St. John's war memorial will be a 'special place' with remains of unknown soldier, say veterans

Members of the Royal Canadian Legion and the provincial government hope revitalization work on the National War Memorial in St. John's will be finished by 2024, including the addition of a tomb for an unknown Newfoundland soldier. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Members of the Royal Canadian Legion and the provincial government hope revitalization work on the National War Memorial in St. John's will be finished by 2024, including the addition of a tomb for an unknown Newfoundland soldier. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC - image credit)
Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

As Remembrance Day approaches, members of the Royal Canadian Legion, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the provincial government are working to revitalize the National War Memorial in St. John's to include the tomb of an unknown Newfoundland soldier by 2024.

Frank Sullivan, past president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 34 Southern Shore, said plans have been in the works since 2020.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has approved the repatriation of a Newfoundland soldier from France, and Sullivan says he could come from Beaumont Hamel.

"We know for a fact he's a soldier of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who is coming home," he said Monday.

Culture Minister Steve Crocker said officials are aiming for the work to be done by July 1, 2024 — the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the National War Memorial.

"It was 98 years ago that this memorial was officially dedicated. And I think it would be so fitting, 100 years later, that we have a redesigned memorial that's more accessible and includes that tomb of an unknown soldier," Crocker said.

The creation of a tomb for an unknown soldier in St. John's would put the war memorial on par with memorials in other Commonwealth countries, Sullivan said — an important designation, as Newfoundland was its own country, part of the British empire, during the First World War.

"Our memorial predates the Canadian war memorial by 15 years," he said. "If they can do it for all these other Commonwealth countries, why can't they do it for us?"

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Gary Browne, a member of the legion who served in the Canadian Armed Forces in the 1960s, said the repatriation of a soldier would add to the uniqueness of the memorial in St. John's — one of only two national war memorials in Canada.

"Many, many thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are going to want to come here for the remains, one of our boys being finally brought home," Browne said. "It's going to be a spiritual, special place."

The day that he is repatriated and the ceremony leading up to that, it should be a real day of strength and unity for the province." - Lt.-Col. Lawrence Hatfield

Lt.-Col. Lawrence Hatfield, commanding officer of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, says the repatriation will be a big honour for the regiment, as the soldier will represent all generations of the military.

"He gets to represent everybody from this province who served in almost every conflict. And I also think he represents everyone who still serves," Hatfield said.

"I'm a Newfoundlander who lived away for too many years. And I think too often we send young men and women outside of the province. Our greatest strength is our young men and women, so to bring one back symbolically I think is really important."

Jeremy Eaton/CBC
Jeremy Eaton/CBC

Work to begin the revitalization process could begin as early as the end of November, Browne said. All parties involved are eager to get the process started, and are already looking forward to the unveiling in 2024.

"The day that he is repatriated and the ceremony leading up to that, it should be a real day of strength and unity for the province," Hatfield said.

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