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