With the start of the First World War approaching its 100th anniversary and the horrific, Somme offensive in Beaumont-Hamel set to reach that same milestone in two years’ time, a company specializing in education tours is gearing up to contextualize those events for a generation far removed from them.
EF Tours is now conducting a tour that visits the five caribou monuments in France and Belgium honouring those from Newfoundland and Labrador who fought for Commonwealth forces.
The Government of Newfoundland was responsible for purchasing the land where the bronze monuments were placed.
The caribou is the same animal that can be found in the crest of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. A sixth monument was placed in Bowring Park in 1928 after the others were erected.
EF Tours has included a stop at the Beaumont Hamel site in France on its Canadian history tour programs for a number of years.
“The last number of years we’ve had thousands of students from across the country visit Beaumont Hamel and get to learn more about the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and get to understand more about the role that Newfoundland and Labrador played in the First World War,” said Greg Owen, vice-president of EF Tours.
More than 700 soldiers from Newfoundland died on July 1, 1916 at Beaumont-Hamel, with only 68 able to answer roll call afterwords. Other sites included in the caribou trail tour are Geudecourt, Monchy-le-Preux and Courtrai in France and Masnières in Belgium.
“We have been working with a number of teachers and others from Newfoundland to build programs specific to having people visit all five caribou monuments in France and Belgium,” said Owen.
“This is a program we have been working on for the last couple of years and we now have itineraries and the opportunity for students and teachers to take a history-focused tour to visit all five caribou monuments, as well as other important sites like Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.”
Owen said EF has worked to ensure the program complements what students learn about in the classroom.
“So really what our goal is to help teachers make their classrooms come to life. If they are teaching in their classes the story of the regiment and its accomplishments and trials and tribulations in the First World War, they can then take their students to the places of big significance to the regiment overseas.”
In past visits to Beaumont-Hamel with students, Owen has witnessed firsthand what the experience of seeing these sites can do. Combined with what’s learned in the classroom, they can obtain a full picture by visiting such areas.
“They definitely come home with a renewed appreciation for what it means to be a Newfoundlander and Labradorian and a Canadian when they’ve had a chance to see the places where young men fought who are basically the same age that they are now.”
For the 100th anniversary of the battle at Beaumont Hamel, EF is planning to take hundreds of students from Newfoundland and Labrador overseas to mark the occasion.
Meanwhile, two groups will visit the caribou monuments starting this weekend. One involves teachers travelling for professional development purposes. The other includes members of the Royal Canadian Legion accompanied by 16 students.