Friday, 29 April 2016

Beaumont Hamel: Memorial of Hope

In this 100th Anniversary year of the Battle of the Somme, Valerie and I have had the privilege of visiting Beaumont Hamel Memorial Park in Northern France. In the battle for Beaumont Hamel, and because of the horrible losses to the regiment, communities and families of the small island and nation of Newfoundland in 1916, the identity of a people was forged. “Beaumont Hamel” is etched in the collective memory of every Newfoundlander.
When Valerie and I walked into the fields of Beaumont Hamel, it felt like home. It felt like we, as Newfoundlanders, were part of that place.
The iconic Caribou memorial and the Salt Box style interpretation centre certainly affirmed what we were feeling in our hearts. But looking out unto the trenches, battle field and cemetery, the warm feeling of home was chilled by the memory of the brutal realities of war. Standing near the famous “Danger Tree,” a landmark where the regiment was ordered to gather, the war cemetery loomed in the distance.
We read the names of many of the fallen Newfoundlander’s aloud as we prayerfully moved over that holy ground. And as we did, we had a great sense of being at one with the Newfoundlanders who lost their lives. At one with them in the one Life that is God. These are our dead. This is our land. This is our memorial. Yet as walking prayerfully around this beautiful and at the same time haunting memorial park, I was called to remember the German men who lost their lives there. At the far end of the memorial park, there is also a Scottish memorial for their fallen on that field and who eventually won the small plot of land. As I walked and sat and reflected (the bronze cast at the entrance to the park reads “Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow”), I had an expanding sense of the tragedy and senseless loss of life in war. And I had an expanding sense of being at one with not only the Newfoundlanders who lost their lives, but also with the Germans, the Scotts, and all who lost their lives at Beaumont Hamel. Much has changed in the world since 1916, yet the call to identify with the union of all souls and respect for all of life remains. Beaumont Hamel is our enduring memorial to that hope.