The Grenfell Campus community will now have a powerful reminder of Newfoundland and Labrador’s First World War history when walking past the Forest Centre.
The Danger Tree commemorative statue was officially dedicated June 29 on Memorial’s west coast campus.
The large bronze sculpture is a powerful representation of the tree that came to symbolize not only the tragic losses, but also the determination that defined the advance of the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916.
The Danger Tree, as it became known following the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, was a solitary tree that remained standing on the battlefield, despite being ravaged by shell and gunfire from both sides. The tree was located in the middle of no man’s land near a gap in the barbed wire, approximately halfway between the British and German front lines in the French countryside. Many Newfoundlanders converged on the location attempting to advance; it was there that many of them fell.
The Princess Royal
The unveiling of the Danger Tree’s memorial plaque took place in the presence of Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s colonel-in-chief. Many municipal, provincial, national and international dignitaries and veterans were also present, as well as members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment Band.
It is a day that marks the culmination of a tremendous effort from the Forget-Me-Not Committee and its chair, Dave Higdon.
Mr. Higdon has been working diligently during the last five years to help preserve the memories of fallen soldiers by funding the creation of a series of commemorative statues.
“A small wreath on a small block is not good enough.”
His quest was initially sparked while attending a Remembrance Day ceremony in 2010. During the ceremony, a mother of a soldier killed in service laid a small wreath in her son’s memory. Mr. Higdon says he was saddened to watch the woman lay a token of love on the small block of granite on the ground that served as a memorial plaque. A small wreath on a small block, thought Mr. Higdon, is not good enough. The idea of the new monuments was born.
From vision to reality
In the case of the Danger Tree project, it was visual artist and bronze sculptor Morgan MacDonald who would ultimately bring the Forget-Me-Not Committee’s vision to life. A Corner Brook native and alumnus of Memorial University, Mr. MacDonald says he was attracted to the project because the story is “such an important part” of this province’s history.
“The appeal of the Danger Tree is that it is an iconic story of Newfoundland and Labrador,” he said. “I am surprised by how many people I encounter who are not familiar with something so important to our history. We can see many examples of well-known stories that are revered and retold in a national context, yet this is not given the attention it deserves.”
The Danger Tree is the latest in a series of memorial sculptures created by Mr. MacDonald. To date, three of his statues of remembrance have been placed in Corner Brook. A caribou representing the Royal Newfoundland Regiment stands at the War Memorial in Curling; two soldiers—one representing the First World War era and a second representing a Canadian soldier from the Afghanistan War—are installed at Remembrance Square.
Living Memorial Commemoration Fund
For his part, Mr. Higdon has long thought that, as an institution of higher learning dedicated to the lives of Newfoundland and Labrador’s war dead, Memorial University is a fitting place for the Danger Tree. With that in mind, in 2012 he presented the idea of the project to Dr. Mary Bluechardt, vice-president, Grenfell Campus, during the unveiling of the caribou statue ceremony. With Dr. Bluechardt’s endorsement, Mr. Higdon and the committee garnered the necessary financial support, which included an investment from the university’s Living Memorial Commemoration Fund, and a wide range of individual and corporate donations.
“The university is a living memorial to those we lost in the war.”
“The university is a living memorial to those we lost in the war,” said Mr. Higdon. “I don’t believe the story of those origins is told as well as it should be. The vision for Memorial University in 1925 was that the memory of those who fought and died in the First World War would be honoured through education, by making the world a better place. That’s why the students of today are here and we all need to remember that.”
Memorial University College was established in 1925 as a living memorial to those who had lost their lives on active service during the First World War. Memorial University was later rededicated to also encompass the province’s war dead of the Second World War. For more about the university’s First World War 2014-19 commemorations, please visit here.