Great War myth
Bonnie White has studied the First World War extensively, but yet it still presents to her as an unanswered question. The adjunct professor of historical studies at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland in Corner Brook said it’s a complicated war.
Bonnie White has studied the First World War extensively, but yet it still presents to her as an unanswered question.
The adjunct professor of historical studies at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland in Corner Brook said it’s a complicated war.
“It’s not anything like the Second World War where we knew who the bad guys were, we knew what the objective was.”
Whether it was Canada or Britain it was a war where one wondered the motive and the possible outcome, she said.
“What does this war mean, I think, is just a question that we can’t answer.”
Still she keeps trying and a few years ago she started to incorporate Newfoundland into her Great War studies.
Last year while at a conference in London she met the organizers of this year’s “The First World War and the Americas: from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego” conference.
They were in the early stages of planning and talking about how to include South America, the United States and Canada in the conference that was being planned as part of The National Archives in the United Kingdom’s First World War Centenary program.
There was no mention of Newfoundland, so White suggested it should be included. The plan was to include it with Canada, but White pointed out Newfoundland wasn’t a part of Canada then.
After some thought she was asked if she’d be interested in helping them plan how to make Newfoundland a part of the conference and participate in the event.
While 1916 was big year for Newfoundland with the July 1 battle of Beaumont-Hamel, White said the commemorative process didn’t start till 1917.
“That really is the start of Newfoundland’s Great War myth,” she said.
On July 1 she presented a talk titled ‘‘Sorrow, Gratitude, and Pride: Newfoundland’s Cultural Memory of the Great War” at the conference at the archives in Kew, England.
By myth, White doesn’t mean a falsehood or untruth.
“I mean an enduring cultural memory that is both true and that’s had some parts added.”
She focused on what was the myth and why it was necessary. Was it just about BeaumontHamel or did the home front enter into it?
She said Gallipoli and Beaumont-Hamel helped create the idea of the fighting Newfoundlanders, and then to that add the women and the communities at home.
“The battlefront and home front became so conflated that the fighting Newfoundlanders applied as much to warfront as it did the home front.”
She said no matter if it was a big centre or a small outport, the sacrifices that women and communities at home made were so great that the will to endure, the ability to survive and the ability to support the war effort on a such a tiny island of 242,000 was as important as those contributions in France or at Gallipoli.