Remains of unknown soldier to be repatriated for St. John's war memorial's centennial

·3 min read
These legionnaires were in high spirits Tuesday following an announcement that the National War Memorial in St. John's will have a rededication ceremony for the site's centennial on July 1, 2024. The centrepiece of the makeover is the addition of a tomb of the unknown soldier, with plans to repatriate the remains of a Newfoundland Regiment member who died in battle during the First World War. Pictured here, from left, are Berkley Lawrence, Gerald Budden, Nathan Lehr, Frank Sullivan and Gary Browne. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)
These legionnaires were in high spirits Tuesday following an announcement that the National War Memorial in St. John's will have a rededication ceremony for the site's centennial on July 1, 2024. The centrepiece of the makeover is the addition of a tomb of the unknown soldier, with plans to repatriate the remains of a Newfoundland Regiment member who died in battle during the First World War. Pictured here, from left, are Berkley Lawrence, Gerald Budden, Nathan Lehr, Frank Sullivan and Gary Browne. (Terry Roberts/CBC - image credit)

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has granted approval for an unknown soldier from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who died in France during the First World War to be repatriated, with his remains to be interred at a new tomb at the foot of the National War Memorial on Duckworth Street in St. John's.

The tomb will be the centrepiece of a major makeover for the memorial, which will be unveiled during a dedication ceremony planned for July 1, 2024, the site's 100th anniversary.

It's the first time the commission has approved the repatriation of a second unknown soldier to a country, said legionnaire Frank Sullivan, one of a group of veterans who are spearheading what's called the National War Memorial Centennial Project.

There's also an unknown soldier interred at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.

"This is the first time it's ever happened worldwide, and it's so significant it scares you to think about it," Sullivan said Tuesday morning during an interview at the war memorial with a handful of other legionnaires.

The announcement was made Tuesday morning during a ceremony at Confederation Building.

"One of our fallen heroes, courageous, will be coming home," said Premier Andrew Furey.

Gravesite still needs to be selected

St. John's South-Mount Pearl MP Seamus O'Regan said the specially constructed tomb "will contain the repatriated remains of one of our lost sons, cut down too young, and too soon in the Battle of the Somme."

"We are proud that the unknown soldier who will honour all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who served and sacrificed, will come from the regiment, and the sacred battlefield at Beaumont Hamel," added Lt.-Col. Lawrence Hatfield, commanding officer of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is in the process of selecting a gravesite from which to exhume the remains. It's expected the repatriation will take place next summer, a year ahead of the centennial, said Sullivan.

The plan is to have the unknown soldier placed at Confederation Building in the days leading up to his interment so the public can pay their respects, Sullivan added.

Sullivan said he was inspired to lobby for the tomb after learning the unknown soldier in Ottawa was repatriated from Vimy, site of a massive battle in France involving Canadian units.

Terry Roberts/CBC
Terry Roberts/CBC

Since Newfoundland and Labrador did not become a Canadian province until 1949, Sullivan said he didn't feel the unknown soldier in Ottawa represented the sacrifices of the men and women from what was then an independent country.

"Now we'll have our own who will represent our great province," said Sullivan.

Once interred, the unknown soldier will represent Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who served in all branches of the military.

"Whoever the unknown soldier was, and whatever the unknown soldier did, we know he was from Newfoundland and Labrador," said Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrance MacAuley.

"Soon he will be back, to rest for all eternity in the place that he called home."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting