Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 16, 2016

Today I finally had the opportunity to commemorate my soldier, Private Henri Cariou, at his final resting place in Aulnoy, France. I knew it would be an emotional experience, but as I stood by his gravestone in a foreign town I came to a realization. I chose Henri because he came from the same place I do. He looked out at the golden prairies, cut by sharp blue sky, and saw home just like I do. He felt the bitter winter cold and the first summer sun, that warms you right to the bones. That is what we have common, not a stone in France.

Having done this research, I know that Private Cariou will forever be in my heart. I am incredibly happy to have been able to have visited his grave, but I am not convinced that it is where his spirit lingers.

– Abby Vadeboncoeur, Emerald Park, Saskatchewan

 

When we visit cemeteries and memorials and battlefields it feels natural to change mindsets from one of having fun amongst friends to one of respect and solemnity. Yet, when that battlefield is in a public place normally associated with joy, should we treat it the same way?  In June 1944, 340 men lost their lives, 574 were wounded and 47 were captured during the Battle of Normandy at Juno Beach. Today, without knowing, we walked on the very same beach. Some walked into the water and others like me, watched them laugh and enjoy themselves. It wasn’t until we began to leave did our chaperone-facilitators point out where we were. Right at the landing spot of the Queen’s Own Rifles Regiment on June 6, 1944. The first battalion to meet their beach objective.

Today, there are probably still remnants of the horrors of the battle and a couple played with their dogs. Anywhere else that paradox would seem inappropriate, but when a war is as all encompassing as the First and Second World Wars, here in France, how do we decide what is a site of remembrance,  pocket in time, and what sites should be allowed to continue to evolve? Where can we laugh without guilt or must we always be solemn? Or can it change, like most things with time and place?

– Sarah Verrault, London, Ontario

 

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 15, 2016

Throughout this trip, I’ve always been asking myself: what is the significance of my visits to all the cemeteries and monuments? A week into the program, I’ve been piecing together the answers; however, today, I’ve found an important piece to the puzzle.

This afternoon, we visited the Ontario Cemetery near the French city of Arras, where my soldier is buried at. My soldier, Joseph Bernard Hill, was from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. My choice of a First Nations soldier was inspired by writing about their contributions in the application essay. Since starting my research a few months ago, I went on a journey through Joseph’s life, and now, he seems like a friend to me.

Being a minority myself, I believe that it is especially important to recognize the contributions of people like Joseph. Standing beside Joseph’s headstone, I talked about how his enlistment and sacrifices had resulted in positive lasting impacts to his community and to Canada, and that he inspires me to always put in my best efforts, and make lasting impacts to my surroundings, too. After the tribute, I did a rubbing of his headstone, which I plan to donate to his community after I return to Canada. One of our chaperones, Paul, also made a rubbing to show to his students back in Canada. I feel proud and honoured at the same time to be able to pay tribute to Joseph, whose life was short but well-lived.

Joseph is also an inspiration to me. He had overcame negative stereotypes on his people and a difficult childhood to serve for Canada. Now, empowered by the BVP journey, I have embarked on a journey to raise awareness on the importance of minorities to the Canadian society, both historically and present. Today was just the first step.

– Andrew Yin, Richmond Hill, Ontario

 

Some of the most memorable moments today for me were getting to commemorate my soldier Arthur William Bull and visiting the Neuve Chapelle Indian Memorial. This opportunity allowed me to see how countries within the British empire were commemorated with cultural and religious symbolism.

Throughout the visits to the cemeteries in Belgium and France I have been collecting photographs of interesting epitaphs. One of my favourites is one that I stumbled upon almost by accident. I only took a photograph of it because the epitaph was in Welsh. It was an epitaph of a soldier of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. It translated to “We lived to die. We died to live.”  I found it incredibly interesting to see how his friends and family wanted him to be remembered as someone whose purpose in life was to give up his life, and that they viewed his death as a vessel for freedom. Another epitaph which I found interesting said “He died for the Empire” because of the political element of the epitaph, and the protective and proud attitude toward the British empire.

I’m so grateful for the experiences I have had so far on this program and I am excited to see the epitaphs to come over the next few days.

– Sabrina Ashgar, Northwood, Middlesex, Great Britain

 

Click here for photos from the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize 2016 program. 

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 14, 2016

During this program, I have carried various objects around with me that in a sense were weighing me down. Yet, today the feeling of weight came from an overwhelming sense of loss, pain, grief, and sorrow. As I sat on the steps of the Vimy Memorial and looked across the landscape, all I kept seeing was my hometown hero losing his life over and over, the imagery hitting me like a ton of bricks. When visiting A. J. McDougall’s gravestone at La Chaudiere cemetery today, surrounded by the participants of the program, I still felt alone, as if I was talking only to A.J . and no one else was there. The conversation felt like it was about the lake that borders our homes (in the language of our ancestors, gaelic). It was a very full-circle moment for me and for a lack of a better word “real.” A.J. is the reason I am here in so many ways. I will always have a sense of gratitude for his contributions to the war effort.

– Zoe McDaniel, Brook Village, Nova Scotia

 

Today, after a full week of wearing jackets depicting the Vimy monument on the back and hearing of its magnificence, we had the pleasure of seeing Vimy ridge. One thing that I have realized over the course of this program is that a monument only has as much meaning as you give to it. Needless to say, today there was a shared understanding of it among all of us. While we wandered around the memorial, most of us for the first time, there was reflective and sombre silence; not only among our group, but amongst the other groups and individuals admiring and wandering the monument.

While it is undeniable that the monument is impressive in its dimensions, the true wonder of the piece lies in the sculpture itself. I found myself overtaken by the brilliance and skill of the carving: in seconds, every metaphor that has ever pitted stone and emotion against each other as opposites was disproved. I have never appreciate sculpture in any real capacity before. However, in the moments that I first saw Vimy, it seemed like the only real way to capture what it means to be human.

If I had to choose one takeaway from this program to share, it is however much you’re told you have to see the battlefield to understand, there is no complete understanding. The farms and forests and magnificent stone memorials are a juxtaposition to what existed 100 years ago. I think that in many ways you have to be here to fully understand the hardship. It is possible, however, to learn empathy by taking the time to connect to the stories of soldiers. This program has been a fantastic motivator of empathy, and I’m happy to be here with such a fantastic group of people to experience it.

– Abby Vadeboncoeur, Emerald Park, Saskatchewan

 

Today we completed our pilgrimage to Vimy Ridge.  The fog that initially shrouded the memorial burned off gradually through our time spent there allowing us to experience a ghostly atmosphere with the memorial nearly indistinguishable from the ominous fog which blanketed the sight; this prompted me to think of the massive loss that was necessitated to capture the ridge. The sun rose higher and more of the structure revealed itself, eventually resulting in the memorial standing impossibly strong amidst a brilliantly blue sky. For me, this scene personified the tenacity of four united Canadian divisions and their unwillingness to concede. I feel fortunate to have been able to appreciate such a duality. Furthermore, the similarity between our group, a contingent of youth from across the great country of Canada, and the group of equally diverse Canadians who stormed the ridge 99 years ago, was not lost upon me. I believe we all gained something truly invaluable while we contemplated the significance of what we were experiencing.

To run one’s hand over a sea of Canadian heroes, whose names have been immortalized in stone, evokes a sense of pride in one’s country that is daunting to translate into words. Vimy Ridge is the conception of one architect and a group of sculptures but it is ultimately the blood of Canadians that holds the structure together. Never before in my life have I felt so explicitly connected to my Canadian identity, a moment which will live in infamy within me.

– Owen Martin, St. John’s, Newfoundland

 

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 13, 2016

Today our group as a whole felt a communal sense of loss when stopping to commemorate soldiers at various memorials today. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to a personal tribute given to honour a soldier and not be emotionally moved by the experience.

We also had the once in a lifetime opportunity to go down into the Maison Blanche souterraine (tunnels) along with the Durand Group, who are internationally recognized experts in First World War tunnels. Under the ground, we learned about the lives and experiences of Canadian soldiers in the lead up to the Battle for Vimy Ridge through our viewing of drawings, graffiti and carvings done by the soldiers. The entire day was filled with bonding experiences; some that made me laugh and others that made me cry. I’ve never felt so blessed to be in the presence of such brilliant and inspirational people.

– Zoe McDaniel, Brook Village, Nova Scotia

 

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 12, 2016

Our experience in Belgium was jam-packed with First World War history. From large cemeteries to extraordinary memorials, to seeing a collection of artifacts found in local fields, the day was full of new sights and experiences! One of the stops that stood out to me the most was the church in Messines. It had originally been built in the 11th century, but it was destroyed by artillery fire during the First World War. Before it was destroyed though, the people of the village removed all of the artifacts to ensure they weren’t damaged, and later on put them back when it was rebuilt. What is even more interesting is that before it was destroyed, it was used as a hospital for the German army. It is rumoured that Hitler was treated in the crypt, just a few hundred metres from the British front where future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was stationed.

The feeling of walking among the very same places that First World War soldiers fought is completely unique and surreal for me. The fact that most of the region isn’t more than ninety years old is hard to comprehend. Even the sheer number of cemeteries found on the Ypres salient is very shocking to me. I look forward to continuing our journey of seeing First and Second World War battle sites for the remainder of the program.

– Graham Devitt, St. Catharines, Ontario

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 11, 2016

Hello from Messines, Belgium.

This morning we left Harrow and headed to St. Pancras station to board the Eurostar train to Lille! We enjoyed taking in the beauty of the scenery of both the English and French countrysides on both ends of our Chunnel crossing.  At Lille we met our fantastic driver Franky who will be with us for the remainder of the program.

Next stop Belgium!  We began our visits of monuments and memorials at Essex Farm-the advanced dressing station where Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae composed In Flanders Fields. Emily gave a wonderful presentation about McCrae’s life and service and then led us in a choral reading of the famous poem.

We then headed to the Passchendaele memorial where Andrew spoke to us about the significance and losses of territory and men on the battlefields surrounding Ypres.  To give more context behind the battles in the Ypres Salient we spent time at the In Flanders Fields museum-we saw incredible artefacts and watched powerful reenactments of primary texts told in four voices-English, French, German and Flemish.

We ended our night by taking part in a special wreath laying ceremony at the Menin Gate. Representing Canada, France and Britain respectively, Roseline, Charles and Sabrina reverently presented a floral wreath on our behalf. How special to be part of this ritual commemoration which has been happening nightly since the end of the First World War.

Tomorrow we embark on a tour of many important historic spaces with visits to nearby battlefields, cemeteries and memorials on the Ypres Salient. As we journey onward together, we continue to honour, reflect and remember them.

-Katy Whitfield and Hanna Smyth, BVP Coordinators

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 10, 2016

Hello from London! It’s been another amazing day in this enchanting city. We started our day with a scenic drive to Oxford University where we met two knowledgeable women, Dr. Alice Kelly and Dr. Emma Login, who spoke to us about women in the First World War and the significance of war memorials. They provided us with the tools needed to be able to look at historical events with critical lenses. They also spurred engaging conversations about the decisions and controversies surrounding memorials.

Our lunch we strolled through the cobblestone streets, and were inspired by the fact that so many acclaimed scholars had walked the same paths. The day ended with an amazing dinner at the Admiralty restaurant in Trafalgar Square, after which we embarked upon the BVP Amazing Race that took us to the Globe, National Theatre, Tate Modern, and Millennium Bridge. We even saw Tower Bridge. Today was an exciting end to our England experience and we look forward to traveling to France and Belgium tomorrow!

 – Haleh Zabihi, St. John’s NL and Hannah Hardy, Albany, PEI

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 9, 2016

From this point forward, we’ll be sharing posts from our students as they begin to reflect on the experiences they have through the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize program:

To me, one of the best parts of visiting a new country is the new perspectives and new insights that I am able to gain from others, and that I am able to share with others.

We have just finished the second day of our European adventure, but it is fair to say that each of us has already gained a ton of new perspectives and insights. For me, the highlight of the day was the visit to the First World War exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. The exhibition was a unique learning experience, because it presented the First World War from a British point of view. While in Canada, I have only learnt about wars from a Canadian perspective. Even though Canada was still part of the British Empire during the First World War, Britain was much closer to the frontlines, and thus her people had a more direct experience of the war compared with Canadians. It was refreshing to compare and contrast the British involvement in World War One with the Canadian experience. For example, in both countries, women became a significant part of the workforce during the war; however, Britain was much more united throughout the war, and did not experience a conscription crisis that would divide up the nation. I was also intrigued by the involvement of other nations in the British Empire, such as India, which sent more than one million volunteers, a figure that took me by surprise. I would likely not have been able to gain these insights from a Canadian textbook or a Canadian history class. That is the beauty of visiting a museum in a different nation.

In the evening, I had a chance to share new insights with my friends as well. The BVP group was divided into 4 mini-groups, with each being given a critical thinking question and being asked to conduct a presentation on their answers. The question that my group received was regarding the unethical actions during the two world wars. In the presentation, I talked about the Nanjing (aka Nanking) Massacre and the heroic actions of the German John Rabe, who used his influence to save thousands of Chinese civilians.  Not everyone in the group knew about what happened in Nanjing, and far fewer knew about John Rabe, an honourable soul who stood on the ethical side despite being a member of the Nazi Party. It aroused thinking of how people can retain or lose their morals in a hostile environment, and the importance for us, the youth of the 21st century, to gain knowledge of and remember these events in history.

Needless to say, I am already in love with the BVP trip, because of the new perspectives and insights on history not just from the sights we visit, but also from each other. I can’t wait for the journey ahead with this amazing group that I’m so fortunate to be a part of.

