What we Might have Been

"We can picture ourselves at this point in time as a people... and maybe what we might have been. You know, we never know exactly what we might have been, but there is that feeling that we weren't served well by this particular episode, this particular war of Britain's that we entered into with so much optimism and that we fell away from with so much despair."
(Kevin Major, author of the novel No Man's Land)

On the 90th anniversary of the battle of Beaumont Hamel, this documentary series recreates the "war to end all wars", when the independent nation of Newfoundland raised a regiment to fight for Britain in World War One, when the Regiment was virtually wiped out on July 1, 1916 in France, and when the repercussions of that loss later catapulted Newfoundland into losing its independence and becoming a province of Canada.

If you would like further information about this period in Newfoundland history, you could begin with the following
Suggested Reading List:

NO MANS LAND by Kevin Major. Anchor Books, 2001.

THE DANGER TREE by David MacFarlane. Vintage Canada, 2000

MEMOIRS OF A BLUE PUTTEE by A. J. Stacey & Jean Edwards Stacey, DRC 2002

THE LETTERS OF MAYO LIND by Francis Lind, Creative 2001


THE FIRST FIVE HUNDRED by Richard Cramm, Williams & Son (1920?)

MORE FIGHTING NEWFOUNDLANDERS by G.W.L. Nickerson, Govt. of Nfld 1969

OWEN STEELE OF THE NFLD REGIMENT by D. Facey-Crowther, McGill-Queens 2002

POLITICS IN NEWFOUNDLAND by S.J.R. Noel, University of Toronto Press 1971

NEWFOUNDLAND AT THE CROSSROADS by John FitzGerald, Terra Nova Publishing 2002


BIRDSONG by Sebastian Faulks, Vintage 1994

A shell bursting at Beaumont Hamel, 1916

The tragic battlefield loss on July 1, 1916 that ended the dreams of a nation.

"In many ways Newfoundland paid three times for the war. It paid in loss of life, it paid in war debts and it paid in loss of democracy. I don't think you'd find any other part of the British empire or I suppose any other part of the world that would have had to pay such a heavy price for its participation in the war."
(historian John Fitzgerald)

5-part series recorded and coproduced for CBC Radio by Chris Brookes and Curtis Rumbolt

June 29, 2007: This documentary was awarded the 2007 Gold World Medal at the New York Festivals

In this series you hear the voices of historians Mike O'Brien, James Hiller, Robert Harding and John Fitzgerald together with novelist Kevin Major, author David Parsons, Lieutenant-governor Ed Roberts, Arlene King, Cabot Martin, and the late William Gallately. Steven Lush and Aidan Flynn recreate the voices of Regimental chroniclers Mayo Lind and James Stacey. You also hear archival disc recordings of songs of 1914-1918, and piano interpretations by Bill Brennan.

"On Canada Day... for me, it's a schizophrenic day, it's a bifurcated day."
(Lieutenant-governor Edward Roberts)

Click to listen to What We Might Have Been
(streaming mp3, 54 minutes)

Newfoundland Regiment recruits, 1914.

Suggested Online Resources:

Newfoundland and the Great War

The Battle of the Somme

Newfoundland in the First World War

Assasination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand 1914

The Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park

The Royal Newfoundland Regiment

The Spanish Lady and the Newfoundland regiment (David Parsons)

Military Records of the Newfoundland Regiment

"War spending was very much a part of creating this huge debt which, when things took a downturn in the early 1930s the government was unable to keep up interest payments. And thus... we lost democracy and never regained independence."
(historian Mike O'Brien)

Nfld Regiment camped at Pleasantville, St. John’s, 1914.

Photographs: Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador