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Star Forum: Province must remember Beaumont Hamel

Dear editor: Joseph Lamoine, as a young man from the Cape St. George area, could not have foreseen the horrors he would encounter when he joined the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada in 1914 at the age of 17.

A large German division targeted Lamoine’s artillery group, quickly overrunning him and his comrades. Lamoine sustained a severe facial wound when shrapnel from a grenade lodged in his lip. He decided to play dead when he saw that all his comrades had apparently been killed. About a dozen German troops examined the bodies by poking them with their rifles and kicking them over.

Lamoine’s grandson George Chaisson recalls what his grandfather told him about the experience:

“When a couple of German soldiers stood over me for about 30 seconds and kicked me repeatedly, it was terrifying because I could not move or breathe.”

Those 30 seconds seemed to go on forever, Lamone told his grandson. But the German soldiers relented, convinced he was dead. When they moved out of visual range, he slowly got to his feet and noticed that two other members of his division had stood up after successfully playing dead.

The division Lamoine was a part of experienced frequent exposure to extreme cold and would sometimes go days without sleep or food. Initially, Lamoine was enthusiastic about going to war; however, early in the war he came to long for the day when he would go home.

Lamoine did get to go home, however many Newfoundlanders did not survive the First World War. The war would cost Newfoundland much blood and treasure and have long-term political consequences.

Throughout the world, the First World War resulted in an estimated 9 million military deaths and another 7 million civilian deaths.

All the global military conflicts combined have led to the deaths of 120 million people since 1918, though most forms of warfare have become rarer since the end of the Second World War. Continued warfare shocked Joseph Murray Lemoine, who, according to his grandson Chaisson, did not expect that there would be another great war.

Bill O ‘Gorman is a Stephenville area resident who wrote books on the experiences of Port au Port area veterans in both world wars. During his research, O’Gorman discovered that he had a great uncle, Julian Gorman, who died in the First World War.

O’Gorman focused upon the battle of Beaumont Hamel, which took place on July 1, 1916.  Most of the Newfoundland regiment soldiers who survived Beaumont Hamel described their regiment being mowed down by the German machine guns.

The worst part for the survivors was that while still enduring the German gunfire they had to crawl back to their trench, which was very difficult due to their traumatized disorientation. Some of the survivors inadvertently went in the direction of the German trench and were immediately shot.  Those who went toward their own trench had to crawl over the dead bodies of their fallen comrades and severely wounded teenage comrades who were crying for help and for their mothers.

At the end of the battle, 233 men were dead, 386 wounded and 91 missing and presumed dead and only 110 were unharmed.

Many of the wounded soldiers who returned from the war in 1916 and early 1917 were frustrated over how their disabilities impeded them from earning a living. They had no income until their pensions of about $12 to $15 a month commenced in 1919. 

After the First World War, global demand for Newfoundland exports declined and a decade later the Great Depression severely exacerbated our slumping economy.

A century later, Newfoundland and Labrador remembers Beaumont Hamel with some regret for our brave soldiers sacrificing too much. However we also revere our brave soldiers who fought at Beaumont Hamel and in other wars, for they fought for freedom and democracy and contributed to Allied victory.   

John Ryall, Mount Pearl

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