Da Legal Stuff...

All commentaries published on Web Talk are the opinions of the contributor(s) only and do not necessarily represent the position of any other individuals, groups or organizations.

Now, with that out of the way...Let's Web Talk.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Remembering Our War Heroes

With Remembrance Day upon us once again Web Talk is proud to take some time away from the political arena, where we normally exist, and instead provide an opportunity for our readers to remember, or perhaps even learn something new, about the history of the military in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Each year at this time we are all asked to take a few moments from our daily schedules to remember those who have fought and died in the name of their various Countries.

While the Dominion of Newfoundland may no longer exist, the men who fought and died are no less real and remembering their sacrifices this Remembrance Day is the least we can do.

Many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, at least those over the age of 30, likely remember the Australian war ballad “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, made famous in this province, by Liam Clancy.

The song contains the heart wrenching lines:

…the band played Waltzing Matilda,
As our ship sailed away from the Quay
And amidst all the cheers,
Flag waving and tears
We sailed off for Gallipoli

Well I remember that terrible day
When our blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk he was ready
Oh he primed himself well.
He rained us with bullets,
And he showered us with shells.
And in five minutes flat,
We were all blown to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia…

The reason I bring this up is that while most of us have grown up hearing stories about the near annihilation of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel, there have been other battles in our history that are less known, though no less bloody.

Many of us may also be familiar with the words of the now famous Australian song but few of us are aware of the Regiment’s connection to the song’s subject and the blood stained soil of Gallipoli.

In early 1915, a year before the famous battle of the Somme, the Newfoundland Regiment was sent to Egypt on its way to its very first commitment in the theatre of war, Gallipoli. This would be the place where the Regiment came close to being wiped out for the first time.

The Newfoundland Regiment landed at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula on the night of September 19th 1915 in order to reinforce the hard-pressed British 88th Brigade of the 29th Division.

From the beginning the Regiment had a hard time; day and night the Turkish army, in control of the high ground surrounding the beach, poured a constant stream of artillery and sniper fire down upon the line. Casualties mounted day by day and the constant enemy fire made re-supply difficult. Food and water shortages were common.

In spite of the hardships the Regiment played an important part in advancing the line and was awarded two Distinguished Conduct Medals and a Military Cross during the fighting.

With the coming of winter conditions went from bad to worse.

On November 26th a severe storm struck the Regiment a nasty blow. Three days of torrential rain and driving sleet washed away trenches and supplies and as the temperature fell rapidly the rain turned to snow.

With food and water running short and little or no shelter even the hardy men of the Newfoundland Regiment, who were no strangers to bad weather, began to succumb and several died of exposure.

By December 10th the Regiment was down to a quarter of its original strength.

Toward the end of the Gallipoli Campaign the “Newfoundlanders”, as they were called, were given the job of holding the Turkish forces. They formed part of a defensive line and the fighting was "hellish" for a number of weeks.

Eventually, on December 20th, the British decided to withdraw from Suvla and the Newfoundland Regiment was sent to Cape Helles to assist in the final exodus of British forces.

By then only 170 men were left.

The “Newfoundlanders” were among the very last troops to depart.

After the bloody and deadly Gallipoli engagement the Regiment began the task of rebuilding the tattered remnants of the unit in preparation for there next major engagement, at the Somme, and the now famous battle of Beaumont Hamel.

Perhaps we should take a moment this Remembrance Day to look back with pride on the fact that in North America it is the Newfoundland Regiment alone that has the distinction of having fought at Gallipoli.

No military units, from what was Canada back then, made it to the Dardanelles.

Ever since Newfoundland and Labrador became a part of Canada in 1949, what those brave troops did has been considered a part of the history of all of Canada, and as such all Canadians, not only Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, should take the time to remember and be thankful.

Post Script: For anyone who would like to listen to "Brand New Waltzing Matilda, a heart wrenching ballad, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFCekeoSTwg


Anonymous said...

"Perhaps we should take a moment this Remembrance Day to look back with pride on the fact that in North America it is the Newfoundland Regiment alone that has the distinction of having fought at Gallipoli."

A rich and vibrant culture that has only made canada a better place.

NL-ExPatriate said...

How is it that a province that comprises 1.5% of the canadian population, supplies 12% of the bodies to stop bullets in far of lands, defending strange people, and a democracy that discriminates against it's very own province doesn't have one, not one operationally manned military base for those same NL boys and girls to get a posting to?

Oh sure we have several bases in name only with no meaningful personnel and hence no real opportunity of ever getting a posting back to their home province.

I believe it was Richard Cashin who was with the Responsible govt side of the argument during the confederation debate that said they would us our young men and women to fight their wars.

No sir we are nothing but a colony never were and never will be anything but unless our people start informing them selves and either demanding equality or fight for equality.

Je me Souvien!

Anonymous said...

nl-expatriate - I agree with you wholeheartedly, why does a province, which provides so many of the Military personnel to the Canadian Military, not have a Military base on its soil so that those men and women can get a posting back home. Also a full fledge Military Base would provide a great economic boost to the province, that is the reason the other provinces have been the winners in that area.

It is ironic that during the Second World War there were 4 large American Bases and a large Canadian contingency established in Newfoundland and Labrador to protect the North American Continent from the enemey, but as soon as the threat of War was over, the Military bases retreated to the other parts of North America to boost their economies. NL has been used and abused for as long as there has been colinization in the Americas. The question is why didn't our politicians speak up against the abuse and why didn't they speak up for a full fledge base, based on the number of military personnel that we send to the Canadian Military who are based in the other provinces of Canada?

babe in boyland said...

this is always the case in every country and throughout history: the poor man fights the rich man's war. wherever people are under-educated, under-employed and socio-economically at a disadvantage, you will find a disproportionate number of that population in the country's military. the military offers education, decent wages, a respected role in society and opportunity for travel. unfortunately, if there is a war, it also offers inescapable opportunities to get killed.

the other population in canada that fills the military ranks is northern rural quebec. in the states it is the back woods and foothills. in england it is the inner cities. its not a provincial prejudice thing, its a poverty thing.

perhaps our new status as a have province will mean fewer of our people have to join the military to find gainful employment and opportunity?