Remembrance Day—InquiryPublished on 3 February 2015 Hansard and Statements by Senator Joan Fraser (retired)
Hon. Joan Fraser (Deputy Leader of the Opposition):
I’d like to thank Senator Marshall for that remarkable speech and, in particular, for placing on the record the terrible history of the Newfoundlanders’ participation in that war. It is something that has become part of our history for all Canadians — uniquely for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, of course, but for all of us.
A few years ago on the ninety-fifth anniversary, I was part of a delegation with the Minister of Veterans Affairs to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. Senator Plett was in the same delegation. It was a large delegation — parliamentarians, the minister, veterans, representatives of the RCMP and the Armed Forces, and of course people from the Department of Veterans Affairs — and there was very significant representation of Newfoundlanders in that delegation because of the anniversary.
We went to Beaumont-Hamel. I shall never forget it. There are two emotions that conflict when you’re there and when you see that terrain — rage at what Senator Marshall called the incompetence of those in leadership, and grief. Those young men were sent down from the crest of a hill to the comfortably emplaced Germans at the bottom of the hill, who had only to look up and see them silhouetted against the skyline and mow them down. There are trees on the crest now, but there were none then. Those boys were perfect targets. One observer said that they realized right away what they were doing and they hunched over, walking into the storm of bullets as if they were walking into a blizzard, but they kept going. They kept going. So we wept; all of us wept. What else can you do?
But as I told this house when Senator Rompkey retired, I will also never forget a visit a day or two later to the cemetery at Gueudecourt where just three months later that regiment had been reconstituted from little Newfoundland — a reconstituted regiment — and they fought that day. As Senator Marshall said, some of them died, too many of them died, but they achieved their objective that day. So we paid our respects.
Then, spontaneously, all the Newfoundland members of the delegation gathered together under the trees, in front of the bronze caribou, and they sang the Ode to Newfoundland, every word of it, every verse.
Yes, there was a tremendous temptation to weep again, but there was also pride and respect for the memory that these Newfoundlanders have carried for all these years and will go on to carry.
All I wanted to say was that respect for the unique quality of the Newfoundland and Labrador memory does not mean that we have not also taken it as our grief and to some extent our glory.