The Royal Newfoundland Regiment Transcript

Hello, I'm Melanie Martin from Newfoundland and Labrador.

The first thing I'd like to do is congratulate young Matthew Rogers on his presentation on Silver Fox Island. I know I'm biased but I was sitting in the back with my head down looking at, trying to take notes on the iPad when the music started and, of course, I looked up and I'm in Ottawa, and I see this presentation up there. And I've only been in Ottawa since Tuesday but he did make me a little homesick. What he didn't know is that my own family comes from an island not that very far from Silver Fox Island, so I had to go over and introduce myself. So good job Matthew.

One correction. I'm not an educator like these lovely people on stage who get to be hands-on with students every day. I've had the privilege of being at Beaumont-Hamel this past April with 500 of our Newfoundland kids, and that was a great experience.

I'm a humble civil servant, but one who's incredibly pleased to get to help the province roll out these commemorative plans from 2014 to 2018, so I very much look forward to that.  And it's an opportunity for me to say to my friends, who said, why are you doing history, that one of these days it would come back to be useful to me, so I'm quite pleased.

As I prepared for today and considered the main themes of the forum, I started thinking about what age I was when I first learned about Newfoundland and Labrador's role in the Great War. I realized I couldn't remember when I didn't know who the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was, what the term "The First Five Hundred" meant, why they were called the Blue Puttees, and what happened on July 1, 1916.

The Great War was a seminal moment for Newfoundland and Labrador. It's effects so far-reaching reaching that it has seeped into out culture and our heritage, and it's represented in songs like "The July Drive," moving fiction like Kevin Majors "No Man's Land," and powerful theatre like David French's "Soldier's Heart." The image of the fighting Newfoundlander is always etched in our minds.

As a colony of Great Britain in 1914, with the tenuous relationship at best with the empire, Newfoundland and Labrador entered the war with Britain and vowed to raise a regiment. With no Department of Militia or Defence, even attached to the government, the first five hundred were referred to as a rag tag little army of enthusiastic volunteers.

However, with a population of fewer than 250,000 people, over 12,000 men and women served in some way. They came from the merchant families of St. John's, from the outports that dot our rugged coastline, and from across the bigland, where our Inuit became renowned as highly skilled sharp shooters.

They formed the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Royal Newfoundland Naval Reserve, they served in the Mercantile Marines, the Forestry Corps, the Voluntary Aid Detachment, and with British and Canadian Forces.

Newfoundland's first act of commemoration goes back to the early 1920s when the women rai-, ma-, sorry, when the women raised money to purchase the eighty-plus acres around Beaumont-Hamel, the site where the regiment took part in a battle so devastating it amounted to the loss of a generation of young men.

The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial sits on the site today with a bronze caribou statue, the symbol of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, looking out over the battlefield, a commemoration site dedicated to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who lost their lives.

During the same time frame and under the direction of the government, Padre Thomas Nangle facilitated four other Newfoundland and Labrador memorials, throughout the north of France and Belgium, at places where the Regiment was involved in key battles, so Beaumont-Hamel, Monchy-le-Preux, Gueudecourt, the Battle at Cambrai or in Masnieres, and in Kotrik, Belgium.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador remains committed to honouring its veterans and those who continue to serve in our defence. The Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador is incredibly passionate about the work we're doing.

And three themes have emerged as we've been planning. The commemoration years are about reconnecting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians with their past, the commemorative activities must be relevant to all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, and we must maximize youth engagement.

For nearly two years, a provincial steering committee has met to flesh out an overall plan for provincial commemorations, 2014 to 2018. We've also gathered feedback from over twenty key provincial stakeholders, in order to determine how the priorities of these organizations can fit into our overarching themes of commemoration.

The end result is the development of a five-year road plan entitled "Remembering the Past, Honouring the Present, 2014-2018."

We've organized the work into what we call the Five Pillars of Commemoration. Anniversaries and Events, Education, Legacy Projects, Citizenry and Provincial Outreach, and Research and Development.

Within each centennial year are seminal dates to Newfoundland and Labrador, and we'll be undertaking particular projects. Most of them will be in conjunction with the anniversary itself. Some will overlap with larger education and legacy-type projects, of which I will show you a few we are in the process of looking at.

Education will be key for us. This is the Premier's wish. We sat in the airport together coming back from London Heathrow last July, and she said "we need to get as many kids to Beaumont-Hamel as we possibly can during the commemorative period."

One of the Premier's chief goals of course is to send as many as we can during the time period, we're in the process of fleshing out an ambassador program, a travel program of which the entry components will be tied to some form of creative expression because we don't want to only offer an opportunity like this to students who can write a good historical essay.

The selected students will travel to the Somme and tour the Trail of the Caribou through a third-party educational travel company, which includes stops at all the Newfoundland monuments is well as other sites significant to Newfoundland.

A major component of this program is the pay-it-forward portion, which will the current students return and deliver presentations to schools and organizations in their communities detailing their experience.

A second program, also linked to travel, is a program that's kind of stemmed out of one of my colleagues longtime discussions with Blake, here. And it's the "Adopt a Soldier' program, because we have an incredible rich resource in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2002, we repatriated the Royal Newfound Regimental records to the Rooms, completely uncensored and open. They have not been cleaned in any way. So everything that was in the records originally, still remains. And we are in the process of digitizing those records. Half of them were digitized a few years ago and we're undertaking to complete the second half of that now shortly.

