‘It’s re­ally sad that their last emo­tion was fear’

The Packet (Clarenville) - - Editorial - BY BAR­BARA DEAN-SIMMONS SALTWIRE NET­WORK

“To stand there, to see the land, the out­line of the trenches and to imag­ine the young men who headed into bat­tle at that point, is breath­tak­ing.”

Joe­lene Butt

Nine kilo­me­tres near the town of Al­bert, in North­ern France, lies a piece land that is sa­cred in the minds of New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans.

The Beau­mont-Hamel New­found­land Memo­rial Park, and Memo­rial, is one of only two Na­tional His­toric sites lo­cated out­side of Canada — the other is the Vimy Memo­rial at Vimy Ridge.

The 74 acres of land were orig­i­nally do­nated to the prov­ince by the peo­ple of Beau­mon­tHamel, to hon­our the sac­ri­fice of the soldiers who were then cit­i­zens of the Do­min­ion of New­found­land.

Over the years, many New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans have made a pil­grim­age to the site.

Jo­lene Butt is one of them. The 16-year-old from Swift Cur­rent was there for the cer­e­mony in 2016 to mark the 100th an­niver­sary of that bat­tle.

As a mem­ber of the Ran­dom Air Cadet Squadron in Clarenville, she de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in the his­tory of the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment and the First World War.

So, when the chance came to join a con­tin­gent of youth from the prov­ince for the trip to France for the cen­ten­nial cer­e­monies, she signed up.

To stand there, she says, to see the land, the out­line of the trenches and to imag­ine the young men who headed into bat­tle at that point, is breath­tak­ing.

“They must have been re­ally scared,” she muses. “It’s re­ally sad that their last emo­tion was fear.”

Iron­i­cally enough, un­til this trip she had not re­al­ized her fam­ily had a very per­sonal con­nec­tion to the First World War.

“It was only a cou­ple of months be­fore we went that we found out my great un­cle, Al­bert Stacey, was killed in the war,” she told SaltWire, not­ing her grand­fa­ther ca­su­ally men­tioned, on learn­ing of her trip to France, that his un­cle Al­bert Stacey, from Sound Is­land, Pla­cen­tia Bay, had been killed in ac­tion.

A search of on­line records of the pro­vin­cial ar­chives turned up sev­eral doc­u­ments, giv­ing her more in­sight into Stacey’s story, and her fam­ily’s mil­i­tary past.

Lance Cpl. Al­fred James Stacey, Reg­i­men­tal Num­ber 1747, was killed Jan. 20, 1918, just weeks af­ter earn­ing the Mil­i­tary Medal from his ac­tions at the bat­tle of Cam­brai in Novem­ber, 1917.

His mil­i­tary records show he was awarded that medal for “con­spic­u­ous gal­lantry on and af­ter Nov. 20. Re­peat­edly, by day and night he car­ried wounded to the aid post and then on into Mar­co­ing, un­der heavy ar­tillery fire. While in the town, he sought out, on his own ini­tia­tive the Bat­tal­ion ra­tions which had been scat­tered by shell fire, and car­ried food and water for­ward to the front line by day­light through heavy shell and ma­chine gun fire. His re­peated jour­neys to the aid post with water con­sid­er­ably im­prove the chances of many wounded men. His work was a fine ex­am­ple to all ranks.”

He was 22 years old when he died some­where near Bel­gium.

Butt says she thinks of him now ev­ery Nov. 11 as she stands at the ceno­taph in Clarenville with her fel­low air cadets to hon­our vet­er­ans.

As the 100th an­niver­sary of the end of the First World War ap­proaches, she’s not cer­tain that peo­ple of her age un­der­stand what hap­pened from 1914-18 and how it im­pacted the prov­ince. She just hopes, though, they will take time to learn, and re­mem­ber.

“I re­ally don’t want their (sol­dier’s) mem­o­ries, their sto­ries, to get lost.”

To the ques­tion of whether the loss was worth the fight, Butt con­tem­plates for a mo­ment, be­fore re­ply­ing, “New­found­land lost a whole gen­er­a­tion of men, but for the lessons that we learned — so that it never hap­pens again — it was worth it; but then you wish it could have been done in an­other way.”

As for whether the soldiers them­selves would think it had been worth their lives, Butt replied, “I think the soldiers would be proud of the strides we made since the war but I think they would hope that we would fight and stand up a lit­tle bit more for the things that we be­lieve in.”

CON­TRIB­UTED

Jo­lene Butt from Swift Cur­rent, Pla­cen­tia Bay, made the pil­grim­age to Beau­mont Hamel in France in 2016.

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