Friday, 1 July 2011

Remembering the Follies of the Past

The Newfoundland CaribouIn Newfoundland, on July 1 we talk about the "July Drive", when the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was wiped out in the Battle of the Somme. Here is one article, although it neglects to report on the contribution of the stupidity of the general staff to the disaster.

How would you like to give your enemy advance warning that the troops you are about to send into battle are coming? Or that you required your soldiers to wear bright reflective metal tags so you could see them through your binoculars, not thinking this also benefited your enemy's snipers?

When we lived in France, we made two somewhat reluctant trips to Beaumont-Hamel, the site of the disaster. It is easily one of the saddest places I have ever been.

The guides at the park are a wealth of information. One walked around the park with us filling in the details of the story. Here is Ron, Mom, and Blair in front of the memorial monument with the guide.

Memorial

We took in the icons, such as the Caribou and the Danger Tree.

The Newfoundland Caribou


The Danger Tree

After the guide left us, we wandered around on our own, each with our own thoughts. Here is Ron walking down St. John's Road.

St. John's Road

When we stopped by the graveyard, all I could think about were the simple pleasures from home. Eating Ginger Snaps and drinking Purity syrup. Sneaking some Christmas compliment in the basement with the boys. Church turkey teas. Playing rounders. Catching capelin. Copying pans without your mother knowing. And then I thought how much the boys here would have missed those things, too.

Row-upon-Row

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On our way out, we met three French soldiers in the parking lot. They over heard us speaking English and figured out we were Newfoundlanders, so they stopped for a chat. They must have been on a course about Great War battles and were visting the battlefield monuments, because they knew quite a bit about the place and the event.

Strangely, this was not the first time a Frenchman stopped me to talk about the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. Earlier in the year, we were in a restaurant in Versailles when a very old Frenchman asked me where we were from. He detected a very odd accent to my English. How is it that Frenchmen are able to detect Newfoundlanders when we speak English? Anyway, when I replied "Terre Neuve", he stood up and addressed the entire restaurant. He went on at length about the Great War and asked everyone to recognize the sacrifices that the Newfoundlanders had made for France. No-one said a word the entire time he spoke. The waiters stopped delivering food and stood and waited until he finished. When he sat down, everyone remained silent for a moment and then applauded. I was shocked, as was Patricia. Few in Canada know of the importance of July 1 to Newfoundland, yet the French are willing to make a spectacle in a restaurant some 80 years later to mark remembrance of it.

To my fellow Newfoundlanders: if you are ever in France, Beaumont-Hamel should be on your must-see list. It is not an easy place to find, but in this day of Google maps and GPS, it is much easier to get there than it used to be.


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