By JAYMIE L. WHITE
Special to the Appalachian
STEPHENVILLE — One day before Remembrance Day, a special unveiling took place at the cenotaph in Stephenville. A project that had been in the works for some time and had been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances surrounding COVID-19, is finally on display for the community to enjoy.
Two monuments have been erected in front of the cenotaph depicting a soldier from two major wars – WWI and the war in Afghanistan.
Manager of Municipal Services, Dwayne Russell, said the project really got started with the new town signs that were installed a few years ago by the Hansen Highway in Stephenville.
“The Heritage Committee started putting up these benches around town and they put two in the cenotaph that really stood out to me. It’s a beautiful little spot in the centre of our town,” said Russell. “Over the last year I contacted Maurice Hynes, who at the time was a councillor of ours, and he is a retired vet himself. So I just wanted to see what their thoughts were. Would I be allowed to do something like that at the cenotaph where it is a respectful place? And he took that information back to the Legion and the members there and they all thought it was a great idea.”
Russell said that a lot of time and preparation went into the planning, but once it got started, everything really took off.
“Planning, finding the right soldiers and pictures to be able to put up, that was really the biggest thing. That took us the most time,” said Russell. “But after that, to be honest, those guys put them together within a week.”
Russell enlisted the help of two gentlemen from the community to bring the monuments to life, Grant Curnew and Scott Simms, who constructed the aluminum structures and placed the finalized wrap design on top.
Russell said they did an amazing job, and it was fantastic that they were able to get them completed before Remembrance Day.
“Everybody is pushing forward, and we are just trying to keep up with the flow of things, make the town pop, and get interest from new people,” said Russell. “Hopefully they remain there for a long time and we can build on them. Hopefully it works to draw people’s eye to this important area, brings people’s attention there, and maybe one day we will have a beautiful new memorial there.”
Russell said, even though the structures are sturdy, the possibility of damage is always there.
“They are mounted on concrete. They are aluminum structures,” said Russell. “But they are breakable. They can be vandalized, but hopefully that won’t ever happen. They are fairly strong. You can touch them and take photos with them, and they are there for people to enjoy.”
Maurice Hynes, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 35 in Stephenville, said the idea of having two monuments held special significance.
“We wanted to take two significant ones, the first one from the First World War. We made it look like a member of the Newfoundland Regiment. We have the hat badge there, and of course, the regiment was famous for the first 500 having Blue Puttees because they never had enough army ones and had to borrow from the navy, so that’s quite significant to Newfoundlanders and the Newfoundland Regiment,” said Hynes. “The second one is the recent one in Afghanistan, and even within the community, I know of at least 25 people who have served in Afghanistan. So that is very significant as well, and that’s why we picked those particular two figures.”
Hynes said the Legion was extremely pleased with how the monuments turned out, the detail that was put into them, and how viewers are able to see the soldiers depicted on both the front and the back.
“It’s really interesting what they did for the faces, especially the solder from Afghanistan, because they didn’t want to use a picture of a real person because it could be a loved one that was wounded or passed away. So they made a combination of a face to put there which was very creative,” said Hynes.
Hynes thinks that these statues will serve as an important reminder of those who have served and who are currently serving.
“As time goes by, sometimes we tend to forget the sacrifice the soldiers and their families have made. During a conflict it is front and centre, but when it’s peacetime we tend to forget about it, and these two monuments down there, depicting real-life people, will get people to focus on it,” said Hynes. “So I think it’s very important. You see it and you acknowledge the sacrifices made going all the way back to 1914.”
Mayor Tom Rose said, as Stephenville is a military town, it is important to show continued support for the troops to ensure their service remains at the forefront.
“The biggest thing is that they raise the profile of the men and women who have served, those who have lost their lives, those with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” said Rose. “It shows the importance of the military, even during COVID where the military stepped in to help. They are doing it every day for our freedom and it’s very important to me.”