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Thomas Nangle (1889-1972)
Thomas Nangle is known for his tireless efforts to keep alive the memory of Newfoundlanders’ sacrifices in the First World War and the places embodying those sacrifices.
Nangle planned and supervised the selection and placement of monuments commemorating the battles in which Newfoundlanders had fought in Europe and had Newfoundland-specific monuments put up at five battlefields along what is known as the “Trail of the Caribou.” He also purchased a large portion of the Beaumont-Hamel battlefield to preserve the graves of Newfoundland’s fallen soldiers, and acquired part of the Somme battlefield, thus establishing a permanent legacy in memory of the First World War.
Thomas Nangle was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in 1889. He completed his classical studies at St. Bonaventure’s College in St. John’s, run by the Irish Christian Brothers. After obtaining his diploma, he went to Ireland to study for the priesthood and, in 1913, was ordained by the Archbishop of Newfoundland. In the two years that followed, Nangle served the parishes in Topsail and Bell Island, as well as St. Patrick’s Parish in St. John’s.
When the Great War broke out, he asked to enlist, but the Archbishop denied his request. After the tragedy at Beaumont-Hamel in 1916, Nangle was authorized to join the British army’s chaplaincy. Posted to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, he was a very popular “padre” until the end of the war. He was given new responsibilities after the conflict, owing to the reputation he had built for himself at the time.
When the war ended, Nangle returned to Newfoundland and was assigned to St. Michael’s Parish on Bell Island. His ministry was interrupted in 1919, when he was appointed as Newfoundland’s representative on the Directorate of War Graves and Enquiries and the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC). In this role, Nangle returned to Europe, where he marked and documented all grave sites where Newfoundlanders were buried.
Asked to develop a strategy for commemorating Newfoundland’s contributions to the war, Nangle suggested erecting a sculpture of a caribou at each of the five main battlefields where Newfoundlanders had fallen. To raise the necessary funds, he travelled throughout Newfoundland and visited the families of the victims. Having received additional funds from the Newfoundland government, Nangle negotiated with over 250 French landowners to acquire the land on which the monuments were to be built. He was also responsible for searching for the graves of Newfoundland’s soldiers in Europe and in Newfoundland. At the same time, Nangle contributed to the creation of a national commemorative monument for Newfoundland, unveiled in 1925 in St. John’s.
Nangle left the priesthood in the 1920s. When he completed his work for the IWGC, he moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he married and had four children. In 1966, Nangle went to France to attend ceremonies marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. He never returned to Newfoundland and died in Rhodesia on January 4, 1972.
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Title of the Image: Field Marshal Earl Haig and LCol Thomas Nangle at opening of Beaumont Hamel Park, France, June 7, 1925
Source of the Image: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage Museum, Is in the Public Domain,
From: http://www.heritage.nf.ca/first-world-war/gallery/commemorations/index.php, (13th Photo from the Bottom of the page).
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