Unveiling of First World War memorial plaques draws crowd

Society

Published on July 2, 2009
From left, Tourism, Culture and Recreation Minister Clyde Jackman, regimental Honorary Lt.-Col. Kevin Hutchings, Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie and St. Johns Mayor Dennis OKeefe unveil the Beaumont Hamel Memorial Plaque in Bowring Park Wednesday. Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Three plaques set in stone in Bowring Park now serve as a lasting memorial to the fallen Newfoundland soldiers and sailors who were killed in the First World War and have no known grave.

The plaques were unveiled in front of a crowd of at least 300 people Wednesday, the 93rd anniversary of the devastation of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel.

Three plaques set in stone in Bowring Park now serve as a lasting memorial to the fallen Newfoundland soldiers and sailors who were killed in the First World War and have no known grave.

The plaques were unveiled in front of a crowd of at least 300 people Wednesday, the 93rd anniversary of the devastation of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel.

The plaques, exact replicas from the Newfoundland Memorial in Beaumont Hamel, France, list the names of 591 soldiers from the regiment, 114 sailors from the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and 115 from the Merchant Marine.

Standing in a semicircle around the monument, just below the park's caribou memorial, people listened closely as St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe spoke about the lost soldiers.

"This is absolutely amazing and it's a testament to who we are as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," he said.

"I've often described July 1 as being a bittersweet day," he said.

But O'Keefe said he no longer thinks of the day as a day of mourning, but a day to celebrate the lives and efforts of those who were lost.

"Celebrate is the word, really. On July 1, we are celebrating Canada's birthday, but we're also celebrating the lives of the young men and women who fought and died in World War I."

Kevin Hutchings, the regiment's honorary lieutenant-colonel, noted that the site in Bowring Park gives people in this province who never had the opportunity to reflect on the memorial in France a place to pay tribute.

"Many times through the years, on one of our many visits to France, relations of those who passed have asked me to take pictures of a grave site, or for those with no known graves, a picture of his name on the Beaumount-Hamel memorial," Hutchings said.

Tourism, Culture and Recreation Minister Clyde Jackman said he was pleased to see so many people gathered at the memorial.

"There was hardly a family left unaffected by this tragic war," said Jackman. "By placing the names of these young men on the tablets here in Newfoundland and Labrador, we are, in a symbolic way, finally bringing these soldiers, sailors and other servicemen back home."

The provincial government footed most of the bill for the monument, about $330,000, while the City of St. John's oversaw the project and paid some of the bill.

The idea for the monument came when then lieutenant-governor Ed Roberts wrote to Premier Danny Williams following a trek to France in the summer of 2006 for the 90th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, recommending the tribute.

The monument is something the province has needed for a long time, said Calvin Tucker of St. John's.

"It's long overdue," he said.

Debbie Pike, who plans to go to the Beaumont Hamel memorial in France soon, called the Bowring Park monument "beautiful."

Still, she said, she feels the desire to see the place where so many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians lost their lives.

"It's time. I have go," she said. "It's part of our history, I guess. If anyone goes to France, they have to see Beaumont Hamel."

Meanwhile, Government Services Minister Kevin O'Brien is in France and Belgium this week to commemorate the sacrifices made by Newfoundland and Labrador soldiers during the First World War.

This year, the Department of Municipal Affairs also provided $55,000 to the Royal Canadian Legion to help subsidize the cost of sending veterans, a representative from the Royal Canadian Legion and students to the ceremonies.

emclean@thetelegram.com