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A monumental effort


When young Michael John White left Little Bona, Placentia Bay, in 1917 to enlist in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and head to Europe to fight for Britain in the Great War, his little fishing village was a much different place than it is today.

There were houses and outhouses, few in number, weathered and salt-toughened flakes and stages, and the small, white skiffs and punts common to a fishing town. The only light in the deep darkness of the cove at night was the soft, yellow glow of the oil lamps in windows.

RELATED STORY CLICK HERE

Today, Little Bona is barren, the structures long gone after changes in the fishery and resettlement.

But there’s a part of White remaining in the cove — a monument in honour of the soldier who died in that faraway war. It holds a prominent spot, proudly overlooking the cove.

It is that memorial that brought a group of Canadian soldiers and fish and wildlife enforcement officers to the town nearly 100 years after White’s death.

They arrived by boat last Sunday afternoon and camped overnight in the remote area. The mission: to repair, clean and reassemble the monument that had fallen into a state of disrepair.

Fish and wildlife enforcement officer Doug Hayes, after noticing the monument had tumbled over, got in contact with Master Warrant Officer Bruce King at Canadian Forces Station St. John’s, which led to this week’s trip.

“This is a very proud day for me,” Hayes said. “This is finally getting done.”

Both Hayes and King agree it was obvious the people of Little Bona thought a lot about their war hero.

“It was done by somebody with a lot of skill. Somebody must have put in a lot of money back then to purchase such a large monument and to have all the engraving and lettering done,” King said.

“This is a fair-size stone. It took a lot of effort to get that there.”

When news of the war made its way to Little Bona — maybe from the crews of schooners coming to collect the town’s salt fish, or from the visits of others from settlements in the bay, or on Sundays when they sailed to another community to attend church — the word also came that boys from towns and coves all over the province were travelling to St. John’s to join up.

It was a chance for adventure, to see the world outside the high cliffs and hills around Little Bona.

But White had a problem. He was too young and could only dream about it as the early years of the war raged on.

Finally, on Nov. 15, 1917, he filled out his enlistment papers in St. John’s. Though he was only 16 and still underage, he wrote “19 years, eight months” on the documents — a trick employed by many young men of the time and usually overlooked by recruitment officers.

Sitting on the hillside at Little Bona early on Monday morning, you wonder what conversations were held here when White made it known to his parents and other residents of the town — a 1921 census shows 26 people in five households — that he was going to sign up.

At Little Bona after daybreak, a strong overnight wind died down and gently brushed the tall grass trying to claim the old foundations of a house. All the sounds of the cove echoed in the hills around.

The clear ocean water of the inlet lapped the rounded shore, and bluejays and seabirds sang and called from the wooded hill. A trickling brook sounding much bigger than it is flowed amid the moss and grass, down past the overgrown potato gardens, from a pond up over the hill where former residents likely got their fresh water.

These are the same sounds White would have heard. A fisherman, he was used to getting up early.

On his enlistment documents, White listed his father, Joseph, as his next of kin. Did his father approve? Did his shouts of anger also echo in these hills at the thought of his son leaving for Europe, or did he remain silent?

The last battle of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the First World War came near the Belgium town of Ledeghem on Oct. 3, 1918 — the day White was killed in action.

The regiment sustained casualties — many from artillery fire at a place called Ooteghem-Inghem, although it is not known if that is where White was killed.

The war ended just over a month later.

A cable received by officials in St. John’s on Oct. 31, 1918 states, “Regret to inform you that Record Office, London, officially reports No. 4121 Private Michael White killed in action October 3rd.”

The message was to be delivered to White’s parents by a Roman Catholic priest or a schoolteacher.

On June 10, 1919, White’s father received a letter from the regiment’s casualty officer along with “some effects belonging to your late son.”

Sometime later in Little Bona, the tall marble monument was erected on an outcropping of rock on the hillside.

After cleaning and reassembling the monument Sunday evening and Monday morning, the soldiers and officers held a rededication, flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremony at the site.

Capt. Glen Eagleson, station padre, conducted the service. He said everyone he talked to about what the group was doing in Little Bona thought it was an amazing undertaking.

“To think young Private White leaving this spot to travel to France to fight for Britain at that time, just blows my mind. Just the trip from here to St. John’s at that time to get the boat across is just incredible,” he said.

“And it’s great to be able to be here today to honour his memory. In all our military services one of the things we always finish with is the Act of Remembrance and it ends with the phrase, ‘We will remember them,’ and this is a real way of doing that, taking time and an effort to remember someone who gave all for his country.”

A recording of the Canadian national anthem and the “Last Post” were played, followed by a moment of silence. The colours of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were raised on a flagpole the soldiers had brought along and erected next to the monument. King and Hayes laid wreaths on behalf of their respective groups.

While breaking camp, loading the boats and leaving Little Bona — and looking up at the newly restored monument and Royal Newfoundland Regiment flag blowing in the wind — there was an overwhelming feeling of pride amongst the group.

