Excerpts from the Diary of Owen Steele:

These excerpts from Owen Steele's diary detail the training and the lead up to the Battle of the Somme and shows that the soldiers were expecting something to happen on July 1st.

Pages 28 - 29

The system of training consists of Physical Exercises, Marching, Rifle Exercises, Skirmishing, Route Marches & c.

We are all very particular here that we should not be classed as Canadians, for apart from the fact that we are much prouder of our distinction as Newfoundlanders, the Canadians, generally, have been getting a bad name for themselves wherever they have gone, and this applies particularly to London. This is very unfortunate for them, for when their first Draft came across the water, the English people could not do enough for them and London was strongly agitating for them to be brought there to be seen. On the other hand, I am pleased to state that Newfoundlanders have been given a very good name wherever they have gone, and then our general excellence has been of a very high standard, certainly much higher than that of the Canadians. We have received the highest praise from several Colonels and Generals, who have said that we were one of the finest bodies of troops on the Plains. Our greatest regret is that we are only half a battalion, and the Headquarters Staff desired to attach us to a certain half battalion of Canadians, now camped alongside of us, but I am pleased to say our officers are very strongly opposing any such intention. It is rumoured that we may be attached to some English Regiment, that is, if we do not soon hear that Newfoundland is preparing to send over a second contingent of five hundred and then give us our own full battalion.


Page 71:

August 1, 1915. (Stobs Camp.)

Well I expect this will be the last time I shall write form Stobs, for A,B,C, & D Companies go South to Aldershot to-morrow, Monday evening, and the reserves go to Ayr, near Glasgow. As I think I told you before, if I were not transferred to one of the Companies going to the front, but was left to go with the Reserves at Ayr, I was going to go to the Colonel and ask to be placed with one of the Companies of the Battalion. When last night’s orders came out, I had the pleasure of seeing my transfer from E Company to that of D (Jim’s Company), so am happy on that matter now.

On Friday night, the four senior Lieutenants, namely, Ledingham, Raley, Ayre and Rowsell, were made Captains. They have been holding the position, viz. Second-in-command of Companies for the past three months, but had not the Rank that goes with it until now. All promotions in the Commissioned ranks are made according to Seniority, except of course, for anything special, like on the battle-field.

Major Whitaker is going to our Depot, Ayr, as Officer Commanding, Capt. Ledingham as acting Quartermaster, and Lieutenant Robertson as acting Adjutant. I would rather go to the front than to stay back in any position. Capt. O’Brien is also remaining behind and is very sore over it. -  I think we shall be going to the front in less than three weeks.

August 3, 1915

Badajos Barracks, Aldershot

We arrived here at 7 o’clock this morning, having left Stobs 7 o’clock last evening. It is believed we shall be here for only three weeks and will then be off for “somewhere” at the front.


Pages 325 - 326:

June 20, 1916

To-day has been a moderately quiet day. The Germans’ gifts to-day, in the way of shells, amounted to only seventy, but we had four men wounded, one of whom may die, for the main artery of one of his legs has been severed;  he is an Assyrian named Joe Sheehan. One of the men wounded yesterday has since died, also a man who met with a bomb accident, a piece going into his eye and probably touching a portion of his brain. There seems to be a strange pensiveness about everything, and we all strangely thoughtful about the ‘Great Push.’

The bombardment was to have commenced to-day about daylight and was to last four days, and we were to mount  the parapet on Saturday June 24th. This would have been a very strange combination of coincidences, for we were to a certain extent from St. John’s; at least St. John’s is the Capital of our Island Home.  Further we were to be lined up and start from a trench which we made ourselves when we first came in these trenches, and which has the official name of St. John’s Day, (June 24th). That is, “St. John’s men starting from St. John’s Road on St. John’s Day.” However, for some reason, or other, everything not being ready somewhere, affairs have been postponed for a few days, but we do not know for how long. The long and tiresome period of preparation and expectation is almost as bad as the real thing will be, but we are doing everything we can to be fully prepared for all contingencies and exigencies.

Weather:- About the same as yesterday, though perhaps not quite so cold at night.


Pages 328 -331:

June 23, 1916

To-day is ‘moving day.’

