Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 11 August 2017

Today the BVP2017 group travelled to Ypres where they visited John McCrae’s dressing station at Essex Farm, the Passchendaele Memorial, and the In Flanders Fields museum. Later that same evening they participated in the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate which has taken place every night since 1928 (with the exception of a temporary pause during the occupation in the Second World War).
Please note: participants will blog in their mother tongue.

Credit: Thomas Littlewood, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Currently, to many students across Canada, Francis Pegahmagabow was a Canadian soldier during the First World War; a soldier that had a familiar ring to his name, so that anytime you heard it, you knew you recognized the name, but you couldn’t quite place why you knew it.

Before the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, I was one of those students. I didn’t know why Francis Pegahmagabow was (and still is) a significant Anishnaabe figure of the First World War to Canadians.

I didn’t know that despite discriminatory bans which discouraged Indigenous Canadians from enlisting, Francis enlisted almost immediately after the war was declared.

I didn’t realize that despite being known as the deadliest sniper of the war, becoming the most highly decorated Indigenous soldier in Canada and being one of thirty-nine men to receive two bars to their Military Medals, he returned home only to have the same persecution and poverty he experienced prior to the war.

Once exhausted and frustrated with the government’s treatment of Indigenous Canadians, Francis became involved in local and federal politics; advocating for better treatment towards Indigenous people.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn about Corporal Francis Pegahmagabow, for he played such a significant role during the First World War. Unfortunately, because he was in a minority, he is a hidden figure of Canadian history that is not taught to students in classrooms.
Yet through programs like the Vimy Foundation’s Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, we are learning stories that were silenced during the war. These are stories that we will share with fellow students and our communities when we return home.

Claire Belliveau, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

 
I was very moved by the ceremony we attended today at the Menin Gate in Ypres, Belgium. Everywhere I looked there were people; all of the viewing areas were packed full. It was very emotional to see so many individuals and families taking the time for this important act of remembrance. At the beginning of the ceremony trumpets were playing the Last Post and the Pledge of Remembrance was read aloud. As everyone in the crowd chorused “We will remember them”, I felt that it was undeniably true. These people were taking the time during an ordinary day to remember the soldiers who fought and died. It’s hard to express how powerful that moment really was and the impact it had for me.

Later in the ceremony, wreaths were laid on the steps of the Gate. I was so proud to be wearing my Vimy Foundation jacket when Cecilia, Paul and Lala laid our wreath. It meant so much for me to be at that ceremony, seeing a Vimy Foundation wreath being laid on a memorial that remembers so many Canadian and fellow Commonwealth soldiers.

Today was truly a day I will never forget. The enormous monument with the thousands of soldiers who fought in the “World to End All Wars” and the shivers that ran down my spine during the Pledge of Remembrance made the sacrifice of the soldiers ever more tangible.

Patricia Kennedy, Fredericton, New Brunswick

 
I had the opportunity of presenting to the BVP group on Captain Flora Sandes, the only British woman to officially fight in the First World War. Born in 1876 in Yorkshire, she was the youngest daughter of a middle class Irish clergyman, Samuel Sandes. While most girls her age played with dolls and sewing, Flora spent her time doing her two favourite things: horse riding and shooting.

When war broke out Flora Sandes joined the St. John Ambulance service with 36 other women in order to aid the humanitarian crisis in Serbia. Within a year she joined the Serbian Red Cross and when her unit reached an area that was impassible to paramedics she took the Red Cross badge off her arm and declared that she would join the 2nd Regiment as a Private; within a year she was a Sergeant. During hand-to-hand combat, Sergeant Sandes sustained injuries from an exploding grenade, resulting in a military hospital stay of two months. While in hospital, Sandes received the Order of the Star of Karađorđe and was promoted to Sergeant Major, becoming the first ever female and foreigner to be made a Sergeant Major in the Serbian forces. Sandes spent much of her life in Serbia with her husband, getting trapped in the country when the Gestapo took control in the Second World War, before ultimately losing her husband and making the difficult decision to leave the country.

Captain Flora Sandes was a remarkable woman; her attitudes were revolutionary and as the next generation we must remember her example and the remarkable stories of women during the world wars, which are often not shared, but rather hidden between the lines of the bigger picture.

-Lala Israfilova, Carshalton, Sutton, UK

Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.