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,
Entrance to the Newfoundland Memorial Park on the Somme battlefield near Beaumont Hamel, France.
With a store name like Imaginary Wars, I’ve always felt we should tread softly while discussing war: though I sell games that cover all kinds of warfare, mostly fictional but some real, at no point do I treat the topic of war lightly. I chose to open this post with the Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont-Hamel and its dedication because I think it resonates with me and how I reconcile my war gaming with the reality of war.
Beaumont-Hamel and the Somme Offensive in 1916
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 was meant to ease pressure off the French army elsewhere along the front–a front that ran westward through France continuously from Switzerland, through Belgium and all the way to the English Chanel.
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%.
War and Imaginary Wars
I’ve met more than a few people who have taken exception to the word “war” being in our store’s name and others who play miniatures games but refuse to play historic based-from-real-events wargames such as Flames of War (both generally reasoning–and I’m painting in broad brush strokes here–that having war in our name or war as a game played for fun was very close to being done in poor taste …not to mention being a little creepy).
I differ in opinion on that.
Remembrance Day remains a somber day for me and, by extension, the store.
Personally, it has resonated with me since my early teen years: though my grandfather’s s wife never allowed him to volunteer for the Canadian army (he worked on the docks in New Brunswick, a job the government deemed vital to Canada’s war effort and thus exempt from all military service), my stepfather, Bill Munro, was a veteran of the Korean war and had not only been injured during the battles when China entered the war but also suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (it was called shell shock back then) …to the point that he went AWOL upon getting back to North America.
I mention the last bit mainly because whenever the subject of war came up from my early teen years onwards (and with me loving wargames and rpgs and miniatures games, it came up often enough) I was only told by Bill that war was a terrible terrible thing: no matter how awesome all the tanks and planes and combat footage looked, war was only ever about seeing your best friend’s head explode right beside you.
His sentiments were only completely reinforced in me years later. My mother told me the very few stories Bill had told her of his war experiences: of enduring the night attacks launched by the Chinese and having to fight for his life in the dark …well after all ammunition had run out. Up to that point, the only stories I had heard from him were about how he, a Canadian citizen, wound up in the U.S. Marine Corps fighting in the Korean Conflict from the very start of the hostilities.
Though I may play (and sell) military games with having fun in mind, the tragedy that is war is not lost on me–be it the major loss of lives in major battles down to the fallout that each survivor had to deal with for the rest of their lives. Sure, I’m interested in the military aspects, the historical aspects—heck, even the action aspects of the games we play; but I don’t embark in these games lightly.
That’s part of the reason why I started today’s post with the Newfoundland Regiment and the first day on the Somme: the battles of the Great War so effectively illustrate the senselessness, the courage and the loss prevalent in war. And if the sheer facts and numbers don’t convey that sense, then certainly the memorials of the Great War do. To me, these solemn reminders pass on the enormity of the loss and the grief that these enormous battles caused.
I’m not trying to be a downer, really I’m not. Like I said above, owning this store and playing these games always has me feeling self conscious every November 11th …to the point that I like to make sure I not only take the time to remember our fallen and those affected by war but also to remind myself of the reality that has informed all these games I play.