I left the lines at 9 a.m. to go to Louvencourt  to prepare billets. I had to let the horse walk the whole seven or eight miles, owing to my knee being so sore. When  going to the trenches on the 15th inst. my horse ‘shied’ at a dead horse lying in the roadway, - it had been dead for only a short time. When he shied there was a string of Limbered wagons moving along the opposite side of the road in the opposite direction, the result being that my knee was brought with the force of the rapidly moving horse behind it against the wheel of a wagon coming towards me; the wheel band of iron is about four inches wide and half an inch thick. The blow was terrific  and it paralyzed every muscle and nerve in my body, and split my breeches and drawers about four inches and skinned my knee. This was nothing compared to what was done inside my knee. From where I left my horse, I had to walk about three and a half miles to the trenches and by the time I arrived in I could barely walk, and my knee was swollen to twice its natural size. I showed it to the Doctor, who said he would see it again in the morning, and when he did he told me I would have to go to the Hospital, but I told him it would be all right in a day or two, so he agreed to give me twenty-four hours before deciding to send me. In the meanwhile, I kept constant cold bandages to it, the pain was very severe and when the next morning came it was no better, so he ( the Doctor) again said I would have to go, and also told Colonel Hadow. But I asked the Doctor to give me another twenty-four hours to which he agreed. By that time, am glad to say, my knee was somewhat better, which saved me from the hospital. I would not go to hospital now, seeing that we have been preparing for the “Great Push” for a long while, and it is at  last just about to come off, besides  which, everyone would certainly have said I was “slinging the lead.” Even now, a week after my accident, I cannot help walking lame and only hope it will sufficiently improve by the “Great Day” to enable me to do justice to my duties.

However, I eventually reached Louvencourt, and spent the day at the Billetting. The ride was very enjoyable for it was quite a fine day. It was certainly a wonderful sight on the way across country, to see all the immense preparations being made for the great coming event. Every road, in every direction, was clouded with dust, being crowded with moving transport wagons, ration carts, limbered wagons, troops in large and small parties. Everyone seems so cool about it all, quietly preparing for what is going to be the greatest attack in the history of the world, and very probably the greatest there ever will be. We only hope that it may be a very strong factor in bringing an early end to the war.

Well, the Battalion started to arrive by Platoons about 10 or 10.30 p.m. and it was 3 a.m. when H.Q. arrived. The Signallers and Lewis Gunners were still not in and I believe they arrived about 5 a.m. It was 3.30 a.m. when I had my dinner, having had nothing to eat since mid-day.

Weather:- Fine during morning, but a tremendous downpour of rain at 1 o’clock, which lasted for about an hour.


Pages 334 - 335:

June 26, 1916

At 9 a.m. we had a Battalion Parade, for the purpose of being addressed by General De Lisle, G.O.C. of our, 29th Division. He spoke to us for about ten minutes, and said, he was glad to have the honour of addressing us as a Battalion, for the first time in the history of the World. He impressed upon us the dangers we would have to encounter, but that he had no doubt that we, who had the sole honour of representing Newfoundland, would bring honour and credit to ourselves and to Newfoundland. He continued to say that judging by what we had seen and known of us in the past, he knew we would have the pleasure, in a very short time, of sending a message to our friends in Newfoundland, telling them of the glorious work we had performed in this Great Attack. He also said that in the fourth Army front we had an overwhelming majority of Guns and men and an almost unlimited supply of Ammunition for the guns. If our Gun Ammunition (45,000 tons or 1 ½ million rounds) were loaded on trucks, it would form a line of trucks forty-six miles long.

In men we had twenty-one Divisions or two hundred and sixty three Battalions, whereas, opposite to our Army front, the Germans had only thirty-two Battalions, and the most that they could bring up in a week was sixty-five Battalions, and the French have twenty Divisions on our right.  So we need fear nothing.

When leaving he wished us Good luck and Good-bye.

The Battalion then spent the morning in getting deficiencies in Kit and new equipment supplied.

In the afternoon another Tactical Exercise was on, but when the Battalion reached the training ground, it came on too wet so they returned.

The Raiding Party is going out to Raid the German trenches to-night.

Weather:- Raining most of the day, but fairly warm.


Pages 337 - 343:

June 28, 1916

Last night’s Raiding party was more successful. When they got to the wire they found a great gap made by shell holes, so at once proceeded to go through. They were hardly through when they were fired upon from both flanks, by rifles first and then machine guns, and it looked as if the Germans were fully prepared and waiting for them. Later, they even used trench-mortars on them. Three or four of  our men got up close to the German parapet and a couple got in. Bomb-throwing was mostly resorted to by both sides, and an hour was spent in this miniature battle. Lieuts. Strong and Greene were both wounded and have gone to Hospital, but both will be o.k. after a while. Capt. Butler got a slight knock over the right eye, but will be all right again in a day or two. Apart from the above our casualties were killed, wounded, missing ( believed to be killed). However, several bits of information were secured, but unfortunately, our men got no prisoners. Two or three Germans were bayoneted and many were sure to be killed by bombs.

We were busy all day to-day getting ready to go off to the firing line to-night to commence the greatest attack in the world’s history to-morrow.

