Designated in 2012 as an Outstanding Historic Event.
Nominator: James Lynch, Royal Newfoundland Regiment Advisory Committee
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment has become the iconic embodiment of a deep tradition of service to king and country that exists in Newfoundland and Labrador. From the mid-1700s to present day, Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have served in many units, and in many wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping missions around the globe. Until the late 18th century men served in the various regiments of the British army that recruited on the island. In 1795, amidst growing fears of attack by revolutionary France, Newfoundland formed its first professional regiment of the line.
This regiment was a marked departure from all previous Newfoundland units. It was the first to be financed from the outset by the British government and not by a local resident. It was the largest unit to have been raised on the island up to that point. Most importantly it was the first regiment to be designated the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and the first to be authorized for service off the island. Men who joined the regiment faced the very real possibility that they could be sent to posts throughout British North America.
In July of 1802, after the signing of the Treaty Amiens, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was disbanded. Peace, however, was short lived and the following year as war resumed between Britain and France, London again authorized the raising of a regular regiment of infantry in Newfoundland.
Once again designated Royal, the regiment was raised along the same guidelines as the 1795 incarnation and many of the officers and men from the previous regiment re-enlisted for service. The 1803 Royal Newfoundland Regiment was involved in the war with the Americans between 1812 and 1815. The regiment served with distinction and played a prominent role in many key battles. It returned to Newfoundland at the conclusion of the war and was disbanded in 1816.
Newfoundland did not field another combat regiment for almost 100 years. In 1914 the colony enthusiastically answered the call to arms and raised an infantry regiment for service overseas. During the course of the war over 6000 men served in the regiment and they fought with distinction in Turkey, France and Belgium. In 1917 the Newfoundland regiment had again been awarded the prefix of Royal. By 1919, however, the regiment was disbanded and was not raised again for another 30 years.
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment has been a fixture of Newfoundland and Labrador’s history for over 200 years. Though its lineage has not been unbroken, it has lived on through the shared memory and traditions of the regimental system in each successive manifestation of the regiment. While the military has always understood the importance of this continued regimental identity, it was not until after the Great War that the raising of the regiment in 1795 began to play a prominent role in the broader cultural identity of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The formation of the first Royal Newfoundland Regiment was a marked departure from what came before. For the first time in the island’s history it tied service to King and Country with a local geographical location. Men were now able to join a regiment in which a shared geography allowed them to form a distinct collective identity within a larger military complex. This identity was remembered and built upon time and again when the regiment was re-raised. Eventually this connection to place allowed for the development of a strong bond between the resident population and the regiment.
Service in this institution has affected many generations throughout the province and the accomplishments and hardships of it and its successors have deeply affected the cultural identity of Newfoundland and Labrador.