The battle of Beaumont-Hamel, July 1st, 1916 is seared in the collective consciousness of Newfoundlanders. As we approach Remembrance Day, 2010, I find myself reflecting back on my first visit to the battle site. Many battlefields from the Great War have been preserved, but perhaps none better than at Beaumont-Hamel. Soon after the end of the war, Newfoundlanders banded together to acquire the site as a permanent memorial to the fallen from that bloody day at the Battle of the Somme.
Overall, the battle saw 57,470 casualties; 19,240 were fatal. The Newfoundland Regiment sustained a wildly disproportionate number of casualties. Canada’s Veteran’s Affairs website notes “So far as can be ascertained, 22 officers and 758 other ranks were directly involved in the advance. Of these, all the officers and slightly under 658 other ranks became casualties, but exact figures are not available as casualties were reported for the day as a whole. Of the 780 men who went forward only about 110 survived unscathed, of whom only sixty eight were available for roll call the following day.”
Today, the site has a special, serene quality to it. Visitors can take escorted tours of the site, all led by knowledgeable Canadian youth. Trenches remain. Spikes that used to hold barbed wire also remain in place. The excellent visitor centre is a great place to start a visit to this somber place of remembrance.
While the red poppy is the symbol of remembrance elsewhere in Canada, in Newfoundland, it is the forget-me-not that reminds of Newfoundlanders of their losses. July 1st is Canada Day across the country. In Newfoundland (which became a Canadian province 1949) that day is also a day of remembrance for the then colony`s terrible losses in 1916.
John Ecker | Pantheon