The COVID-19 pandemic stifled Memorial Day ceremonies in Newfoundland and Labrador on Wednesday, as the crowds who usually gather on July 1 were replaced by much smaller commemorations.
Most public events to remember the Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldiers who died during the First World War were cancelled due to the pandemic, and officials urged residents to stay home and mark the occasion privately, or watch ceremonies shared online.
“This is the first year there hasn’t been public ceremonies on July 1st,” said Neal Tucker, a member of the Great War Living History Committee, a group that does First World War reproductions in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Tucker said he normally would go to Clarenville, about 110 kilometres from his home in Elliston, N.L., to join the Memorial Day commemoration there.
This year, he went to take photos at the cenotaph in Clarenville, among other towns, with another member of the committee, and the group shared a video compilation of those photos on Facebook.
He said the mood in Clarenville when they were there was “very solemn” and “very quiet.”
“It was strange, kind of eerie, to be there in the uniform like we usually do, and there’s just no one else around. It was very, very strange,” said Tucker.
July 1 is the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme in 1916, when hundreds of Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldiers joined the fighting near the village of Beaumont-Hamel in northern France.
“Over 800 soldiers went into battle and only 68 were able to enter rollcall the next day,” Tucker said.
“It was a national tragedy.”
A small ceremony was held at the Newfoundland National War Monument in St. John’s on Wednesday morning.
Members of the local Royal Canadian Legion and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and Judy Foote, the lieutenant governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, attended the event, which was shared on Facebook.
A moment of silence was observed, and three wreaths were laid at the foot of the monument. A trumpeter also played two short pieces.
The City of St. John’s has encouraged residents to commemorate both Memorial Day and Canada Day virtually during the pandemic.
The city is hosting a television special that will air at 6:30 p.m. local time Wednesday.
“We are pleased to have the Canadian Armed Forces’ support in highlighting our role in the Great War and the many remarkable monuments the City of St. John’s has that commemorate our province’s contribution to keeping our country safe,” Mayor Danny Breen said in a statement.
Seamus O’Regan, Canada’s minister of natural resources, who represents the riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, also said people should commemorate Memorial Day even though it “might look a little different this year.”
“I ask that you all take time out of your day to remember the Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who laid down their lives so we could live ours. We will remember them,” O’Regan wrote on Twitter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 1, 2020.