When I was born my parents lived on Exploits Ave. in Grand Falls. We had a very small house which was adequate when there was one child but when my sister was born we moved to a new house up on Memorial Ave. At the foot of the street stood the school, the armory and the Memorial grounds.It was a beautiful area. That was in the 50’s. It was not long after the war and the cenotaph was fairly new. A tall black wrought iron fence circled the grounds. And along the fence were flowering shrubs and rose bushes. The shrubs formed a privacy fence of their own and people could sit on benches and enjoy the tranquility. It was certainly a contrast to the chaos and horror of the event that precipitated the construction of this little paradise.
The grounds were very diligently maintained by the town. Across from the front gate on the other side of Botwood Rd as it was called then was the cottage hospital , a yellow bungalow in the midst of green lawns . At the back of the property , behind the cenotaph , stood a gardener’s shed. We never got to see the inside of it but it appeared to be a storage place.
There was a walkway that ran from the gate at the front up to the cenotaph. Hundreds of flowers bordered that path . In summer it was a profusion of colour. Huge birch and maple trees gave shade from the heat of July and August and they dotted the whole area. The remainder of the park was lawn except for a path that ran in front of the benches by the shrubbery. This path encircled the entire grounds and if you walked it there were parts that were hidden in the bushes so you had a feeling of being away from the town and in your own secluded area. People respected this memorial to our soldiers and children treated it with reverence.
Today it is minimally a park. Someone mows the grass but the shrubs and flowers that were in such abundance have practically disappeared along with the gate and much of the fence. Over the years vandals left their mark and it became necessary to keep all parts in plain view. The school that stood behind is being torn down. It became a public hazard and eventually someone put it out of its misery ,though I doubt that was the intention , by setting fire to it. It is probably gone completely now like the memories of the grand occasion that Memorial Day was when there were enough legionaires lining the pathway to pay their respects to their fallen comrades.
Even though we were very young when we attended these ceremonies with our parents, we were struck with the solemnity of the occasion. I recall looking at the faces of the legionaires and wondering what memories were going through their minds as they stood so rigidly and silently in salute.
From what I understand most young men who fought in the wars did not speak of what they witnessed. Just recently I was in conversation with some friends and one of them was telling a story of an elderly patient she had met who was very fearful of getting Alzheimers. His fear was not so much of the global nature of the disease. He was afraid he would relive his wartime experience. And that haunted him. Then recently I lost an uncle. He was 80 years old when he died. And he knew I had been in Korea for a while and he also knew that his neighbour, Dan, had been there for 6 years. Dan saw him daily, ran errands for him when he was sick and ate with him every other day. At his funeral legionaires turned up to pay their respects. But neither Dan nor I knew he’d ever been in Korea. He had never spoken of it. I wonder how he ever lived his life as normally as he did.
If you go to the Memorial Grounds in Grand Falls think back to when it was once a place of great beauty and pride . Even though it is not what it once was if you step on the grounds it is possible to envision its former splendour.