Not that it matters, but I read “The Tin Triangle” [Flanker Press] on June 6. Reminders of D-Day appeared on Facebook and other social media. Reminders of a different war than the one in the book, for sure. Nonetheless, the date seemed timely.
As I read, a notion grew in my noggin. I wished this book had existed when I was a school boy. If it had, perhaps I would not have grown up so stump stund, at least regarding the history of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
Oh, I knew about War Times and once on a bay-boy pilgrimage to Bowring Park I’d seen the statue of the Fighting Newfoundlander. Other than that and a couple of discarded, stripped and damaged Lee Enfield rifles kicking around the community for boys to play with, I was … well, the proverbial stump.
Shame to say, but I was an unexceptional Memorial University scholar and living in a boarding house on Hamel Street in the Capitol before I truly became conscious of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the Battle of Beaumont Hamel.
It bears repeating – stump stund, eh b’ys?
So, what would’ve “The Tin Triangle” taught me if I’d read it as a school boy?
Ron Marrie’s story would’ve taught me that the soldiers of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment hadn’t fought and died only at Beaumont Hamel, the infamous battle the regiment’s history seemed to focus on — at least to me, boy and man, ignorant as a logan.
(Granny said that to me occasionally – “Harry, my son, you’re as ignorant as a logan.” I didn’t get it. I’m still not sure if it truly works as a fitting metaphor for the monumental gaps in my knowledge.)
Anyway, in the book, after Ron Marrie enlists and is shipped off overseas aboard the Florizel, he spends months training in England before the regiment is deployed to Gallipoli.
As in the song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, Ron is not long at Gallipoli before a big Turkish shell knocks him over.
See, well before the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment engaged in combat at Gallipoli, a battle ground on which I thought — because I’m stump stund — only Australians defended king and country.
After the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, Ron Marrie and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment are part of the British assault on the Hindenburg Line and eventually the defeat of Germany.
The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was a visible, admirable presence before and after Beaumont Hamel — not to lessen the horror of the certainly bungled Battle of Beaumont Hamel, of course.
I know that now. In truth, I knew it before reading “The Tin Triangle”. But if the book had existed and I’d read it in school, I would’ve known it sooner. I should’ve known it sooner.
An aside directed to the Department of Education: B’ys, be wise! Get Linda Abbott’s novel, “The Tin Triangle”, into the province’s schools.
About the actual tin triangles …
Before sending the Newfoundland Regiment into battle at Beaumont Hamel, some Master of War had the brilliant idea to have triangles cut from biscuit tins and fastened to the soldiers’ backpacks.
So friendly artillery gunners could easily see the soldiers advancing towards German lines by the light reflecting off the tin. Aim could be adjusted accordingly and barrages fired beyond the regiment into the German trenches.
Of course, after the slaughter, when survivors crawled in retreat towards safety, the tin triangles were targets for German snipers: “Another bullet followed, piercing the tin target on his (Unknown Soldier) back. He collapsed and his face struck the dirt.”
Some honcho at the top didn’t deserve his stripes, eh b’ys?
Among all the horrific scenes in this book — the one that sticks in my mind is seen when there’s a lull in the fighting.
Ron Marrie watches a burial detail digging a mass grave: “I watched the grave diggers sink lower and lower.”
Seeing the diggers slowly descend into the earth’s bowels gave me the cold shivers.
Before the men of the Newfoundland Regiment sail for Gallipoli there is … well, if not a laugh, at least a chuckle.
Gallipoli’s heat in mind, their captain, “a slight grin” on his face says, “You’ll all be sporting shorts instead of long pants.”
“Cap’n,” says Ches Abbott, “tell me this is a joke.”
Imagine — this was a hundred years ago, remember — hardy Newfoundlanders ordered into short pants.
Thank you for reading.
Harold Walters lives in Dunville, Newfoundland, doing his damnedest to live Happily Ever After. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org