The provincial government announced four years ago that a caribou memorial at Gallipoli would be part of the Honour 100 commemorations to make the 100th anniversary of the First World War.
For those who don’t know, the Newfoundland regiment fought its first battles on the Turkish peninsula from September 1915 to January 1916. Gallipoli is the only major battle site from the First World War that doesn’t have a caribou memorial.
That’s why the provincial government announcement in 2011 was such welcome news.
That’s also why it came as such a disappointing shock to so many people on Monday to learn that not only had the provincial government scrapped the memorial but that they had done so because they could not find $500,000 in the budget to cover the cost. That is precisely what odds and sods minister Darin King told the House.
On Tuesday, the Premier’s Office told a completely different story. The Premier had mentioned the memorial idea to the Turkish ambassador during his whirlwind courtesy stop to the province last December. We don’t do statues, said the Ambassador. Well, you should, said the Premier, but in the meantime, we will put up a generic plaque
And that was the end of that.
No one - not King, not Davis, not anyone - said anything about it publicly until now.
At no time in any of all that time before they announced the Big Plan in 2011, did anyone in the provincial government to ask the Turks if they would let us put up a statue on the battle site.
So they announced it.
And in the course four years, no one asked the same question.
35, 040 hours
Not once in all that considerable time did anyone either put a few dollars to one side or check with the Turks about the memorial.
The Premier’s Office statement on Monday makes it plain that the provincial government did nothing with this memorial plan until the last minute. That is how much of a concern they had with it.
On Monday night, when it appeared the issue was merely one of money, your humble e-scribbler started making phone calls and sending e-mails. The goal was to bring together a group of citizens to do three things:
- raise the money,
- plan a memorial, and
- install it at Gallipoli.
This would complete the memorials begun in the 1920s by the Dominion of Newfoundland.
Regardless of the announcement on Tuesday from the Premier’s Office that plan remains. Unless there is an absolutely immovable diplomatic obstacle in Turkey, your humble e-scribbler will organize a group of citizens to complete the memorial.
The working name over the past 24 hours has been the National Patriotic Committee. The model is the non-partisan community group that oversaw the administration of Newfoundland’s war effort for the first three years of the war.
That name reflects what the Gallipoli memorial should mean. It marks an event of national significance for the Dominion of Newfoundland, as it was a century ago. It is as important to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians as the second Battle of Ypres would be for Canada in the same war. Since Confederation Gallipoli has been an event of national Canadian significance.
The committee as your humble e-scribbler has been putting it together would be a group of citizens able to get the job done. They would not be active partisans and they should represent the entire province.
When it comes to raising money, everyone in the province should have a chance to contribute what they can to make it happen. The working estimate of the cost – based on the government figure of $500,000 - is good enough to get started. That’s about one dollar for every person in the province.
There’s a story in the Telegram this morning. It came, in part, out of an interview done before the Premier’s Office issued its revised statement. The latest version of events doesn’t change anything. If anything, it shows the need for this memorial project to be the work of people who are focused on it.
Your humble e-scribbler will keep working to get a bunch of people together to get the memorial done. If others have already started working separately in the past 24 hours, then we can always put the different groups together. The goal is to complete the memorial. If it can;t be a caribou, then it should be more significant than a stock government-issued bronze plaque.
Stay tuned. There’ll be updates as things move along.