July 1st is a time for celebration for the people of Canada. But in Newfoundland and Labrador, the day also has a more sombre meaning.
On this date we observe Memorial Day, a time to commemorate the participation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in times of war, especially during the Battle of the Somme at Beaumont-Hamel, France.
During the First World War, Newfoundland was a Dominion of the British Empire and not yet part of Canada. It had small population of approximately 240,000, from which 1,000 men were recruited to form a battalion-sized regiment.
On July 1, 1916, 801 members of the 1st Newfoundland Regiment valiantly fought in the Battle of the Somme, but only 68 answered the roll call the next morning.
When the first anniversary of that battle arrived, the people of Newfoundland gathered to remember the extraordinary devotion and courage of the men who had fought and fallen. Since then, this ceremony has become an annual observance to ensure their sacrifices will never be forgotten.
On July 1, 1924, the National War Memorial was unveiled in St. John’s and a memorial park was established in Beaumont-Hamel the following year as a tribute to our fallen soldiers.