– Andrew Yin, Richmond Hill, ON

 

So far this trip has been absolutely phenomenal!  We have seen famous landmarks and impressive decadent buildings at every corner. Today we had many meaningful conversations and experiences, such as visiting war memorials and museums that portray the subject matter in a light that I’ve never seen before. One thing people hear about when researching travel experiences is the description of the world that we read about becoming real. That description couldn’t be more accurate!

It has been amazing to get to know my fellow scholars and facilitators, I got to hear some of their insights and opinions today and have been very impressed. I’m looking forward to spending the rest of the trip with these people and getting to know them more.

It has already been a life-changing experience and we’re not even halfway through. I cannot wait to hear the rest of the presentations from the BVP scholars, and to see what else is coming on the horizon.

– Merren Russell, Halifax, NS

 

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 8, 2016

Hello from Harrow-on-the-hill!

We all arrived this morning after a relatively easy flight with just a little bit of turbulence as we crossed over the Atlantic. Everyone in the group is doing well and are super excited to finally be here in London! We had a lovely little picnic lunch and then ventured into Central London on the Tube (London Transport) for a guided tours of the Houses of Parliament. Our tour guide was very informative. Students were impressed by the large murals, decorative ceilings and to be inside the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Many have commented on how the British parliamentary system can be likened to the governmental structures in Canada. Our first glance of the beautiful Big Ben clock and hearing the ringing of 4 o’clock chimes from the tower were definitely highlights today. We also did a brief walk over to the park across from the Houses of Parliament to see monuments to Nelson Mandela, Sir Winston Churchill, Former British-War-time David Lloyd George. As one participant commented “everything I’ve read about is coming to life!”

It is a delight to see and hear our participants’ reactions to seeing such well-known buildings and commemorations to famous British people they know. Tonight we heard our first of the BVP presentations from our participants and learned about the life and work of Sir Winston Churchill and Sir Robert Borden. We were impressed by their knowledge and research, use of primary sources materials to bring their presentations to life. The weather is perfect here and all our amazing BVP participants are now resting soundly after a fantastic but long first day here. We cannot wait for all that is planned tomorrow as we visit the Churchill War Rooms, do the London Memorials walk by our UK coordinator Hanna and spend some time getting up close and personal with Imperial War Museum researchers and curators.

Goodnight from Harrow!

Katy Whitfield, Education Coordinator

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Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 7, 2016

Historian John Hope Franklin wrote: “We must get beyond textbooks… and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey!” Indeed today, we will begin to live out the words that Franklin wrote and will share our stories and experiences through daily blog posts of our 2016 BVP Program experiences.

The departure day for the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize has finally arrived! After many months of creating, planning and preparing, to selecting 16 outstanding scholars from across Canada, England and France, we are now ready to gather together and begin this journey together!

Today our scholars will travel from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland to Toronto where they will meet each other, our two chaperone facilitators Paul and Renato and myself, Katy, Education Coordinator, as we begin our journey flying across to the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, our French and British participants will travel to Harrow School in London where they will be met by our UK BVP coordinator Hanna!  

Over 102 years ago, at the outbreak of war, men left their homes and enlisted to serve in the First World War. They were motivated by the excitement of an adventure, a sense of patriotism and responsibility. Tragically for many men, who enlisted, their lives were forever changed by the experience and for some, they never returned and for their families; their lives were never the same again. Fortunately, because of their sacrifice for our freedoms, today our BVP participants have the incredible opportunity to travel with the purpose of learning about, honouring and commemorating many soldiers who served in the First and Second World Wars.

As ambassadors for their families, communities, provinces, and countries, our BVP participants will visit battlefields and cemeteries, museums and other historic spaces; they will learn from veterans, scholars, curators and from each other. They will also participate in ongoing discussions and activities which will help them to make sense of their experiences and will work together to document what they have learned in order to share with their families, classmates and communities upon their return to their home countries. The 2016 BVP program will indeed be a learning experience of a lifetime!

We are all very much looking forward to meeting everyone face to face; even though there has been much discussion through social media over the past few months between the participants. Each participant has expressed to me how excited they are and how privileged they feel to have been selected as part of this year’s BVP team.

Each day, one or two of the participants will share their experiences with you on this blog-their observations, comments and reflections. Each of them brings their own knowledge and experiences and will provide their unique perspectives in our documentation of the 2016 BVP Program. We hope you will follow along!

So let us begin– to travel and explore… and tell the world the glories of our journey!

Sincerely,

Katy Whitfield, Education Coordinator

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