Where once they stood …
Gregory Butt of Victoria has a unique assignment for his summer job. The Memorial University student is making good use of his French skills while working as a tour guide in Beaumont-Hamel, France. It’s a big year for the area in light of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, so Butt is doing his best to help visitors understand the magnitude of those horrific events from so long ago.
Victoria’s Gregory Butt likes to begin his tours with stories from the start of the Battle of the Somme.
He relays historical tales of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s involvement in the war, their substantial losses and how his province was adversely affected.
“It’s such a pleasure to be able to connect with my visitors while sharing the stories and information about what happened during the First World War,” said Butt. “Towards the end of the tour when I talk about the losses and the sacrifices and how these soldiers, and their families were torn apart, it’s heartbreaking and there’s not a dry eye on site.”
Butt is one of 21 young Canadians working at the Newfoundland Memorial of Beaumont Hamel and the Canadian National Vimy Memorial as a guide for the summer session.
From mid-May to August, he is tasked with various aspects of site operation and military education. Butt applied for the position with the idea it’d be difficult to obtain a job working at the site during this important year.
“When I found out I was accepted for this program, I was speechless and became very emotional,” he said.
This summer marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. On July 1, 1916, an intense battle at Beaumont Hamel, France, almost wiped out the Newfoundland Regiment, leaving hundreds of soldiers dead or wounded. Just 68 men answered roll call the next morning.
“I think it’s important that we keep the memories and stories alive about those who sacrificed their lives here at Beaumont Hamel,” said Butt. “So, the history can be passed down generation through generation and that another 100 years from now, people will be able to commemorate here on the site.”
Taking visitors from around the world and educating them on his home province and its grim history during the war isn’t something Butt takes lightly.
“This position allows me to commemorate the sacrifices of the soldiers, including my own family members, who all occupy a special place in my heart,” said Butt. “Working at Beaumont Hamel is an opportunity of a lifetime.
“I’m extremely thankful to be able to walk into this site every morning and spread the stories to visitors from around the world.”
Bringing it together
When he headed to France in May, it was Butt’s first time at Beaumont Hamel.
His reaction was a lot like that of many people when they see the site for the first time.
“We … can learn about what went on here through books and pictures, but when you step on this site, it all becomes reality,” he said.
Seeing the shell holes and the trenches string the stories together, according to Butt. When he takes visitors on tour, Butt will usually take them to his favourite spot at the site.
It’s at the top of the Caribou monument that overlooks the site. From the vantage point, it’s possible to get a keen look at the entire battlefield.
“Overlooking the battlefield and being able to imagine the conditions that our fellow Newfoundlanders were in, on this exact same battlefield 100 years ago,” said Butt.
A bilingual job
A key requirement for getting his position was the ability to speak fluently in both English and French.
That was no trouble for Butt. He’s been immersed in French programs from his days at Persalvic Elementary through to University. In fact, he is in the midst of completing Bachelor of Arts degree in French at MUN.
“I never thought the opportunity would arise to work bilingually in France at this point in my life,” said Butt. “It doesn’t feel like work at all and I love going to work everyday.
“My passion for French developed through programs Melissa Taaffe-Smith (Carbonear Collegiate) created and organized. She goes above and beyond to ensure every student is learning in such an interesting and amusing environment.”
Butt plans on completing his third year of university through a MUN program in the south of France.
Being a tour guide in France this summer affords Butt a unique opportunity. He has a front row seat to the ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme.
Butt will be joined at the ceremony by a number of world dignitaries, as well as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as they make the trek across the Atlantic.
“The site will be full of thousands of visitors coming from around the world and I’m honoured to be able to take part in such a ceremony,” he said. “Newfoundlanders fought so courageously here during the First World War and I’m extremely proud to work during a ceremony that commemorates such an important part of Newfoundland’s history.”
Victoria’s Gregory Butt is a tour guide at Beaumont Hamel in France this summer.