'A soldier of their own': Veterans Affairs uses dog tags to connect kids to Vimy

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'A soldier of their own': Veterans Affairs uses dog tags to connect kids to Vimy

Students across Canada are being encouraged to make a personal connection to the Battle at Vimy Ridge through remembrance dog tags, each one featuring the name and face of a Canadian soldier who died at Vimy.

"When you think about it, the First World War was a hundred years ago, that's a long time and not everyone in Canada is lucky enough to have that kind of family connection," explained Alan Banman, an education officer with Veterans Affairs Canada in Charlottetown.

"If you don't having something specific to remember, it gets a little abstract, I mean, what are we remembering."

'A soldier of their own'

The learning team at Veterans Affairs selected 120 soldiers out of the 3,600 who died at Vimy Ridge, ones with photos, to encourage that personal connection. Students are each given a soldier to research on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial. 

There are spaces on the dog tag where the students can add the soldier's age and regimental number. They can even cut out the dog tag and wear it as a way to share the story of that soldier.

"With the remembrance dog tags, it's a chance for everyone to have a soldier of their own," said Banman.

"Every student in that classroom has a connection with Vimy Ridge thanks to their soldier."

Close to home

The Vimy 100 materials can be ordered online, free of charge, and they're available to the public as well as to teachers.

Teacher Serge Duguay is using the dog tags with his Grade 8 French immersion students at Queen Charlotte Intermediate School in Charlottetown.

"This way they can just focus on one and take the time to read about this one soldier and not everything and everybody," said Duguay. 

For some of the students, the connection hits close to home. Katie Douglas, 13, selected a soldier from Charlottetown who was 20 when he enlisted, and died two years later at Vimy Ridge.

"I was trying to imagine what it would have been like to live here at that time and be in the war," said Douglas.

"You feel more attached to them, since you're learning a lot about them."

Researching the soldiers was also an eye-opener for Seth MacKenzie.

"I'm probably speaking for the majority of my class, I don't think many people here really knew much about Vimy and really the wars in general," said MacKenzie.

"You get to learn more about who they were, and they were normal people, and they made the decision to fight for us."

'It really resonates'

Veterans Affairs has done other dog tags, including soldiers who died in Afghanistan.

"We've had great uptake, we've had a lot of feedback, that it really resonates in classrooms but also with the general public," said Banman.

Besides the dog tags, the learning team has created a total of ten lesson plans about Vimy for students from kindergarten to high school.

"The centennial of Vimy Ridge is our Super Bowl, our Grey Cup, it's our Stanley Cup final, this is an incredibly busy time, the interest in Canada in remembrance is definitely at a crescendo," said Banman.

The Vimy anniversary takes place April 9 in France.

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