Butter’s Cove loss

Reprinted from The Packet, June 29, 2015

Pt. Richard James Spurrell

Pt. Richard James Spurrell

Pte. Richard Spurrell was a casualty of First World War

A simple monument sits on a rocky hillside in Butter Cove, a small community in the South West Arm.

It pays tribute to a young man who left this community 100 years ago to go off to fight in a war on a foreign land.

This is the story of Richard James Spurrell, son of Moses and Mary Ann (Stanley) Spurrell, also known as #1745, Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

He was born Sept. 15, 1894, the second oldest son to the Spurrells. He had  five siblings — three brothers and two sisters.

Richard spent his early life in the fishery, helping his family with a variety of chores from catching, cleaning and salting codfish. Later when the weather became more favourable, his attention would be occupied with drying of salt codfish.

In 1914, with the outbreak of war in Europe, the call came from England for volunteers. The Newfoundland Patriotic Association issued proclamations and advertisement were placed in newspapers encouraging men between the ages of 19 and 35, in good health, weighed at least 120 pounds, stood at least 5 feet and 4 inches tall and were willing to “serve abroad for the duration of the war, but not exceeding one year.”

At the age of 21, possibly because of the economic times, perhaps on a quest for adventure or maybe just because of a sense of patriotic duty, Richard answered that call and headed for St. John’s to sign up to serve the King of England.

No doubt, like many other parents of the time, Moses and Mary Ann must have expressed their concerns to their son but fully supported his decision to fight for his country on foreign soil.

He enlisted in St. John’s on July 29, 1915, and was assigned his regimental number. He identified his full address as being Heart’s Ease, which was the church diocese in the region and was composed of Heart’s Ease, Gooseberry Cove, and Butter Cove.

He completed basic training at Pleasantville for approximately three months. After that he received his embarkment papers and left St. John’s on Nov. 27, 1915. According to his military records, he: “Embarked St. John’s train to Quebec 27-10-15. Embarked Southampton on 25-6-16; disembarked Rouen, France, on 26-06-16, joined the Battalion on July 12, 1916. Admitted 12th General Hospital, Rouen of GSWL thigh 27-11-16 Amputation L thigh 4-1-17.”

The abbreviation GSWL referenced a gunshot wound to his left leg which was later amputated on Jan 1, 1917. Following the surgery he developed an infection and this led to his death.

He received the injury while engaged in battle retrieving the wounded. This event is described “The Times, History, and Encyclopedia of the War, Volume 14, December 24, 1917.”

It states, “Volunteers were called for to go out and rescue the wounded. Under intense bombardment, Private R. Spurrell offered himself and made two trips to a dressing station 750 yards away under heavy fire. Two of the bearers with him were wounded on the first trip and one killed on the second trip. He went into the attack as a stretcher bearer and made two complete trips across the “floating swamp” to the dressing station 1300 yards away”

Back home at Butter Cove, his parents received a telegraph from J.R. Bennett, Colonial Secretary, on December 7, 1916, informing them of the gunshot wound that their son had received. The message further read that upon further receipt of information, they would be updated.

With their son overseas, all the family could do was pray and the community of Butter Cove could only share in Moses and Mary Ann’s concern for their son’s recovery.

A telegraph sent by Moses from Hodge’s Cove to his son Richard on Dec. 11, 1915, shows this deep concern. Part of the message reads: “Sympathy and Prayers.”

On Dec. 12, 1916, the family received a second telegraph informing them that, “Record Office, London, today reports No. 1745, Private Richard Spurrell, improving.”

The family could only celebrate this good news and continue to pray for Richard’s full recovery.

On Jan. 6, 1917, however, the news received at telegraph office at Hodge’s Cove contained a message that the family was dreading. It read: “Regret to inform you Record Office, London, today reports that your son, No. 1745, Private Richard Spurrell, died of wounds on January Fourth at the twelfth General Hospital, Rouen.”

Private Richard James, like so many other young Newfoundlanders, would not be going home. His family and community would have to mourn without his body but celebrate his memories. His body was buried at St. Sever Cemetery Extension Rouen, France, at gravesite number 67.

Records show that he served his country a total of one year and 160 days, paying the ultimate sacrifice.

His parents received a Pay Voucher dated March 7, 1918, from the Newfoundland Regiment for the sum of $108.10, paid on behalf of their son’s estate.

In 2008, the people of Butter Cove gathered and celebrated their history, which began with the arrival of Moses and Honor Spurrell, according to Elaine Spurrell, author of “A Brief History of Butter Cove”.

During the celebration, a memorial plaque to Richard James Spurrell was unveiled and Thomas and Woodrow Spurrell accepted a flag on behalf of the Spurrell family. He was the only person from their community who did not return from the Great War.

Richard’s death was not the only only source of wartime grief for Moses and Mary Ann Spurrell.

Their daughter, Isabella, married Luke Smith of Gooseberry Cove. Luke enlisted in the Navy during the Great War. He lost his life aboard the HMS Laurentic when it sank on Jan. 25, 1917, but that is another tragedy, another story and one for another day.

Clipping from The Packet

Link to The Packet