Dominion Day 1917

The Dominion Day Shoot

In 1917, July 1st marked the 50th Anniversary of what was then called Dominion Day. The Canadian Corps HQ issued orders that at 12:00 noon “all guns on the Canadian front shall fire” totalling three salvos in two-minute intervals (Wheeler, The 50th Battalion In No Man’s Land, p. 129). From the memoirs of Victor Wheeler, of the 50th (Calgary) Battalion:

‘ “All guns” included those of the Heavy Artillery, Field Artillery, Siege, Field, Howitzer and Anti-Aircraft Batteries. In addition, thousands of machine-guns, trench mortars, bombs and grenades of all descriptions, plus two million rounds of .303 bullets from thousands of Ross and Lee-Enfield rifles thundered magnificently. This was truly the grandest of all sounds ever to simultaneously belch from the barrels and muzzles of Allied guns and trench pieces!’

‘If Orpheus’ music could move trees and rocks, the exquisite music of Canada’s massed guns, played a few short bars at two-minute intervals, must have flattened all the trees and pulverised all the rocks that afforded shelter to the enemy on the Canadian Corps Front. The synchronous delivery of our terrific fire must have convinced l’Armee allemande that Canada had become a Nation that memorable Dominion Day! Bienvenue aux Allemands!’ (Wheeler, The 50th Battalion In No Man’s Land, p. 129).

Canadians celebrating Dominion Day in a village they have recently taken, 1 July 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001414.
(modified from the original)

1 July 2017 – Memorial Day, NFLD

1 July 1917 – 2017
Memorial Day – Newfoundland & Labrador

The launching of the Battle of the Somme was first announced with an air of celebration in newspapers on 1 July 1916. The St. John’s Daily Star July 1, 1916. Courtesy of the Digital Archives Initiative, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL.

Today we gather with our families and communities to celebrate Canada Day, marking the 150th Anniversary of our nation. In the midst of these celebrations, it is important to note that for some this day also marks sadness. In Newfoundland & Labrador, July 1st marks a sombre anniversary; that of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s massive losses at Beaumont-Hamel. On 1 July 1916, the youth of Newfoundland went over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. In just half an hour, the entire regiment would be destroyed, suffering 324 killed and 386 wounded. Of 801 available men, only 68 volunteers could answer roll call the next morning.

As casualty lists began to trickle in, the horrific losses of that first day became apparent. The St. John’s Daily Star July 13, 1916. Courtesy of the Digital Archives Initiative, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, NL.

In response to these great losses, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador established their own day of mourning, actually preceding Remembrance/Armistice Day of 11 November, by marking 1 July 1917 as their Memorial Day. Consequently, 1 July 2017 is not just the 150th year of Canada, but also the 100th Anniversary of Memorial Day. In Newfoundland and Labrador, 1 July is first and foremost Memorial Day, marked by the observance of solemn ceremonies at cenotaphs, honouring the province’s immense sacrifices. Only after these sacrifices have been mourned does the province begin the transition to the celebration of Canada Day in the afternoon.

This sign marked a trench line in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s sector during their attack at Beaumont-Hamel.
© IWM London (FEQ 68)