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War memorabilia in Placentia receives much-needed touch up

This 7.7-centimetre FK 96 has been in Placentia since 1920.
This 7.7-centimetre FK 96 has been in Placentia since 1920. - Contributed

PLACENTIA, N.L. — Placentia recently breathed some new life into an old war memorial.

The Placentia courthouse dates back to approximately 1902, making it well over a century old. However, just outside this building is a piece of First World War memorabilia that’s creeping up on its 100th birthday as well, and has a fresh look to help celebrate.

A 7.7-centimetre FK 96 – a German light field gun – has been on display outside the courthouse since 1920. This particular model was one of three distributed across the province following the First World War when larger trophies were allocated to communities that had a high number of residents enlisted in the war. Placentia was one such community, alongside Grand Falls, Bonavista and Trinity.

“The gun has been in the town for years and years,” said Anita O’Keefe, a town employee who worked on revitalizing the gun. “It’s very rare, and we’re very lucky to have it here, for sure.

“It deserved a bit of a touch up, I think, and so we had it repainted and had a bit of maintenance done here and there, and now it’s looking as good as new.”

In their prime, these weapons were used primarily by German soldiers for long range fighting. The guns shot 15-pound explosive ammunition, with some containing shrapnel that would explode upon impact. When the weapon proved to be less than effective when the front became especially hectic, a similar model – the 7.7-centimetre FK 16 – was created with a focus on combatting the higher rate of fire from French weaponry, and the heavier ammunition of British weaponry.

In more recent times, the gun has been under a watchful eye for a number of years by residents and other interested parties, who formed a committee dedicated to the preservation of the courthouse. The committee, called the Friends of the Placentia Courthouse, came to the conclusion earlier in 2018 that the gun needed some visual upgrades, and have also set their sights on the courthouse itself, hoping to see the century-old building revitalized with a fresh coat of paint.

“Before he retired, (Eugene) Upshall made arrangements to have the gun taken for maintenance,” O’Keefe, who is also chair of the committee, said of the updated look. “I was informed that the gun would be back in place for the tourism season, and so it is – the gun is back home now, in better shape and with a fresh coat of paint.”

The gun was delivered to Placentia in the early 1900’s as a result of the number of soldiers and sailors who served during the First World War. At the time, there had been approximately 1,800 residents in the town, with over 100 of those enlisted in the war effort.

“Thirty-three of these men from the Placentia Parish made the supreme sacrifice, and their names are listed on the cenotaph situated in front of the Sacred Heart Church in Placentia,” O’Keefe said.

With a striking black colour scheme, the gun sits in front of the courthouse, where it has been for 98-years. O’Keefe told The Compass there would soon be an infographic placed at the front of the trophy weapon, providing information for tourists.

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