Lauren Lambe has only visited Beaumont-Hamel once—as a member of Shallaway—but the visceral connection she felt to the site is fundamental to her current academic work at Memorial.
She vividly remembers how surreal it was to be 16 years old and strolling through the grassy trenches thinking of soldiers struggling through mud and barb wire and over the bodies of dead comrades.
‘So far away’
“It’s such an importance place. It’s so dear to us and yet so far away,” said the third-year history student. She remembers crying when she smelled the spruce, juniper and dogberry trees and bushes surrounding the caribou monument. “They didn’t have that experience when they were there. They were so far away from home.”
The hundred-year gap between Ms. Lambe and the soldiers of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment doesn’t seem that wide to the highly empathetic St. John’s native.
“They were my age and we all have a personal connection to them. We’re such a small place and our society had to start from zero and rebuild,” said Ms. Lambe, adding that the story of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment stays with her and is rarely out of her mind. “We go to a university called Memorial for that very reason—it makes me so proud and sad. Every time I walk into the Arts building.”
She has already written research papers on shell shock, the history of the Caribou monument and about the changing views of the battle of Beaumont-Hamel over the last 100 years.
According to Ms. Lambe, immediately after the battle the focus was on glorifying the loss in order to keep up morale.
“They glazed over the tragedy of it all.”
“In the media at the time the emphasis was on how valiant the fight was and what a great battle it was. They glazed over the tragedy of it all. It was only a decade or so later when a shift happened and the true loss sank in.”
Raising a memorial
It was then that Memorial University College was formally established on Sept. 15, 1925, and the first caribou memorial was unveiled at the site of the battle of Beaumont-Hamel.
“We are who we are today because of those who gave their lives,” said Ms. Lambe, who feels it is the proportionately huge sacrifice that Newfoundland endured that causes Beaumont-Hamel to stand apart.
Ms. Lambe isn’t aware of any family members who were involved in the war, but has read countless memoirs of soldiers who came back and those who didn’t. She says she can’t imagine going that far away and not knowing if you were going to come home.
She is looking forward to seeing Trail of the Caribou, the film featuring Mark Critch, Allan Hawco and Memorial University alumnus Alan Doyle following the footsteps of the Regiment.
“Everyone knows who those guys are and the fact that they went out of their way to make this film to commemorate the anniversary, it just shows that every walk of life is affected by what happened 100 years ago.”
Ms. Lambe’s advisor Dr. Justin Fantauzzo believes that Beaumont-Hamel is just the beginning for Ms. Lambe as a scholar.
“Of course, as a Newfoundlander, Lauren knows well what Beaumont-Hamel means to this province and its people. Her interest in the First World War has subsequently led to a really exciting new project on soldier sexuality and prostitution on the Western Front and in the Middle East.”
She has already accessed oral archives at the Imperial War Museum featuring former soldiers speaking about their experiences.
“It’s something nobody talks about; and it obviously wasn’t written about in their letters home to wives, girlfriends and mothers. Some of the recordings are super funny and the men are so sassy in their recollections. It’s proving to be incredibly interesting.”