A Pilgrimage to Beaumont-Hamel
In our call for submissions, we received a number of stories from those who planned to travel to Beaumont Hamel for the historic 100th anniversary. The following message from MUN alumnus John Boggan is one such story:
"Growing up as a kid in Newfoundland, a kid in Topsail, no one ever believed that the statue that stood in Bowring Park, the Fighting Newfoundlander, was my relative. My Great Uncle Tom, Thomas Pittman. What kid would ever believe that any statue was of a real person. I soon learned to just not talk about it, to just keep it to myself, but that never changed the fact I was fiercely proud of the facts, maybe it even helped a little.
For my whole life, and I’m 43 now, I’d hoped that when the 100th anniversary came around I could attend ceremonies in Beaumont - Hamel but I never held my breathe for it. Yet here it is, and I’m going.
Officially I’m #413 on the Government of Canada listing of attendees that day.
Quite selfishly in the beginning I thought of this as only my trip, not out of any malice but simply because I was trying to find a way to actually make it back to Northern France. It was only after reconnecting with some friends from Memorial that I started to look up from my own details to see the horizon and the enormity of the pilgrimage of all those that will attend.
There will be a group of us meet up in and around Beaumont-Hamel in the towns of Amiens and Arras, all of us Memorial graduates. Dana Cooper from St. John’s, who is now working in northern Scandinavia in the oil industry but living in northern Paris, Mike Mannion involved in health research in Montreal, Dups Wijayawardhana from Sri Lanka, grew up in Hong Kong, moved to St. John’s in the early 90’s and is as much or more a Newfoundlander than anyone I’ll ever know, Keli Ryan who now lives in France near the Belgium border, Eddie Thomas from Labrador who is also in the offshore industries and globally based…and a myriad of others who are also MUN Alumni.
All on their own pilgrimages to honour July 1, 1916 and all that it represents.
100 years later, it is great to see the acknowledgement that is arising around the importance of Beaumont-Hamel. News stations from around the planet are reporting the real heroism and tragedy that came to be that day all along front during the Great July Drive.
Great Uncle Tom’s immediate family has been interviewed and are the key holders of the information around Uncle Tom, but I believe I’ll be the only family member on-site. Though on that detail I hope I am wrong.
Growing up, my parents used to make the occasional meal for Blanche, Blanche was Great Uncle Tom’s sister, she lived in a tiny bungalow in Mount Pearl. Inside the house was a living museum, a living monument to her brother. A full sized painting of him on the wall, his damaged helmet on display. (If memory serves correct, it was the helmet he was wearing when he went over the top in the second wave and one of the three places he was shot). Blanches house always smelled of stove oil. I’d always leave having dropped off the food and gifts with the taste of stove oil in my mouth. As a kid I found it distasteful, now the smell of stove oil fills me with an overwhelming sense of love for such a wonderful woman and a desire which is beyond words, to wish I had a time machine to go back with what I know now. To ask questions, to observe more, to take pictures, so hear from her what it was like when her brother went overseas and how the family reacted when they would have gotten the news he was injured and not killed, and that he would be the subject for a statue.
The movies ‘Trail of the Caribou’ and Newfoundland at Armageddon (of which my nephew Nicholas Boggan as a descendant, is an actor), the countless books about the Newfoundlanders in Europe in WWI and WWII, the acts of bravery and simple dedication to the cause and the comrades. It is something Newfoundlanders have been quite on for decades, it is good to see that at the
100 year mark people are starting to realize it is important for us to tell this part of our history. To preserve now for the future.
If Blanche was here today, I think she would be beaming with pride for the exposure that is being given to the anniversary.
On July 1, 2016, there will be countless people scattered across all of northern Europe, recounting the happenings of 100 years ago. I’d imagine there will be as many tears shed 100
years later as there was life lost that day in 1916. That day affected the future and will continue to for years to come.
But in the lead up to that day, as we all gather in the ville’s and towns around Beaumont-Hamel, all of us have had the discussions amongst ourselves about what do we do? The mome
nt will be solemn, but we also want to celebrate. Celebrate their lives and remember the losses. We think that if the tables were turned and we were able to speak to the regiment, we think they’d be both proud of the pilgrimage to honour them and also would want us to raise a glass or several in their honour and have a scoff and scuff while we were at it. We don’t think there would be any disrespect intended, and if anything the opposite would hold true.
We will be gathered together in common purpose, remembrance and pride, because of what they did and what they have signified to Newfoundland and Labrador for the past century. We’ll be standing on the hallowed ground of a few sacred acres in France, sacred acres for time immemorial for Newfoundland & with immense pride and more than a few tears,
Where once they stood, we’ll stand."
- John Boggan