Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 16 August 2017

Notre Dame de Lorette, Ablain St.-Nazaire French Military Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today the BVP2017 students visited the Lens 14-18 Museum, and numerous cemeteries including Cabaret Rouge, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, and Givenchy-en-Gohelle. After spending some time at the incredible Ring of Remembrance, they departed the Arras region and travelled to Bernières-sur-Mer to begin the Second World War portion of the program.

(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)

Notre Dame de Lorette, Ablain St.-Nazaire French Military Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today the BVP2017 participants were privileged to visit the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette French Cemetery and the Ring of Remembrance. The early hours of the day were very foggy, and the ground was consequently covered with a thick coat of mist. As we entered the cemetery, the thousands of crosses peering out from the layer of fog was a sight I will never forget. It gave the place a feeling of true eternal rest for the more than 40,000 French soldiers buried there. Besides the fog, the sheer number of crosses was shocking. There were thousands upon thousands of crosses in front of me. And then I looked behind me, and there was an equally gigantic number. Behind the central church, I saw even more including the numerous mass graves in the forms of burial pits often holding over 1,000 soldiers. The cemetery was certainly beautiful and it definitely honoured the soldiers well, but I also found that the huge number of graves in front of my very own eyes was nothing but shocking and saddening. Beside the cemetery was the Ring of Remembrance. Its purpose was to list every soldier who fell during the First World War in Northern France alphabetically. There was no order by rank, nationality or allegiance. Only the names of every single man. With nearly 600,000 names listed, the monument actually gave me a feeling of hope and unity, and I ultimately departed feeling very positively moved by it.

Cole Oien, Calgary, Alberta

Private Frederick Joseph Belliveau lived a quiet life; Born and raised in Joggins Mines, Nova Scotia, he became a bookkeeper. His life was peaceful and quiet until the First World War broke out in August 1914. Frederick enlisted with the 42nd battalion in River Herbert, Nova Scotia, on May 29th, 1916 and he was killed in action on April 9th, 1917 during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

I couldn’t comprehend how I could properly commemorate a fallen soldier. What could I say to someone who gave everything for their country? All I can say to Private Frederick Joseph Belliveau is thank you. Thank you for being brave, thank you for fighting for your country, thank you for the risk you took and in the end, thank you for offering the ultimate sacrifice. You gave your today for our tomorrow. That sacrifice, your remembrance and your legacy is ours to hold high and never let die.

Before we parted I left two gifts: The first, a Canadian penny, because a penny is symbolic that I visited the soldiers’ grave. Le deuxième cadeau, un drapeau de l’Acadie; le drapeau de notre patrie. Never did I believe that I would be able to meet Frederick Joseph Belliveau, but I’m so thankful that I was able to. I now know that no matter what happens to us, we’re strong and can get through anything.
Nous sommes toujours Acadie fort.

-Claire Belliveau, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

At the Noyelle-sur-Mer Chinese cemetery, row upon row of CWGC headstones are inscribed with the date of death: 1917. The graves are not for typical soldiers on the Western Front, they are for the Chinese labourers who worked behind the scenes clearing battlefields, digging trenches, and building roads and railways. They struggled with language and were separated from family and home yet they got barely any recognition for their service. From a Western perspective, they died unglamorously, mostly from the Spanish Flu. It’s possible their families never received the news of their deaths. Even if they did, the words would have been incomprehensible, much like how the epitaph is meaningless to the average person visiting these graves. The translations are nowhere near perfect. One of the four different types of inscriptions reads “a noble duty bravely done” when in fact, I would translate 勇往直前 (yong wang zhi qian) as “continued courage and perseverance even in the face of great adversity”. Proper recognition of the contributions and bravery of these men is lacking. They travelled long distances from the ports of Qingdao to the Western battlefields, and it may be an even longer road to reconciliation, recognition, and understanding of a truly global picture of the World Wars.

-Alisia Pan, North York, Ontario

Ring of Remembrance.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Juno Beach, Normandy, France.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 15 August 2017

Courcelette Canadian Memorial.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today in France, the BVP2017 participants commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Hill 70. On the occasion, Cecilia gave a presentation on Japanese-Canadian Sergeant Masumi Mitsui who received the Military Medal for bravery, and Maddy gave her presentation on Ukrainian-Canadian Sergeant Filip Konowal who received the Victoria Cross.

