Thursday, July 1, 2010

'Dead men can advance no further'

I'll be filling in for Bill Rowe as host of VOCM's afternoon radio call-in show, Backtalk, for the month of July, followed by a week standing in for Randy Simms as host of Open Line. Each day I'll post the show's monologue, which I prepare in advance.


Good afternoon Newfoundland and Labrador and all the ships at sea.

Today is Memorial Day in Newfoundland and Labrador, the most solemn day of the year.

Today is also Canada Day, the country’s 143rd birthday — a day of celebration.

The tragedy for Newfoundland at Beaumont Hamel, France during the First World War is often overshadowed by the nation’s birthday.

At midday we’re supposed to switch from a Memorial Day focus to Canada Day focus.

That’s hard to do.

July 1, 1916 was the bloodiest day in Newfoundland and Labrador history.

Of the 801 Newfoundlander officers and men who took part in the assault at Beaumont Hamel — most of who were in their late teens or early 20s — 710 were either killed or wounded.

Only 68 of the 801 Newfoundlanders who went into battle that July 1st answered the roll call the next day.

The Commander of the 88th brigade — Brigadier-General Cayley — wrote to then-Prime Minister of Newfoundland, Sir Edward Morris.

He wrote about the courage and discipline displayed by the members of the Newfoundland Regiment in their first battle on the Western Front at Beaumont Hamel.

He wrote: “It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed because dead men can advance no further.”

There were painful consequences to Newfoundland’s war experience.

And I’m taking this directly from the book, The Fighting Newfoundland, A history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Those consequences included:

The heavy burden of war debt; the severe economic downturn of the late 1920s and ’30s; the resultant abject poverty in parts of the country; the subsequent loss of legislative independence; the long reign of the Commission of Government; and the virtual occupation of the defenseless country of Newfoundland by friendly powers during the Second World War.

The was another consequence, of course — the number of dead.

There was scarcely a family in even the remotest outport of the Colony of Newfoundland that did not experience the bitter pain of sacrifice.

In the back of the book, The Fighting Newfoundlander, there’s a section that lists the names of all members of the Newfoundland Regiment who died in the First World War.

There are 28 pages of names.

I went through the list and saw that four Clearys died — including three on July 1, 1916.

As far as I known none were directly related.

I went to the Ryans then (my mother’s maiden name is Ryan) and there were four Ryans listed.

Looking through those 28 pages of names … all the names are common ones you’d recognize from Newfoundland and Labrador today.

For the small nation of Newfoundland, the loss was absolutely devastating — felt in every town, in every outport, and in every family.

As far as I know all our veterans from the First World War have passed on.

But if you have a story about a relative who served in the Great War — or a comment — today is the day to call in.

I receive an e-mail yesterday from a friend of mine who lives in the United Kingdom.

His name is Paul Thornhill, and we worked together at The Independent newspaper.

Here’s his e-mail:

“Ryan, I was in Northern France recently — Dunkerque to be exact — and no matter how many years pass since the First World War, the French are still grateful for those who gave their lives and gave the French freedom.

When asked where I was from I said Newfoundland. They said: 'Ah Beaumont Hamel, Les Terre-Neuviens.'

All those years ago and those young men are still remembered. With a tightened throat, I said we too are grateful and we remember them every July 1st and will do so as Newfoundlanders forever.

God bless those men.”

Thanks for the e-mail Paul.


Now I’m supposed to switch to Canada Day celebrations.

Which, again, is difficult.

Most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are proud Canadians — there’s no doubt.

Play the old anthem to Hockey Night in Canada and we all practically put our hands over our hearts.

But there are problems with this country, and Newfoundland and Labrador’s place in the federation. There’s no doubt about that as well.

I consider myself a Newfoundlander and Labradorian first — and Canadian second.

But I would say that’s pretty standard.

Economically, we’re impacted by the failure of Canada to implement a national energy grid, which would come in handy for the development of the lower Churchill.

And we’ve been royally screwed for years and years with the upper Churchill contract.

Which is not how brothers and sisters are supposed to treat each other in the Canadian family.

Danny Williams is having the same fight with Quebec today that Brian Peckford had as premier 30 years ago over development of the lower Churchill.

Then there’s the fishery — which I mentioned on yesterday’s show — in terms of how it’s been gutted under Ottawa management.

