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Cheeky Devils

I was looking for a word that describes Newfoundlanders down through the ages and Conviviality came to mind.

Edinburgh Castle from Princess Street  

It’s a big word like Marmalade and I must confess I’m wasn’t really sure what it meant. Strikes me as saying someone has the ability to convive; whatever that is!

Rather than pretend I know what it means I looked it up. Seems I was spot on. It means friendly and lively. Synonyms are Pleasant, Welcoming, Warm, Hospitable, Genial, Cordial, Generous and more along that same vain. That seems to sum us up; not including my brother but every barrel has one of those!

That is not just today either. We learned it from our fore fathers and three mothers too I suppose. Take any book off the shelf about Newfoundland down through the ages and the authors have described us the same way; convivial! Perhaps none of them used that specific word but I have a love of marmalade.

Things were no different in the Newfoundland Regiment when it went abroad a hundred years ago to save civilization. After all that training they were disciplined and obedient yes but still convivial to the core.

Everywhere they went they instantly bonded with the local populace upon whom they were foisted by the demands of their military masters. These masters went whatever way the winds of war blew them and there despite the grace of god, went we too!

The Regiment was split into three Battalions of roughly one thousand men each. This number was more of a wish than a hard fact most of the time. The first Battalion was at the business end of things in the theater of war. The second was an intensive training Battalion stationed at various locations throughout Great Britain. By far the longest of these stays was at Ayr in Scotland. The third Battalion was one of recruitment and preliminary training on the banks of Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s.

Stories abound about how well all three got on with the locals. I’m going to relate one from the Second when it was stationed in Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh, the capitol of Scotland, is a beautiful city built around an extinct volcano upon which the castle stands. As a fortress it dates back to the fifteenth century. Besieged 26 times, its walls were never scaled by foe or friend. More about that in a minute.

The Newfoundlanders very presence there was unique in the castle’s history. Never before was it garrisoned by a non-Scottish regiment. This was indeed an honour for the boys from the oldest colony.

They became an instant hit with the locals both military and civilian alike. They were paraded through the streets of the city to the castle gates by the pipe bands of the other regiments calling the castle home at the time. Soon all ranks were in the hearts and homes of the citizenry and a good time was being had by all.

To what extent our natural conviviality was magnified by the war I dare not hazard a guess. Just think on it yourself. How loud would you sing, how hard would you hug, how lively would you dance, how strong would be your emotions with the sure and certain knowledge that you may well be dead within a week or two.

You do everything with a sense of urgency. Acquaintances instantly become friends, close friends become closer, old folks practically adopt mere boys from foreign parts and young lassies become war brides in a fortnight! Extreme by the standards of peacetime but not at all uncommon during armed conflict.

All good things must come to an end. Orders came for the Regiment to be transferred south to a new camp near the border with England. Sad as this news may have been, a great cruelty was heaped upon the sorrow. Not only were they to leave their new friends and quasi families but that leave-taking was to be on the morrow. Worse still all ranks except officers were to be confined to barracks that night.

It is said you can’t keep a good man down or in this case up; up in the barracks of the castle while down below in the town the officers bid adieu to their friends and loved ones.

Remember I said the cliffs upon which the castle stood had never been scaled by friend or foe. Well, scaling is going up but down without notice is just as hard yet necessary for sentries at the gate would not let the “other” ranks pass.

Sheets were knotted into ropes and practically all hands rappelled down the precipice. The chorus of the song The Ryans and The Pitmans, “We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true Newfoundlanders” was heard the length of Princess Street (the city’s main drag below the castle) until the large hours of the morning!

Lads from Boswarlos and Lamaline canvased the city to bid a fond farewell to loved ones they might never see again. Military discipline be damned there is only so much you can deny a man before he will rebel.

Speaking of disciplinary measures there was none! Perhaps it is too much of an embarrassment to put an entire battalion on report. They all staggered back in through the main gate full of conviviality right to the gills. 

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