A battle fought long ago

Andrew
Andrew Robinson
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Large crowd honours Memorial Day sacrifices from 1916

Walking along Duckworth Street in Tuesday’s Memorial Day parade in St. John’s with rifles draped over their shoulders, members of the Signal Hill Tattoo wore Royal Newfoundland Regiment uniforms.

Joe Pearcey, a war veteran and member of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 56 in Pleasantville, salutes as “O Canada” and “Ode to Newfoundland” are played to conclude the Memorial Day service commemorating the 98th anniversary of the July 1, 1916, Battle of Beaumont-Hamel at the National War Memorial on Water Street in downtown St. John’s Tuesday morning.

These were the same sort of uniforms young soldiers would have worn a century ago serving the Allied powers during the First World War.

The fact many wearing the uniforms Tuesday were the same age as soldiers who lost their lives in the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel drove home a dramatic point about armed conflict.

Those sacrificing their lives for a greater cause far too often do so at a young age.

Newfoundland and Labrador knew that all too well following the events of July 1, 1916, when 801 members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment mounted an offensive attack on German forces in northern France.

The end result was harsh. After the battle, only 68 soldiers from the regiment answered roll call. The rest were either killed or wounded.

Tuesday marked the 98th anni­versary of the battle. Memorial Day honours those who participated in the tragic battle.

This year also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. A large crowd gathered in downtown St. John’s to honour the event.

Denise Fitzpatrick understands the impact of war on those knee-deep in it. Both of her grandfathers fought in the First World War — William Saunders Sr. and John Rowlands of Wales. Her own father, William Saunders Jr., is a Royal Navy veteran from the Second World War. He met Denise’s mother, Brenda Saunders, while he was stationed in Wales. Brenda died in March at the age of 88.

William Saunders Jr. was present for Tuesday’s ceremony, seated to the right of the National War Memorial.

“He’ll be 93 next week and he hasn’t missed one yet, I don’t think,” said his daughter. “I’m very, very proud. Every year I’m afraid it’s going to be the last year, but he’s hanging in there.”

Denise’s dad is generally one not to talk about his war experiences, although she has heard bits and pieces over the years.

“He went through a lot, he really did,” she said. “He saw a lot of ships bombed, and bodies. … They had to pick up parts of bodies from ships that were bombed.”

Jim Herder laid the wreath to honour Silver Cross recipients. Three of his uncles took part in the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. Arthur and Ralph Herder were both wounded, but survived. Hubert Herder was among the first wave of soldiers to go over the top and was killed instantly.

Speaking to The Telegram after the service, Jim Herder was still sorting through some emotions.

“It’s a great honour to represent a family,” said Herder, who visited Beaumont-Hamel with his wife in 2006 to mark the 90th anniversary of the event.

“It is a gorgeous park. My Uncle Hubert is in the little cemetery there — the Y Ravine (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) Cemetery, and it was almost overwhelming.”

A new plaque was also unveiled during Tuesday’s ceremony to honour the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s contributions to the War of 1812, a 2 1/2-year battle fought on North American soil between the United States and Great Britain.  

arobinson@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Organizations: Royal Navy, War Graves Commission, North American

Geographic location: Wales, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northern France.The Silver Cross United States Great Britain

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