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What is the significance of the Battle of the Somme for the Newfoundland Regiment?

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For most Canadians, the 1st of July is an opportunity to celebrate Canada Day. However, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the day has a more somber meaning and is known as Memorial Day to commemorate the participation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the Battle of Somme at Beaumont-Hamel, France. The dreadful reality of war took place when the 1st Newfoundland Regiment participated in the great Somme offensive where, on 1 July 1916, strategic and tactical miscalculations led to a terrible slaughter. On this first day of battle, of the approximately 800 men who went forward only about 110 survived unscathed, of whom only 68 were available for roll call the following day. Despite its horrific casualties, the Regiment fought until 1918. For its valour, it won the right to add "Royal" to its name, the only such honour bestowed during the Great War. Shown in the photograph is the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, located near the village of its namesake, which is part of a National Historic Site of Canada managed by Veterans Affairs Canada and is one of six memorials erected by the Government of Newfoundland following the Great War. Beaumont-Hamel symbolizes the service and sacrifice of Newfoundlanders during the First World War. Once a battlefield, Beaumont-Hamel became, in 1922, a memorial park conceived by Lieutenant-Colonel (Father) Thomas Nangle (5 September 1889 - 4 January 1972) and planned by Rudolph H.K. Cochius (1880 - 1944), a Canadian landscape architect of Dutch origin. The memorial site was officially opened, and the memorial unveiled, by British Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig on 7 June 1925. The memorial is a bronze woodland caribou - the emblem used in the badge of The Royal Newfoundland Regiment and an official symbol of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador - standing atop a cairn of Newfoundland granite facing the former foe with head thrown in defiance and is surrounded by plants native to the island. The park also stands as a memorial to those Newfoundlanders who fell in battle and who have no known grave.

On this day, 1 July 2022, we pause to commemorate the 106th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and pay tribute to the incredible courage and sacrifice exhibited by the 1st Newfoundland Regiment, now called The Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

André M. Levesque

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