This Week in History

Archives

Newfoundland's Saddest Day

For the week of Monday June 28, 1999

On July 1, 1916, a generation of Newfoundlanders was lost at Beaumont Hamel, France, on the first day of the disastrous Battle of the Somme. The first day of July is still a day of mourning and remembrance in Newfoundland.

The First World War had begun two years earlier as the result of tensions in Europe. Since Newfoundland was a British colony, the Newfoundland Regiment was directly involved in the fighting from the beginning. It fought valiantly in Egypt and at Gallipoli, then was sent to France in April 1916.

The Caribou standing watch over Beaumont-Hamel Memorial Park

The Caribou standing watch over
Beaumont-Hamel Memorial Park

© Veteran's Affairs Canada

In the Battle of the Somme, the Newfoundland Regiment was part of the British front lines. They were doomed from the beginning. One of the most serious threats was that British artillery, which had been shelling German strategic points for weeks, had missed many of its targets! This left the Newfoundlanders completely vulnerable to enemy fire.

Before they even reached their own front line, the Newfoundlanders had to walk 230 metres carrying 30 kilograms of equipment through barbed wire and German shelling. With no protection, most men never made it to their goal. Within a half hour, the battle was over. Of the 801 men in the Regiment, there were 255 dead, 386 wounded and 91 missing. It was said that their effort "was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault failed of success because dead men can advance no further."

The Regiment was sent to Ypres-Saliant to regroup. Refreshed with more than a hundred new recruits on July 11, it resumed training and went back to the front line of the Somme in October, this time at Gueudecourt.

The badge of the Newfoundland Regiment

The badge of the Newfoundland Regiment
© Veteran's Affairs Canada

The Battle of the Somme ended in November 1916. After four months of fighting, the front line advanced ten kilometres. For this small gain, over 600 000 Allied soldiers lost their lives.

Newfoundland never fully recovered from Beaumont-Hamel. For their bravery, the Newfoundland Regiment was the first colonial regiment to be given the prefix Royal. On June 5, 1925, the Beaumont-Hamel Memorial Park was opened. Many of the trenches were left intact and the names of the 1305 Newfoundlanders who died during the Great War are inscribed on a bronze plaque. Overseeing the park is a giant bronze caribou, the symbol of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. This battlefield was made a national historic site in 1996. It is one of the first outside the territorial limits of Canada and is situated on land deeded to Canada by France in perpetuity.

For more information, visit the Veteran's Affairs Web Page.

Date Modified: