Padre Thomas Nangle and the Memorials to the Newfoundlanders killed in WWI

Nangle, a Roman Catholic priest, was the Regiment’s first chaplain and after the First World War he volunteered to help ensure that the Newfoundlanders killed in the conflict had proper resting places. He was appointed to the Imperial War Graves Commission ( now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ) and for the next six years he laboured to find the bodies of his fellow Newfoundlanders, to identify them, and to ensure that they were interred with reverence and dignity.

He also helped establish five caribou memorials on the Western Front battlefields where the Regiment fought. A sixth stands in St. John’s, in Bowring Park. Nangle suggested that the caribou should be the centerpiece of each battlefield’s commemoration of the 1914-18 Regiment. He did much, too, to bring about Newfoundland’s National War Memorial, which stands in St. John’s.


After the war, Nangle played a lead role and was the major driving force in the construction of  Memorial Park at Beaumont Hamel, France. He contracted both the sculptor of the caribou, Captain Basil Gotto, and famous landscape architect Rudolph Cochius. Padre Nangle was authorized by Newfoundland Prime Minister Sir Richard Squires to negotiate with 250 French landowners and acquire the land needed to establish Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park.

At war’s end, Nangle was responsible for exhuming Newfoundland’s scattered war dead, identifying the remains and gathering them into proper military cemeteries. He was the Regiment’s link with the families of the fallen, writing to loved ones and sending home pictures of grave markers.

He also played a major role in the construction of the National War Memorial on Water Street in St. John’s, and was Aide-de-Camp to British Field Marshal Sir Earl Haig, when he unveiled the memorial on July 1, 1924.


Nangle’s report to Newfoundland’s Minister of Militia discussed his work in locating, exhuming and identifying the graves of Newfoundlanders, accompanied by Sergeants H. Snow and J. Murphy.

Whenever one of our graves was found it was tidied, a cross erected and if possible photographed, copies of these photographs will be sent to you for your distribution to the next-of-kin. When the bodies have been interred in proper military cemeteries and the IWGC headstone erected they will be photographed again.

His report also explained that there would be space on each headstone for a personal inscription by the family. The space was limited to sixty-six letters at a cost of about seven cents per letter. Once again, we see his efforts to involve the families of the fallen in the creation of their loved one’s final resting place.

It is worth noting that, while the Government of Newfoundland purchased the land, under French law there are problems with foreign governments owning land in France. As such, the Beaumont-Hamel Memorial was included, along with other sites in the same situation, in the Convention dated December 18, 1938 which was entered between the French Government and the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It was agreed that the sites listed, previously acquired as specified, would be vested in the French state but would then be granted to the governments concerned or to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission upon the terms stipulated. Beaumont-Hamel was granted free of charge and in perpetuity to the Government of Newfoundland while it remains “exclusively appropriated to the purpose of the commemorative monument.” Following Newfoundland’s entry into Canadian Confederation, Beaumont-Hamel and the other Newfoundland memorials became the responsibility of Canada.



In 1922, L. Cpl. Father Tom Nangle was still striving towards his goal of building battlefield memorials to the fallen of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. But while he was in St. John’s for Christmas, friends old him of the trouble raising money for the erection of a war memorial in the city. So, on February 3, 1922, with Prime Minister Richard Squires at his side, Nangle attended the War Memorial Committee meeting.

The chairmen stated the purpose of the meeting was to hear some suggestions, and a proposition from L. Cpl. Nangle.

Nangle informed them meeting the Imperial War Grave Commission was prepared to make an allowance of ₤5 sterling for every missing man of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Royal Navel Reserve and the Merchant Marine. The amount could total anywhere from $15,000 to $18,000. He said he felt putting his money towards the memorial was the proper thing to do under circumstances.

At this point Father Nangle, put his proposition to the executive. I am prepared, he said, “to take my coat off and work toward getting further funds for the National War Memorial…. But I want an absolutely free hand as to the methods employed to raise money.”


On October 22, 1923, the first rock cliff at King’s Beach was blasted to make way for the National War Memorial. According to The Veteran magazine, Givernor Allardyce lit the fuse in front of thousands of people. The “contract for the preliminary concreting of the plateau was awarded to Messrs. Churchill and Pearce, both of whom were ex-servicemen.”


