Nfld. & Labrador

Before Canada celebrates, St. John's church holds annual Memorial Day service

The service has been happening at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in St. John's for so long that no one seems to remember when it started.

July 1 holds meaning in N.L. beyond celebrating confederation

St. Andrew's Church — also known as The Kirk — held its annual Memorial Day service on Sunday. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

It's been happening for so long at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in St. John's that no one seems to remember when it started.

The Sunday before July 1, Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador, the church, also known as The Kirk, holds a service to honour those who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the First and Second World Wars. 

"I would be guessing, but it happened very quickly after the end of the First World War," Rev. Derek Krunys said.

This plaque lists the names of the 25 men who died during the Great War. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

At the front of the church, on either side of the of pulpit, sit two plaques — one honouring the members of the Presbyterian Newfoundland Highlanders and another with 25 names of the Kirk's congregation who died between 1914 and 1918. 

The Ontario-born minister has been at The Kirk for four years and quickly learned about the significance of July 1 and what happened at Beaumont Hamel in 1916.

"I look at this and realize what a blow it must have been at the time," Krunys said.

"Our sanctuary will seat, maybe, 500 people. I would be very generous to say 100 of them were in that age group. Take 25 of them out and it's basically losing a generation."

This St. Andrew's plaque lists the names of men from the church killed during World War II. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Near the entrance to the church is a third plaque honouring those from St. Andrew's who died during the Second World War.

Each and every year, The Kirk holds a special service where it lays three wreaths below each plaque. 

Bagpiper Ean Parsons often plays at the service on July 1 and on Remembrance Day.  

A doctor by day, he moonlights as a historian and spends much of his spare time researching Newfoundland connections to the world wars.

He said it's not just The Kirk that has these memorial plaques.

"The older churches around St. John's have these plaques — they have lists of the names [of those who died]", Parsons said.

It's not just three plaques. A stain glass window honours members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment killed in the First World War. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Parsons said leading up to the First World War there wasn't a mobilized army in Newfoundland, meaning church-led groups made up the nucleus of the First 500. 

"The Newfoundland Highlanders were associated with the Presbyterian church here, so many of their members were the first to sign up; along with the members of the various brigades around the city — the Catholic Cadets Corps, the Methodist Guards, the Church Lads Brigade," he said.

Historian Ean Parsons notes that many churches in St. John's have plaques to commemorate those killed in the Great War. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

If you look closely at at the Newfoundland Highlanders logo — a caribou with the brigade's name underneath — it looks a lot like the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's badge. 

"They had no badge for the regiment — there was no regiment," Parsons said.

"When they looked at the various brigades, the C.L.B., Methodist Guards and Catholic Cadet Core all had their initials of the various brigades. It was taken, I think, as an easy way to transform Newfoundland Regiment under the Caribou."

Parsons said he can't back up the claim, as the equipment committee records from that period time can't be found or might have been destroyed, but the badge was developed in 1908 when the Highlanders were formed.

This Newfoundland Highlanders plaque lists the names of the members killed between 1914 and 1918. Note the caribou logo at the top. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Sunday's Memorial Day service was the fourth for Krunys. 

"It's actually an honour to be brought so deeply into people's personal stories," he said.

"Most of the people who have a Newfoundland connection somewhere, have a connection to one of those names on one of those plaques, which is why it is still significant."

While the rest of Canada will be decked out in red on July 1, many in Newfoundland and Labrador will gather at war memorials to honour the sacrifice made in 1916 and in conflicts since. 

"We need to remember the devastation of war and therefore what peace brings to us," Parsons said.

"It's important that we do anything to keep that peace, remembering what we have done in the past because it's very important when we go forward."

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