This year’s 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel drew a lot of public attention – and a lot of special visitors to the province.
One of the most familiar faces was Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth – and the Colonel-in-Chief of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. She was a special guest at many public and private functions, as the province remembered and honoured those who fought and died at Beaumont-Hamel.
One of her most memorable visits with those who served was a private one to the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion in St. John’s – where she spoke with all veterans who were able…both those in residence there, and those who attended as guests.
Formalities were kept to a minimum, in order to allow the Colonel time to speak one-on-one with the men and women who served in combat and other war efforts, in both World War 2 and the Korean War.
Veterans like 93-year-old George Hudson of St. John’s, who served from 1942-1945. He drove heavy artillery, as a ‘bat man’ the nickname for an officer’s aide, and he and the Princess chatted about where he had served overseas. She was the second member of the royal family he’d met – having met her younger brother Prince Edward several years ago during his visit to St. John’s. He feels these royal visits are nice, given how patriotic many Newfoundlanders are to the British monarchy.
Right Place. Right Time.
Charles Starkes is a 94-year-old native of Greenspond, Bonavista Bay who served in the Royal Navy, on a British aircraft carrier. He’s also a member of the Singing Legionnaires, no strangers to the Veterans Pavilion. “I enjoyed meeting her,” he said. “It’s a big boost for those people here, as royals are very popular here.”
So what did the Colonel-in-Chief ask him about? “She was wanting to know about my medals, and why some have more medals than others,” he explained. “I told her you have to be in the right place at the right time!”
Some of the veterans shared stories with Princess Anne that struck a personal chord with her. Pavilion resident Gerald Greenslade, a 96-year-old veteran of the Second World War, regaled her with a wartime tale about the time he and a fellow soldier spotted two young women trying to fix a vehicle – and offered to help.
When the women turned around, one of them was a young Princess Elizabeth. The future queen was on a training exercise, and not allowed to accept help!
On Porridge and Peace
And speaking of young women: Ida Mary Leonard is about to turn 95 years old, and vividly recalls her service in the Royal Air Force. The native of Scotland was station in London during the “Blitz” – the name applied by the British press to the heavy and frequent bombing raids carried out over Britain in 1940 and 1941.
Ida remembers sleeping in air raid shelters during those intense days. “It was a time when you had to ‘pack up your kit bag and be ready to go’ – just like in the old war song: ‘Pack up your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag, and Smile, Smile, Smile.’”
Ida married a Newfoundlander in the forestry unit, stationed overseas during the war – and arrived in Newfoundland on VJ Day in 1945. She chatted at length with Princess Anne about her experiences. “It feels very special that members of the royal family think about veterans, who in pride volunteered for their country,” she says. “That they would make the trip from their own country to be amongst veterans in other countries – it’s special.”
Ida, who attributes her longevity and good health to ‘eating porridge,’ is very aware of the ongoing struggle for peace around the world – and those who would threaten it. And she believes today, as she did during her war service, that it’s an individual responsibility, quoting another well-known song: “Let There Peace on Earth – and Let it Begin in Me.”
A Day to Remember
The staff at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion consider it an honour to serve those who served both past and present generations so well – and to provide the care and comfort they deserve at this time in their lives. They recognize the debt that is owed for the service the veterans gave – and were prepared to give – not knowing what a day might bring.
On this day, June 30, 2016, it brought a royal Colonel-in-Chief, who also recognized those who served – and those who serve those who served. She departed with a smile and her signature in the Caribou Pavilion’s guest book – a simple name that spoke of old ties and new memories. ■
This story was written by Deborah Collins, a communications manager with Eastern Health.