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Remains of unknown Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldier to be repatriated this month

The remains of an unknown Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldier who was killed in the First World War will be repatriated from France later this month, says the provincial government.

Soldier to be laid to rest at National War Memorial in St. John’s in July

another view of the vault portion of the tomb of the unknown soldier
This sarcophagus will form the base of the tomb of the unknown soldier at the National War Memorial in St. John's. The soldier will be repatriated to Newfoundland and Labrador this month. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The remains of an unknown Royal Newfoundland Regiment soldier who was killed in the First World War will be repatriated from France later this month, says the provincial government. 

The remains of the unknown soldier are scheduled to be transferred to Canadian officials during a ceremony at Beaumont-Hamel in France on May 25 and will arrive in Newfoundland and Labrador later the same day.

Upon arriving in St. John's, the hearse carrying the casket with the soldier's remains will drive past several significant locations that members of the regiment would have passed before they left St. John's to fight in Europe. 

Leading up to July 1 — Memorial Day as well as Canada Day in the province — the soldier will lie in state at Confederation Building for three days, June 28-30.

On Memorial Day, the soldier will be lowered into a tomb of granite and Labradorite, overlooking the piers of St. John's harbour, from where the regiment would have departed for Europe on ships during the war.

Claire Horton, the director general of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which cares for 23,000 war memorials and cemeteries around the world, said in a press release from the provincial government that the organization is proud to have facilitated the soldier's repatriation.

"He represents the collective contribution and sacrifice of all those from Newfoundland and Labrador who lost their lives in conflict, for the freedoms we all enjoy today," Horton said.

This year, the National War Memorial, which was designated a National Historic Site in 2019, will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

WATCH | The National War Memorial recieves a key part of its $6-million refurbishment: 

Part of tomb delivered for National War Memorial, ahead of historic July 1 ceremony

2 months ago
Duration 0:59
The vault, manufactured by Nova Scotia-based Heritage Memorials, was lowered at the base of the war memorial in downtown St. John’s on Tuesday. The remains of an unknown Newfoundland soldier who died in the First World War will be repatriated from a battlefield in northern France and placed inside the tomb ahead of the 100th anniversary of the memorial on July 1.

Five years ago, the Royal Canadian Legion Newfoundland and Labrador Command sparked plans for the memorial to be refurbished, and the provincial government has been carrying out the work at the site, repairing walkways, stairs and sidewalks and installing a new granite feature wall and ironwork.

an aerial photo of the war memorial in St. John's.
The war memorial is currently under renovations. The provincial government is also paying $2.3 million to four high profile St. John's lawyers to expropriate a prized but unkempt block of land next to the memorial. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

The unknown soldier will represent all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians killed in conflict, not just the devastating losses the regiment suffered at the battle of Beaumont-Hamel. He will represent all branches of the military, including the merchant marine, and those that have no known grave. 

"The tomb of the unknown soldier will be an enduring testament to the fact that they shall never grow old and never be forgotten," said Gen. Wayne D. Eyre, chief of the defence staff for the Canadian Armed Forces, in the press release.

In 2022, the federal and provincial governments, along with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission announced the repatriation would happen this year. 

An unknown soldier from Vimy Ridge was repatriated to Ottawa in 2000, but during the First and Second world wars Newfoundland and Labrador was its own self-governing British dominion, not part of Canada.

About 12,000 Newfoundlanders served during the First World War, with more than 1,700 losing their lives. There are no known graves for about 800 of those killed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Gillis

Journalist

Heather Gillis is a journalist based in St. John's. She has been working at CBC NL since March 2020, but has been reporting in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2011. Heather has a bachelor of journalism from the University of King's College and a bachelor of arts from Memorial University. You can reach her by email at Heather.Gillis@cbc.ca

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