Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I don't consider myself a nationalist. In fact, I find nationalism a bit disconcerting — it's fine to be proud of your country, but nationalism taken to the extreme can be insulting at best, and bloody warfare causing at worst. I didn't even vote for Gros Morne in the Seven Natural Wonders of the World contest — sure it's beautiful there, but there is so much more on this planet that is far more breathtaking than what can be found on our tiny little island.
But I couldn't help but feel a bit ticked off about how Newfoundlanders treated their own Memorial Day today. You know, the Battle of Beaumont Hamel? I know you know it — what Newfoundlander doesn't? I grew up with what I perceived as curmudgeony parents grumbling about Canada Day taking away from the remembering the Battle of Beaumont Hamel. I couldn't understand why my parents could loathe a day off work, with block parties, barbeques, and fire works, just because it happened to fall on the anniversary of the worst military defeat our country (Newfoundland and Labrador, not Canada) had ever experienced.
Even though I share some of their ire now, and the nationalism I see on Canada Day now makes me a little ill, I'm not going to begrudge people their day of celebration.
However, despite the fact that we are part of Canada now, I'm pretty disappointed with how the Battle of Beaumont Hamel ceremonies played out in St. John's today. First of all, I didn't even know they were happening. I knew we used to have them, but had heard something about Canada asking us to move them to another day so as to not tar their birthday celebrations, and being the good little doormat province, we did as we were told. My sister didn't accept this answer, so she asked our parents. They didn't know either.
The event wasn't listed on The Telegram's website, nor in the events of the paper I work for (yeah, I work for a newspaper and I didn't know about the parade - sad but true). It wasn't on the City's website, either. My stepmom, techno wizard that she is, found it for us online somewhere - yes there was a war memorial service.
This morning on CBC radio, there was no mention of the service. After 8:30 they did do a piece on the Holy Heart of Mary Choir singing in Beaumont Hamel, France, today, which was nice. But still no mention of the parade/service.
Before we went, my sister and I had a debate as to whether or not we should wear poppies. My argument was that all the allies were buried in Flanders Fields — which I didn't really know for fact, I admit, but it is a World War I symbol. We decided against the poppies, just in case.
When we got to the service, however, "In Flanders Fields" was read — causing me to gloat at first, but then ponder. Then they started bringing out the wreaths, and there were a lot of wreaths, from various battalions and groups that had nothing to do with Newfoundland or the Battle of Beaumont Hamel. The band played a medley of God Save the Queen and Oh Canada twice, but only played one verse from the Ode to Newfoundland at the very end of the service.
I go to the Remembrance Day ceremonies every year, and this service was just like it, both in length and content. There was very little focus on the particular battle itself or the men that were lost there. I'm not saying other veterans don't deserve to be commemorated on more than one day a year, but this was a Newfoundland battle and a Newfoundland loss - why wasn't there more Newfoundland in it?