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Stephen Austin

Two generations of Austins have been caretakers of the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in northern France. As proud Newfoundlanders, Stephen and his father are honoured to have helped preserve such an important piece of history.

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Stephen Austin

They say history repeats itself, and this is certainly true in the Austin family.

"For me growing up there, I have very happy childhood memories."

While Newfoundland is home, Stephen Austin was born in Albert, France, and spent his first eight years living on a memorial site – the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in northern France, which pays tribute to the thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who served in the First World War.

"For me growing up there, I have very happy childhood memories. Even though there really was nobody close by to play with, I still managed to have fun, riding my bike, even playing around in the trenches and things like that," he says.

His father, also named Stephen, was superintendent of the memorial from 1965 to 1991, with the exception of a few years in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a role that suited him well given their family history.

Austin with his parents at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial in 1968.

"My dad was a Newfoundlander born and bred, my mom was a war bride from Belgium. My dad was a Second World War Veteran, and it was during his time over in Europe when he was posted to Belgium that he met my mom while he was serving there with the RAF," he says.

As superintendent, his father was in charge of preserving the site – managing the extensive grounds, overseeing maintenance of the battlefield terrain, and making sure everything was ready to welcome the daily stream of visitors.

While Austin spent his high school years in Newfoundland, he always returned to the memorial during the summer. He began to take an interest in his father's work, offering him a glimpse into his own future.

"I spent a lot of time shadowing my father – following him around, taking in some of his discussions … and getting to know a little bit more about that job, not knowing that down the road someday I'd be doing it myself," he says.

It's a very strong piece of our history, and the sacrifices that were made there are certainly not forgotten."

Austin never expected to follow in his footsteps. And yet, after his father retired, he headed back to northern France in 1992 to assume the responsibility of preserving the Beaumont-Hamel Memorial. His wife, Cathy, followed in 1993.

Austin's son Nicholas on the grounds of the memorial site as a toddler.

"To me, it was a certainly a great honour and a privilege to be able to have the responsibility of maintaining that site," he says. "It's a very strong piece of our history, and the sacrifices that were made there are certainly not forgotten."

In addition to maintaining the grounds, he was also responsible for helping with commemorative events and administering the site's interpretive guide program, which began in 1997. In 1998, he and Cathy welcomed their son Nicholas, who would spend his first 18 months growing up at the Beaumont-Hamel memorial – just like Austin had all those years before.

Looking back, he realizes how some of these shared experiences have brought them closer as a family. Although his father passed away in 2004, Austin knows his father was pleased they followed such similar paths.

"You know something, my dad and I had a very close bond – a very strong friendship," he says. "I think there was pride on my father's part that I was there [at Beaumont-Hamel] doing that as well."

In honour of the 105th anniversary of the Battles of the Somme and Beaumont-Hamel, we're sharing the stories of Canadians who have a personal connection. Stephen Austin is one of them. Discover more stories.

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