Home » General » 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; he had Newfoundland-specific monuments put up on the five battlefields along what is known as the “Caribou Trail”. He purchased a large portion of the Beaumont-Hamel battlefield, preserving the graves of Newfoundland’s fallen soldiers. He also 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 and after obtaining his diploma, he went to Ireland to study for the priesthood. The Archbishop of Newfoundland ordained him in 1913. 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 to the Directorate of War Graves and Enquiries and the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC). Nangle returned to Europe, where he marked and documented all grave sites where Newfoundlanders were buried. Next asked to develop a strategy for commemorating Newfoundland’s contribution to the war, he 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.

Thomas 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 attended ceremonies in France marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. He never returned to Newfoundland and died in Rhodesia on January 4th, 1972.

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