We paid our homage to the soldiers at Beaumont Hamel one autumn day in 1989. It was a traumatic yet uplifting experience to witness the park-like beauty of what must be one of the finest memorials to the fallen soldiers of World War One.
It was especially meaningful for Madeline whose father, Richard J. “Dick” Roche, survived the July 1st 1916 Beaumont Hamel massacre but suffered wounds that in later life confined him to bed for many years. Seeing brightly hued dogberry trees so reminiscent of Newfoundland attested to the care taken by park designers to honour its victims’ dearly loved homeland. The magnificent caribou surmounting the craggy epicentre of the park uniquely captured the spirit of the ill fated Newfoundland Regiment.
A pleasant surprise was encountering a party of British Great War buffs touring the major battlefields. They told us Beaumont Hamel was one of the best and most impressive of wartime memorial parks, while their leader recounted the grim details of the First of July disaster in which nine tenths of regiment forces were either killed or wounded. A keen video photographer covered the entire scene and promised to send us a copy. Regrettably, he eventually reported that something went wrong in the processing stage, so there was no video to share with us.
For Madeline, the most poignant moment was when she slithered down into a shell hole to cut a wild flower for carrying home to send to her brother Rick. She hurt her shoulder in so doing – a fitting reminder of her father’s wound that day. Rick told her later that when he opened the package to find the flower, he cried his eyes out.
Other Newfoundland Regiment memorials which we visited to see replicas of the magnificent bronze caribou were at Monchy-le-Preux and Kortrijk-Courtrai.
My photos of these scenes were not that great, but serve to recall a very moving experience at a time well spent among stark reminders of one of history’s darkest episodes.
A slide show I made called “Trail of the Caribou” can be sent by e mail if anyone would care to see it.