By spring 2013, the records will be fully digitized and they'll be, what we're going to do is link it to the grade eight to ten curriculum, which allows students to research soldiers by names or community names. Students will collect their research and create a biography of the soldiers, part of the travel program will include tributes read by the graveside of those buried in France. A coordinated effort at home will ensure that by 2018, every soldier buried in communities throughout Newfoundland and Labrador will also receive a visit from students, before the end of the commemorative period.

Some legacy projects that we're working on. We're currently working diligently with the federal government to complete the Trail of the Caribou by erecting a bronze caribou monument at Gallipoli, Turkey. This is the site where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, then just the Newfoundland Regiment, they didn't receive the title "Royal" until 1917. It was where they first saw action at a skirmish on Caribou Hill, for which they received their first gallantry awards. Newfoundland did receive permission to erect a caribou there in the 20s, as they did with the other sites in Europe, but ongoing tensions in the former Ottoman Empire made that a largely impossible task. If granted permission, we will erect a caribou monument to the regiment on September 19, 2015, the centennial of the Regiment's landing in Suvla Bay.

We're also working closely with the City of St. John's to undertake a major digital interpretation project in one of the city's finest green spaces, Bowring Park, home to several World War monuments. We have a caribou there. We also have a statue of the "Fighting Newfoundlander." And back in 2008, we replicated the plaques, the name plaques, at Beaumont-Hamel, which are also erected and Bowring Park. The digital interpretation will follow a trail through the memorials, with photos, videoclips, and interviews, combined with some interactive elements available through smart phones and tablets.

First World War exhibits are being planned for the provincial museum at The Rooms. And we will be enhancing Newfoundland's participation at the annual July 1 ceremony at Beaumont-Hamel.

Another pillar, sorry. Another pillar is what we call Citizenry-Provincial Outreach. This is where we are going to be looking at things like provincial naming committee to name highways, buildings, and roads.

We also are very keen to be working with the Royal Canadian Legion, which has forty-six strong branches across Newfoundland and Labrador. And the Royal Canadian Legion at home, as I understand throughout Canada, does a fantastic job of working with youth, and getting veterans into the schools. There's really nothing like it.

Another message from our Premier has been to really work with these organizations and offer them the support that they need to do what it is that they do. One of the things that's happened at home in the last few months is a veteran and community covenant, which has happened out in Conception Bay South, which is just outside St. John's. We're looking to continue to work with the legion, to look at ways to encourage communities across Newfoundland and Labrador to undertake a public pledge to honour and recognize and support local veterans and their families through these community, veteran and community covenants.

We're also looking at community commemorations projects. We're looking at a story depository is being looked at, to a place where you could upload photos, letters, and other memorabilia, to encourage sharing of our military history, and to ensure that we keep these precious collections in the project, in the province as well.

Another important piece for us is to support the creation of new cultural work through existing arts programs, new artist residency programs, and exchanges in the north of France, and support for docudramas and travelling exhibits. 

Research and Development is also a component underneath our pillars of commemoration. Currently we're undertaking a provincial inventory to have a look at all of our existing First World War monuments, and to have a look at what condition they're in, what needs repairs, what would need some upgrades, and work with communities in order to satisfy those requirements throughout the commemoration years.

Primary and secondary source research is also an important goal for us, to fill information gaps on the underrepresented groups. For example, the role of women is something we've been talking a lot about today. out in August 1914. By the end of 1914, the Women's Patriotic Association in Newfoundland and Labrador, had rounded up 15,000 women across the island, that's only in a few months, to knit socks and hats and to send them all overseas to the soldiers. We've read through letters that homemade Newfoundland socks were highly sought after. So there's things like that that we would like to celebrate, we would like to recreate, we know that Governor Davidson, at the time, his wife, Lady Davidson was very instrumental in this group. She transformed the ballroom at Government House for a day, and had all the ladies in knitting socks. That's something that we're looking at doing as well with the help of the Lieutenant-Governor throughout the commemorative years.

We also are working on some consistent messaging to ensure ongoing engagement from the community throughout the four-year period, which is going to be a little bit of a challenge. Nobody does large-scale events like Newfoundland and Labrador, but keeping the public engaged over four years is going to be an interesting challenge.

While the poppy is worn to mark Armistice Day, or Remembrance Day, on November 11th, the flower you see here is the forget-me-not, which Newfoundlanders still wear on July 1st. It's our symbol of remembrance, since long before joining confederation. While July 1st is also Canada Day, before noon in Newfoundland and Labrador, it's Memorial Day. This symbol would be incorporated throughout the commemorative years in all provincial messaging.

And finally, last April I met some of the fine folks here from Canada's History Magazine, as we walked over the hallowed ground of Beaumont-Hamel together. And I was bombarded with questions, and I was amazed at their respect for the Newfoundland story, which was pointed out to me on many occasions as being different from that of the rest of Canada's.

I've realized that the Great War and its effects on Newfoundland society, continues to run deep. But how we choose to memorialize and commemorate one hundred years later is part of what makes Newfoundland and Labrador's story, a uniquely Canadian story, that should be celebrated and shared throughout Canada during the commemorative years. It's never too late to foster nation-building.

Thank you.

(Audience applause)