A Time for Retrospection
^^^ Opening of the Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel, France, 7 June 1925 / Central Press Photos, The Great War photograph collection
After the July 1st attack at Beaumont Hamel the grim task of collecting casualties, including the dead, went on every night.
Enemy snipers ensured that this could not happen during daylight. Abandoned trenches and shell holes were used as temporary shelters from enemy fire as survivors dragged themselves back, or were dragged back, to safety.
Frequently, they were used as mass graves. Up to five days later some stragglers were still crawling in from no man’s land, many of whom were horribly wounded. How many died a slow painful death, just beyond the reach of rescue, will never be known.
On July 4th, heavy rain quickly filled the trenches turning everything into mud. One can only imagine the work of the Padre who would minister tirelessly to bury the dead, comfort the dying, and reassure those nearing the breaking point.
Finally, on July 6th, the Regiment, or what was left of it, was relieved and sent to the battered village of Englebelmer and in tents erected in Mailly Wood. On July 28th they were moved to the Ypres Salient “because things were quieter there.”
We can only imagine what it would have meant if they been able to talk with their loved ones. Just imagine the impact a cell phone would have had, an internet connection.
Families back home in Newfoundland would not hear about the tragedy for nearly a month – sometimes longer. Very few families would not have the loss of a loved one to mourn.
How did these traumatic experiences affect the survivors?
Colonel Hadow decided that he would not permit them to brood or sink into depression – he would keep them busy. Every day would be filled with parades and rigorous physical training so that the horrible experiences of the past week would be forced out of body and mind.
By today’s understanding of post-trauma, he was perhaps right. But it must have taken a super-human resolve and fortitude to conform to the strict disciplinary routine which he imposed. As one officer wrote in his diary, “This was a bitter pill to swallow.”
However, those hardy men who made a living on the cruel sea were used to dealing with tragedy. A new draft of 130 arrived on July 11th and it seemed that in no time a new Battalion emerged with an esprit de corps and a fighting capacity comparable to that which had gone before.
After the war, and through the determination of Padre Tom Nangle, the Government of Newfoundland purchased forty acres of land from the local people – the same ground over which the Regiment had made its heroic advance.
Here they erected a large bronze caribou on its highest point overlooking St. John’s Road and the valley below. This huge stag caribou, surrounded by rock and shrubs native to Newfoundland, stares defiantly towards the enemy trenches, and with mouth agape, he bellows forever for his sons to come back.
This became to model for six other Caribous which would be located in six other Newfoundland battlefields. (A seventh caribou was later installed in Bowering Park in St. John’s.)
Upon entering Newfoundland Park at Beaumont Hamel, there is an inscribed epitaph written by John Oxenham. It is worthwhile for all visitors to read it before proceeding in. These words say it all:
“Tread softly here –
Go reverently and slow,
Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,
And with bowed head and heart abased
Strive hard to grasp the future gain in this sore loss.
For not one foot of this dank sod
But drank its surfeit of the blood of gallant men
Who for their Faith, their Hope, for Life and Liberty
Here made the sacrifice.
Here gave their lives, and gave right willingly for you and me…”
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 >