150 Shades of Grey
Its Canada’s 150th birthday and on this day of celebration its difficult to remember July 1st as a day of memorial for Newfoundland. But on this date in 1916 – 778 of our boys were instructed, “Over the top” and reminded to “Fall on the barbwire”, if they were shot at Beaumont Hamel during the Battle of the Somme, WW1. It was a gruesome engagement with only 68 Newfoundlanders answering roll call the next morning.
“Its Canada’s 150th birthday….”
It is natural for us to grieve their tragic loss but my father tells an inspiring story about his visit to their memorial in France. When asked about the occasion he surely talked about the great feelings of sorrow and remorse – but he also suggested that it was quite comforting.
I was rather taken aback by this and asked what he could possibly find comfort in.
He said, “Knowing those boys went down with a smile on their face and great memories of the occasion.”
“Eh boy?” I queried incredulously, “How do you figure that?”
“Boy, just for the chance to lay a spade in the beautiful soil where they dug those trenches – can you imagine the conversations they must have shared?
“Boys would you look at the soil! Can you imagine the potatoes you’d grow if you had the likes of this at home? Father would die to see it!”
“… would you look at the soil…”
Let us also remember their true state of mind that morning. These boys were battle hardened, victorious and especially brave by the time they made it to Beaumont Hamel. Newfoundlanders were the last on the beach in Gallipoli, providing cover for the weary Australians and Brits they helped evacuate. The start of a campaign that would prove their merit on every front.
To quote one young man’s writing before battle:
“No pen could describe what it is like, how calmly one stands and faces death, jokes and laughs; everything is just an every day occurrence. You are mud covered, dry and caked, perhaps, but you look at the chap next you and laugh at the state he is in; then you look down at your own clothes and then the other fellow laughs. Then a whizz bang comes across and misses both of you, and both laugh together”
Yes, they must have had some great stories.
“… shoulder to shoulder…”
Walking home this evening I took a short cut through the graveyard and came upon these lads in the accompanying picture – laid out, pretty much as they must have stood that day; shoulder to shoulder, sharing a smoke, wound up like springs, full of bravado, ready to pounce and wreck more havoc on their enemy.
I toasted them this evening – hoping I can leverage tonight’s Canada Day Celebrations into a story that might be good enough to share with them in a future world.
Yes, I suppose you can find the good in anything if you look hard enough.
Happy Birthday Canada – And boys, thanks for the memories and the freedom to make so many more!