As head of Memorial University’s history department and co-chair of the university’s First World War Commemoration Planning Committee, I felt the need to reply to Jeff Rose-Martland’s letter of Nov. 12.
While he rightly points out that the university was established as a memorial to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who paid the ultimate price — so that “in freedom of learning their cause and sacrifice may not be forgotten” — he is remiss in his assertion that “…Memorial University does not honour veterans.”
As we approach the centenary of the First World War in 2014, the university is actively engaged in efforts to plan how it will commemorate the anniversary period.
Under the direction of president and vice-chancellor Gary Kachanoski, we are in the process of concluding regional and online consultations on this subject.
In fact, individuals can submit ideas online until next week at www.mun.ca/commemoration.
Through those consultations we have heard a range of suggestions, not the least of which were ideas for areas of future research and teaching in partnership with groups such as veterans, their families and communities.
As well, we’ve heard that young people need to have an opportunity to meaningfully connect with our province’s military history and present.
In terms of our current activities, I can cite an example from my own department: there is scholarly work being conducted by history professor, Mark Humphries, whose major research interest is the experience of war and how psychological trauma was interpreted by veterans and military/pension officials and the effect of those experiences on their families up to the 1970s.
To this end, he has been actively working with the Department of Veterans Affairs over the past few years, has published award-winning articles on the topic and has spoken about it several times through local media.
Veterans who attend Memorial have access to the full array of supports made available to all of our students — counselling, wellness and health services, career counselling, access to the Blundon Centre for students with disabilities, support to form a club or peer society on campus — the list is long. Reservists are provided with leave from their university studies and/or employment for training or service and the university has supported the efforts of the SIFE Memorial student group to develop its Based in Business entrepreneur development program for veterans.
Memorial University’s origins lie in the desire to create a living memorial through freedom of learning and research to those who fell in battle; we ensure that our veterans’ cause and sacrifice is not forgotten by developing and maintaining high quality programs of teaching and research.
We take the time to remember in formal ways in July and November each year, involving students, faculty and staff in those activities.
We will use the opportunity of our commemoration activities in 2014-2018 to expand our role as a living memorial in current and relevant ways.
Being more aware
And we expect that, beyond the physical legacy of those efforts, there will be an increased awareness and understanding of the impact of war and the sacrifices of our veterans in the quest for peace. Because, after all, isn’t that why they served?
Dr. Kachanoski has challenged members of the university community to reinvigorate the university as a memorial by engaging with people and communities throughout the province to develop means of commemorating the centenary of the Great War.
I would be pleased to discuss ways to develop programs that would be of interest to veterans with Mr. Rose-Martland or any other interested party.
Sean T. Cadigan is a professor and head of the department of history at Memorial University of Newfoundland.