(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)

Canadian Hill 70 Memorial
Credit: Peter Last, The Hill 70 Monument Project

Filip Konowal may have been born in the Ukraine, but everything he had, he gave to Canada. Today, I had the opportunity to visit Hill 70 to commemorate his life, his sacrifice, and his valour. In 1915, Konowal he enlisted with the 77th (Ottawa) Battalion. Once overseas he was transferred to the 47th (British Columbia) Battalion.

Three days before the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was promoted to acting corporal, successfully leading his men to their objectives. During the fighting at Hill 70 and Lens, Konowal served on a mopping-up party. Even after the quick capture of Hill 70, Konowal grew restless, claiming in a later interview “I was so fed up standing in the trench with water to my waist that I said to hell with it and started after the German army.” Acting alone, Konowal accounted for no less than three enemy machine gun posts, taking them with just his rifle, bayonet, grenades and bare hands. This act earned Filip a Victoria Cross for bravery. Late in the day of 22 August 1917, Konowal was severely wounded by a gunshot wound to the neck and face. He was evacuated, recovered, and even went on to serve with the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force late in the war.

Back in Canada, Filip Konowal’s physical and emotional injuries began to take their toll; he began to suffer hallucinations and in one instance, killed a man while coming to the aid of his friend who was being attacked. Due to his war injuries, which included severe brain trauma, Konowal was found not criminally responsible for the murder and placed in a hospital for treatment. Gradually healing from his wounds, upon release, Filip married a war widow. He wasn’t honored for his service until 1956, when other veterans raised awareness and funds to send Konowal to meet the queen who awarded him with a Branch Merit award. He would later work as the personal caretaker and messenger of the Prime Minister’s office on Parliament Hill. When Filip Konowal passed at the age of 72, his government record was labelled “died in service”, as he devoted himself entirely to our country. I am honored to have been able to commemorate him.

-Madelyn Burgess, Bow Island, Alberta

Enshia and Alisia, Villers Station Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

August 15th, 2017.
On this day 100 years ago, the Canadians attacked Hill 70 and today we visited the site where the battle took place. It was there that I shared the story of Japanese-Canadian soldier Masumi Mitsui. Although he was one of many Japanese soldiers who served during the war, his story applies to many of these brave soldiers. Due to discriminatory recruiting, Japanese-Canadians had a difficult time enlisting when the war broke out; some even travelled to different provinces to enlist.

They were also treated poorly at the front, as other soldiers made racist remarks and doubted their abilities. Additionally, there was a language barrier between the soldiers of different races, which was one of the reasons Mitsui was put in command of the Japanese soldiers from the 10th Battalion as he was fluent in English. Thirty of Mitsui’s thirty-five men lost their lives during the Battle of Hill 70 and all of them showed great courage in the face of danger. It is heartbreaking to know that later, during the Second World War, the veterans and their families, along with 21,000 other Japanese-Canadians were interned. Throughout the years, the Japanese-Canadian soldiers persevered through many different struggles and hardships. These soldiers, though they were not as recognized, also lived, loved and laughed in their homes and in their communities and made the ultimate sacrifice for us. “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

-Cecilia Kim, Surrey, British Columbia


Fauberg d’Amiens Arras Memorial (Flying Services Memorial)
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

I didn’t want to show tears in front of him because he was such a strong and resilient character; Captain Gordon Budd Irving didn’t fear the war. He occasionally complained about how boring his journey started but more often he wrote to his sister Fern, thanking her for fresh cake in a tin or telling her funny stories about the pals they knew. The worst parts of war never seemed to have gotten to him, the loneliness of being in the Royal Air Force never disconnected him from family and home. Reading the seventy-five letters that he sent home made me realize that he was truly daring and loving – he gave advice to his dad about selling the car and worried if his family would overwork themselves.

