Bringing Him Home: the story of the repatriation of an unknown Newfoundland Soldier

Pallbearers from 1st and 2nd Battalion The Royal Newfoundland Regiment carry the remains of an unknown Newfoundland Soldier during the ramp ceremony in Lille, France on May 25. CPL ANTOINE BROCHU

Bringing Him Home: the story of the repatriation of an unknown Newfoundland Soldier 

Newfoundland members of 37 Canadian Brigade Group read the names of members of the Newfoundland Regiment who lost their lives at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1st 1916, during Operation Distinction – Repatriation of an Unknown Newfoundland Soldier at Beaumont-Hamel, France on May 23. CPL ANTOINE BROCHU

By Captain Jordan Mitchell,
Task Force PAO Operation Distinction 

On May 25, a delegation of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members flew to Normandy, France as part Operation Distinction to bring home the remains of a Newfoundland Soldier who died in the First World War and was never identified. The Canadian delegation, joined by representatives from the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador, the Royal Canadian Legion, and Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), received his remains during a ceremony in Beaumont-Hamel before he was flown to St. John’s where he was carried by procession through the streets to an undisclosed location. The soldier’s remains will rest there until the unveiling of his tomb in July. 

Following the Repatriation of the unknown Newfoundland Soldier, it is appropriate to reflect on the significance of these events. It is right to be proud of those CAF members, reservist and regular force, who took part in the repatriation and who came from Newfoundland based units, the legacies of which date back to before Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949. These members were joined by members from units in mainland Canada who share with them a legacy of service to the nation. We stand in awe and respect of the people of Newfoundland & Labrador, who came out by the thousands to line the streets of St. John’s in an act of remembrance and pride at the return of one of their own, while also recognizing him as one of the CAF’s collective own. Though at the time he fell he was a citizen of the Dominion of Newfoundland, now, as fellow Canadians, we embrace him and all those who died in service prior to their homeland’s entry into confederation. 

How do we recognize the uniqueness of Newfoundland and Labrador’s history while also embracing and promoting unity? We do so by recognizing and appreciating the community, and embracing them as fellow Canadians and CAF members. 

The next step in the repatriation of the unknown Newfoundland Soldier will be a public laying in state at the Confederation Building (Newfoundland & Labrador) from June 28th to June 30th, followed by the official reburial on July 1st. 

Once buried at the National War Memorial in St. John’s on July 1st, the Tomb of an Unknown Newfoundland Soldier will act as a gravesite for those Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and others who served the Dominion of Newfoundland who have no known grave. It will also be a place where all Canadians can and should go to pay their respects, as is done with the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa. 

As the CAF looks to the future and continues to evolve, we must always remember: our diversity makes us strong! In the spirit of the 37 Canadian Brigade Group motto, which Newfoundland based reserve units fall under, “Together we are stronger.”