It was traditionally an honour bestowed on mothers whose sons died in the First World War. As time passed and the mothers died off, the request was made to other family members and relatives.
This year, Jim Herder will lay the Wreath for the Silver Cross recipients on July 1. Three of his uncles went over the top at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916.
“I’m sort of in a unique position because the Herder boys are my uncles as opposed to grandfather or great grandfather.”
His uncle Arthur Herder — an England Cambridge University graduate of law — signed up for military service in Saskatchewan where he was practising, but later joined the Newfoundland Regiment before Beaumont-Hamel. Arthur’s two brothers — Hubert and Ralph — both signed up in St. John’s and went to Gallipoli before France but the three brothers were together at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1.
Uncle Hubert Herder was an officer in the first wave of soliders to go over the top and Jim says he was killed immediately. Arthur and Ralph Herder were both wounded, but survived the attack. Arthur was sent to Scotland to an army hospital and married a Scottish nurse. He was sent back to France in late 1917 where he was killed by a sniper in Cambrai. Ralph survived the entire war and returned to Newfoundland in 1918.
“Ralph himself, when he got back, he very rarely, if ever, spoke of the war,” says Jim. “It was such a horrible experience that they just didn’t want to talk about it.”
Jim’s family history in the war doesn’t end there. Elsie — the sister of the three lads — also joined the war effort.
“After news reached St. John’s of the two boys being wounded, she joined a group of nursing volunteers who went over to help,” says Jim.
She stayed on and drove an ambulance in France for a spell.
There’s also a cousin, Wallace Herder, of St. John’s who was killed in action in 1917.
The Herder family history goes beyond the category of war. The men’s father — Jim’s grandfather — was William James Herder, who founded The Evening Telegram. Ralph later became the publisher. In 1935 Uncle Ralph and Jim’s father of the same name dedicates the Herder Memorial Trophy to the memories of Hubert and Arthur. Hubert, Jim says, was thought of as being one of the province’s finest hockey players. Eventually all the brother’s names were added.
But on Tuesday the family’s dedication and sacrifices made for the war will be marked with the Silver Cross wreath.
“It is a great honour for me, especially on the hundredth anniversary of the start of the war” he says.