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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

July 1st - Memorial Day Remembered

Once again Canada day is upon us and once again I've opted to publish an article that I return to each year at this time.

With Canada Day celebrations about to go ahead I sincerely hope we do not forget that while July 1 may be a day of celebration for Canadians it is also one of the most solemn and sad days for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.

July 1st marks the anniversary of the battle of Beaumont Hamel where so many of Newfoundland and Labrador's best and brightest were showered with shells. A day when an entire regiment was all but wiped out.

This Memorial (Canada) Day we should not forget those valiant men.

July 1st - Memorial Day Remembered

With Memorial Day once again upon us, it seems appropriate today to reflect on the exploits of the so called “Fighting Newfoundlander” and remember those who fought or died in conflicts half way around the world.

When many people think of the Newfoundland and Labrador's military history they immediately think of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Although Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have fought with the forces of other nations and continue to distinguish themselves today in the Canadian Armed Forces, it is with a special kind of pride that we remember the exploits of that particular Regiment.

Originally formed in 1914, The Newfoundland Regiment, as it was known at the time, consisted of what many refer to as the “first 500” or “The Blue Puttees” in reference to the blue leggings worn by the men.

An entirely volunteer regiment, the men of the “first 500”, along with those who joined them later, distinguished themselves in battle after battle during World War I.

So valiant were their efforts that they were later bestowed by the King of England with the title of “Royal”, becoming the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the name we know them by to this day.

After only six weeks of training at home, The original Newfoundland Regiment containing the “first 500” set sail out of St. John’s harbour on October 4, 1914. This first group contained some of the best examples of the type of young men Newfoundland and Labrador had produced. Many were athletes, some had been involved in various boy’s brigades and all were determined to show their pride in the Dominion of Newfoundland.

According to historical documents, the men of the Regiment had two primary goals in mind when they arrived in Europe. The first was that they were Newfoundlanders, and intended to be known as such; the other was that they had gone over to fight, not to do garrison duty in England.

At one point during their orientation on the Salisbury Plain the idea was floated that the Newfoundland contingent should join with a nearby Nova Scotia Regiment. Both groups were only the size of half a battalion and to the brass from England this seemed like a logical step. According to articles from the time the Newfoundlanders would have no part of it. They felt that if the two groups merged the contingent would lose its name, its identity and its individuality.

During the coming months the Regiment grew as new members arrived. In time, the proud men of the Newfoundland Regiment were given the opportunity they had wanted, a chance to fight for their homeland.

On the battle field these proud soldiers solidified their place in history.

The Regiment earned no less than 280 separate decorations, 77 of which were awarded to original members of the “first 500” of which 170 were killed in action. In fact, one in every seven men among the original force received some sort of military honour.

Many people have heard the name of Tommy Ricketts who was given the highest honour possible, the Victoria Cross, however many may not remember some of the other brave men who fought for their homeland under the most dire conditions.

Newfoundland and Labrador has produced many great heroes, many who are not as well known, but no less deserving of recognition.Take for example the story of Cyril Gardner, originally from British Harbour.

Lieutenant Gardner has the distinction of being the only known allied serviceman to receive the German Iron Cross during WWI.The Iron Cross which was handed out only to the bravest German military personnel was given to Gardner on the battlefield.As the story goes, Gardner’s unit was engaged in battle with a German patrol of 70 men. During the night, as hostilities wound down Gardner, who spoke German, took it upon himself to grab his gun and head out to the enemy encampment.Sneaking into the enemy camp, the Lieutenant turned his gun on the officers, capturing them unharmed. With their leadership removed the remainder of the troop immediately surrendered.

Lieutenant Cyril Gardner had single handedly captured an entire German Patrol.

Upon marching his prisoners back to his own encampment he was met by a British Officer who intended to shoot the unarmed prisoners rather than be saddled with caring for them.As the German soldiers looked on in horror Lieutenant Gardner once again demonstrated his sense of bravery by stepping into the line of fire to protect his prisoners and telling his superior officer that if one German were shot the officer would be the next one to die.

After a moment of hesitation the officer walked away and it was then that the commander of the German patrol, who had many medals on his uniform, stepped up to Gardner and removing the iron cross from his chest, pinned it on Gardner’s, to the applause and cheers of the German soldiers.

For Centuries, even before the formation of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have answered the call whenever it arrived.

Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans have been involved in major conflicts around the world since the mid 1600's, including:

The Anglo-Dutch Wars – 1652
The War of the Austrian Succession – 1743
The Seven Year War - 1756
The American Revolution - 1775
The Napoleonic Wars – 1796
The War of 1812
World War I – 1914
World War II – 1939

Add to this the number of young men and women who have proven themselves in places like Korea, Afghanistan, Bosnia and countless other areas of conflict or peacekeeping around the world, and we can clearly see that Newfoundland and Labrador has a lot to be proud of and, on this Memorial Day, a lot to remember.

On this Memorial Day, July 1st, and throughout the remainder of the year perhaps we should all take a few minutes to visit a local legion hall or war memorial, to stop and chat with an aging veteran and to offer a little show of thanks for the sacrifice these fine men and women have made to protecting our homeland and others.

Statistics show that every day in Canada an average of 80 veterans die. That’s more than at the height of conflict in World War II.

It only takes a moment to shake a veteran’s hand or buy one a cold beer. It might seem like a small gesture and it is, but even taking a moment to express a little gratitude may just brighten the day of some of our bravest and most deserving citizens.


Ussr said...

The Ode to Newfoundland

When Sun-rays crown the pine-clad hills,
And Summer spreads her hand,
When silvern voices tune thy rills,
We love thee, smiling land.

When blinding storm gusts fret thy shore,
And wild waves lash thy strand,
Thro' sprindrift swirl and tempest roar,
We love thee, wind-swept land,
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, wind-swept land.
We love thee, we love thee,
We love thee, wind-swept land.

When spreads thy cloak of shimm'ring white,
At Winter's stern command,
Thro' shortened day and starlit night,
We love thee, frozen land,

As loved our fathers, so we love
Where once they stood we stand;
Their prayer we raise to Heaven above,
God guard thee, Newfoundland.
God guard thee, God guard thee
God guard thee Newfoundland.
God guard thee, God guard thee
God guard thee Newfoundland.

by Sir Cavendish Boyle

Happy Memorial Day Newfoundland and Labrador

With Loving thoughts and Prayer's from somewhere in the " Evil Empire "

NL-ExPatriate said...

Forget Me Not?

Anonymous said...

Memorial Day?

Commemoration Day

2. In each year Sunday when it falls on July 1 but otherwise the Sunday nearest to July 1 shall be kept and observed in the province as and under the name of Commemoration Day, so that the deeds and sacrifices of those men and women of the province who took an active part in the World War of 1914-18 shall be kept in remembrance with honour and respect.

twjtNL said...

Ussr: Very well said. "The Ode" sums up every feeling I have.

I'll be broadcasting the importance of July 1st, of what it should mean to Newfoundlanders & Labradorians. Not what we seem forced to remember.

I am a proud Newfoundlander:
Proud of my heritage...
Proud of my people...
Proud of my nation...

Thanks for the article Myles!

Patriot said...

To Anon 5:38,

July 1 is the anniversary of the battle of Beaumont Hamel and is still remembered.

Patriot said...

to the anon who insists on not remembering but instead nit picking about the use of memorial day(a term used in NL for years)instead of commemoration day, all I can say is to each his/her own. I prefer to use this time to remember those brave souls.

If you choose to use it for your own foolish purposes you're free to make that choice. A freedom fought and died for on your behalf.