Ceremony at Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial
Beaumont-Hamel, France, Sunday, April 8, 2012
Despite all that we know of the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel—from the stories of veterans of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, as well as those of eyewitnesses and historians—it is difficult to comprehend the reality of what happened here on the morning of July 1, 1916.
It may help to think of how quickly the battle progressed, and was lost. In less than half an hour—not much less time than we have for this ceremony—the Regiment was practically decimated, though not for lack of resolve, discipline or tenacity on the Newfoundlanders’ part.
“Tell everyone that they may feel proud of the Newfoundland Regiment,” wrote one soldier prior to battle. His name was Francis Lind. He died near “The Danger Tree” in this open field, and is buried not far from where we stand.
By all accounts, the Newfoundlanders who fought here were courageous, skilled and dedicated. And it is also no surprise to learn that they were very well-liked by the people of this area, with whom they billeted.
In his book, The Fighting Newfoundlander, Gerald Nicholson recounts the warm welcome soldiers received from locals.
“It may have been that the French people to some extent associated Newfoundland with their islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. But more probably it was the natural friendliness of the young Newfoundlanders that evoked a cordial response.”
It is good to think that those who served here were made to feel welcome by the people of Beaumont-Hamel in the days leading up to battle.
To this day, local people have been steadfast in remembering the sacrifices of our soldiers in the First World War. This means a great deal to the people of Newfoundland, and to all Canadians.
Today, this memorial site is very much a part of Newfoundland, and of Canada. And in fact, each July 1, when all Canadians are celebrating the birth of our country, Newfoundlanders are also remembering the fallen of Beaumont-Hamel and of all the fields of France and Belgium where their ancestors served.
I think the pairing of these occasions—Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Canada Day across the country—speaks to the fact that service and sacrifice are interwoven with our nation’s history.
At Beaumont-Hamel, most of the 801 soldiers (over 92%) who went into battle did not report for duty the next morning, having been wounded or killed in action.
But 68 of them did report for duty. And they were soon joined by others. These soldiers served again and again with courage, tenacity and distinction, applying the lessons of this battle to those that followed.
And after the Armistice, when Newfoundlanders, Canadians and all peoples joined in mourning and remembrance, they repeated the greatest, most hard-won lesson of the war.
That was to say, “Never again.”
Through their enormous sacrifice, the members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Royal Naval Reserve and the Newfoundland Mercantile Marine who are honoured here made our country, and our world, more caring and sensitive to the cost of war.
Their legacy is to remind us Canadians, young and old, that never again can we allow such a tragic loss of life.
Always, we must remember them.