Nfld. & Labrador

Pandemic forces cancellation of public Memorial Day parades, ceremonies

The Royal Canadian Legion’s Newfoundland and Labrador command is cancelling public parades, which hundreds normally attend, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legion says they will hold small private wreath layings instead

Participants in the 2018 Memorial Day parade make their way down Duckworth Street. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

Acts of remembrance to commemorate the sacrifice of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont Hamel during the First World War will be significantly scaled back this Memorial Day.

The Royal Canadian Legion's Newfoundland and Labrador Command is cancelling public parades, which hundreds normally attend, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The first of July is going to be low-key," said Nathan Lehr, president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Newfoundland and Labrador Command.

"But we will do enough to make sure we pay respect to our fallen," he said.

On July 1, 1916, 801 soldiers with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment went over the top at Beaumont Hamel during the Battle of the Somme. Only 68 men answered roll calls the next day, as more than 700 were killed, wounded or missing. 

I implore people not to go.- Nathan Lehr

Lehr signed a directive last month stating that all legion branches across the province must limit their Memorial Day ceremonies.

"It feels sad because this is normally one of our first parades of the year for the legion and Royal Newfoundland Regiment," said Lehr. 

"In my time, I've never heard of it," Lehr said of the cancellations. 

Small, private ceremonies 

Instead, they will hold small, private ceremonies to lay wreaths to honour the fallen, with minimal attendance in order to observe physical distancing.

The Lieutenant Governor will lay a wreath on behalf of people in the province, Lehr will lay one for the legion's 45 branches and a representative from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment will also lay a wreath at the National War Memorial in St. John's on Memorial Day.

But they're asking the public not to attend.

"I implore people not to go," Lehr said.

Nathan Lehr is president of the Royal Canadian Legion, Newfoundland and Labrador Command. He feels sad to have to scale back Memorial Day parades and ceremonies, which honour members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who died a Beaumont Hamel during the First World War. (Submitted by Nathan Lehr)

"Stay away from the cenotaphs. That's all we ask, especially this year, because God only knows how long we're going to be into this thing," Lehr said of the pandemic.

For those wishing to pay respects, the legion said people can visit war memorials during the afternoon of July 1, while complying with public health guidelines.

While there are fewer and fewer Second World War veterans left in the province, Lehr said veterans from the Korean War and Afghanistan usually attend the ceremony to remember the fallen.

He said they'll miss attending the ceremony this year.

The fog was so thick, you couldn't see the Narrows during Memorial Day ceremonies in 2019. (Sarah Smellie/CBC)

"The veterans look forward to getting dressed up in their, I'll say Sunday best, but it's their legion dress, and they love coming to the parade, and we pamper them, let's be honest," he said.

Lehr said they will have a photographer take pictures from a distance and share them on social media later in the day.

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