Politically — we have but 7 MPs out of 308, and that 308 is going to increase to 338 by 2012 when larger provinces like Ontario, B.C. and Alberta get more seats.

When new riding boundaries come into effect, the province of Ontario will have 124 seats.

Compared to 33 seats for Atlantic Canada.

Compared to 7 seats for Newfoundland and Labrador.

So how do we protect regional interests?

Call in if you have a suggestion.

Call in if you have a thought on the state of Canada today.

On this Canada Day — the country’s 143 birthday — how do you think we’re doing?


In other news …

I see that two Newfoundlanders have been named to the Order of Canada — businessman Ches Penney has been named a member of the Order of Canada.

And international affairs columnist Gwynn Dwyer has been named an officer of the Order of Canada

Congratulations to both.

Ches Penney received an honourary doctorate from Memorial in 2005, and had this to day:

“Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. Play a round of golf. There will always be time to clean the house and the car.”

Gwynne Dwyer’s column appears in The Telegram, and his latest book is called With Every Mistake, which is taken from the Beatles song, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, by George Harrison.

The line goes like this: “With every mistaken, we must surely be learning.”

Smart man, that Newfoundlander Gwynne Dwyer.

I don’t know if you know anybody who should be named to the Order of Canada, but hasn’t.

Call in with your suggestions.


In other news … the minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador is up today by 50 cents to $10 an hour.

Some employers say the minimum wage has gone up too fast — up by 60 per cent in the past five years.

I had one caller yesterday say the increase in the minimum wage has caused some employers to pay people under the table.

On the other hand there’s the working poor.

How does a family of four, for example, with Mom and Dad making $10 an hour, each make ends meet?

There are two sides to this issue.

Call in with your side.


I see that Opposition Liberals are calling on the Danny Williams administration to push Ottawa to address what they see as an unacceptable level of service on the Marine Atlantic ferry route.

Why isn’t the province pushing the feds more?

I’ve been a journalist in this province for 20 years and there have been complaints about Marine Atlantic for as long as I can remember.

Yes, a Gulf run is guaranteed in the Terms of Union, but the level of service is not.

The Liberals say the provincial government needs to step in and ensure that local truckers and tourists have access to a higher standard of service than is currently being offered.

Of course, keep in mind that the Williams administration is having its own problems running its ferry service to Labrador and to Bell Island.

The pot can’t exactly call the kettle black.

What do you say?

Maybe the only way to solve the problem is with a fixed link.

Which would certainly bring some much needed attention to the Forgotten Peninsula.


The Liberals are also critical of the Danny Williams administration over the former AbitibiBowater mill in Grand Falls-Windsor.

Between the jigs and the reels a German company was interested, but now it’s not.

We didn’t lose any government money — that’s a good thing.

But people in central did get their hopes up, only to see those hopes dashed.

I see form VOCM News that Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale is cautioning people not to get their hopes up about an on again/off again interest in the mill.

Is that even possible?

Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones accused the Tory government of not even doing the basic background check on the German company.

And she has a point.

Like I mentioned yesterday, back in May Kathy Dunderdale described the German company — the same company that has since gone into bankruptcy protection (the second time since 2004) — as reputable.

How is central Newfoundland doing these days anyway? Are times tough?

How can you not get your hopes up: we have wood, cheap power and a workforce.


I see the sealing industry is in the news again — same old, same old.

U.S. talk-show host Bill Maher submitted an opinion piece to the New York Daily News urging Canada to stop the seal hunt once and for all.

Maher wrote:

And let’s be clear: The Canadian government may call it a ‘hunt,’ but impaling baby seals in the jaw with hooks, dragging them across the ice and throwing them into a pile where they choke on their own blood before being skinned isn’t a sport – it’s a massacre.”

What do we do about this?

God knows we’re fighting Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, but how do we win this particular battle against ignorance?


Finally, I return to Memorial Day ceremonies and Canada Day celebrations — because the two are linked.

There are fireworks planned for this evening in St. John’s at Quidi Vidi Lake to recognize Canada Day.

Lieutenant-Colonel Alex Brennan, the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, Royal Newfoundland Regiment, encourages everyone who's heading down to the lake this evening to bring along a small flashlight or electric candle.

A red and white flare will be set off 15 minutes before the fireworks as a signal for people to turn on their lights.

The fireworks will celebrate Canada Day.

The lights will mark Memorial Day.

Can you get any more bitter sweet?

The Backtalk lines are open.

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