In Britain, an Imperial War Graves Commission ( IWGC) was established with the task of overseeing the establishment, creation and maintenance of military graveyards. Initially, this was a National ( British ) Committee but the suggestion of the Prince of Whales it included all parts of the British Empire which had fought for the King, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland. Today, this organization is known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The IWGC was chartered to construct and decorate the military cemeteries in proper fasion, and mark each grave as “permanently as man’s art can devise,” and also deal with various European nations in which Imperial troops had fallen and been buried.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission was established by Royal Charter of May 21, 1917, the provisions of which were amended and extended by a Supplemental Charter of June 8, 1964. It’s duties are to mark and maintain the graves of members of the forces of the Commonwealth who died in the two world wars, to build and maintain memorials to the dead whose graves are unknown, and to keep records and registers. The cost is shared by partner governments: Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa, in proportions based on the numbers of their graves.


Of the proposed monuments, Nangle used very strong words to argue that no expense should be spared to remember the fallen:

They are monuments to our glorious dead, and to our just as glorious survivors. They are monuments to the mothers that bore such brave sons and the land that bred them. They are to be an everlasting tribute to the men who gave their all that the land may live. Surely then if St. John’s could erect an expensive temporary arch for a two day’s celebration Newfoundland can spend more than 100 pounds per monument to commemorate in perpetuity the doings of her Regiment, and her 1,200 dead. If 100 pounds is all that can be spared per monument…I recommend that we erect nothing at all. Let us forget we ever had a Regiment.

Padre Nangle was clearly fired up. He wanted to see a fitting series of memorials to the Regiment and the men buried there.

In his report on graves and memorials, he suggested that a committee of “energetic citizens be formed and a public subscription list opened; the amount raised to be doubled by the Government.” This was Nangle’s first foray into public fund-raising, but it would’t be his last.

He said “anything less than ₤1,000 in France per monument would be unworthy, as would anything less then ₤100 for each of our main cemeteries in the U.K.”

He recommended a figure of approximately ₤6,400, or about $35,000, was necessary in order to erect four monuments in France, one each of Gallipoli and Belgium, and smaller monuments at four military cemeteries in the United Kingdom: Wandsworth, Brookwood, Ayr and Winchester.

With this final suggestion, he ended his “Preliminary Report on War Graves and Battle Exploit Memorials.”


By October 1919, Nangle had completed a “Second Report on War Graves and Battle Exploit Memorials.” Addressing the Minister of Militia, he said rapid progress had been made since his last report. He said a meeting had been held on September 30, 1919, at the Adjutant General’s Office and “among other things our claims to memorials were discussed.”

He said he had received sixteen designs for memorials and monuments, some of which were “good, others very bad.”

I have got in touch with Capt. ( Basil) Gotta the gentleman who designed “The Bombing Newfoundlander” [in Bowring Park, St. John’s] which won a place in this Year’s Academy. Capt. Gotto is very enthusiastic in everything concerning Newfoundland, having coming in contact with our men while Staff Officer at Winchester. He has been well known in British Art for the past thirty years.

His proposition is much cheaper than any others, it will be artistic and from what I have seen of those already erected in France will be most distinctive, his idea being a giant caribou somewhat like the “Monarch of the Topsails” carved in bronze on a rough cairn of Newfoundland granite about ten to fifteen feet high. This will be distinctive of the Regiment and of Newfoundland. It will be artistic….I urge you to get the Government to adopt this idea as it will be one of the best monuments in France and worthy of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Padre Nangle had set the wheels in motion for the creation of the five European Caribou Memorials. Four would be in France ( Beaumont Hamel, Gueudecourt, Monchy le Preux and Masnieres ) and one in Belgium ( Courtrai). Today, most Newfoundlanders, even those who have not been to the five Memorials in France and Belgium, are aware that a caribou statue marks the sacrifices of the Newfoundland Regiment in Europe.


The Public War Memorial

In June of 1921, the issue of a war memorial came to a head in St. John’s when Philip E. Outerbridge called a public meeting to discuss the matter. Outerbridge was a director of Harvey and Company. He was elected to St. John’s City Council in municipal election of December 15, 1921.

The Public War Memorial meeting was held at the Board of Trade Building on June 9 and chaired by Mr. H. Cowan, President of the Board. In attendance were about 90 people including Sir P.T. McGrath, Dr. Curtis, Mr. George Ayre, Mr. R.G. Rendel (OBE), Mr. John Higgins ( President of the GWVA),  Lady [Mitchie Ann] Crosbie, Mrs. W.J. Herder and Lady Reid, a veritable who’s who of St. John’s society of the time.

Outerbridge was the opinion that no further delay should take place in the erection of a war memorial. After debate and discussion, a War Memorial Committee was established with Rendel as Chair and Outerbridge as Secretary-Treasurer. They were empowered to select an executive. All present agreed in taking immediate action for the collection of funds for a public war memorial.

