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This is “Canada Day weekend” to many people in this country, but in this province it is tinged with sepia-toned sadness.
Every July 1st since 1917 we have paid tribute to the sacrifice of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who served in wartime, particularly the courageous members of the Newfoundland Regiment who fought in the Battle of the Somme.
A candy-maker who earned $9 a week back home, he had signed up at age 19.
On July 1, 1916, they went over the top into No Man’s Land towards a German position near the French town of Beaumont Hamel.
One of those men was 21-year-old Wilfred John Rose, Regiment No. 217, of Golf Avenue in St. John’s. A candy-maker who earned $9 a week back home, he had signed up at age 19.
A medical record from Ayr, Scotland notes that Rose was hard of hearing. “He was left in charge of bullets when at the front but went over the parapet with the rest on July 1, 1916, and was wounded…”
When the advance was over, Newfoundland’s youth had been decimated, with 324 men killed, or missing and presumed dead, and 386 wounded. Only 68 answered the roll call.
Rose’s deafness was worsened by active service, but he made it home — an eventuality that was far from certain when he wrote to his friend Maud Westcott in St. John’s from Aldershot, England, on Aug. 15, 1915:
“This will be my last line to you for a good while yet, as we are going to the Dardanelles next week. We leave Aldershot this Thursday, Aug. 19, for Southampton to embark… Before I go I wish to say good bye, also pray for a safe return for us. Remember me to all the girls if I go under. I only will die as a soldier should, fighting for his King and Empire…
“Your sincere friend, W.J. Rose.”
Lest we forget.