During the First World War Newfoundland was not a part of Canada. It's strongest relationship was with Great Britain and as a Dominion within the Empire, Newfoundland committed it's support to Britain on the outbreak of the war. Although the Royal Newfoundland regiment had a history going back to 1795, it had not been in existence since 1870 and had to be raised, organized and trained form scratch.
The population of Newfoundland in 1914 was about 241,000 and from this number volunteers quickly filled up the need for an entire battalion which was maintained through the entire war. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was quickly assembled and shipped to England where it's real training began. The strength was doubled during this period from about 500 men to over 1000.
The battalion was then shipped off to Egypt where it was prepared to participate in the Gallipoli Campaign and in 1915 it was deployed with the British 29th division at Suvla Bay Turkey which made this the only American unit to serve in that campaign. The nickname which the Regiment acquired was the blue puttees which was the covering they wore on their lower legs and feet and was traditionally a drab olive colour but due to wartime shortages they were only able to get blue coloured puttees.
The Suvla Bay landing took place on September 20th, 1915 and the Newfoundland regiment, along with the British, Australian, and New Zealand troops, struggled against oppressive odds to take the Gallipoli Peninsula from the Turkish forces. This battle continued until January 9th, 1916 when, among the last rearguard troops, the Newfoundlanders were finally withdrawn and given some downtime before being transported to France where they were prepared for life on the Western Front.
The regiment was inserted into the line in April of 1916 along the Somme sector of the battlefield and the Newfoundlanders were prepared for a great attack to take place on July 1st which would be known as the Battle of the Somme. The objective for the Newfoundland Regiment, as a part of the 29th British Division, would be the town of Beaumont-Hamel which was on the Northern edge of the attack to be made. Facing the Newfoundlanders was the 26th Wurttemberg Division which was an Experienced and tested unit.
On July 1st, 1916 a huge explosion rocked the front lines along the Newfoundlanders lines as 18,000 kilograms of explosives ripped a large hole in the German lines. This was the result of British engineers digging under the German lines and placing the explosives under the Germans in order to open up a hole in their lines. The explosion was large but also alerted the Germans who came streaming out of their dug in positions and quickly populated the defensive lines. When the British units came charging across no mans land on the attack, they were quickly mowed down and the attack faltered and stopped. Unfortunately a German flare was mistaken for an allied Flare and the Newfoundland Regiment along with the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment left their trenches on St Johns Road at 8:45 AM and began the attack. As the Newfoundlanders crested the slope on the battlefield they were fully exposed to the full fury of the dug in, Experienced, German regiment. They were slaughtered and within 15 minutes of the attack beginning the Newfoundland regiment had almost ceased to exist. 780 offices and soldiers had started the attack and only 110 returned unscathed. All officers were causalities and only 68 answered the roll call the following day.
The regiment was moved to a quieter area of the front and slowly rebuilt. as reinforcements arrived and the strength of the regiment was slowly built up again, they had to face a gas attack by the Germans in Flanders and by October were re-engaged on the Somme front at Gueudecourt. They fought several other battles during the First World War including the Battle of Arras where they lost 485 men but stopped the German attack. They stopped the German attacks at Cambrai in November 1917, at Bailleul in April 1918 and were involved in the Hundred Days Offensive which helped bring the war to a close.
The battle at Beaumont Hamel was the key event in the war for the Newfoundlanders and July 1st was designed as memorial day in Newfoundland after that as well as Canada Day since its entry into Confederation.