All our things were packed and turned in to the Q.M. Stores, so as to be brought on after us. Two or three hours before we were due to start, word came in, that the move was off for forty-eight hours. We do not know the real reason, but believe it is owing to the weather, which has been very wet for the past week, and the prospects are that it will be for a day or two. However, this will give us chance to have a further rest.

Weather:- Wet and rainy.

June 29, 1916

We were doing very little to-day.
In the afternoon the Battalion went out for a little training exercise, just to keep the men fit.
Weather:- Wet and Rainy

 June 30, 1916

 To-day was spent in getting everything ready to move to-night.

Everything seems now in our favour in the weather line and we only hope that the artillery has done its share effectively, though we have heard very little, but I expect they are doing their work all right.

 We moved off at 9. 15 p.m. and had over three hours marching ahead of us.

 It is surprising to see how happy and lighthearted everyone is, and yet this is undoubtedly the last day for a good many. The various Battalions marched off whistling and singing, and it was a great sight. Of course, this is the best way to take things and hope for the best.


Just one more last note before moving off.  For certain reasons, a delay has enabled me to write this as my last note, for a short while at least, whereas, I thought my last- a few days ago,- would have been the last for a few days to come.

Re the soil of Belgium: The name of the injection, which you could not remember, is, I think, “Tetanic.” Of course, we all have our “Field-Dressings” with us, which contain, besides bandages, a little phial of ‘Iodine,’ this being a disinfectant of the best kind.

The loss of Kitchener and his Staff was certainly a great blow to all; however, I believe the climax of our troubles will be reached within the next few days, (after which the day of peace will quickly draw near), though they will undoubtedly bring trouble to many. Jim and I are in the best of health and spirits, and I trust we may remain so.- This will be my last letter for a short while. Copy of
Enclosure in Last Letter

The Woman’s Part

The boys in their khaki go out to the front! What are
the women to do?
They say, “Men must work, and women must weep.” Is that
all that’s left for you?
Don’t believe it! The hardest part to play is the part
of the mothers and wives:
To give your own life is a little thing! We give our
men-folk’s lives.
The baby you’ve borne and suckled, and put in his short-
ened frocks-
The boy  that you’ve often scolded when you washed him
and darned his socks:
We’ve bred them, and reared them, and loved them- and now
it’s the women’s part
To send them to die for England- with a smile and a
breaking heart.

And we’ll do it! Oh, girls might trifle, in the careless
days of peace,
With the boys of the seaside bandstand, his flannels with-
out a crease.
We might flirt, and kiss, and flutter- but the day of the
war began
We woman had done with the loafer- what we want to-day is
a Man!
The man that will shoulder a rifle, and go out where the
bullets fly.
With his head held high, and a song on his lips, and a
smile as he says “Good-bye.”
We’ll bid him God-speed and wish him good luck, and tell
him he’s one of the best,
And he’ll soon come back, with his duty done, and the
hero’s cross on his breast.

There’s  no place for a girl in the fighting line- but
let this be your woman’s plan-
If we can’t enlist for service, we can each of us send
a man.
If he lags, wake him up with a scornful word! Let him
feel the lash of shame!
Till you fire his soul to ardour, and kindle his blood
to flame.
Let it be “Hands off!” for the sluggard! For the knut
and the flapper’s joy.
No smile and no kiss for the shirker! Keep your lips
for the soldier boy.
Send your boy to the colours, mother! Hand him his
belt and gun-
It’s better to lose him nobly than to be ashamed of
your son.

When the work of the day is over, you can let yourself
go, and cry
In the gloom of the desolate fireside- in the dark,
when there’s nobody by.
There isn’t a sock wants darning; there isn’t a boy to
For the cigarette ash on the carpet- for the dinner
they’ve let grow cold.
Their caps still hang on the hatstand, but there isn’t
a step on the stair.
There’s no gay young voice calling “Mother!” No sound-
for the boys aren’t there.
That’s the time you know the anguish of the waiting
women’s part:
In the hush of the lonesome home it’s the silence that
tears your heart.

Night passes! We’ll welcome the morning with a smile and
a steadfast will;
If we haven’t our boys to work for, we’ll work for our
country still.
Be glad that your men are fighters- for the shame that
surely hurts
If you have a coward man-child, who hides behind women’s
Just clench your teeth when you read the lists of the
wounded and the dead,
And if the names that you love are there- be proud! And
hold up your head,
Don’t cry! For they’ve climbed the pathway that heroes
and martyrs trod:
They sleep in the rest of heaven! They stand in the Glory
of God!

Source: COLL-179, Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL


Back to Documents



The Regiment   The Battle   Soldier/Family Stories   Commemoration   Additional Information

Education   Acknowledgements   Links   Contact Us   Copyright   Home