Vast tribute for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, 100 years after Beaumont-Hamel
Almost all at once, they fell silent. A crowd like this would expect some noise: They packed the road dozens deep, bumping and angling to get a decent view.
But on cue, the thousands of people lined around the National War Memorial in St. John's became quiet: Bowing their heads, clasping their hands, marking exactly one century since one of the most defining moments in Newfoundland and Labrador's history.
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Friday's ceremonies of remembrance were the biggest in recent memory. People trekked from far and wide — Chicago, Australia — to join the thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians gathered to mark the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel.
July 1 has always made for a special day in Newfoundland and Labrador, its very own Memorial Day, marking its own unique tragedies of the First World War.
But Friday's ceremonies in St. John's and across the province, including a Royal Visit from Princess Anne, carried the feeling of a once-in-a-generation event.
"It's monumental, because I'm a Newfoundlander," said Sgt. Logan Bennett, an active-duty Air Force member in Gander, from the memorial in downtown St. John's.
"It's really tough to explain. Just total pride. Until the bagpipes and the music starts...then it all really hits in."
100 years later
The Memorial Day ceremonies in Newfoundland and Labrador focused on a very particular moment.
In the span of less than 40 minutes, hundreds of the country's young men were ordered to climb out of the trenches and run to their deaths in the battle of Beaumont-Hamel. Just 68 of 801 answered the following day's roll call.
The fight was short — Friday's ceremonies were considerably longer — but the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel is consistently ranked as one of the most important moments in the culture's history. So many families in the small country were affected by the deaths.
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"I have a very hard time putting words around it sometimes, especially in the moment," said St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O'Regan. "Now that it's here, the hundredth anniversary — it's confusing."
"It's a time to celebrate who we are...but it came at such a tremendous cost."
Friday's ceremonies in St. John's were a two-part production: A traditional remembrance ceremony at the downtown memorial, followed by a second commemoration at The Rooms.
It's probably the only time in [my son's] lifetime that he's going to experience something like this.- Brian Oxford
The thousands-strong crowd saw a military inspection by Princess Anne, the opening of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Gallery — a new permanent installation at the museum — and the unveiling of a new arrangement of the Ode to Newfoundland for youth choir Shallaway.
Former lieutenant-governor Ed Roberts said Friday's ceremonies in St. John's are probably the biggest yet.
"This is the 99th year we've observed it, and we've seen the crowds at the war memorial...grow," he said. "Every year, they're larger and larger."
Here's a piece of a new arrangement of the Ode to Newfoundland. It was written especially for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BeaumontHamel?src=hash">#BeaumontHamel</a> 100. <a href="https://t.co/eqLPsiGY9t">pic.twitter.com/eqLPsiGY9t</a>—@GarrettBarry
Premier Dwight Ball spoke at ceremony at The Rooms, but the biggest applause was reserved for O'Regan, who extolled the virtues of the soldiers in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment — calling them "heroes."
Like so many, Brian Oxford also has a connection to Newfoundland's military history. His grandfather served in the Second World War.
And with his son, Tyler, on Friday, Oxford said he recognized the sense of history present on the day.
"It's probably the only time in his lifetime that he's going to experience something like this."