The First World War has long been an interest for Kevin Major. Now the acclaimed author and Memorial alumnus is inviting others who share that interest to join him in retracing the footsteps of the Newfoundland Regiment from the streets of St. John’s to the battlefields of France.
This spring, Mr. Major will host a 12-day journey of remembrance and reflection, a special project coordinated by the Faculty of Arts at Memorial.
Mr. Major’s interest in the First World War was fuelled by his research and writing of No Man’s Land, his 1995 war novel that captured the last hours of the Newfoundland Regiment as it marched toward the Somme and The Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, where it was devastated on July 1, 1916.
Growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador, he was familiar with the stories of bravery, sacrifice and profound loss that came out of the war.
“Even before I began writing that novel, I was interested in the war because of the broad spectrum of society that became part of it. Not just trained soldiers but poets and artists and young men from all walks of life marched off to fight and in many cases lost their lives,” he explained. “The devastation affected so many people in so many countries.”
Two years ago while visiting the Harlow Campus, Mr. Major led 35 students on a bus tour to Beaumont-Hamel Memorial Park in France. He noted that the students, who were studying English Landscape and Literature as well as Education programs at Harlow, were deeply moved by the experience. A subsequent conversation with Dr. Reeta Tremblay, dean of arts, led him to propose this upcoming excursion.
The tour will begin on April 21, 2008, in the streets of St. John’s, through which fresh recruits of the Newfoundland Regiment marched in 1914. Participants will visit archival collections and the Regiment museum, examine personal artifacts of the war experience, browse the military records of the young men, as well as letters from women who volunteered with the nursing stations overseas.
Two of Mr. Major’s relatives lost their lives in the Great War, he said, and he believes others whose families sustained similar losses may wish to participate. To facilitate a personal connection to the journey, each traveller will be encouraged to choose a member of the Newfoundland Regiment perhaps a relative to research at the Provincial Archives in The Rooms, and then follow that soldier’s path, perhaps to where he is buried.
In England, the group will lodge at Memorial’s Harlow campus, and visit the Imperial War Museum in London the Brookwood Memorial Cemetery.
Then, a sojourn in France will follow the trail of the Caribou, visiting all four of the battle sites in France that feature the famous statue: Guedecourt, Monchy, Masniéres, and, of course, Beaumont-Hamel, where a full day will be spent. The group will also visit the village of Louvencourt, where the regiment was housed before marching on the night of June 30.
The French portion of the tour will be guided by Skylark Battlefield Tours, which is run by a retired British teacher who guided Mr. Major’s student tour in 2005.
“He has a wealth of information and is able to give a perspective on the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel and how it related to the larger Battle of Somme, as well as both the enemy and the allied perspective,” Mr. Major said.
While the journey will be one of remembrance, Mr. Major said it won’t be entirely sombre. “We’ll be taking in some of the flavour of England and France in the spring. The soldiers certainly had their fun times, their joyous times, and we hope to be experiencing some of that on this trip as well.”
Registration is limited, and is on a first-come basis. For more information, visit the website for In the Footsteps of a Regiment at www.mun.ca/arts, or contact the Dean of Arts Office at (709) 737-8254.