Tread softly here! Go reverently and slow!
Yea, let your soul go down upon its knees,
And with bowed head and heart abased strive hard
To grasp the future gain in this sore loss!
For not one foot of this dank sod but drank
Its surfeit of the blood of gallant men.
Who, for their faith, their hope,—for Life and Liberty,
Here made the sacrifice,—here gave their lives.
And gave right willingly—for you and me.
From this vast altar—pile the souls of men
Sped up to God in countless multitudes:
On this grim cratered ridge they gave their all.
And, giving, won
The peace of Heaven and Immortality.
Our hearts go out to them in boundless gratitude:
If ours—then God’s: for His vast charity
All sees, all knows, all comprehends—save bounds.
He has repaid their sacrifice:—and we—?
God help us if we fail to pay our debt
In fullest full and unstintingly!
John Oxenham (1852-1941)
-Dedication stone at the entrance to the Newfoundland Memorial Park on the Somme battlefield near Beaumont Hamel, France.
I chose to show the Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont-Hamel because I think it resonates with me and how I reconcile my war gaming with what war really is—but more on that in a moment.
For those who aren’t versed in Canada’s Great War history: Newfoundland in the First World War was the Dominion of Newfoundland and not yet part of Canada, though still a member of the British Commonwealth. Despite its small population, it had managed to raise a full 1000-man battalion: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which was incorporated into the third of the three brigades (the 88th) in the British 29th Division.
The Newfoundland Regiment was in the 29th Division for the Gallipoli campaign (disaster). Of note: they were not only part of the initial landings in 1915, but they were also one of the last divisions to leave Gallipoli in early 1916. The Newfoundland Regiment was then moved to the Beaumont-Hamel region on the Western Front in April, 1916, where the Somme Offensive was to commence in the summer months. The Somme Offensive was a huge undertaking: it was to be a line of attack approximately forty kilometers in length and meant to ease pressure off the French army elsewhere along the front that ran contiguously from Switzerland all the way to the English Chanel in Belgium.
On the opening morning of the Somme Offensive (July 1, 1916), after receiving their orders to move forward at 8:45, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment moved through their communications trenches towards the enemy at the front line—trenches that were fully targetable by German machine gunners. The regiment was mired, moving through trenches choked with casualties as, being some of the only fully visible British soldiers visible to the German defenders, they took the full brunt of the Germans’ defensive fire. Within fifteen-to-twenty minutes of moving out at 8:45, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s 22 officers and 758 soldiers were annihilated; of the 780 men who went forward only 68 were available for roll call the following day. For all intents and purposes the Newfoundland Regiment had been wiped out, the unit as a whole having suffered a casualty rate of approximately 90%.
I have a friend who plays miniatures games that refuses to get into Flames of War—any war games for that matter, his reasoning being that “gaming” events and battle where real people really lost their lives is in poor taste and just generally …creepy.
Him and I differ in opinion on that.
I may play war games and be intensely interested in the military aspects, the historical aspects—heck, even the action aspects of the games we play; but I don’t think I embark in these games so lightly. Even though I may marvel at the sheer grimness of facts behind the battles and try to bring some of that into all the battle games I play, the tragedy that is war is not lost on me.
I think I’m interested in that touch or realistic war in my gaming–not because I hope to glorify battle but because it’s academically fun & interesting to see how my decisions fare when faced with similar choices that historically had to be made; and also because I do strive to understand what the soldiers (of any nationality) had gone through and empathize with them.
I think that’s part of the reason why I’m so drawn to the Great War memorials: they are solemn reminders not just of the cost of war, but I think they convey a sense of sorrow and a sense of the tragedy of war. I think they speak of grandeur and glory…but grandeur and glory accompanied by an almost unbearable cost.
For me, none do this more so than the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge and the Newfoundland Memorial Park near Beaumont Hamel (which I seem to half remember that it was the wives of the Newfoundland men who died on the first day of the Somme Offensive who initiated the efforts that would later result in Newfoundland buying the 74 acres of land near Beaumont Hamel that would later become the Memorial Park).
The Canadian attack on Vimy Ridge was the first time in the First World War that all four Canadian Divisions fought together in one spot; for the first time ever, Canadians from all parts of the country fought together towards a common goal, a specific objective–but again at a tremendous cost.
A quick read on the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
I think I don’t shy away from emulating historic battles and war into my gaming because ultimately I want to understand and empathize with those who have been burdened by war: I may never know what it is to experience the thrill, boredom, camaraderie and absolute terror of war, but the least I can do to honour the memory of those who have suffered is understand some of the realities of battle (if not war in general) that they had to endure.
On a last note, a hobby-related note, I discovered the website DocuWatch–which has well over 2,000 streaming documentaries (400 on war alone!). Here are links to documentaries on Canada’s involvement in the Somme Offensive and Vimy Ridge.
But enough rambling from me.