War wounds, be­yond the bat­tle­fields

Com­mu­ni­ties across At­lantic Canada were united by a far-reach­ing sense of grief


Wil­liam Fry and Don­ald Lawrence Morine never knew each other.

Yet Fry, of what’s now Sum­merville, N.L., and Morine, from Bear River, N.S., shared com­mon ground and ex­pe­ri­ence, fight­ing on one of the blood­i­est bat­tle­fields in his­tory from the early sum­mer to late fall 1916.

Fry and Morine also shared the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing among 1.1 mil­lion ca­su­al­ties of the Bat­tle of the Somme, and hav­ing their names etched per­ma­nently on war memo­ri­als in their home prov­inces.

Their sto­ries dif­fer, but ring fa­mil­iar for com­mu­ni­ties across At­lantic Canada that suf­fered their own heart­break­ing losses. And dur­ing the sum­mer and fall of 1916, it was war that united thou­sands.

“It’s hard to gen­er­al­ize, but I think there was a pro­found sense of grief ... and it took many fam­i­lies, and re­turn­ing sol­diers, a long time to come to grips with what they had gone through,” says his­tory pro­fes­sor Brent Wil­son of the Uni­ver­sity of New Brunswick.

Fry, a fish­er­man from a small New­found­land com­mu­nity, was among the 12,000 New­found­lan­ders — from a pop­u­la­tion of 240,000 — who went to war.

He was 23 when he was killed in ac­tion on July 1, 1916, dur­ing the Bat­tle of Beau­mont Hamel, the first day of the Somme of­fen­sive.

Beau­mont Hamel con­tin­ues to live in the col­lec­tive psy­che of New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans as a dark day that im­pacted not just that gen­er­a­tion, but gen­er­a­tions to come.

And while July 1 is a day of cel­e­bra­tion for other Cana­di­ans, it’s a solemn morn­ing in New­found­land and Labrador as peo­ple gather around war memo­ri­als to mark the dev­as­ta­tion at Beau­mont Hamel.

Of the 801 New­found­lan­ders who went into bat­tle that morn­ing, only 68 an­swered roll call the next day. More than 700 mem­bers of the reg­i­ment were killed, wounded or miss­ing.

The Bat­tle of the Somme raged un­til Novem­ber.

In early fall, Al­lied forces were try­ing to gain ground against Ger­many near Courcelette, France.

Don­ald Morine, one of the 35,000 Nova Sco­tians who en­listed, was just 13 days past his 17th birth­day when he was killed on Sept. 29, 1916, while serv­ing with the 26th Nova Sco­tia Bat­tal­ion.

His name is etched on the Yar­mouth War Memo­rial and he’s the youngest soldier listed as killed in ac­tion.

Courcelette also brought sig­nif­i­cant losses for New Brunswick. From that prov­ince’s pop­u­la­tion of 370,000 at the time, about 27,000 sol­diers en­listed and 17,000 went over­seas as part of the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force.

On Sept. 15, 1916, the 26th New Brunswick Bat­tal­ion had helped cap­ture the vil­lage; the Somme was its first ma­jor bat­tle of the war.

The Septem­ber ac­tion was seen as a ma­jor suc­cess for the Cana­dian Corps at that point, ex­plains Wil­son.

But it came at a price.

“It was also the costli­est bat­tle for the bat­tal­ion,” he says. “They lost 500 men (killed, wounded and miss­ing) — about half the strength of the unit — in less than three weeks.”

Wil­son says ev­i­dence of a shared grief can be seen on ceno­taphs across the coun­try, and on the hon­our rolls put to­gether by churches and schools to com­mem­o­rate the loss of a com­mu­nity’s sol­diers.

“To me that shows the depth of the im­pact — the so­cial im­pact — the war had. And I don’t think we fully un­der­stand still to­day how wide­spread that feel­ing was; and how long it took for peo­ple to come to grips with the ex­pe­ri­ence and move on with their lives.”


Bruce MacDonald vis­its the grave of his fa­ther’s great-un­cle, Pte. Robert Burns, 20th Bat­tal­ion (Cen­tral On­tario), killed in ac­tion near Dicke­busch, Bel­gium, on Nov. 25, 1915.

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