They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.Excerpt from “For the Fallen”, a poem by British poet Lawrence Binyon (1869-1943). This stanza is often read before the bugler plays “The Last Post” at Remembrance Day ceremonies. You can read “For the Fallen” here.
Remembrance Day is a sombre yet important day for Canadians, and Newfoundlanders in particular. On November 11th at 11:00A.M., people across the country observe a two-minute moment of silence to honour soldiers who have fought and died in service of our country. For Newfoundlanders living in a province so afflicted by World War One, Remembrance Day is extremely notable.
Why November 11th?
On November 11th 1918, more formally “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month”, an Armistice signed between the Central Powers (Germany, the Ottoman Empire, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria) and the Entente powers (led by France, Britain, and Russia) vowed to end World War One. Although fighting actually continued past that date, Commonwealth nations observe November 11th as Remembrance Day.
What does the Poppy signify?
Leading up to Remembrance Day, citizens wear Poppies to show their respect for fallen soldiers. Poppies are a wildflower, fields of which were often encountered by soldiers during the First World War. Serving as a symbol of Remembrance Day now, the Poppy is an important feature of ceremonies as citizens can pin their poppies to crosses as a sign of respect.
Many Canadians are familiar with Dr. John McCrae’s (1872-1918) poem, “In Flanders Fields”. McCrae served as a doctor under the Canadian flag in World War One and wrote the poem as he witnessed poppies growing wild amidst the torn battlefields. The poem is linked here, if you desire to read it.
Newfoundland was a feature of World War One, and not as a province. Until 1949, Newfoundland was a Dominion of Britain. In 1949, Newfoundland joined the Confederation of Canada to become a province. During World War One, over 12,000 Newfoundlanders would serve under the British flag alongside other colonies.
The importance of Remembrance Day for Newfoundlanders is tied into July 1st – Memorial Day (better known as Canada Day across the country). On July 1st, 1916, the Battle of Beaumont Hamel took place, beginning the greater Battle of the Somme. Beaumont Hamel ended up decimating Commonwealth soldiers, and Newfoundlanders – known as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment – were no exception: “Of the some 800 Newfoundlanders who went into battle that morning, only 68 were able to answer the roll call the next day”. This devastating loss of young men severely affected Newfoundland’s culture and economy. Most families of Newfoundland descent have a relative who died in World War One.
When discussing Remembrance Day, it is important to address the role colonization played in spreading World War One. European colonization is what turned World War One from a ‘European’ war to a ‘World’ war. Colonies, Newfoundland included, were impacted by the war as they had to fight for their colonizer’s flag. For example, once Britain declared war, Canada, Newfoundland, India, Australia, New Zealand, and all of the other colonies also had to go to war. Here is a resource link from the British Library where you can learn more about the colonies in World War One.
This Remembrance Day…
While this Remembrance Day will not feature parades or gatherings due to COVID-19, citizens should pause at 11:00A.M. for a moment of silence. CBC and local Legion branches outline ways to pay respects here. Take the time on this Remembrance Day to think about the effects war has had, not only on the province of Newfoundland, but the world over, and consider the gravity of the lost human lives war has caused.