Waving the flag on July 1

Gerry Phelan
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It’s that weird long weekend again, the one of mixed emotions.

On July 1st we remember the courage of our war dead, especially those from that most famous of battles at Beaumont Hamel in France. The other part of the day is dedicated to showing our appreciation and affection for this place we call home, Canada.

It is not always easy loving this country. Simply put, we don’t always feel part of it. All the oil wealth in the world can’t buy us the political clout that would be necessary to really make a difference. Geography and population rule it out. Newfoundland and Labrador is simply too small, so we make waves in other ways.

On occasion we shake our fists from Confederation Hill. Some premiers have taken to nationwide speaking tours to plead our case on issues ranging from Churchill Falls to the fishery to the Constitution. More often than not, our federal and provincial politicians have had to shout to be heard, or come up with novel ways of bringing our plight to the attention of the country.

We’ve taken down flags, worn black armbands and declared days of mourning, all to make various points. We’ve objected to being called Newfies and preached to the unconverted about what a truly magical place this is through our award-winning tourism ads. And we’ve made progress.

A recent visit to Toronto put me in the company of some influential news managers, many of them now seeing Newfoundland and Labrador through different glasses. They were quick to point out the irony from a few decades ago when we were the poor cousin, to today’s booming economy, healthy workforce, and unbridled determination. I heard countless references to the fond memories of their last visit here, and not once a murmur, a hint, a whisper even, of a Newfie joke.

Former premier Danny Williams told me years ago how he wanted people from this province to feel good about themselves, to walk tall on the streets of this country. We are doing that, despite the seemingly endless onslaught of federal cutbacks, facility closures and job reductions by the Harper crowd.

In May, when VOCM posed the question of whether the province and local MPs should boycott Canada Day this year as a protest to all the federal cuts by the Harper government, 66 per cent of respondents said yes. I am of a different mindset.

I think this year I’ll wrap my until-now unused Maple Leaf flag around my home, not out of spite, but because I am proud of how far we’ve come and what we have given to this country. People in other parts of Canada are watching us take our rightful place, through determination, hard work and integrity. It’s you and me doing that, whether by saving a paper mill, fighting for a piece of offshore-related work, or accepting the challenges and decisions that have to be made for our fishery.

This province has much to be thankful for, more of it earned than handed to us. And come to think of it, those brave souls who died overseas almost a century ago would likely be proud. They were not the only ones, but the Royal Newfoundland Regiment helped lay the foundation upon which we have built what we have.

I recall the words I broadcast on July 1st, 2006, from Beaumont Hamel:

“Ninety years after the battle in this historic field, and there’s an amazing sound. The birds are singing, the bees are buzzing, and yet noises that really are not here ring in my ears. Shells exploding, orders shouted, men screaming, people dying. Today, as I walk through these fields, I can feel it. If only the trees, the grass, if only the ground in this sacred place could tell the tale of that day, perhaps we’d have a better appreciation. But having been here, having seen first hand, I feel now I know why — why we remember.”

On Sunday, we’ll do just that.

And Canada — you’re welcome!

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at gerryp@bellaliant.net

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, France Toronto Maple Leaf

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  • John Shortiss
    June 30, 2012 - 12:09

    I'm Irish so wouldn't be a fan of Empire but my grandfather was a Newfoundlander . I'm proud of my Doran relatives who fought with the Royal Newfoundland Regt at Monchy Le Preux and elsewhere and who are buried at Canada Farm Cemetery. On July 7th I will lay a Poppy wreath at the National War Memorial Gardens in Dublin, not to celebrate the British Empire or War but to remember all the young men of the Royal Irish and Royal Newfoundland Regiments and their families. Looking back from the 21st Century we can criticise and condemn the causes and outcomes of WWI but we should not forget the ordinary men and women who fought it or use them for political point scoring.

  • Winston Adams
    June 29, 2012 - 19:39

    Carl, an old lady once told me , "you're called after that old war monger Winston Churchill". Since then I 've accepted her view that Churchill was indeed a war monger. His writings and that of others support that . Churchill thought war was glorious. To call any battle ground as sacred to me suggests what happened there was glorious. But I agree most of the fighting men, on both sides, demonstrated courage , resolve , ingenuity and strength, and moreso than than most who directed the action. And when those who from shell shock, could fight no more, these, some 300 British, about 20 Canadian, were shot for cowardise by our own men, upon orders. A soldiers is not to question orders. I guess if I were there, at there age, I too would have followed orders, and would have regretted it thereafter. I just don't see the wisdom in war. Some describe it as politics by other means. And I offer no solution. Others have, saying "love your enemy."

    • Carl
      July 02, 2012 - 00:09

      @Winston: You say, "To call any battle ground as sacred to me suggests what happened there was glorious." This is simply not logically sound. Sacred and glorious are not the same thing. Any place where the blood of thousands was spilled is sacred. Millions died in Nazi concentration camps in the second world war. The ground on which those innocents were slaughtered is definitely sacred. But that does not mean the holocaust was glorious - quite the opposite. The same applies to war. I actually agree that the first world war was pointless. But the battlefields, including Beaumont-Hamel where my uncle was killed and his remains never recovered, are very sacred.

  • saelcove
    June 29, 2012 - 15:14

    They were sent to their slaughter and the people in power new it

  • Gordon
    June 29, 2012 - 13:57

    What a dreary and uninspiring editorial. I have never had a Canadian flag and, after reading this, I am more convinced that I should not get one. As for WWI, it really needs a closer examination. Read the history books. If that does not help, see "Gallipoli", an Australian movie starring a young Mel Gibson, to get a different perspective of it. Memorial Day really should be commemorated, but not nesessarily for blood and glory reasons.

  • Winston Adams
    June 29, 2012 - 11:05

    Sorry, Gerry, I'm not proud of the way and the reasons our young men, many were boys really, were led to the slaughter. Shameful I say. But our young men paid the price for the blunders of others. Sacred ground? Like war is glorious? And the reason many joined up, by their own words- adventure. It's the way of young men, and misled by old men. Brutal.Cruel. Glorious? I don't think so. The cause- to aid Empire building, and domination of other countries and people, where might is right. For Britian, it started here when Sir Humphrey planted the flag in 1583. And the methods can be traced back to the Romans, the Greeks, and copied by all warlike nations.Fight for freedom? What freedom? I like the line in the song " freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" That was the state of most young men on both sides of the war. You say if only the ground at Beaumont Hamel could tell the tale- many of the men told the tale- perhaps you should read more of what they said.

    • Abdul Saieed
      June 29, 2012 - 13:27

      Very well put, Winston.

    • Carl
      June 29, 2012 - 14:47

      Winston, read the article again. No one suggested that war is glorious. You made that up out of thin air. But the ground on which so many fell is indeed sacred. And despite the fact that our young men were sent into war for the wrong reasons (in the case of the First World War), we should still be proud of the character they demonstrated - their courage, resolve, ingenuity and strength. I lost one uncle at Beaumont-Hamel, and two others fought and were wounded there. I'm very proud of all of them. And for me, the ground on which they spilled their blood is indeed sacred.