Soldier for a day: Winnipeg students prepare for centennial Vimy Ridge trip

1 / 3
Soldier for a day: Winnipeg students prepare for centennial Vimy Ridge trip

More than 30 students from a pair of Winnipeg high schools got a small taste of military basic training on Tuesday to prepare for an upcoming trip to Vimy Ridge, France, for the 100-year anniversary of the iconic battle.

"I think it'll help us understand a lot what they went through," said Gabrielle Mainella, 17, a student at Miles Macdonell Collegiate.

"We just learned about the community and … the teamwork, and how if one of your teammates aren't working with the team, it just won't work."

At 17 years old, Mainella and many of her peers aren't much younger than the soldiers that would have fought in the April 1917 battle. Of the 100,000 Canadians that served there, nearly 3,600 died and a further 7,000 or so were injured, according to the Government of Canada.

It's been called a coming-of-age battle for Canada, the first time all four divisions of the Canadian Corps fought together as a single formation. It started on Easter Monday, 1917, at around 5:30 a.m., on the long, high hill about 175 kilometres north of Paris.

A group of 17 students from Kildonan-East Collegiate and 18 or 19 students from Miles Macdonell Collegiate will attend the 100-year anniversary ceremony at Vimy Ridge on April 9. Their trip will also include a stop at the beaches of Normandy — the site of the Second World War D-Day battles — and a visit to key wartime sites in Belgium.

The students met at McGregor Street Armoury on Tuesday for their day of training, which included a run-through on how to use a rifle, a tour of the museum and a look at equipment used to locate landmines.

Before the training day, Mainella said students in her class had each researched and prepared a tribute for a soldier who died in the First World War. In Europe, they'll visit the soldiers' grave sites and leave an offering.