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The Battle of the Somme - Ninety-fourth Anniversary

Honourable senators, in three days it will be July 1, Canada Day.

Across this country, men, women and children will spend this wonderful day with family, friends and neighbours, celebrating the anniversary of Confederation and honouring Canadian values such as freedom, equality, equity, justice and democracy.

However, for generations of men and women from Newfoundland and Labrador, July 1 is not only a day of celebration, but it also continues to be a day of sadness, sorrow and solemn remembrance.

It is a day of remembrance.

On that day, 94 years ago, one of the most deadly struggles in the history of human conflict began, the Battle of the Somme.

Advancing early on the morning of July 1 near a French village called Beaumont-Hamel were the men — the boys, really — of the Newfoundland Regiment.

The Newfoundlanders' battle plan was tragically simple. In the words of historian Tim Cook:

Lines of men — nearly standing shoulder to shoulder — would advance en masse to occupy the smoking remains of the enemy trenches after massive artillery bombardments first destroyed all resistance.

That was the plan. History produced a different outcome. Within 20 minutes of leaving the St. John's Road trench, nearly all of the regiment's men were dead, dying or wounded. Of the 780 men who advanced unprotected and unsupported across an open field into a blizzard of bullets, only 68 were available for roll call the next day.

The Battle of the Somme continued to rage on in futility for another five months, taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men.

Newfoundland will never recover from the morning of July 1, 1916.

The catastrophic loss of human life caused by this terrible battle and others that took place over the following two years forever altered the future of this proud colony.

More devastating was the personal loss. Scarcely an island family was untouched. In the words of writer David Macfarlane:

The greatest change the war brought was one that no one could measure. It was an absence. . . The best were gone. . .
Their fiancées waited for them forever.
Their mail went unanswered.
Their deals never closed.
Their plans were left in rough draft.
Their sentences unfinished.