NEWFOUNDLAND MEMORIAL PARK

Newfoundland Memorial Park caribou memorial

Close to Thiepval and the Ulster Tower in the Beaumont Hamel area you will find the Newfoundland Memorial Park. The website greatwar.co.uk describes how it came to be situated there in an area that has particular significance for Canadians.

The Caribou is one of five such memorials on the Western Front which commemorate the location where the 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment was in action. The caribou is the emblem of the Newfoundland Regiment. The sculptor of the bronze caribou was an Englishman called Basil Gotto.

The Caribou memorial is situated on high ground at the western side of the park, behind the British front line of July 196, from where the 1st Battalion the Newfoundland Regiment began its advance into the attack on that fateful morning. The shrubs around the rocks are native plants from Newfoundland.

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Caribou Memorial

Newfoundland Memorial Park is a site on the Somme battlefield near to Beaumont Hamel. The land was purchased by the Dominion of Newfoundland after the First World War. It was named after the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which had provided one battalion of 800 men to serve with the British and Commonwealth armies.

Pointing the way to Newfoundland

Its tragic part in the action of 1 July 1916 is remembered through this memorial park. The site is also a memorial to all the Newfoundlanders who fought in the First World War, most particularly those who have no known grave. At the base of the caribou memorial there are three bronze panels listing 814 names that make up the memorial to the Newfoundland missing, namely those who died on land or at sea during WWI and who have no known graves.

Memorial with names of those who died in WWI

The park does, nevertheless, preserve the memory of the men of the many other regiments from the French, British and German Armies who fought and died on this part of the Somme battleground from September 1914 into 1918.

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29th Division Memorial

On the morning of 1st July 1916 as the Battle of the Somme began, the 29th Division was in action on the British front line in the location that now forms the Newfoundland Memorial Park. The Division suffered a high number of casualties as a result of the success of the German defence in this sector. Many were cut down before they got anywhere near the German front line. Many were killed and wounded as they moved forward from the rear of the front line to follow on in the attack. The divisional badge was a red triangle.

Newfoundland became a province of Canada in 1949. The Newfoundland Memorial Park is one of only two Canadian National Historic sites outside Canada. The other is also in France at Vimy Ridge. The landscape architect who designed the park was RHK Cochius.

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Remains of WW1 trenches seen from the caribou memorial

Beaumont-Hamel was attacked by the 29th Division on 1st July 1916 and although some units reached it, the village was not taken. It was finally captured by the 51st (Highland) and 63rd (Royal Naval) Divisions on the following 13 November. The 29th Division included the 1st Battalion of the Newfoundland Regiment, as it was then called. The attack on Beaumont-Hamel in July 1916 was the first severe engagement of the regiment, and the most costly.

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, no unit suffered heavier losses than the Newfoundland Regiment which had gone into action 801 strong. The roll call the next day revealed that the final figures were 233 killed or dead of wounds, 386 wounded, and 91 missing. Every officer who went forward in the Newfoundland attack was either killed or wounded. For this reason, the government of Newfoundland chose the hill south-west of the village, where the front-line trenches ran at the time of the battle, as the site of their memorial to the soldiers (and also to the sailors) of Newfoundland.

Of the few battlefield parks in France and Belgium where the visitor can see a Great War battlefield much as it was, Beaumont Hamel is the largest. The actual trenches are still there and something of the terrible problem of advancing over such country can be appreciated by the visitor. The memorial itself stands at the highest point of the park and consists of a great caribou cast in bronze, emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. At the base, three tablets of bronze carry the names of over 800 members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve and the Newfoundland Mercantile Marine, who gave their lives in the First World War and who have no known grave (CWGC information).

Caribou memorial

The Danger Tree is a petrified tree and the only original tree in this location to survive the 1914-18 fighting in this location. It had been part of a clump of trees located about halfway into No Man’s Land and had originally been used as a landmark by a Newfoundland Regiment trench raiding party in the days before the Battle of the Somme. As a result, the Regiment suffered a large concentration of casualties around the tree.

The Danger Tree in front of the German lines is to the left of the cross of sacrifice at the CWGC cemetery

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