On June 16, 1921, the first meeting of the executive of the War Memorial Committee was held. Lady Crosbie strongly favored the immediate launching of the War Memorial Company. Unlimited and the public selling of shares in that company. Mrs. Keegan moved, Lady Crosbie seconded that the cost of these shares to be one dollar. Other methods of raising money to be employed included: voluntary subscription, canvassing of St. John’s and outports, and a special collection in all churches.

The War Memorial Committee met on July 4th, and by that time had raised $8,699.94. But the committee had reconsidered the idea of a house-to-house canvass, and at a meeting on July 14th they decided to abandon the idea of going door-to-door because it was deemed inappropriate.

On August 9, 1921, the committee met and the main topic of discussion was eight possible sites for the monument. These sites included: Harvey Road near the Newfoundland Constabulary Inspector General’s residence; opposite the Roman Catholic Palace Gate; the top of Court House Hill; the Beach; Ordnance Street Park; Park adjacent to Methodist Church; Bannerman Peak near the bandstand; Bannerman Park near Military Road.

Two weeks later, on August 16, the committee reconvened and the importance of choosing a site for the monument was debated. Lady Crosbie pressed for the selection of the King’s Beach [ Water Street] site. Mr. Bradshaw expressed the concern that a site be finalized before estimates could be received from architects. But about a month later, on September 12, the committee still could not decide on the precise location the monument should be placed.

By early October, the Monument Committee met and apart from the difficulty in selecting a site, it was now apparent that fund-raising  had stalled. While some monies were still trickling in, including a donation of $148 from the employees of Ayre and Sons, and $63 from the workers of the Royal Stores, the committee’s bank balance was basically at stand-still. Lawyer and former MHA William R. Howley, who later became a judge, felt that “the fact that the erection of the memorial was being delayed through lack of financial support should be conveyed to the relatives of those who had died.


More Fund-Raising

Father Nangle formed an Action Committee to start a public fund-raising campaign for the National War Memorial. With a committee up and running, according to an article in The Daily News, there followed a “frenzied programme of dances, ice carnivals, sporting events and other means of raising funds.” One of Nangle’s schemes involved using the ski-equipped areoplane of Major S. Cotton.

Residents of St. John’s could pay a fee and go on for a flight with Major Cotton in his open-cockpit, double-seater areoplane. Fund-raising activities had already included things such as hockey games, curling matches, concerts, lectures, an Officers Ball, a billiard tournament, St. Patrick’s Day Dance and subscribed contributions from Organizations such as the Orange Lodge, Benevolent Irish Society, Clubs and Brigades, and the IWGC Grant, according to the August 1924 financial statement of the War Memorial Fund.

The Newfoundland War Memorial Company Unlimited had been established and sold shares at one dollar each, and nobody worked harder selling shares than Father Nangle.

War Memorial Committee Meeting May 8, 1922

At a War Memorial Committee on May 8, Father Nangle gave a report of his activities since taking over fund-raising in early February, announcing he had raised $48,002.34. He specified that “the brightest sport of the campaign had been the entire lack of denominational differences, all classes and creeds of the community having united to attain the objective aimed at.”

Dr. Robinson then addressed the meeting and said that since Nangle had now raised the necessary funds, it was time to finally select a site for the monument. At this point, Nagle arose and made a motion:

WHEREAS the King’s Beach is the Corner stone of the Overseas Empire, and
WHEREAS the King’s Beach is the site that overlooked the embarkation of so many of those for whom the monument will stand and also overlooked the returned of the broken and the maimed and,
WHEREAS it is the only site of easy access in the city and may been seen by all who enter or leave our harbour, and
WHEREAS it is the only site approved by the general public,
BE IT RESOLVED that this executive of the National War Memorial be erected on the King’s Beach.

His motion was seconded by A.W. Mews ( and Major J.W. March ) and was carried unanimously.

Nangle then addressed the meeting and gave his idea for the form of the memorial. Inspired by Colonel John MacRae’s moving poem In Flanders Fields, he suggested having the monument as “as leading light,” a figure holding up the torch that MacRae referred to in his poem.

Father Nangle had certainly moved the reality of a war memorial along. In a short time he had got into fund-raising, and he was leading the site selection as well as making suggestions about that shape and form of the monument.


