Newfoundland’s wartime losses remembered

The Summerland Legion distributed Forget-Me-Not pins, in recognition of the losses sustained at a battle a century ago.

At the Canada Day ceremonies on July 1, the Summerland Legion distributed Forget-Me-Not pins, in recognition of the losses sustained at a battle a century ago.

July 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme in France. On that day, France, Britain, Canada and the other Entente forces suffered 57,000 casualties. Each side of the conflict lost more than 200,000 men over the duration of the battle that saw the front lines move a mere 10 miles.

In 1914, Newfoundland was still a colony of Britain, and automatically joined the conflict.

The population of the island was poor, with most people enduring a subsistence living from fishing and forestry.  The opportunity to serve in the armed forces was an attractive option for young men living in the outposts.  In a matter of days, the request by the governor for a regiment of 500 volunteers was met.

After participating in the disastrous campaign in Gallipoli in Turkey, the regiment was transferred to northern France.

At 9:30 in the morning of July 1, 1916,  at Beaumont-Hamel, 801 men and boys went over the top. It was all over in a matter of 15 minutes as they were met with a hail of machine gun fire and artillery shells.

Only 68 answered roll call the next morning. This was a devastating loss to the colony of only 241,000. Almost an entire generation of young men was lost.

“These losses were so staggering to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that with the centennial near, the sting is almost as severe now as it was then,” writes historical consultant Frank Gogos of St. John’s.  For their service during the war, the Newfoundland Regiment was granted the honour of adding the prefix “Royal” to their name, the only overseas regiment to be so honoured.

In 1924 the Forget-Me-Not flower was adopted as the symbol of remembrance in Newfoundland, much like the Poppy is worn during the Poppy Drive leading up to Remembrance Day.

While July 1 is observed as Canada Day across the country, in Newfoundland, Memorial Day is remembered.