Anthony MacDermott had been assigned to Newfoundland in 1904 by the Royal Navy and was Commanding Officer and Registrar-General of the Royal Naval Reserve in Newfoundland in August, 1914. Two days before Britain declared war on Germany, MacDermott received word from the British Admiralty to summons all reservists to report to Calypso for active service. Proclamations were posted in St. John’s and telegrams sent to local magistrates so they would inform the area men. Many thought they would not report because it was in the middle of the summer fishery, when they had to earn enough to keep their families going throughout the whole year “You can’t expect men to give up their livelihood for a war they know nothing about, and in which they have no concern.” But report they did. Many of them had to walk 80-96 km (50-60 mi) to the nearest steamer or railway station to travel to St. John’s.
By this time, over 1,400 seamen had been trained and more than 400 reservists reported to the Calypso in St. John’s shortly after the Proclamation was published. Some were at sea and did not learn of the news right away. The Newfoundland government had committed to raise an army regiment of 500 men and to increase the naval reserves to “1,000 efficient men available for naval service abroad for one year, and are willing to meet all local expenses.” The British Admiralty accepted the offer “with gratitude” on August 14th. The local newspapers reported on the activities on a daily basis.
On September 6, 106 Newfoundland reservists and one officer embarked on the Canadian ship, HMCS Niobe, in St. John’s. These became the first Newfoundlanders to go on active service in WW1. Unlike the Newfoundland Regiment which served as a single unit, the Newfoundland naval reservists were assigned to ships and dispersed throughout the Royal Navy. They served with distinction on vessels that sailed to distant lands as war raged on. The served on trawlers that searched for mines, on destroyers, minesweepers and cruisers, in Q-boats luring enemy submarines within firing range, they landed ground troops on beaches in warzones, and also served in submarines. At home they guarded Fort Waldegrave, the power station at Petty Harbour, and the Cape Race and Cape Ray cable stations, along with the wireless station in Mount Pearl. Notices that more recruits were needed appeared in the newspapers. Of the 1,964 Newfoundlanders that served with the Naval Reserves, there were 192 fatalities.
Some of the vessels that went down with large numbers of Newfoundlanders were the HMS Viknor in January, 1915 with 25 lost; HMS Clan MacNaughton in February, 1915 with 22; and HMS Bayano in March, 1915 with 11 more Newfoundlanders dead. Their names are struck off the drill register with the letters in red “DD” – Discharged Dead.
Newfoundlanders distinguished themselves in naval service. Some were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, others were Mentioned in Dispatches, and some received foreign decorations.