Commemorations were held July 1 to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War battles of Beaumont-Hamel and the Somme in France, St. John’s, N.L., and Ottawa.
In France, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall joined Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr in a ceremony at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, where the Newfoundland Regiment was all but wiped out on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
In St. John’s, Princess Anne, Princess Royal and honorary colonel of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, opened a new display at The Rooms and attended ceremonies at Newfoundland’s National War Memorial.
In Ottawa, while the city was getting ready to celebrate Canada Day, Governor General David Johnston, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chief of Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance were part of a moving ceremony held in the Canadian War Museum.
The Ottawa ceremony began with the Central Band of the Canadian Armed Forces playing as guests took their seats in the LeBreton Gallery. A piper led in the official party headed by the Governor General.
“One hundred years ago, the 801 courageous men of the Newfoundland Regiment went into battle for the first time. For the vast majority of them, July 1, 1916, was also the last time they would go into battle,” said Johnston. “More than 700 soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing. Only 68 were able to answer roll call the next day. The attack lasted only 30 minutes.”
Calling it a “a story of extraordinary bravery and sacrifice and of horrific human tragedy.” Johnston outlined the effect the catastrophe had on the small nation and how the blue forget-me-not flower had become the symbol of remembrance there long before Newfoundland joined Confederation.
“July 1, 1916, was a pivotal moment in time that we gather here to remember the tenacity of these men as they stubbornly marched across no man’s land,” said Trudeau. “As was said at the time, ‘Its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further.’
“Many of them were yet to see their 21st birthday,” he added.
Beaumont-Hamel was only part of the slaughter that day. More than 57,000 British Commonwealth troops were killed, wounded, taken prisoner or went missing. It was the highest loss in a single day in the British Army’s history.
The battle would rage on for more than four and a half months. The Canadian Corps had been occupying a section of the front lines in Belgium when the battle began but, in August, they were shifted to the Somme, near the French village of Courcelette.
On Sept. 15, 1916, the Canadians took part in a large scale attack on Courcelette. It was here that they used the new technique of the creeping barrage. Artillery would fire just in front of the men, forcing the enemy to take shelter while the troops advanced. The battle was also the first in which tanks were used.
The Canadians managed to take the village but fought off counter-attacks for days afterward.
The losses in the Battle of the Somme were horrendous. The Allies suffered more than 650,000 casualties, including about 200,000 killed. The Canadians lost more than 24,000.
The following spring, the Canadians would shift to Vimy Ridge where perhaps their greatest victory awaited them.
During a remembrance ceremony at the war museum, Johnston, Trudeau and Vance placed wreaths. They were joined by Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly and MP Karen McCrimmon, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Veterans Affairs. Other wreaths were placed by Canadian Armed Forces members, RCMP, youth and veterans organizations, including The Royal Canadian Legion.
The “Ode to Newfoundland” was sung by the Aurora Choir, the Atlantic Voices Choir and the Jamieson Academy Children’s Choir. The children’s choir also sang “Saltwater Joys” as a tribute to the Newfoundlanders.
The ceremony ended shortly before noon when the Governor General and the Prime Minister were expected on Parliament Hill to celebrate Canada Day.
See below how Legion Magazine commemorated
the 100th anniversary of Beaumont-Hamel and The Somme.