Finding Private Smith

Bonnie Learning
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First World War death plaque comes home to Labrador

Bruce Haynes of Happy Valley-Goose Bay recently purchased a ‘death plaque’ on eBay, which belongs to Pte. Edward Smith of Battle Harbour. Smith was enlisted with the Newfoundland Regiment, but died from influenza in St. John’s before ever making it to the front lines.

A Happy Valley-Goose Bay man has helped a piece of Labrador military history make its way back to the Big Land.

Bruce Haynes is always searching for military memorabilia, in particular, anything to do with the Newfoundland Regiment, as his grandfather, William Thomas Haynes served with them.

He also has a well-known, small-scale military museum at Northern Lights, Ltd., the store he owns and operates.

Haynes was on eBay recently, when he came across a ‘death plaque’ for sale.

It belonged to a soldier from Battle Harbour, on Labrador’s south coast.

“The plaque is for Pte. Edward Smith,” said Haynes, who after spotting the item for sale, did some research on the internet to find out more about it.

“He was from Battle Harbour, and was with the Newfoundland Regiment.”

The plaque is made of brass and roughly the size of a DVD. It shows a human figure and a lion, engraved with Pte. Smith's name and the words, “He died for freedom and honour.”

Haynes said after digging for more information, he was able to obtain a 36-page document on Pte. Smith from The Rooms provincial archives, including his application form and cable telegraphs from military officials on various issues, including the state of Pte. Smith’s health.

On Oct. 14, 1918, a telegraph was sent to Pte. Smith’s mother, Jane Smith, to inform her of her son’s death.

It stated, in part, “We regret to inform you No. 5710, Private Edward Smith, died at General Hospital in St. John’s, on Oct. 14 from influenza.”

“He never made it to the front (lines),” explained Haynes.

Haynes said he has only ever seen two death plaques for the Newfoundland Regiment, including Pte. Smith’s.

“I had one on loan from a family (for the museum), but they moved away a few years ago and took it with them, of course.”

Haynes said he will add Pte. Smith’s death plaque to his museum, and hopes that one day, he might be able to find out more about Pte. Smith.

“I have asked around to a few people if they know of anyone in Labrador who might be related to him, but haven’t been able to find out anything as of yet.”

Haynes believes it’s fitting that he came across the death plaque this year.

“This is the 100th anniversary of the Newfoundland Regiment, of the First World War,” he said.

“It’s nice to see this back in Labrador.”

 

bonnie.learning@tc.tc

Organizations: Northern Lights, EBay, General Hospital

Geographic location: Labrador, Battle Harbour, Happy Valley Goose Bay

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