Why New­found­land and Labrador al­ways re­mem­bers

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY QUENTIN HOLBERT

The First World War was de­serv­ing of its ti­tle as “The Great War.” This was the first time in­dus­trial war­fare swept across a global scale.

Sol­diers and civil­ians alike per­ished across Europe, Africa, and the Mid­dle East as mil­lions more from the Amer­i­cas and Ocea­nia wept for their fallen. This was also the first war that New­found­land par­tic­i­pated in as a Do­min­ion rather than a colony. The out­break of war in 1914 of­fered an op­por­tu­nity for New­found­lan­ders to dis­tin­guish them­selves as fiercely loyal to Great Bri­tain.

The im­pact of the war on New­found­land was im­mense. Of the ap­prox­i­mately quar­ter­mil­lion cit­i­zens in the Do­min­ion, roughly 12,000 men en­listed for the New­found­land Reg­i­ment, the Forestry Corps, the Mer­chant Marines, and the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force. This was around ten per cent of the Is­land’s male pop­u­la­tion, and over 35 per cent of all men aged 19-35.

Of these re­cruits, roughly 1,300 per­ished, sev­eral thou­sand were se­ri­ously wounded, and an un­known num­ber suf­fered from shell shock and other psy­cho­log­i­cal trauma. These losses crip­pled New­found­land’s work­force, which made pay­ing the im­mense fi­nan­cial costs of war im­pos­si­ble.

When the great De­pres­sion struck in 1929, it shat­tered what­ever econ­omy New­found­land had left. Within three years, it was a ter­ri­tory of Great Bri­tain once again. New­found­land suf­fered heav­ily dur­ing the war, and the heavy losses sent the Do­min­ion into ab­so­lute fi­nan­cial ruin. It was in this un­sta­ble post­war cli­mate that New­found­land’s cur­rent tra­di­tions of Re­mem­brance emerged.

Prior to the First World War, re­mem­brance had al­ways been a per­sonal en­deavor across the Bri­tish Do­min­ions. Fam­i­lies held pri­vate me­mo­rial ser­vices for their fallen, and it was their re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­dure the losses.

Yet the losses of the First World War were grand enough that ev­ery­body lost some­body. Ru­ral ar­eas like New­found­land coastal com­mu­ni­ties were es­pe­cially scarred from the to­tal an­ni­hi­la­tion of their young men.

Grief over­whelmed the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, and Great Bri­tain adopted Ar­mistice Day and the `Two Min­utes of Si­lence’ in 1919 af­ter ob­ser­va­tions of sim­i­lar prac­tices in South Africa. The idea spread to other na­tions such as France and Bel­gium, and soon af­ter Bri­tish Do­min­ions like Canada and New­found­land fol­lowed suite.

These tra­di­tions of pub­lic re­mem­brance took hold in New­found­land. The City of St. John`s had the Na­tional War Me­mo­rial erected in St. John`s in 1924, and many com­mu­ni­ties be­gan to erect smaller me­mo­ri­als. In­deed in most com­mu­ni­ties now, you will still find lists of New­found­lan­ders that en­listed and per­ished in ei­ther the town hall, in the lo­cal mu­se­ums, or per­haps even as a ded­i­cated site.

Many New­found­lan­ders look to the smil­ing youth of the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment, and then to the empty spa­ces in fam­ily pho­to­graphs. Gone was the ex­u­ber­ance of young New­found­lan­ders, and left in their place were the solemn hard­ships of the 1920s and the 1930s.

Now no­body re­mains; ev­ery soldier that

Now no­body re­mains; ev­ery soldier that fought; ev­ery young widow that grieved; ev­ery par­ent sob­bing in their child’s de­serted bed­room; ev­ery child that won­dered why. They are all gone, and we are the legacy.

fought; ev­ery young widow that grieved; ev­ery par­ent sob­bing in their child’s de­serted bed­room; ev­ery child that won­dered why. They are all gone, and we are the legacy.

Quentin Holbert, a Me­mo­rial Univer­sity stu­dent set to grad­u­ate in 2017 with a Bach­e­lor of Arts in his­tory, is orig­i­nally from Hants Har­bour.

TC ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

The his­tory of Re­mem­brance Day in New­found­land and Labrador dates all the way back to the 1920s.

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