“On days like today, I believe I have the best job in the world,” Eagleson said.

 

gwhiffen@thetelegram.com

There were houses and outhouses, few in number, weathered and salt-toughened flakes and stages, and the small, white skiffs and punts common to a fishing town. The only light in the deep darkness of the cove at night was the soft, yellow glow of the oil lamps in windows.

RELATED STORY CLICK HERE

Today, Little Bona is barren, the structures long gone after changes in the fishery and resettlement.

But there’s a part of White remaining in the cove — a monument in honour of the soldier who died in that faraway war. It holds a prominent spot, proudly overlooking the cove.

It is that memorial that brought a group of Canadian soldiers and fish and wildlife enforcement officers to the town nearly 100 years after White’s death.

They arrived by boat last Sunday afternoon and camped overnight in the remote area. The mission: to repair, clean and reassemble the monument that had fallen into a state of disrepair.

Fish and wildlife enforcement officer Doug Hayes, after noticing the monument had tumbled over, got in contact with Master Warrant Officer Bruce King at Canadian Forces Station St. John’s, which led to this week’s trip.

“This is a very proud day for me,” Hayes said. “This is finally getting done.”

Both Hayes and King agree it was obvious the people of Little Bona thought a lot about their war hero.

“It was done by somebody with a lot of skill. Somebody must have put in a lot of money back then to purchase such a large monument and to have all the engraving and lettering done,” King said.

“This is a fair-size stone. It took a lot of effort to get that there.”

When news of the war made its way to Little Bona — maybe from the crews of schooners coming to collect the town’s salt fish, or from the visits of others from settlements in the bay, or on Sundays when they sailed to another community to attend church — the word also came that boys from towns and coves all over the province were travelling to St. John’s to join up.

It was a chance for adventure, to see the world outside the high cliffs and hills around Little Bona.

But White had a problem. He was too young and could only dream about it as the early years of the war raged on.

Finally, on Nov. 15, 1917, he filled out his enlistment papers in St. John’s. Though he was only 16 and still underage, he wrote “19 years, eight months” on the documents — a trick employed by many young men of the time and usually overlooked by recruitment officers.

Sitting on the hillside at Little Bona early on Monday morning, you wonder what conversations were held here when White made it known to his parents and other residents of the town — a 1921 census shows 26 people in five households — that he was going to sign up.

At Little Bona after daybreak, a strong overnight wind died down and gently brushed the tall grass trying to claim the old foundations of a house. All the sounds of the cove echoed in the hills around.

The clear ocean water of the inlet lapped the rounded shore, and bluejays and seabirds sang and called from the wooded hill. A trickling brook sounding much bigger than it is flowed amid the moss and grass, down past the overgrown potato gardens, from a pond up over the hill where former residents likely got their fresh water.

These are the same sounds White would have heard. A fisherman, he was used to getting up early.

On his enlistment documents, White listed his father, Joseph, as his next of kin. Did his father approve? Did his shouts of anger also echo in these hills at the thought of his son leaving for Europe, or did he remain silent?

The last battle of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in the First World War came near the Belgium town of Ledeghem on Oct. 3, 1918 — the day White was killed in action.

The regiment sustained casualties — many from artillery fire at a place called Ooteghem-Inghem, although it is not known if that is where White was killed.

The war ended just over a month later.

A cable received by officials in St. John’s on Oct. 31, 1918 states, “Regret to inform you that Record Office, London, officially reports No. 4121 Private Michael White killed in action October 3rd.”

The message was to be delivered to White’s parents by a Roman Catholic priest or a schoolteacher.

On June 10, 1919, White’s father received a letter from the regiment’s casualty officer along with “some effects belonging to your late son.”

Sometime later in Little Bona, the tall marble monument was erected on an outcropping of rock on the hillside.

After cleaning and reassembling the monument Sunday evening and Monday morning, the soldiers and officers held a rededication, flag-raising and wreath-laying ceremony at the site.

Capt. Glen Eagleson, station padre, conducted the service. He said everyone he talked to about what the group was doing in Little Bona thought it was an amazing undertaking.

“To think young Private White leaving this spot to travel to France to fight for Britain at that time, just blows my mind. Just the trip from here to St. John’s at that time to get the boat across is just incredible,” he said.

“And it’s great to be able to be here today to honour his memory. In all our military services one of the things we always finish with is the Act of Remembrance and it ends with the phrase, ‘We will remember them,’ and this is a real way of doing that, taking time and an effort to remember someone who gave all for his country.”

A recording of the Canadian national anthem and the “Last Post” were played, followed by a moment of silence. The colours of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were raised on a flagpole the soldiers had brought along and erected next to the monument. King and Hayes laid wreaths on behalf of their respective groups.

While breaking camp, loading the boats and leaving Little Bona — and looking up at the newly restored monument and Royal Newfoundland Regiment flag blowing in the wind — there was an overwhelming feeling of pride amongst the group.

“On days like today, I believe I have the best job in the world,” Eagleson said.

 

gwhiffen@thetelegram.com

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