a member of the First Five Hundred in WWI and was subsequently wounded in action at Gallipoli. One of his first duties was to establish coastal defenses and to post guards at important sites including the vital cable communications network. In February, the Newfoundland Militia began a new assignment which involved guarding prisoners of war at an internment camp at Pleastantville. Most of these prisoners were seamen taken from enemy ships at sea or docked in ports. By July, the militia had moved from their temporary headquarters in the town fire hall to permanent barracks established in Shamrock Field. On 15 November, 1941 the Newfoundland Militia was incorporated into the Canadian Command. Brigadier Philip Earnshaw became Commander of the Combined Newfoundland and Canadian Military Forces in Newfoundland. The Newfoundland Militia was placed on Active Service as of 21 June 1941.

In late 1941 Lt Col A.T. Howell took command of the Newfoundland Militia. On September 5th the importance of home defence became abundantly clear. Four iron ore freighters were docked in Lance Cove on the South East side of Bell Island. Lurking outside was the German submarine U-513. Near noon, the U-boat fired a torpedo into the side of the freighter Saranaga killing twenty seven of her crew and sending the carrier to the bottom in minutes. Some twenty minutes later the Lord Strathcona met a similar fate however the crew had time to abandon ship before this vessel sunk. The U-513 disappeared before the Bell Island Coast Defense Battery could be put into action.

Tragedy also struck the Regiment itself in December 1942. A horrific fire erupted at the K. Of C. Hostel in St.John’s on 12 December. Among the 100 who perished in the fire was 22 members of the Newfoundland Regiment.

In May, 1941 two auxiliary militia units had been formed at Corner Brook and Grand Falls to protect these vital industries. On 2 March the Newfoundland Militia was renamed the Newfoundland Regiment having reached full regimental status consisting of 27 officers and 543 other ranks. The two auxiliary militia units in Grand Falls and Corner Brook were subsequently called the Newfoundland Militia.

Among the many duties of the Newfoundland Regiment was to serve as a recruiting depot for volunteers wishing to join the 59th (Nfld) Heavy  Regiment, Royal Artillery, and the 166 (Nfld) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, serving overseas. At the war’s end the Militia Units were disbanded after having successfully guarded Newfoundland’s maritime interests from sabotage or attack.