The Unveiling of the National War Memorial

The Unveiling happened eight years to the day after the Battle of Beaumont Hamel July 1, 1916. At 10 a.m. on the morning of July 1, 1924 a huge parade of an estimated 2,500 soldiers, sailors, veterans, mounted Constabulary, Cadetsm Girl Guides and Boy Scouts marched past the Court House on water Street, St. John’s. Haig took the salute from a reviewing stand. The weather was reported by The Daily News to be “gloriously fine…with the sun shining in all its glory.”

At the appointed hour, His Excellency the Governor and Field Marshal Haig arrived ( at the veiled War Memorial ) and were received with presented arms by a guard of honour.

The New Prime Minister, Walter S. Monroe, who had taken over after the 1924 election, was present to welcome Haig, as was the Mayor of St. John’s, Tasker Cook.

Chairmen R.G. Rendell addressed the crowd and dignitaries on behalf of the War Memorial Committee. Governor William L. Allardyce accepted the monument on behalf of the people of Newfoundland. Allardyce was a career military office who served as governor from 1922-1928. In his acceptance speech he stated:

I formally accept, on behalf of the people of Newfoundland and its Dependencies, this National War Memorial. Close to this historic and commanding spot Sir Humphrey Gilbert landed in August 1583 and in taking possession in the name of his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, of this New Found Land thereby founded our Overseas Empire. Every Newfoundlander knows what this Memorial represents, and we are profoundly grateful that it is to be unveiled today by one who led armies to victory.

Following the Governor’s remarks there were prayers by various church leaders including Rev. Broughton, president of the Methodist Conference and The Rt. Rev. J. March, Bishop of Harbour Grace. The unveiling of the memorial was a non-denominational affair.

After the prayers, a firing party shot three volleys, then a bugler played the “Last Post” which was followed by two minutes of silence. Field Marshal Haig then addressed the huge crowd and began his remarks by saying:

Your Excellency, Colonel Nangle, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is an honour which I deeply appreciate to be given this opportunity to associate myself with the tribute which Newfoundland pays to her gallant dead…I am here not only as your old leader in the field, but as the representative…of those armies from great Britain and the other Dominions who fought with you the Empire’s battles and today are proud to join with you in honoring the brave sons of Newfoundland who died….

Haig continued speaking for some time. He thanked the parents present and expressed his sympathy to the families who had lost sons, brothers, fathers in the conflict. He praised the fighting record of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and made special mention of the Regiment’s defense of Masnieres during the late November 1917. He concluded, “In memory of our gallant comrades, who gave their lives for King and Country, I unveil this monument. 


Beaumont Hamel Unveiled

On June 7, 1925, under beautiful weather conditions, the caribou memorial at Beaumont Hamel was officially dedicated and unveiled by Field Marshal Haig accompanied by LCol. Nangle. A large crowd was present for the unveiling ceremony, composed of numerous religious, civic and military dignitaries: Marshal Fayolle, Chief of French general staff; J.R.Bennett; LCol. A.E Bernard and wife; Lt. General Sir Almer and Lady Hunter-Weston; Lt. General Sir Beauvoir de Lisle; Major W.H. and Mrs. Parsons; Major General D.E. Cayley; LCpl. A.L. Hadow; Captain and Mrs. Basil Gotto; Mr. and Mrs. Rudolf Cochius, and many others, relatives and friends of the Regiment. Each of the units of the renowned 29th Division sent representatives for the honour guard.

The years of hard work, negotiations, fund-raising and worry had come to an end. Finally, the hallowed ground at Beaumont Hamel was ready to serve as a shrine to the sacrifice of the North Atlantic Dominion.

Nangle later said that the park dedication could not have been held on July 1 because Haig had to be in Canada for meetings with veterans. As Haig’s Aide-de-Camp, Nangle had to leave for Canada a week earlier for planning preparations.

The Daily News of June 9, 1925 reported on the official opening. The Hon. J.R. Bennett represented the government of Newfoundland and he opened the proceedings with an address. This was followed by a speech from Field marshal Haig:

We are here to unveil a Memorial which will remind generations still unborn of the Newfoundland men, and of the unity and strength of the might Empire which is our pride and inheritance…These slopes where fell so many of your best and bravest and sacred to their memory. Here your comrades died in the hope of that victory achieved, you set up in the place where they died a Monument to their faith and courage. This spot will become a place of pilgrimage which, generation after generation, will draw Newfoundlanders to France. The Battalion added a glorious and never to be forgotten chapter to the honorable history of England’s Oldest Colony.


Age of Death

Number of Deaths





















Source: Provincial Archives- MG 9 1.02.009 ( Captain C.S. Frost Papers )


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