July 1 st , 1916 – BEAUMONT HAMEL
^^^ The Caribou Monument at Beaumont Hamel - Newfoundland's Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel, one of the largest preserved battlefields in the world.
Hawthorn Ridge, a German strongpoint, was just a few hundred yards away from the Newfoundland position at Beaumont Hamel. It afforded the enemy an excellent observatory and field of fire for their machine guns.
In the weeks leading up to the first day of the Battle of The Somme, on July 1st, Allied tunnellers had placed 40,000 pounds of explosives 65 feet below the Ridge. It was detonated at 7:20 am and instantly churned the ridge (with an unknown number of German soldiers) into a huge crater 130 feet wide and 60 feet deep. It was also the signal for allied infantry to begin charging out of their trenches.
The Newfoundlanders, being initially held in reserve, donned their sixty-pound packs, and got ready. They were also ordered to affix a silver reflecting triangle on their backpacks so that their movements could be traced by their senior officers behind them. Perhaps some of them were thinking of “Buxom Bessie”, the prominent St. John’s maiden who promised to marry the first man who earned a Victoria Cross. Stories were told of a few going over the top with the battle cry – “Buxom Bessie or a wooden leg.” They could also hear what was happening in the first charge and must have felt a severe sense of foreboding.
The South Wales Borderers and the Royal Fusiliers attacked on their left while the Inniskillin Fusiliers attacked on their right. They were met with a withering spray of machine gun bullets which swept every inch of no-mans land. All gaps in the wire were immediately filled with dead and dying soldiers.
Then one of the tragic ironies of war happened. It had been pre-arranged that a white flare would indicate to Brigade Headquarters that the first German trenches had been taken successfully. Unknown to the Allies, the Germans had also pre-arranged a white flare to request the German artillery to raise their barrages higher. So, when a (German) white flare was spotted, Brigadier-General Cayley assumed the first German trenches had been successfully overtaken and ordered the Newfoundland and Essex Regiments to immediately advance.
Then, when the Essex were delayed, the Newfoundlanders received the full brunt of the enemy fire alone.
From their starting position behind St. John’s Road, they had to cross 250 yards of fire-swept ground before they could even reach their own front line. Then there were their own four belts of barbed wire which had deliberate gaps for them to pass through – but these were already zeroed in by the enemy.
The Newfoundlanders were ordered out of the trenches by Colonel Hadow, their Commanding Officer, with A and B Companies leading. After advancing about twenty yards, in accordance with the plan, he signalled for C and D Companies to follow. The Battlefield was now swarming with Newfoundlanders who were heading towards the pre-cut gaps in the barbed wire.
Then they began to drop – many in the gaps which were already clogged with dead and dying soldiers of the first attacks.
But there was no hint of wavering.
They relentlessly pushed on into the hail of machine gun bullets. One observer wrote “they tucked their chins into their shoulders like fighting a Newfoundland blizzard in some outport in far off Newfoundland.”
Very few reached the German barbed wire. Many sought “protection” from a little copse of trees, near a gap in the wire, and they were quickly cut down. One tree in particular, The Danger Tree was the silent witness to the awful slaughter. Those who turned around to go back to their trenches showed their shining triangles to the enemy and they became easy targets in the glistening sun. Within half an hour the attack failed. Over 700 were killed, wounded, or missing, including many sets of brothers.
The Commander of the British 29 the Division said of the actions of the Newfoundland Regiment on that morning: It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further.
Field Marshall Haig said “Newfoundland may well feel proud of her sons…their devotion to duty and heroism has never been surpassed.
General Hunter-Weston gave the Regiment what would become their future Motto when he said, “I salute you individually; you have done better than the best.”
This land is now peaceful but let us never forget that it was bought and paid for many times over by the blood of those, hardy, loyal and determined Newfoundlanders of 1916.
You can stand down now you brave warriors of Beaumont Hamel.
May you always rest in peace.
OMM. CD. BA. LTh. BD. DD.
Archdeacon Gerald Peddle was ordained a Priest of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1969. Now retired from active ministry, he has served parishes in Newfoundland and Labrador, Québec, Ontario and the Arctic. He has also served as a Chaplain to the Canadian Armed Forces. His final appointment, in the rank of Brigadier General, was as the Chaplain General at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. For the next six years, he provided specialist ministry to both National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. In total, he has served more than 51 years in active ministry.
Gerry currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for Beechwood, Canada's National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. He has also served as an International Guide, specializing in Battlefield Tours for several years.
The Caribou Tour to Gallipoli
In June 2022, we look forward to having Gerry back on the battlefields with us, escorting us on a special pilgrimage to Gallipoli Turkey, to see for the first time, the last of the six Caribou along the Newfoundland Caribou Trail in Europe. Check out the tour June 2022 >