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A reminder of the horrors of war

The descendants of George Hicks were proud to supply some of his military keepsakes to the Beaumont Hamel Interpretation Centre. Pictured at the display during their visit this past summer are his granddaughters Ann Bevin-Baker and Jennifer Hamilton as well as his daughter Elizabeth Walters.
The descendants of George Hicks were proud to supply some of his military keepsakes to the Beaumont Hamel Interpretation Centre. Pictured at the display during their visit this past summer are his granddaughters Ann Bevin-Baker and Jennifer Hamilton as well as his daughter Elizabeth Walters.

Grand Falls-Windsor, NL- Elizabeth Walters remembers her dad, a decorated war veteran, often speaking of the futility of war.

She now knows more than ever exactly what he meant.

George Hicks fought for King and Country, twice, and while his descendants have always been proud of his sacrifice, a trip by Walters and her two daughters this past summer served to galvanize their thoughts of what he and his comrades endured to preserve peace.

Walters was joined by daughters Ann Bevin-Baker and Jennifer Hamilton on a tour of many of the infamous battles of the First World War, particularly Beaumont Hamel.

Hicks was injured on July 1, 1916 and returned to Newfoundland before recruiting 200 more soldiers from around Notre Dame Bay to join the fight overseas and himself returning to duty.

His second tour is when he earned the Military Cross and Bar.

Visiting Beaumont Hamel and other areas of military history significance had a number of defining moments, Walters told the Advertiser.

One of those moving moments came on the way to Beaumont Hamel on the tour bus with 21 others.

She now knows more than ever exactly what he meant.

George Hicks fought for King and Country, twice, and while his descendants have always been proud of his sacrifice, a trip by Walters and her two daughters this past summer served to galvanize their thoughts of what he and his comrades endured to preserve peace.

Walters was joined by daughters Ann Bevin-Baker and Jennifer Hamilton on a tour of many of the infamous battles of the First World War, particularly Beaumont Hamel.

Hicks was injured on July 1, 1916 and returned to Newfoundland before recruiting 200 more soldiers from around Notre Dame Bay to join the fight overseas and himself returning to duty.

His second tour is when he earned the Military Cross and Bar.

Visiting Beaumont Hamel and other areas of military history significance had a number of defining moments, Walters told the Advertiser.

One of those moving moments came on the way to Beaumont Hamel on the tour bus with 21 others.

One of her keepsakes of the trip is this Poppy that she picked in Flander’s Fields – where John McCrae got his idea and she pressed for preservation.

“Our tour leader asked me to share Dad’s story on the bus,” she said. “It took us about a hour to travel there and it was so emotional as we were going closer and closer.

“The service went well but it was much better for me the next morning when we went early to be there by ourselves,” she continued, the emotions of that moment still evident in her voice.

“Jonathan Newsam was our tour guide and had been guiding for 20 plus years. He knew everything from A-Z,” she said. “He took me by the arm and said, ‘You and your daughters come to me and I’ll show you exactly where your dad went down from what you’re telling me.’”

The Beaumont Hamel Interpretation Centre visit was another defining moment for the travellers. The family had donated some items from their father’s old footlocker to the centre and Walters was delighted to view the display.

While he reflected, particularly in two books and his many speeches, he didn’t often speak of war. Walters noted that her father never glorified war and lamented the fact that he had lost so many friends.

That memory was driven home to her on a number of occasions as they viewed burial sites and plaques listing the many who paid the supreme sacrifice.

“To see people stopping and looking and reading – we didn’t know who they were but to think all these young fellows 18-years-old, 17-years-old had lost their lives, it was so moving,” she said.

Walters had done considerable research leading up to the trip, preparing her for the visit. All her research couldn’t have prepared her for the emotion of some of the sites.

At one point they visited dressing stations where they brought dead and dying during battles.

“It was just concrete bunkers, moldy and freezing cold. I can just imagine the nursing sisters in there,” she said, reflecting on the experience.

A vast swath of farmland that was rendered useless due to the war particularly struck her.

“To look at the acres and acres and acres that cannot be used because there could be live ammunition — it’s sad,” Walters said. “Over at Vimy they use sheep to mow.

“And to think of all the thousands of persons who are there because of the futility of war it makes you wonder,” she continued. “There are so many cemeteries with ‘Known only to God’ written there – these are the things that really brought it home to me.”

A visit to a German war cemetery also left a lasting impression on the retired schoolteacher.

“In this German cemetery I was really struck by the stark metal crosses and there were four soldiers buried in front and four buried behind,” she said.

Probably the most moving of personal experiences for Walters actually came through the writing and acting of a fellow tour attendee, whom she called “a special treat.”

Lloyd White, a retired teacher from Twillingate has written a one man, two-act play on Beaumont Hamel entitled “Forget Us Not”.

“It’s about a couple from any little community in Newfoundland whose son enlisted.

They didn’t want him to go over but, he lost his life,” she explained. “In the play, Billy (the dad) is on the hilltop; it’s July 1 and while there he’s talking out loud…”

“He did a five minute vignette for us on the bus - ohhh, it would bring you to tears,” she continued. “The next morning at the Beaumont Hamel cenotaph Lloyd borrowed (a) woman’s cane and he leaned on it and looked at the Memorial and the Danger Tree and No Man’s Land and said, ‘Billy my son, they tells us that when yous went over the top when you got that whistle blown and you had to go, they tells us that yous was all crying out for your mother. Billy my son was you one of them?’

“I tell you that was the icing on the cake. . . it is so moving,” Walters said.

Elizabeth Walters of Grand Falls-Windsor and her two daughters took a long-awaited visit to Europe last summer for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont Hamel. She has preserved the memories from the trip in a scrapbook. She is pictured at home looking at a photo of her father, veteran George Hicks, when he was at the site in 1960 as site development was beginning.

Past memories

Walters said her father, who was a schoolteacher before enlisting at age 27, was very involved in the Legion and was local leader of the Home Guard.

He was involved all the way up through our lives, so we heard about it. He didn’t dwell on it. If he was preparing a speech you’d always be part of it as he’d be rehearsing it,” she noted.

Special times of the year like July 1 and Remembrance Day there was a heightened awareness about the past war efforts.

She also holds some memories of remembrance activities and war support efforts.

“As a little girl I remember selling Forget me Nots on the corner with my mom,” she said. “When in Kindergarten the room upstairs was used for packing parcels for the Second World War. Our mother was very actively involved in that.”

The family has held on to some of her father’s items, but much of it has been shared through donations to the Beaumont Hamel site and the Rooms exhibits in St. John’s.

Seeing his items and walking the grounds where her father and thousands of others fought for freedom was moving, and she now knows for certain that sharing these artifacts was the right thing to do.

Walters had considered taking this trip for years but is glad that she waited for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Beaumont Hamel.

“I’m happy now that all this is done,” she said. “Dad spoke of how courageous everyone was to join up for King and Country, and this is what our freedom is all about.”

 

Randy.edison@tc.tc

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