Wednesday, July 1, 2015
WHERE ONCE THEY STOOD
Among the quirky and ironic things about Newfoundland and Labrador's connection to our adopted nation is the fact that Canada's Birthday - July 1st - falls on the same day as the bloodiest day of battle for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
The post-battle memories and history have by design or happenstance resulted in a romanticism about the fighting Newfoundlander and in helped to rationalize the losses. In more recent years there has been much more debate on the conventional orthodoxy which we have accepted.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, we fly our flags at half mast, including the Canadian Flag because it is Memorial Day. Canada Day in this province is a combination of Remembrance Day and Flag Day.
On July 1st, 1916, the regiment was nearly completely annihilated at Beamount-Hamel - during the start of the Battle of the Somme. 801 men crawled out of the British trenches and charged across the no-mans land to assault the Germans.
They were slaughtered in minutes by the German machine guns which the British Commanders had assumed had been knocked out by intensive shelling. Only 69 men returned to answer the roll call. It was not the only dark day of the war for our soldiers but it was by far the darkest.
The numbers may be acceptable as the cost of war. 16 million soldier and civilians were killed the "war to end all wars"
The gallantry, bravery and contribution of the regiment from England's oldest colony and sister Dominion earned a special footnote in the commonwealths military history. the Divisional Commander was to write of the Newfoundlanders effort: "It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault failed of success because dead men can advance no further."
King George V bestowed the prefix "Royal" on the regiment in 1917.
I am attending the wreath laying ceremony in Ferryland this year. It has been 99 years since the battle but the crowds of people - young and old - continues to grow - as we remember our lost nationhood, our sacrifices to England and the impact of this lost generation on our history and destiny.
It certainly was not the war to end all wars but with the 100th anniversary approaching in one year, one of the most formative events in our history will be examined through the eyes of historians, sociologists, folklorists and the public.
Posted by Peter L. Whittle