Hundreds of people pay their respects as the Unknown Soldier of Newfoundland lies in state

Hundreds of people pay their respects as the Unknown Soldier of Newfoundland lies in state
Hundreds of people pay their respects as the Unknown Soldier of Newfoundland lies in state

The line of people waiting to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier of Newfoundland moved steadily, with about 80 people waiting at any given time. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

“Solemn, sad and grateful.”

Dennis Squires of Clarenville says these three words express his feelings while paying respect to the unknown soldier of Newfoundland who died in France during the First World War more than 100 years ago.

Squires was one of hundreds of people who lined up Saturday morning for a public visit outside the Confederation Building in St. John’s, where the soldier’s remains lie in state ahead of their burial at the National War Memorial on Monday.

Squires drove from Clarenville to St. John’s specifically to see the unknown soldier.

“It means a lot to me,” said Squires, who was in the Army Cadets as a youngster. “Now that I had the opportunity to come here, I couldn’t pass it up. This is an opportunity of a lifetime and I’m so happy it all happened. And to the soldiers and leaders who put this together, we would thank them. This is our generation. We’re going to see this. And it won’t be surpassed by anything else that will happen, I’m sure.”

Dorothy Woodd of Gander also made the trip from her summer home in Plate Cove East to ensure she too had a chance to pay her respects.

“I felt like I had to be here,” Woodd said. ‘My great-uncle John Thomas Doyle never returned. He is an unknown grave.”

The possibility that it was a relative played on the minds of many people who visited the coffin.

LOOK | Emotions run high as these people pay their respects to the unknown soldier of Newfoundland:

These Newfoundlanders share their feelings as they wait to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier

Hundreds of people lined up outside the Confederation Building in St. John’s Saturday morning for their chance to visit the casket of the Unknown Soldier. CBC’s William Ping spoke with some of the people in line about the importance of remembering the soldier’s sacrifice.

“That was extra emotional for me because I don’t know which soldier they were able to save,” Brenda Laurie said. Her great-uncle Charles Pitcher was killed in the Battle of Monchy-le-Preux in April 1917.

“Interestingly enough, he signed up and lied about his age to fight his brother, my grandfather Darby Pitcher,” Laurie said. “It’s sad. He was 17 and his first fight, he lost his life.”

The thought of her great-uncle finally returning home was emotional for Laurie.

“It may or may not be true, but I’m here to pay my respects to all the deceased, and especially to him,” she said.

  • Watch live Memorial Day coverage on Monday starting at 9 a.m. NT from St. John’s to mark the burial of the Unknown Soldier. Watch on TV, online and on CBC Gem

Many of those in line Saturday also have personal ties to the military.

Jane Walsh was a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and service battalion in the 1980s. Her great-granduncle was killed in Beaumont-Hamel and her great-grandfather was wounded in the battle of Langemarck.

“This is a big deal for us. We are remembering someone from our past,” Walsh said.

“Thirty-three percent of our Newfoundlanders died. That’s a big part of our history. That’s a big part of our genes, our genetic heritage. It’s been so strong for me. It’s been part of my family for generations.”

People from across the province came to St. John’s to ensure they had the opportunity to pay their respects as the Unknown Soldier lays in state in the Confederation Building. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

“My father fought in World War II in the British Royal Navy,” said Wade Lester.

“It’s a great honor to be here today, in honor of one of us who fought in the First World War. He’s a national hero from Newfoundland,” Lester said in reference to the Unknown Soldier.

He said the events of Memorial Day this weekend mean a lot.

“It’s freedom, it’s democracy, and we have to keep it intact. And sometimes we may have to fight for democracy. It certainly gives us what we enjoy today,” Lester said.

Peter Barfoot shared a similar sentiment.

“That person sitting in there right now, that Newfoundlander, what he represents, not just World War I, World War II, it’s just so amazing,” Barfoot said.

“I just had to come and pay my respects to everyone who fought, who is still fighting, and to our military.”

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