It’s a sombre anniversary that’s a poignant reminder of how this province’s only university got its name.
Memorial University of Newfoundland is playing a role this week and next during the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Somme commemorative ceremonies taking place in France, including historic Beaumont Hamel.
President Axel Meisen, along with Dr. John Crosbie, the university’s chancellor, are both overseas this week taking part in a number of ceremonies including what’s expected to be an emotional ceremony on July 1 in Beaumont Hamel where the Newfoundland Regiment was nearly annihilated 90 years ago.
On July 1, 1916, at the height of the first world war, the regiment (later renamed Royal Newfoundland Regiment) valiantly went into battle. Despite its efforts, more than 700 members were killed or wounded and only 68 answered roll call the next day.
That war, holds special significance for an institution that was built as a living memorial to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who died during the First World War.
Memorial University College was later rededicated to also encompass the province’s war dead of the Second World War. Three hundred and ten former students of Memorial University College offered themselves for active service in the Second World War. Thirty of these students lost their lives. Their names are recorded in the front of the University Calendar each year.
Ever since then, Memorial has marked sombre occasions such as July 1 and Nov. 11 with particular reverence, paying tribute to veterans and commemorate their actions and ensuring younger generations of university graduates realize why the university’s name is so important.
Drs. Meisen and Crosbie are part of a larger delegation from this province which includes youth representatives, provincial and municipal leaders and the entire complement of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which received funding earlier this year from the provincial government to participate in ceremonies.
Drs. Meisen and Crosbie will attend the ceremony visits in Monchy-le-preux on June 29 as well as special regiment dinner, and take part in commemorative ceremonies in Beaumont Hamel on July 1.
Lt.-Gov. Ed Roberts, The Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s honorary colonel, is also participating in the ceremonies in France, as is Premier Danny Williams
On the St. John’s campus, the Centre for Newfoundland Studies (CNS) and the Archives and Manuscripts Division have created a special display which showcases a number of books and archival documents related to the Newfoundland Regiment in the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont Hamel. The display runs until mid-September and is located in the CNS Reading Room on the third floor of the Queen Elizabeth II Library. Call 737-7475 for library hours.
The university will also take part in the annual Memorial Day ceremonies in downtown St. John’s. Dr. Eddy Campbell, vice-president (academic) will lay a wreath at the National War Memorial in Dr. Meisen’s absence.