The Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest battles of WWI. Over one million were killed or wounded from July to November 1916. To commemorate the role of Newfoundland and Labradorian troops fighting near the village of Beaumont Hamel one hundred years ago, Flanker Press has acquired the trade book rights to Nigel Cave’s Beaumont Hamel, Newfoundland Park. The Dominion of Newfoundland (they didn’t become part of Canada until 1949) purchased the 80 acre site of Newfoundland Park after the war, a decision which led to the creation of the finest trench park on the Western Front. It is one of only two Canadian Historic Sites outside Canada (the other is Vimy Ridge).
More Than a Guide Book
While Beaumont Hamel is primarily a guide-book with maps and suggestions for touring the historic site in France, it is much more than that. I discovered many aspects of the Great War that I had not known, in particular this battle was notable for the first use of the tank: “Few in numbers and hampered by the terrible condition of the ground, the tank played not an inconsiderable part in the battle.”
Besides describing the battle itself, its development and execution at various sites, there are also personal accounts, photographs and more. I particularly liked the chapter about filming the war (the technology was quite primitive then from a modern standpoint), the work of the Royal Army Medical Corps in saving the wounded, and Newfoundland’s day of “heroism and disaster” (July 1st*, 1916 in which they suffered “horrendously high losses”). It is interesting to note that no single regiment has the number of memorials to its memory on the battlefields of the Great War as the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. According to the book History of the 51st (Highland) Division, “The Battle of Beaumont Hamel was the foundation stone on which the reputation of the Highland Division was built”.
The fact that it is primarily a guide-book should not dissuade one from reading it, and armchair WWI historians will enjoy it too, especially for the sections I remarked on previously. With the personal accounts and other Great War facts and events that liberally fill out the book, it was definitely interesting and engrossing reading, and Flanker Press did well in obtaining republishing rights to Mr. Cave’s fine book.
*July 1 remains an official day of remembrance in Newfoundland and Labrador. Every year, people gather at the National War Memorial in downtown St. John’s and at other locations across the province to remember the soldiers who fought at Beaumont Hamel, as well as the many other men and women who have served in other forces and other wars.