When I got to the Arras Flying Services Memorial, it took a while to find his name because subconsciously I wished for his name to be inscribed somewhere reachable, down to earth, just like his personality. But he was near the top of the rectangular column. Looking all the way up, I realized that is where he belonged – against the background of the clear sky that he fought so hard in. There is no longer a need for the Sopwith Dolphin to soar in the sky and Captain Gord is no longer flying in the skies. Never have I ever wished for more beautiful words to flow from my pen, these words just don’t seem enough. I do hope the words I whispered to him at the Memorial were enough to give him a sense of direction back to his school, his home, so that although he was reported missing on the August 11, 1918, he does not feel lost and can find his way home.

-Alisia Pan, North York, Ontario


Credit: Thomas Littlewood, Hanna Smyth, Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Thomas Littlewood, Hanna Smyth, Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Villers Station Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Lochnagar Crater.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 14 August 2017

Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017

Today the BVP2017 students visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial which was an important and moving experience for our participants. The group visited the new Vimy Education Centre, participated in a wreath laying ceremony, and received their Vimy Pilgrimage medals. Later in the day they visited Lichfield Crater, Neuville St-Vaast German cemetery, and topped off the day with a visit to the Maison Blanche underground tunnels.

(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)

I had the honour of commemorating Ellis Wellwood Sifton today, one of the four Canadians who received the Victoria Cross during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. While his battalion was under heavy fire from German machine gun nests, Sifton single-handedly rushed one of them, eliminating the crew and knocking over the gun. His comrades arrived, and they held off a German counterattack, but Sifton was fatally shot. His sacrifice saved the lives of dozens of men in his battalion, earning him the Victoria Cross. I hoped his final resting place would reflect and honour his sacrifice on the battlefield. As I exited the bus when we reached the destination, I was shocked. The cemetery was surrounded by a field of wilting crops trapped in sunburnt dirt. I feared the appearance of the cemetery would mirror the conditions of the field. As I reached the gates, my fears were set aside and I stared at the cemetery in awe: the inner side of the wall was surrounded by rows of beautiful flowers and the ground was covered in green grass. I felt confident and ready to commemorate this heroic man but struggled to deliver my rehearsed words. I myself sometimes struggle to make menial sacrifices, and this daring man was prepared to run into almost certain death to save the lives of his comrades without a second thought. I left the cemetery with the utmost respect for this fallen hero, and promised to attempt to instill a fraction of his valiant qualities in myself.

-Eric Jose, Oshawa, Ontario

Today, we had the amazing opportunity to visit the Maison Blanche sousterraine (underground tunnels). These tunnels were where many Canadian soldiers stayed before the Capture of Vimy Ridge, and they are consequently an incredible legacy to Canada’s First World War story. For me, it was nothing short of inspirational. As we descended from the sweltering midday sun into the chilly pitch-black mystery of the sousterraine, I was in awe of it all. This awe was specifically due to two aspects of our journey through the caves. First, they were covered with inscriptions and engravings on the walls by the Canadian soldiers who inhabited the caverns over 100 years ago. I could see the legacies left behind by many of these soldiers, and often times they were among the last that they ever left. Whether it was a crude drawing of a farm animal or a detailed and loyal depiction of their respective regiment, these legacies gave a very personal connection to the soldiers. I felt even more respect for those men seeing what they had been through. As a history lover, I absolutely adored those extra stories and legacies that we were privileged to see.

-Cole Oien, Calgary, Alberta

Philip Robinson of the Durand Group, explaining the Maison Blanche tunnels.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Driving through the French streets draped in Canadian flags could only add to the immense pride that I was to feel at Vimy Ridge. I knew right away that this was going to be a once in a lifetime experience. We started off with a tour through the trench lines leading up to the Ridge. The close proximity of the German and Allied trenches was incredible as I was able to visualize what it might be like to be there and see the enemy and have that personal connection to the man that you might have to kill.

Visiting the German Cemetery Neuville St-Vaast was intense. The rows after rows of crosses enveloped you as everywhere you looked there were thousands of fallen soldiers. I have never seen anything like it and it was an eye opening experience to the sheer volume of men that gave their lives during this war. The highlight of my day though was re-visiting the Vimy Ridge Memorial at dusk. The solitude allowed me to connect on a personal level with the monument. The group work allowed us to reflect on the experiences we have had so far. As the sun set in front of the Virtues it truly was a perfect end to a perfect day.

