By Benson Hewitt
I am writing this piece on July 1, the 96th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel in which the 1st Newfoundland Regiment had been wiped out, suffering a casualty rate of 90 per cent.
One of these men was Edwin Lazelle Shave of Fogo. This piece is about him and dedicated to his memory.
First, a little about the Shave family and its association with Fogo. Edwin’s father, William Henry Shave, born in Harbour Buffett in 1860, became a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary on Oct. 13, 1883. His first posting may have been Harbour Grace, but he was posted to Fogo in 1899 and served there until 1925. For 25 years the family was very active in the community life of Fogo. Upon retirement he and his wife, Isabella, went to Bell Island to be near their son Nelson, and family.
Constable Shave died on June 14, 1932 and his death was mentioned in the Daily News at the time. They had eight children but only two of them, Llewellyn and David Gascoigne, were born in Fogo. Some of you can remember the latter because he was the only one of the family to settle in Fogo. He died here in 1965. Their oldest son, Nelson, offered his services in World War I, but for some reason, was not accepted. His second son, Roderick, served in World War II, and was killed Oct. 16, 1916. His third son, William, also served and was seriously wounded. His fourth son, Edwin was a casualty of Beaumont Hamel, and it is because of that particular fact, I chose to write a resume of his wartime services this year.
In 1915 Edwin Shave was 19 years of age and working as a clerk in a store in Fogo, and with the war raging in Europe, decided it was his duty to serve his King and Country for the duration of the war, or until his discharge, and so on the 19th of July, in St. John’s, he took an oath to that effect and was given the number 1699, and put on the uniform of the First Newfoundland Regiment.
He designated that fifty cents (out of $1.00) per day be allocated to his father, W.H. Shave, in Fogo. On Oct. 27, 1915, he was promoted to L/Corporal and on the next day he took the train to Quebec City. From there he embarked on the Sicilian on the June 4, 1916, for overseas duty, and disembarked at Rouen, France, on June 15, 1916, and joined the British Expeditionary Expedition in the field on the June 30, and was killed the next day in the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel. From the time of his enlistment, July 19, 1915, he had served 348 days.
It appears that L/Corporal Shave was initially reported missing, but his father had not received any news about him. On Aug. 21, 1916 his father wrote the following letter the Honourable J. R. Bennett, Esq., Colonial Secretary : Dear Sir: We are unable to get any news of E.L. Shave, Number 1699, since the 1st of July. I am informed he was attached to A. Company. If you could give me any information as to his whereabouts I would be thankful. The next day Constable Shave did receive a telegram (but obviously not a reply) from Mr. Bennett stating that his son L/Corporal Edwin L. Shave had been missing since July 1, 1916.
On Aug. 29, 1916, Mr. Bennett, the Colonial Secretary, did reply to Constable Shave’s letter of Aug. 21. He stated: I am in receipt of your letter of the 21st, instant, asking me news of E.L. Shave, No. 1699, of the Newfoundland Regiment. I sent you a telegram intimating that we had received news from the Record Office, London, that he was missing. It is evident, therefore, that they have been unable to obtain any tidings of him and his name was, therefore, included in the long list of those of whom they had no definite news. As soon as any tidings are obtained of him, the Record Office will wire such out and I shall communicate at one with you. I hope that shortly you may receive news of his safety.
On Nov. 23, 1916, J. R. Bennett corresponded with Mr. Shave at Fogo the dreadful confirmation of his son’s death. Part of the letter went thus: For some time past the Imperial Government have been making enquiries in relation to those men of the First Newfoundland Regiment who have been reported missing since the action of the 1st July. I very much regret to state, however, that from the correspondence which have taken place, a copy of which I enclose, it is evident that none of them are Prisoners of War in Germany, and the authorities are, therefore, reluctantly forced to the conclusion that all these gallant men, whose names are given in the enclosed list, and one of whom was very dear to you, were killed in that fateful action of July.
L/Corporal Edwin Shave was awarded posthumously by the Imperial Government of Great Britain the “Victory Medal” and the “British War Medal”, both of which was acknowledged by Constable Shave at Fogo. His father also acknowledge receipt of the “Memorial Plaque’ issued, it seems by the Department of Militia, in St. John’s. In acknowledging the latter, Constable Shave acknowledges receiving a message from His Majesty, the King. All of that would undoubtedly be treasured, but it seems, to me at least, the most personal item which would bring many tears, would be the receipt of a soldier’s kit bag. This contained all the personal effects of their son. Constable Shave acknowledges receipt of same.
I mentioned earlier that Edwin’s brother, Roderick, served in WWI as well, and was a causality on Oct. 16, 1916. It was also around this time that the death of Edwin was confirmed to the family in Fogo. Roderick also took part in the fateful Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, and it was alleged that he had seen his slain brother, Edwin, but had to step over his body, and keep going. Such was the horrors of war.
As stated earlier in this piece, Constable William and Isabella sons had six sons. The oldest, Nelson, offered his services, but for some reason was considered unfit. Roderick and Edwin paid the supreme sacrifice, William was seriously wounded, and died prematurely. His story is also a love story, and I intend to write it some day. It seems that Llewellyn who was born in 1900, also offered his services but was turned down probably because of his age, or perhaps, fortunately, the war ended. Gascoigne was obviously too young. But let me get back to Nelson, just for a moment and a brief moment of levity in this sad episode.Recently I read a book, “Rattles and Steadies” by Lloyd Saunders of Gander Bay. He mentions that his first teacher in Gander Bay a century ago now was Nelson Shave, son of Constable Shave of Fogo. This is what he had to say about him: “My first teacher was Nelson Shave, son of Constable Shave. Nelson Shave was a kind of cocky young fellow, tall and thin. He knew how to keep order, and he was pretty good to learn from.” I wish I could say that about my first teacher, who was also from Fogo!
My last piece was on Ignatius Penton and I mentioned that my garden was ablaze with poppies, a symbol of remembrance for another pertinent date. There was a time that we, in Newfoundland, wore a little forget-me-not’s on July 1 as a symbol of remembrance for the gallant Newfoundlanders who sacrificed their lives on July 1, 1916. I also have a patch of those flowers in my garden, but they are pretty well faded by now. Perhaps that fact is a metaphor of sorts.
Today I took part in a Canada Day celebration. I mentioned to someone who might have remembered that we wore forget-me-nots on July 1 long ago now. Although she was old enough to remember that fact, she replied that she had forgotten all about that. We are fast approaching the 100th anniversary of that date. Will it just be history then?
Some of you reading this may have heard of the Scottish poet, Edmund Blunden. He took part in the Battle of the Somme, of which the Battle of Beaumont Hamel was a part and was awarded the Military Cross. His last poem, “Ancre Sunshine” was written on the 50th anniversary of on Beaumont-Hamel shows how deeply his own personal experience haunted him, and so, if you’ll allow me to pursue with my metaphor of flowers, I’ll conclude with a stanza from that particular poem, which I consider a bouquet of words and phrases:
“Here half a century before might I
Had something chanced, about this point have lain;
Looking, with failing sense on such blue sky,
And then became a name with others slain.”