Re: Popular depictions of Newfoundland's war effortApril 12 2012 at 2:48 PM
|Bax Lane |
Response to Popular depictions of Newfoundland's war effort
I am a little piqued by your interpretation of the growing trend of nationalistic reimaging of Newfoundlands war effort in this province. To the contrary, it appears to me and my colleagues that what is actually taking place is a Canadian reimaging of Newfoundlands past that has been particularly damaging to historical accuracy. And this has spilled over into the Royal Newfoundland Regiments role in WWI. This obfuscation of our past is often espoused by those locals (and Canadian ex-pats) who have gone through the Memorial University system in the last 20 years where historic instruction has been dominated by Canadian and foreign professors with strong socialist tendencies, or by non-Newfoundlanders that either failed to grasp a true understanding of our culture, heritage and history or deliberately re-interpret our history to meet some bureaucratic vision of a one Canada with a one history. Sometimes the writers are just not that bright. And unfortunately this also holds true with those that occupy positions where they can affect change but refuse to do so, such as teachers, museum staff, archival personnel and the most concerning, are those that work in the historic branch of Newfoundlands Department of Tourism and/or the curriculum branch of the Department of Education.
I have a fair idea of the author you accuse of historical inaccuracies, which may be fair in one aspect, is totally unjust in another. He clearly does not belong in the same category as the author of the website that initiated this forum post. I believe his crime according to you may be unjustly coloured by your apparent disrespect for Newfoundland Nationalists. I have to wonder if your vitriol is because he is a poor Historian (Historian he is not) or the fact that the tone of his book is from someone with a deep respect for the feelings of a sizable portion of our population back in the day and now. It was no accident that Newfoundland had fought for 80 years to stay out of Confederation. Many of them were proud, patriotic, and dare I say, Nationalistic. And no, they were not all Irish Newfoundlanders; that in itself is a self-indulgent myth amongst the descendants of the early 19th century Irish immigrants.
I also have to take note that although the Newfoundlanders and 1st Essex (not Middle) were ordered to go over the top at the same time, the Essex did not go! Their excuse was that they could not get to the front line to launch their attack. When the Essex did go over the top it was 45 minutes later and then they only sent one company before the attack was mercifully stopped. The Newfoundlanders (Ordered by a British Officer) chose to attack from the support trench. There was not one man in that Regiment prior going over the top that did not know what was happening and were sure they were about to draw there last breath. That does not come from some misinformed nationalistic dolt but from the mouths of the survivors of that terrible day. The failure of the Essex to attack at the same time meant it was only the Newfoundlanders that crested the horizon giving the insatiable appetite of German machine guns and artillery an easy target from three sides. This was not the only time that the Essex failed the Newfoundlanders during the war resulting in many needless casualties to the Regiment.
I am not sure how old you are Chris but I do not see a growing nationalistic movement. That movement has been around a long time, decades, if not centuries. And its growth has been stymied by the efforts of historical apologists such as yourself that are eager to condemn someone for even thinking that Newfoundland was once a country and that, yes indeed, if people would care, have a well-earned right to be different in the Canadian family.
But to deride those that say both Canada and Britain have had a hand in the assault on Newfoundland makes you a part of the confederate revisionist historical movement that has been force-feeding every Newfoundlander re-invented myths through our school system, university, and Government since April 1, 1949.
Just to be perfectly clear, what happened to Newfoundland in WWI, happened to every Empire participant. The British jingoist movement had worked its propaganda magic so much so that the colonials from all over the world were eager to get a piece of the action. Canadians, Newfoundlanders, Australians, South Africa, India, and New Zealanders all were eager contributors. Yes, they were proud to have fought for their King. But there are cases where the soldiers that returned felt that they were lied to, and their respect for the King and the Brits were lost, never to be regained. Amongst the Newfoundland soldiers in the ranks there definitely was a seething hatred for nearly all British officers. As my grandfather put it: More British Officers were shot in the back than were ever shot by the Germans. It then would be easy for a returning soldier to bring his experience and his feelings about the British back home and that this blaming the Brits may have its start with those who actually were subjected to their rule while in the front line.
There is some truth that the British preferred to use the colonials in tough situations. Some of the soldiers on the ground, not just current day historians, interpreted this as using them as cannon fodder. My own personal view, one that I come by from my own research, is that they were chosen because of their fighting ability. Whereas the British Regiments, especially by 1916 were staffed with white collar workers and students, colonial Regiments had a tougher, blue collar feel. Of course they would be stronger, faster, and more agile than their British counterparts and frankly, made better soldiers. Smart, and even the dumb, British Staff Officers could see the benefit of assigning the tough tasks to the go-to players. To use a Canadian analogy, the colonials were skaters you put on the ice in the last minute of a tied hockey game.
I am wondering if I would be welcome in this growing and interesting discourse on Newfoundlands wartime experience. Or would I be excluded because you and other revisionist apologetic bureaucratic historians have no time for such interpretations.
You know Chris, you remind me of a outport university student I talked to last year about the shame he carried over his Newfoundland dialect. He was so embarrassed by it he trained himself to speak with a generic accent so nobody would know that he was a Newfoundlander. And he was proud of that fact. It seems to me that you carry the same embarrassment and resentment about our history. It is a shame, lets hope you dont occupy a position where your ideas can be rammed down the throats of the unsuspecting.