Ceremony honoured Newfoundland's sacrifice

One hundred years ago, far away from home on a battlefield in France, more than 800 sons of Newfoundland advanced through machine gun and artillery fire against incredible odds in defence of their King and country. Only 68 stood for roll call the next day. Seldom have one people given so much in defence of the freedom, democracy and diversity that we still enjoy to this day.

It was my great privilege as Minister of Veterans Affairs to lead a Canadian delegation to that very battlefield in Beaumont Hamel this year, to mark the sacrifice of those young men and honour the legacy they left for Newfoundland and Labrador and for all Canadians.

I was very moved by the wonderful performances by the Newfoundland Church Lads' Brigade Band and Newfoundland folk artists Jason Whelan and Allison Walsh, who performed "Sing you Home," an Ennis Sisters original.

In planning this commemoration, we decided that incorporating youth into the program was essential. To truly honour and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we must make sure that younger generations understand the importance and significance of the events. That is why all youth and Veterans selected to be part of our delegation have a very personal connection through family or service to the sacred Beaumont-Hamel site. The relationship that developed between the youth and Veterans was touching to all who were there, and having these Newfoundlanders and Labradorians speak at the ceremony made it a more memorable experience for me. To see it through their eyes was almost more meaningful. I can only hope that others there had a similar experience.

Although I was the head of the Government of Canada delegation, I did not speak at the ceremony. Our focus was to incorporate as many elements as possible while keeping to the time constraints that are always associated with a Royal presence. I can tell you that there was absolutely no intent to do anything but honour the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. And I would like everyone to know that we had many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians speak at the ceremony and I think they all did a tremendous job representing the province.

Veterans Affairs Canada consulted and worked with partners such as the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador's Honour100, the Royal Canadian Legion Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Command, and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Advisory Council to put together a robust scenario. The events included a pre-ceremony program with music from Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as tours co-ordinated by Parks Canada with many volunteers from Newfoundland and Labrador. The master of ceremonies, padre and bugler were all Newfoundlanders.

Given their importance to the ceremony, all members of the Honour100 delegation were seated in the VIP section, and members of that delegation took part in the official wreath laying and the official departure with His Royal Highness. Ministers Perry Trimper and Chris Mitchelmore, along with Frank Sullivan, were seated in a special VIP section.

I felt Mr. Sullivan's sentiments, recently raised in The Telegram, were serious enough in tone to warrant a direct response here. Can we do better next time? Always. Still, I am very proud of the job that was done and we will continue to work with our partners across Canada and anywhere across the world where Canadians answered the call to honour their sacrifice and bravery.

That said, conversations surrounding logistics of commemorative events such as this should not take place in a confrontational way through the papers. It is important to ensure the focus is on the sacrifice of those who did not return home.

With no remaining Canadian Veterans of the First World War and an ageing population of Veterans of the Second World War, it is all the more incumbent on all of us across Canada to take up the torch and ensure the memory of these people and their deeds live on. The Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial site is one of the most intact battlefields left in northern France, and I hope more Canadians take the opportunity to visit and learn the history of this place and the brave Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who fought and died here. Without their sacrifice, we would not know the freedom we have today as Canadians.

Kent Hehr,
Minister of Veterans Affairs
Ottawa

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