When the Proclamation was sent out on August 22, 1914, a few weeks after the United Kingdom had declared war on Germany, the request was simple yet intense — “King and Country Need You.” And it was men such as Franz Lüttge, a resident of Placentia, Newfoundland1 who responded unhesitatingly. He had been a member of the Canadian militia and given this experience, he knew he must answer the call. However, Lüttge’s well-intentioned offer to potentially give his life for the Empire would bring him face-to-face with growing fear and uncertainty. It was a sign of the times.
Volunteering for the War
Franz Lüttge, a Canadian of German origin, was from Manitoba. A man of “means and leisure,” he had decided to settle in Placentia near the marine cable station that was situated along what is now known as the Orcan River. It is entirely possible his mother was his connection with Placentia. She was a Smith.
When Lüttge decided to volunteer, recognising how his name might be a problem, he enlisted using the name of his mother. He no doubt also opted to exchange Franz for Francis. It was best to avoid any unnecessary and unwanted scrutiny. After all, the origins of his name were linked to the country whom he would be fighting. Regardless, his loyalty to the British Empire was unquestionable. He was Canadian and like Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, he wanted to support and fight for the “Mother Country.”
Struggling to Stand for Your Country
Lüttge could not have known that just one day after the declaration of war on August 4, the United Kingdom had taken measures to ensure its safety and that of its colonies. The threat of spies was considered to be great. Thus, on August 5, 1914, the Aliens Restriction Act 1914 was passed. This gave British governments legislative power to deal with “enemy aliens.” One of the clauses in this Act prohibited enemy aliens from changing their names. This would prove to be a downfall for Lüttge.
Destroy this mad brute—United States propaganda (Harry R. Hopps; 1917). This poster was released in 1917 by Harry Ryle Hopps, portraying Germany as a gorilla invading the United States having conquered Europe.
Although he had sought to join the First Newfoundland Contingent, fears and incrimination would ultimately block his attempts. The fact that he had changed his name was the primary concern. While Lüttge was Canadian, his name spoke otherwise and threw open the door to the fears and paranoia that had come to define the period. After discovering his true name, his fellow recruits objected to his presence.
Germanophobia was widespread in British society and it was only normal for this to have spread to colonies such as Newfoundland. Despite his attempts to join the First Newfoundland Contingent, he was asked to resign from the regiment.
The Push for Patriotism
Meanwhile, the leaders in Placentia were strongly urging the young men of the district to fight for their King and Country and ironically, follow the lead of men such as Lüttge. Early in November, a meeting, “packed with a loyal and enthusiastic audience,” took place at the Placentia Courthouse. In attendance were individuals such as the Rt. Reverend Monsignor Reardon, F.J. Morris, Secretary of the Patriotic Nominating Committee of St. John’s and a member of the Recruiting Committee.
As reported on November 5, 1914 in The Evening Telegram, F.J. Morris made a passionately patriotic speech, exclaiming how the time had arrived for Newfoundland to stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain. He was sure that the young men of Placentia-St. Mary’s district would be more than willing to answer the “call to the Motherland.” Morris expressed his faith in the young men of the region. He spoke fervently, stating how “it could never be said of a Newfoundland fisherman that he was afraid to go to sea.” Leading community members responded with a resolution that was unanimously passed.
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED, That we the citizens of the Ancient Capital of His Majesty’s Oldest Colony, in this patriotic public meeting convened, hereby individually and collectively pledge ourselves to aid and encourage our young fishermen from all parts of the district to promptly enlist in the Royal Naval Reserve and rally round the old flag.
Men such as Franz Lüttge believed wholeheartedly in this sentiment.
Realities of the Times
So much so that in December 1914, he reapplied to be a part of the Second Contingent. Although, on December 7, 1914, the Right Honourable Lewis Harcourt informed Sir Walter Davidson, the Governor of Newfoundland of Franz Lüttge. He explained how Lüttge had “taken up his residence at Placentia.” Harcourt informed Davidson how Lüttge had been “informally watched since his arrival in Newfoundland.” However, neither the correspondence or the behaviour of Lüttge suggested anything of an “incriminatory nature.”
Nonetheless, the attempt of Lüttge to join the Second Contingent was not to be. The spy fever and distrust would remain an insurmountable barrier—the unfortunate realities of the times. Lüttge was kept under police observation and still on July 22, 1915, he was considered a “suspect at large.” Then, two and a half weeks later, Franz Lüttge was ordered to leave the colony of Newfoundland.
Like thousands of other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, the men of the Placentia area willingly gave years of their young lives to “King and Country.” Too often, it was life itself they freely gave. There were 34 from Argentia, Dunville, Jerseyside, Placentia, and Southeast Placentia who did so. And no doubt, if given the chance, men such as Franz Lüttge would have done likewise.
“Governor’s Office — Copies of Despatches” GN 1/1/7 The Rooms Provincial Archive
“Recruiting Meeting in Placentia” November 5, 1914 in The Evening Telegram, p.7
- At the time, Newfoundland was still a country and Labrador was not officially a part of that country. So, for this piece, I’m only using ‘Newfoundland’ alone.