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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

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June 30, 2004
 Insight

 


Memorial journey

Dr. Ean Parsons at Piper’s Memorial, Longueval, France. This memorial was unveiled July 20, 2002, and dedicated to all pipers who fell during the First World War. Longueval was the scene of very heavy fighting by the 9th (Scottish) Division during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

By Dr. Ean Parsons
There are many memorials to those who served and died for their country while in the military. The most significant one in Newfoundland is Memorial University of Newfoundland itself, established after World War One to commemorate the sacrifice that was the horror of the Great War.

There are memorials to the fallen in many Newfoundland communities, but the best known are the Caribou Memorials developed through the efforts of the Newfoundland Regiment’s padre Father Thomas Nangle. These memorials – four in France, one in Belgium and the final one in Bowring Park – are a testament to Newfoundlanders whose final resting place was the battlefields of France. The Caribous were designed by a British sculpture, Basil Gotto and the grounds around the Memorials were developed by Rudolph Cochius, a Dutchman who helped developed Bowring Park.

The City of St. John’s Pipe Band, now in its 31st year, made a pilgrimage in May to visit and play at the five memorials in Europe as well as at Vimy Ridge, the Menin Gate, a British memorial and a special memorial to Great War Pipers, whose casualty rate was very high as they led the charge over the top of the trenches.

The band at present consists of 19 members: 10 pipers, five side drummers, three tenor drummers and a bass drummer. I am the Pipe Major and an associate professor of Family Medicine; Dr. Dennis Hanlon is the Drum Sergeant and an assistant professor in the Faculty of Business. Thirteen of the band members either teach at MUN, are alumni, or are students at the university.

The band marched down the cobblestone streets of this rebuilt medieval community, under the arch of the memorial and following the playing of the last post by the Ieper Firemen, the Lament was played as well as Amazing Grace, while wreaths were laid. A huge crowd watched in silence.

With a great deal of planning, connections were made with the help of my father, Dr. David Parsons, a local Great War historian, with the communities where the Caribous are located: Monchy-le-Preux, Gueudecourt, Masnieres, Beaumont Hamel and Kortrijk. These communities, all part of the Western Front, follow the progress of the Newfoundland Regiment from July 1, 1916 onward. A local French Pipe Band, the Somme Battlefield Band, a group that wears the uniforms of the Scottish Regiments that were on the Western Front, and the Red Rose of Lochbuie Pipe Band from the Netherlands, whose members wear the same tartan kilt – Maclean of Lochbuie – as the City of St. John’s Pipe Band, both played concerts with the Newfoundland Band. Through Arlene King, Veterans Affairs Canada’s representative in Beaumont Hamel, the band had a tremendous welcome, playing a concert, touring the site and meeting many of the guides who are students from across Canada. The communities also warmly received the group, meeting civic officials in Masnieres and Kortrijk.

Because of historic connections with the Newfoundland Highlanders, (a paramilitary group in St. John’s before the First World War, who had a pipe band and from whose ranks over 100 members joined the Newfoundland Regiment), the names of Highlanders killed in the battles commemorated by that site were read out at a moving ceremony at each Caribou location. A collection of tunes from the Great War, the Flowers of the Forest Lament, the Battle of the Somme, The Unknown Soldier and the 51st Division at Beaumont Hamel (the Scottish Division that eventually captured the area in November 1916) were played and wreaths laid at Beaumont Hamel and Kortrijk. A special Drummers Fanfare was also performed during the concerts.

The City of St. John’s Pipe Band performed on the steps, under the massive white columns of the Canadian Vimy Memorial, as well as playing a lament at the Pipers Memorial in Longeval. We were also invited to participate in a moving remembrance ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ieper, Belgium, which commemorates over 50,000 soldiers of the British Army (including my great uncle) who were killed in the battles of the Ypres Salient and have no known grave. The band marched down the cobblestone streets of this rebuilt medieval community, under the arch of the memorial and following the playing of the last post by the Ieper Firemen, the Lament was played as well as Amazing Grace, while wreaths were laid. A huge crowd watched in silence. It was a very moving experience. The fireman have played their bugles for this ceremony daily since 1928, except during the Second World War and it has become a focus of remembrance for First World War history.

With a desire to mark the Pipe Band’s 30-year history, an opportunity to make connections in France with the 400th anniversary of French involvement in Newfoundland, and the 90th anniversary of the start of the Great War, the Caribou Memorial Tour was a perfect choice and a great success. July 1, Remembrance Day, will now have greater significance for all members of the Pipe Band.

Dr. Ean Parsons is an associate professor of Family Medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland.


 


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Next issue: July 22, 2004

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