Beaumont-Hamel. A place of bucolic, country serenity in the Somme region of northern France, and the location of the virtual annihilation of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment by German machine guns on on the morning of July 1, 1916. Much has been written about this massacre over the last almost 100 years and I’m not about to add my analysis, but suffice it to say, as David R. Facey-Crowther wrote, “So catastrophic was the event that it remained etched into the consciousness of Newfoundlanders for much of this (20th) century”.
I’m a 6th generation Newfoundlander and named after my mom’s Uncle Paul Ulysses Lilly (1889-1971) from Exploits Islands, Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland. A survivor of infamous World War 1 locations such as Cairo, Gallipoli, Suvla Bay and the Somme, a man who returned to Newfoundland and never really spoke of his experience. He was a fisherman when he enlisted in the First Newfoundland Regiment in 1914 and was a Sergeant when he was demobilized in 1919. I’d hear occasional talk of Uncle Paul when I was young and noticed the admiring way my mother would speak of him. However, I met him only once. On that fateful day at Beaumont-Hamel, his role is a mystery. His service record reads, in nearly 100 year-old cursive, “7-1-16 with regiment”. Mom (his niece) would say that he was there for roll call the next day. Obviously, some details have been obscured by time and the fog of war. I don’t remember ever learning specifically about that battle in school. In my opinion, if Newfoundland History is still taught anywhere in this province, the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel should be the first unit.
I’d been planning a visit for a few years and along with friends Barry Canning and Lloyd Reid, visited Newfoundland Park near the small town of Beaumont-Hamel on July 10, 2013 to pay our respects. It truly is a beautiful place, especially in the long light of late afternoon, and much credit should be given to the Canadian Department of Veterans Affairs and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for maintaining the site in a way that would make any Newfoundlander proud.
It’s difficult to imagine the din of mortar shells, machine guns and the cries of the fallen men and boys on that summer morning in 1916, but on July 10 2013, it was just the wind in the trees and a bird:
For more information on the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, I’ve included some links at the bottom. What follows is a sampling of the almost 200 photos I took that afternoon. Shot with Nikon DSLR and iPhone 5.
Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow!
You let your soul go down upon its knees
And with bowed head, and heart abased strive hard
To grasp the future gain in the sore loss!
For not one foot of this dank sod but drank
Its surfeit of the blood of gallant men.
Who for their faith their hope – for life and liberty
Here made the sacrifice – here gave their lives
And gave right willingly – for you and me.
From this vast altar-pile the souls of men
Sped up to God in countless multitudes.
On this grim cratered ridge they gave their all.
And giving won.
The peace of Heaven and immortality
Our hearts go out to them in boundless gratitude.
If ours – then God’s for His vast charity
All sees, all knows, all comprehends – save bounds
He has repaid their sacrifice – and we – ?
God help us if we fail to pay our debt
In fullest full and all unstintingly!
-John Oxenham (1852-1941) as seen on a plaque near the entrance of Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Park.
Some excellent resources to find out more about the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment:
- Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial on Wikipedia.
- Glorious Tragedy: Newfoundlands Cultural Memory of the Attack at Beaumont-Hamel at Memorial University
- The Royal Newfoundland Regiment on Wikipedia.
If you would like to use these photos in some other post or website, please feel free. Someone may learn more about the sacrifices made by the Royal Newfoundland Regiment on that day.
Please attend the Memorial Day Parade on July 1 and the Remembrance Day Parade on November 11, lest we forget.