Rev. Ian Wishart believes Newfoundland and Labrador has a rich military history, but he is adamant the province needs to create a prominent military museum in St. John’s to adequately share that history with future generations.
Wishart, a past chairman of the Regimental Advisory Council who has also served as chaplain of the Newfoundland Militia District and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, made this point as guest speaker during the Rotary Club of St. John’s regular Thursday meeting at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland.
“Newfoundland’s military history is fascinating, and a great deal of it is centred here in St. John’s and the Avalon Peninsula,” he said.
Wishart spoke at length about the significance of Beaumont Hamel, noting the tragic battle of July 1, 1916 will soon mark its 100th anniversary.
“Beaumont Hamel is a magnificent place, and the site commemorates what is perhaps the most significant military engagement in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said.
“Go to Beaumont Hamel and it will blow your mind.”
However, one problem Wishart said needs addressing is the lack of attention paid to other military events in which Newfoundlanders and Labradorians played a role.
“What about Korea, the Battle of Kapyong, or Bosnia, or Afghanistan? A military history of Newfoundland is much wider than World War I, and any program to teach our military history to younger generations must be wider than the story of France and Flanders a century ago.”
A group is already in place to help establish a new museum, headed by Newfoundland and Labrador business woman Kathy LeGrow, with former Memorial University president Art May and Wishart also involved.
He did make mention of museums already in the city, including the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s museum in Pleasantville.
Wishart also referred to the Crow’s Nest in downtown St. John’s as a museum of sorts, although he said it has more mementos than it can manage to display.
With many Royal Canadian Legions in Newfoundland and Labrador witnessing a decline in membership and forced to close as a result, Wishart wonders what will become of their collections.
“If something is not done, a great deal of valuable material will be lost. We need a proper military museum for the city and for the province, and the museum must note Beaumont Hamel and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, but not in a way that dominates or obscures other service or sacrifice.”
Wishart went on to talk about some of the lesser known contributors to Newfoundland and Labrador’s military history, such as Edgar Skinner, a ship’s captain in the Second World War during the Battle of the Atlantic who was also allegedly involved with the Newfoundland Regiment in the First World War.
Wishart said Skinner was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in June 1942, although he is having trouble finding official records to verify this.
He also spoke of Newfoundland soldiers involved in protecting the town of York from American forces in Upper Canada on April 27, 1813. That battle resulted in the burning of the legislature building.
In closing, Wishart said it would be nice to think warfare may one day cease to exist, though he finds it unlikely.
“We will still need those who are prepared to put their lives on the line to protect us. We should pay tribute to those who serve in the Canadian Forces, many at the risk of their lives.”