Dartmouth High students 'very lucky' participants in Vimy Ridge anniversary

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Some high school students from Dartmouth, N.S., are eagerly counting down the days until the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on April 9. 

They will be at the memorial site in France with 10,000 other students, taking part in the ceremony alongside veterans, serving members, the Prime Minister, and members of the British royal family. 

"I'm super excited. I've always wanted to go to Europe and do something like this, but the fact that it's the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge makes it even cooler," said Olivia Crook-Simiana, one of the 83 Dartmouth High School students taking part in the trip.

Largest delegation from Atlantic Canada

The students will leave for Europe on April 6. Theirs is the largest delegation from any school in Atlantic Canada — and the second largest in Canada.

Originally, Dartmouth High only intended to take 42 students, but when the planning started a year and a half ago, interest was so intense the first spots were filled up in six minutes. The school then added more, and students and parents fundraised more than $30,000 to make the trip a reality. 

Some of the students have a family connection to Vimy, or to the military, such as 16-year-old Brent Henman, who had a great-grandfather in both world wars and a great-uncle in the second. 

"Our family actually luckily never lost anyone in the war directly as a cause of it, my grandfather's brother came home and died of his wounds after," he said. "But my dad works on the base in Halifax too, so does my whole family. It's just kind of something I've been interested in my whole life."

Historical research

Each student has been assigned the name of a fallen soldier. They will research the soldier's life, and try to find his grave. Some students will also be searching for family graves, like Larissa Dusang, whose great-uncle is one of the 3,600 Canadians buried at Vimy. 

"I think it will just make it a lot more relatable, just because it's just so far away on the other side of the world there's just like a barrier, but when you actually put those relations together, it's actually real," she said.  

History teacher Robyn Brown once worked as a guide at the Beaumont-Hamel monument. She hopes participating in the ceremony and by seeing the rows upon rows of grave markers will make history come alive for her students.

"You can't help but have that kind of moment....where you're taken aback, when you see a cemetery that's got five, six thousand graves in it," she said. 

It's a moment that Earla Smith, 16, has been thinking about and preparing for. 

"It's going to be really emotional, I think. I'm going to pack some tissues. But I think it's the kind of thing that I'll never forget," she said. 

"We're very lucky"

All of the students are aware that many of the fallen soldiers were no older than they are now. 

"That's what I'm thinking," said Brent Henman. 

"I get to go over on an Airbus or a Boeing 737, in comfort, get pop and chips on the plane ride over. They left from Halifax, some kids lied about their age, on rackety old ships, got seasick, took them six or seven days to get to France, and when they got there they were being shot at. We're very lucky to go in the fashion that we are."