‘If you were to visit the United Church cemetery in North Harbour, Placentia Bay, on the island of Newfoundland, you would be struck as you enter the gate by a neat, white, well- kept cenotaph to your right, standing alone in the corner, somewhat removed from the headstones that mark actual graves. Prominent on this memorial stone is the Caribou head symbolic of the Newfoundland Regiment. The memorial was, the inscription reads:-
“Erected by the people of North Hr in loving memory of Pte Geo Brinstone of First N. F. Reg who fell at duty’s post somewhere in France Oct 9, 1917 Aged 18 y’rs. Also his brother Leslie H., R.N.R. drowned from S. S. Laurentic, Jan. 25, 1917 Aged 30 y’rs. They counted not their life dear”.
Some person or persons among the people of North Harbour apparently still hold the “loving memory” of those lives dear. A century after their deaths a photograph of the small monument shows a bright spray of flowers placed neatly at its base. Someone who could not have personally known those two young men took the time to honour them.
There is also a framed plaque, simple and unadorned, on the wall of the United Church in North Harbour. The plaque was placed in the church by Susie (Stanford) Brinston in memory of her husband, Leslie’.¹
Seaman Leslie Brinston of the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve was born on Sound Island, Placentia Bay, Newfoundland February 15th 1887, oldest son of Robert William and Amelia Jane Brinston (née Giles). He was working as a fisherman when he married Susie Reid on June 16th 1914 less than two months before the outbreak of World War 1. By November 27th he was on board the Carthaginian, bound for Glasgow, along with 156 other Newfoundland men of the Royal Naval Reserve (Alfred Goss, another man lost on the Laurentic, was also on board).
Long before the war broke out Britain’s Royal Navy, recognizing how much Newfoundland and Labrador’s seafarers had to offer, set about forming a volunteer reserve force made up of well-trained sailors. The British Admiralty helped finance the Royal Naval Reserve, with the Newfoundland Division being established in 1902.
‘Rigorous acceptance standards give some indication of the demographic base of the RNR. Recruits had to be unmarried, be of “good character and good physique,” and have basic literacy’. It is therefore logical to regard them as something of an elite – as the cream of rural Newfoundland youth – the most venturesome, confident and articulate young men in their communities.’²
Leslie Brinston served with the Royal Navy along with his brother Allison. In January 1917 he was in Europe and had just received notice of a well deserved furlough. So on January 25th, Leslie was on his way home to see his wife Susie. He would never reach his destination. His life was lost on the Laurentic just 21 days short of his 30th birthday.
He was posthumously awarded the Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.
¹ Excerpt from text by John Connors, participant at the Laurentic Conference 2014. He is a member of the Naval Officers Association of Canada and the Crow’s Nest Officers’ Club in St John’s.
² From ‘A Nation’s Navy: In Quest of Canadian Naval Identity’ published 1996, edited by Michael L. Hadley, Robert Neil Huebert, F. W. Crickard