William Ford Coaker: Founder - Fishermen's Protective Union

William Ford Coaker
The Rooms Provincial Archives VA83-66.1

Although Newfoundland's commitment to the war was widely supported, some individuals did question how much it would cost the colony. One of these people was William Coaker, politician and founder of the Fishermen's Protective Union (FPU). Coaker was also Editor of the Mail and Advocate, the official paper of the FPU and the only paper in the colony not dependent on government advertising for its survival.
In the August 14, 1914 edition of the Mail and Advocate, he wrote:

"Let England's hour of necessity come, and she will find in Newfoundland 20,000 of the primest warriors ever born, ready to do or die. That day is yet far off and the Colony's chief duty now is to put her house in order and arrange things so that in event of the hour of necessity arising Terra Nova's sons will be strong and healthy and prepared to meet the foe. Half starved men will be useless as fighters. Thousands through the failure of the fishery will have to fight starvation, an enemy fifty times more dreaded than the Germans on the field of battle or the seas."

Under pressure from the governing coalition, of which he was a part, Coaker eventually supported the war when, in 1917, he voted for a conscription (mandatory enlistment) bill. He even went so far as to actively recruit from the Fishermen's Protective Union. Sixty-nine young men, who became known as “Coaker's Recruits”, enlisted to represent not only Newfoundland but also the FPU. Ten of these recruits died in action or from wounds received in action.

At the end of the war, the issue of the cost of the war to the colony would be one that proved significant to its future. The Government of Newfoundland contributed over $15 million to the war effort. This amount grew to over $38 million by the 1930s when pensions and interest on war loans were included. The ultimate result was the colony's loss of independence in 1934.