Scenes across Canada:
An elderly man and woman sip their tea as they catch the evening news. The lead stories are about the war waging across the ocean, and they murmur to each other about what the world is coming to and what this might mean for their country. They shake their heads as the day’s death toll is given and say, “What a waste.”
A mother and her teenager stand in a bedroom, looking into an open suitcase. The mother passes her child another bar of soap, and the child says, slightly exasperated, “Mother, I already have soap. I’ll be home long before I need that, and, besides, they told me my suitcase can’t be too heavy.” The mother waits until the child leaves the room before tucking the extra bar under a folded shirt, just in case.
A father tucks his daughter into bed, leaning down to kiss her on the forehead. His daughter reaches up to hold his face between her hands and says, “Daddy, do you really have to go?”
He covers her hands with his and smiles at her. “I have to go do this, Sweetie. I know it’s hard, but it’s for your future. I promise I’ll be home before you know it,” he vows, helping her settle back under the covers. He stands and watches her sleep, filing this image away to pull up while he is away.
A teenage boy lies in bed staring up at the ceiling, thinking about the adventure he is going to be undertaking the next day. It will be his first time overseas and his first time away from home, and while he is excited, he is also a bit nervous because there are a lot of unknowns. He has always been the quiet one at school, and now he’s going to be meeting people from across Canada and spending a lot of time with them in close quarters; he hopes he’ll make some friends right away so he doesn’t get homesick, or scared. He sighs and turns onto his side, resigning himself to a sleepless night.
The date of all of these scenes is August 06, but is it 2014, or 1914?
Realistically, the answer to that could be, “both.”
In 1914, war had just been declared and countries were rushing to prepare soldiers and the materiel of war. People listened to the news of the war in disbelief, all the while thinking the “skirmish” would be over by Christmas. Mothers said good-bye to sons, fathers kissed their children goodnight for perhaps the last time, and boys who had rushed to enlist spent a last sleepless night in their childhood beds, thinking about the adventure to come with a bit of nervousness. Some of those boys would never see their childhood beds again, and those who would return home did so having lost their childhood innocence.
In 2014, the war on the news could be one of many being waged across the globe and the scenes above could be playing out in many homes for many different reasons. For the intents and purposes of this blog, I imagine them taking place in the homes of the 2014 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize scholars and chaperones who are getting ready to head to England, France and Belgium to learn about WWI, which had just started a century ago, and WWII.
1914 marks the centenary of the start of WWI. In the total history of the world 100 years is really not that long, but it is long enough that very few people alive today have first-hand knowledge of what it was like 100 years ago during the war. Is it because we don’t have personal knowledge that we are so fascinated by it? Or is it because most of us have never had to fight to defend our country and its ideals that we are so enthralled by the men and women who did that for us 100 years ago?
I don’t have the answers to those questions, but I do know that the soldiers going to war in 1914 didn’t think the war was going to last much longer than Christmas that year, and they never imagined how destructive the war would be socially, politically, economically, physically, or geographically by the time it was over. I also believe that none of them ever thought that a century later people would still be flocking to Europe specifically to honour their memory and their sacrifices; they wouldn’t have thought it because they didn’t see what they were doing as a sacrifice, they saw it as simply doing what needed to be done.
Over the past seven years I have had the opportunity to lead seven groups of teens to the battlefields and cemeteries of Europe. My friends and family always ask if I get tired of seeing the same things every time, and I always tell them that I see things differently each time because each group brings a different perspective with them. People seem to understand what I mean when I say that. I would like to explain that it’s actually so much more than that, but unless they’ve been there, they wouldn’t understand what I really feel when I’m there. What I really want to say is that those places have a way of entering your soul and haunting you. Each time I go I form a deeper connection with those places and the men and women who fought and died there. Each time I stand in a cemetery, surrounded by the headstones of Canadians who left our country in order to defend it, knowing that I will be returning to the home they never got to go back to, I feel compelled to ensure their sacrifices are never forgotten. The men and boys lying in those foreign fields were ordinary people just as I am, and I can feel them urging me to use the opportunities they provided to try to make a difference in the world, like they did, so their sacrfice wasn’t in vain.
Which leads me to the reason I am going back for the eighth time tomorrow: the 2014 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize scholars are heading to Europe tomorow. I will have the pleasure of meeting our 14 Canadian winners and this year’s teacher chaperone in Toronto, where we will board the plane that will take us off on what I know is going to be an amazing two weeks of learning, laughter, tears, bonding, friendship, adventure, and the gaining of a deeper appreciation of our country and our rights and freedoms. These teenagers, like the teenagers who went overseas a century ago, will return forever changed. Oh, they certainly won’t be scarred emotionally or physically like those young soldiers were, but they will be connected to their country and the people they share this experience with in a way their friends who have not been to those battlefields and cemeteries cannot be until or unless they go there themselves.
I will attempt to blog each night about our adventures that day so you can follow our progress, but the internet connections can sometimes be a bit spotty so please bear with us! I know it’s going to be a fantastic experience, and I am so grateful to both the Beaverbrook and Vimy Foundations for making this opportunity possible for these kids, the other chaperones, and me.
Education Coordinator, The Vimy Foundation микрозаймы