July 1st is an interesting juxtaposition in Newfoundland and Labrador. Whereas the rest of the country wakes up ready to don the country’s red and white colours and celebrate, Newfoundland and Labradorians instead remember a significant and tragic event up until noon after which we too don the colours and celebrate with the rest of the country.
On July 1st, 1916, the then Newfoundland Regiment fought in its first engagement on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in a place called Beaumont Hamel, France. After that day, the Regiment was granted the title ‘Royal Newfoundland Regiment’ because if enough people get slaughtered at a time, you are entitled to have ‘Royal’ attached to your name (no bitterness from me, eh?). A generation of young men from this province were virtually wiped out when 798 went into the fray that morning and 68 answered roll-call the next morning.
When DH and I lived in Germany from 1998 – 2002, the first weekend trip we took was to Beaumont Hamel. The caretaker at the time was Steve Austin (no, not the bionic one) who, coincidentally, was married by my father (the Anglican minister). Steve was a great tour guide and we spent a couple of lovely weekends at the Beaumont Hamel site, enjoying our caretaker friend’s hospitality and equally enjoying the private tour of the site itself as well as the local area. On one such weekend when we were driving through a field near a small village, a man yelled out to us as we drove by,
“Vive les Canadienne!” in response to our Canadian Forces overseas red and white license plates. The memory of Canadian sacrifices in that part of the world are still very real and current.
Beaumont Hamel is commemorated by a bronze caribou on a mound, the caribou being the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. There is another in Bowring Park where DH and I held our wedding reception and is a symbol that I grew up with as playing around the statue in Bowring Park was a rite of passage when I visited the big city.
I have not been home for July 1st in many, many years. As we were on our way to Gander Bay for the long weekend, we did not take part in any Memorial Day ceremonies. However, we did see Sea Cadets spiffied up in their uniforms heading for the Cenotaph in Torbay. Flags poles held their flags at half mast and several front doors held wreaths encircled in red poppies. For both events this year, my family and I remembered and celebrated in Victoria Cove, Gander Bay, Notre Dame Bay with my parents. We celebrated with a bar-b-que, remembering that, if it was not for the sacrifice of those boys and men, we might not have been able to sit back and enjoy such a holiday with family.
On the West Coast of Canada, the BC part of the family was also celebrating another very significant event. Happy birthday, FIL/Grandpa D! We hope it was a great one!