Where once they stood …

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER TC ME­DIA nmercer@cb­n­com­pass.ca

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.

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