A Pouch Cove veteran who survived the Battle of Beaumont Hamel will have his grave marker reflect his First World War service at a special ceremony Sunday.
Reuben Castella wasn’t one of the few who answered roll call after the famous battle, because he was almost buried in a shell hole for two or three days after being severely wounded from shrapnel, said his son, retired St. John’s Anglican Rev. Eugene Castella.
During his lifetime, Reuben — who died in 1984 — spoke little of the war, his son said. After the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, only 68 out of 801 First Newfoundland Regiment members who went over the top July 1, 1916, answered roll call the following morning, with the rest either killed, wounded or missing.
“The fact he didn’t talk about it that much meant that he wanted to just put it in the back of his mind,” Castella said of his father’s desire to try to distance himself from what he had seen on the battlefield, particularly at Beaumont Hamel.
Every first of July, Reuben would stay home from fishing and attend memorial ceremonies.
“He was really distraught, upset,” said Castella, a retired school principal and the youngest of Reuben’s six children, two of whom are still alive.
“I think he relived it every year. … I think he fought that war for the rest of his life, as I am sure the others did.”
Castella said his father took pride, though, in being a prominent member of the Royal Canadian Legion’s Pouch Cove branch and organizing veterans' activities.
When he died, Castella said, he honoured his father’s wish of not wanting things that were elaborate. The existing marker includes details of his and his wife Susanna’s birthdates and deaths, but not his war service.
A year ago, Castella said he had a role in a Pouch Cove Anglican ceremony related to another family’s First World War sacrifice, when he happened to mention to a representative of the Trail of the Caribou Research Group that his father had fought at Beaumont Hamel, but it wasn’t indicated on his gravestone.
The non-profit group had worked with the Town of Pouch Cove to memorialize the Baldwin boys — three brothers, Cpl. James, Pt. Horacio and Pte. Uria, who were killed in action.
Trail of the Caribou organized the ceremony coming up Sunday at noon for the new plaque that will acknowledge Pte. Reuben Castella’s First World War service with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment from September 1915 to his discharge in 1919.
“My heavens, I am elated because I think my father and every lad who were part of that terrible war needs to be recognized,” said Castella.
Reuben consented to an interview with his granddaughter, Lesley, for a grade-school project decades ago, and Castella recalled when his daughter asked his father if he had killed anyone, he had replied, “I can’t tell you that.”
The few war memories that Reuben — the son of a Portuguese immigrant who came to Newfoundland at the age of 13 on his father’s fishing schooner and stayed to make his life here — ever spoke about included not hearing about the war being over for days afterward.
Their superior rode in on a horse and said, “Boys it’s all over,” Castella said.
Among the other injuries his father suffered during the war, according to his military records in The Rooms digital database, were influenza, trench foot and a dislocated shoulder.
Maj. (Ret.) Michael Pretty heads the the Trail of the Caribou Research Group, which has made its mission to make sure all military veterans in all graveyards in the province have acknowledgement on their headstones for their service. It’s part of the volunteer group’s work to see military and peacekeeping service recognized.
“We started 10 years ago and we’ve been going through every single cemetery in Newfoundland and Labrador, reading every single headstone,” Pretty said.
They scan databases and old newspaper records such as obituaries and announcements for clues, as often servicemen from Newfoundland and Labrador — not a part of Canada until 1949 — joined other military forces besides the regiment.
Pretty, a veteran of peacekeeping missions, said they would not have known about Reuben Castella if not for his son’s comment at the Baldwin brothers ceremony.
“Reuben was a complete fluke,” Pretty said of the discovery.