Sunday , 2 October 2022
The morning after the opening of the Battle of the Somme, just 68 Regiment soldiers answered roll call. The Caribou statue at the Newfoundland Memorial in Beaumont-Hamel. Arthur C. Green/Lakeland Connect

Rest in peace brave Newfoundlanders who fought in Beaumont Hamel

Canada Day is celebrated on July 1, but for Newfoundlanders, it means something completely different.

During my travels across Europe, I took in every bit of history I could visit. Beaumont Hamel was one of my first stops to pay respect for the ultimate sacrifice the fallen men from Newfoundland had given so I can be free.

Armed forces exist to fight wars, a task that required individuals to carry out many functions under extreme conditions. Violence or the threat of violence has always been at the core of this occupation.

More than 800 communities within the province of Newfoundland contributed men to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who fought and fell at Beaumont Hamel. All were affected to various degrees. But in a small community of scarcely 100 people, how can the effect of losing one or several of its sons be measured? In the capital city of St. John’s almost no street escaped this tragedy.

Looking towards Y Ravine Cemetery and the Danger Tree from St. John’s Road at Beaumont-Hamel and roughly 400 Allied casualties lay buried in the Cemetery. The land on which this cemetery sits is the free gift of the French people for the perpetual resting place of those of the allied armies. Arthur C. Green/Lakeland Connect

In the early hours of July 1, 1916, before the attack, the Regiment lay idol in a communication trench on St. John’s Road and Clommel Avenue after five hours of marching.

Days prior to the attack, heavy artillery had punished and bombarded the land at Beaumont Hamel. The Newfoundland soldiers were told that this was going to be a walkover, meaning slight resistance and that the recent artillery had effectively weakened German positions.

But the Germans had dug in deep, withstanding the blasts and the artillery attack was actually a warning to the enemy soldiers. Prior to the morning of July 1, 1916, gaps had been cut in the barbed wire so the Newfoundland Soldiers had a way through no man’s land. A vital mistake by the regiment commander as the German soldiers trained their machine guns on these passages.

The Danger tree is located roughly halfway between German and British front lines, it was one of the areas where the wire had been cut prior to the battle for the Newfoundlanders to pass through. Arthur C. Green/Lakeland Connect

“The heaviest casualties occurred on passing through the gaps in our wire, where the men were mown down in heaps,” the regiment commander wrote in his battle record.

“Instinctively they tucked their chins into an advancing shoulder, as they had so often done when fighting their way home against a blizzard in some little outport in far-off Newfoundland,” an officer who saw the men advance said.

The Newfoundland Regiment participated in the great Somme offensive with honor, and on July 1, 1916, strategic and tactical miscalculations led to the terrible slaughter.

Allied soldiers were organized to attack in two waves, but were met with brutal machine-gun fire on the battlefield. This sent the young Newfoundlander troops scrambling out of the trenches with little protection as the land had been cleared by an earlier barrage of bullets and artillery.

By 9:45 a.m., just over 30 minutes into the battle, the Allied commanding officer deemed the attack a failure and a quarter of the Newfoundland Regiment had been killed, while another 386 were wounded. The next day only 68 soldiers answered the roll call. Howard Morry who is from Ferryland Newfoundland was one of those soldiers although Morry did not go over the top because some soldiers were assigned to ration parties. In his memoirs written in the 1960’s, he remembered nearly 90 bodies piled high in the area of the Danger Tree. Very few made it much farther than the Danger Tree Morry wrote.

Despite its horrific casualties, the Regiment fought until 1918. For its valour, it won the to add “Royal” to its name, the only such honour bestowed during the great war.

Newfoundland memorial park at Beaumont-Hamel symbolizes the service and sacrifice of Newfoundlanders during the First World War. This park pays special tribute to the role of the Newfoundland Regiment in the Battle of the Somme and the heavy loses it suffered. The park also stands as a memorial to those Newfoundlanders who fell in battle and who have no known grave.

Once a battle, Beaumont-Hamel became, in 1922, a memorial park conceived by Padre Thomas Nangle and planned by Rudolph H. K. Cochius. Its design evokes the Newfoundland environment: overlooking the battlefield stands a bronze caribou resting on a granite base surrounded by plants native to the island.

Three bronze tablets bear the names of Newfoundlanders buried elsewhere. The memorial park honours those soldiers and ensures that their sacrifice will never be forgotten.

Newfoundlanders buried elsewhere

Other brave Newfoundlanders also lay buried in Tyne Cot Cemetery found in France. The cemetery was named after a barn at the centre of a German strongpoint, which was called “Tyne Cot” or “Tyne Cottage” by men of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers.

Three Newfoundlanders lay buried together in Tyne Cot Cemetery in France. Arthur C. Green/Lakeland Connect

After its capture in October 1917 in the advance on Passchendaele, the pill-box which is a concrete bunker still found in the cemetery was used as an Advanced Dressing Station.

The first burials were made around this pill-box as men fell to their deaths during the Great War which eventually became the cemetery. The ground was lost to the German army in April 1918 and recaptured by the Belgian Army five months later.

After the war the cemetery was enlarged for reburials from the battlefields and it is now the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world.

A view of the pill-box, which is a concrete bunker still found in the Tyne Cot Cemetery in France. Arthur C. Green/Lakeland Connect

It holds 11,956 graves, and 14 of those headstones belong to Newfoundlanders. Some of the buried have names engraved and others are unknown to God.

“You threw your fear in the sea of no cares.”

Rest easy my brave Newfoundlanders.

About Arthur C. Green

Arthur C. Green is an award winning journalist and is from Whitbourne Newfoundland. Green graduated from the CNA Journalism Program. Arthur also studied Business Marketing and Political Science at Memorial University in Essex England and St. John's Newfoundland. Green has worked for such organizations as CBC, CBC Radio, NTV, Saltwire, Great West Media, CKLB Radio, River Radio, Vista Radio, and Postmedia. He also loves Jiggs Dinner and can fillet a Codfish.