Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial Park, France

This past Saturday, July 1, marked the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation, a day for the country to rejoice, reflect and reconcile. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it was also Memorial Day, a solemn day of remembrance of the single greatest disaster in Newfoundland history. At Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually wiped out in half an hour on the first morning of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916. Of the 780 men who went forward, 233 were dead, 386 wounded and 91 reported missing (later assumed dead). While the casualty rate for many battalions was over 50%, for the Newfoundland Regiment it was 90%. All the officers were killed or wounded. On one of the bloodiest days of the war, only one other battalion had a higher casualty rate. Continue reading


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Birdsong

No child or future generation will ever know what this was like. They will never understand.

When it is over we will go quietly among the living and we will not tell them. We will talk and sleep and go about our business like human beings.

We will seal what we have seen in the silence of our hearts and no words will reach us. (Birdsong, p 340)

The generation that lived through WW1 almost managed to keep its horrors to themselves. As time passed, survivors died and other atrocities succeeded it, the Great War risked becoming a forgotten war. Sebastian Faulks’ novel Birdsong was part of a renaissance of remembrance when it was published in the 1990s.  Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – National War Memorial, St John’s NL

Memorial Day, July 1, is a solemn day of remembrance of the single greatest disaster in Newfoundland history. At Beaumont-Hamel, the Newfoundland Regiment was virtually wiped out in half an hour on the first morning of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916. Of the 780 men who went forward, 233 were dead, 386 wounded and 91 reported missing (later assumed dead). While the casualty rate for many battalions was over 50%, for the Newfoundland Regiment it was 90%. (Some reports say more went over the top, with a result of 85% casualties. But still …) All the officers were killed or wounded. On one of the bloodiest days of the war, only one other battalion had a higher casualty rate. Continue reading


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – The Fighting Newfoundlander, St. John’s

The Fighting Newfoundlander stands in Bowring Park, St. John’s, NL, as “A Tribute to the Undying Memory of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment 1914-1918.” British sculptor Captain Basil Gotto also sculpted the Caribou Monuments. Corporal Thomas Pitman posed for the statue. A survivor of the 1916 Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, Pitman received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Military Medal (MM). The statue was unveiled in 1922.

Click on any photo to view the gallery.

Scroll down in the history of Bowring Park for the story of how Pitman came to pose for the statue and the lifelike details that Gotto captured. 


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Monday Monuments and Memorials – Caribou Monument, St. John’s

Caribou Monument, Bowring Park, St. John's

Caribou Monument, Bowring Park, St. John’s

The caribou is the Royal Newfoundland Regiment's emblem.

The caribou is the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s emblem.

Brass cross lists the regiment's major battles.

Brass cross lists the regiment’s major battles.

The Caribou Memorial in Bowring Park, St. John’s NL is one of six. The other five caribou mark sites in France and Belgium where the (now) Royal Newfoundland Regiment fought: Beaumont-Hamel; Gueudecourt; Masnières; Monchy-le-Preux and Courtrai (Kortrijk). The caribou is the emblem of the Regiment. A brass cross below the St. John’s caribou lists the major arenas of the Regiment’s battles.


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No Man’s Land

Kevin Major’s No Man’s Land is a story of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel in the Somme Offensive. The book was published in 1995. I chose it as my reading companion on a recent trip to Newfoundland.

It helps to understand the significance of Beaumont-Hamel in Newfoundland history to appreciate No Man’s Land. Newfoundland was still a small British colony. This was the first major battle in the war for the Newfoundland Regiment. (They had relatively few casualties at Gallipoli.) The regiment was virtually wiped out in half an hour on the first morning of the Somme Offensive, July 1, 1916. Of the 780 men who went forward, 233 were dead, 386 wounded and 91 reported missing (later assumed dead). While the casualty rate for many battalions was over 50%, for the Newfoundland Regiment it was 90%. (Some reports say more went over the top, with a result of 85% casualties. But still …) All the officers were killed or wounded. On one of the bloodiest days of the war, only one other battalion had a higher casualty rate. July 1 remains a solemn day of remembrance of the single greatest disaster in Newfoundland history. Continue reading