Honour of lifetime: Work underway for Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in St. John's

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Mark Brace is mining the earth in Newfoundland and Labrador for a timeless piece of granite that will become part of the final resting place for a "soldier known but to God."

The 30-year-old owner of Ocean Floor Granite, in Bishop’s Falls, N.L., received a government contract in August to refurbish the National War Memorial in St. John’s and construct a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The project is scheduled to be completed next year.

"It's an honour of a lifetime," he said. "It's personal. It's emotional."

Brace's great-grandfather, Timothy Gosse, fought in both world wars and was killed in the Second World War. The S.S. Thorold was en route from Cardiff, Wales, to London, when she was attacked by two German Dornier 17 bombers on Aug. 22, 1940. Out of a crew of 28 men, 10 died and five were seriously injured. Able seaman Gosse was one of the fatalities.

"I look at the remains of this Unknown Soldier who's coming back home … and it could be the remains of my grandfather who was lost at sea, or it could be somebody who fought alongside him, right?" Brace said. "It could be one of his buddies."

Last year, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gave permission in July to repatriate the remains of an unknown First World War soldier from northern France. The remains will be placed in the specifically designed tomb in St. John's, the only Canadian city other than Ottawa to have a National War Memorial.

"The tomb is being made from one solid piece of granite," Brace said. "It's an actual rock carved out on the inside to place the remains of the Unknown Soldier."

He said the tomb's cover will also be made out of Labradorite granite, a mixture of greyish black rock with vibrant blue crystal.

Tim Cook, chief historian at the Canadian War Museum, said "memorials help focus memory."

The two world wars are particularly important in understanding the development of Canada, and how they shaped society, said Cook, who has written 17 books on Canadian military history.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa at the National War Memorial is an essential component of remembrance and commemoration, he said, adding that Newfoundland's memorial will be a similar monument.

Newfoundland's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is "very much linked to the history of the time," when the province was a separate dominion during the First World War, he noted.

"There's a lot that has happened in the past, and we as Canadians, as a society, as communities, often decide what we will mark for remembrance and war, sacrifice and war," he said. "Service and war is something that we as Canadians have said we will mark with monuments and memorials."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2023.

The Canadian Press