-Daniel Schindel, Surrey, British Columbia

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


Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 13 August 2017

Credit: Rachel Collishaw, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today in France, the BVP 2017 students visited important sites from the battle of the Somme, including Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, and the Historial de la Grande Guerre museum. At Neuve Chapelle British Cemetery, Yaman delivered a powerful presentation about the contributions of Sikh soldiers in the First World War.
Please note: the students will blog in their preferred official language.

Today was our first day in France. After all we did today, our visit to Beaumont-Hamel left an impression so deep and significant that I will truly never forget it. Being a Newfoundlander myself, Beaumont-Hamel and the tragic story of the “Blue Puttees” is forever seared into our cultural memory. We lost a whole generation of young men from which our Dominion, (and now province), has never fully healed. Seeing the Caribou Monument, the shell craters, and trenches triggered something inside me to the point where I was overcome with emotion. The fact that I was there in remembrance of my great-grandfather and that I was commemorating my soldier there added to this emotional connection. I had never been to Beaumont-Hamel, having only seen the monument through photographs and video at home, but for some reason it felt like I had seen it before. The overwhelming response of love and support I received from my fellow Beaverbrook Vimy Prize participants after doing my soldier presentation was inspiring and heart warming. The connection I have developed not only to the fallen comrades, but also to my fellow BVP recipients is overwhelming, and I have never been filled with so much emotion. I hope that my great-grandfather, Fred, and my soldier, Cecil, would be proud and touched by my actions here today.

-Abigail Garret, Conception Bay, Newfoundland & Labrador


Aujourd’hui, je me suis senti très fier de présenter au groupe – lorsque nous étions en train de visiter le monument commémoratif de Neuve Chapelle – le soldat canadien sikh Buckam Singh, dont l’histoire a été oubliée pendant plusieurs décennies. Cet homme a souffert beaucoup et il est mort seul, sans avoir droit à un rituel religieux. Dû à l’absence de Sikhs au Canada à son époque, personne n’est venu visité sa tombe… jusqu’à ce qu’un historien ait retrouvé sa médaille de victoire dans une boutique anglaise.

Ensuite, nous avons visité Beaumont Hamel. J’ai adoré observer les réseaux de tranchées qui zigzaguaient dans l’herbe. Un caribou symbolique dominant le paysage se tenait majestueusement par-dessus un support. Abbey, l’une des participantes, nous a distribué à chacun deux drapeaux de Terre-Neuve et Labrador que nous avons planté devant les tombes de nos choix.

Finalement, lorsque j’ai aperçu le monument à Thiepval, c’était immense ! Les drapeaux français et britannique donnaient l’impression que ces deux pays se serraient la main. Il y avait un cimetière derrière la structure, séparé en deux sections : une section pour les soldats français où se tenaient des rangées de croix portant la mention « Inconnu » ; et une section pour les soldats anglais un peu différente, où les tombes étaient conçues d’après les standards de la CWGC, malgré que la plupart étaient également des tombes de soldats inconnus.

-Yaman Awad, Anjou, Quebec

Immense archways, thousands of inscribed names, a cemetery placed against the background of a picturesque countryside; today we visited the Thiépval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, dedicated to the missing British and South African soldiers who fought at the Battle of the Somme. As I walked through the memorial, my heart dropped at the sight of all the names of the soldiers who lost their lives in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, and whose bodies have not yet been found. Continuing down the stairs of the memorial to the cemetery, I saw the graves of the French and British soldiers; the French on one side and the British soldiers on the other. The difference between the two nationalities could be easily spotted as there were stone crosses erected at the graves of the French soldiers, while for the English soldiers, there were the rounded Commonwealth tombstones that we had seen previously at other cemeteries. As I approached the French crosses, I realized that they all bore the same inscription, “Inconnu,” or “Unknown.” Row after row, there were crosses without the names of those who were buried there. When I saw this, my heart shattered. All these fallen soldiers once had names and identities, which have been buried under the horrors of the war. I now have an understanding of the contributions made by those who served their countries and felt a greater need to commemorate the fallen soldiers. I will continue to remember these soldiers and to search for and share their stories with others so that we will never forget those who gave up their lives so that we may live ours in peace.

-Cecilia Kim, Surrey, British Columbia

Y Ravine Cemetery, Beaumont Hamel
Credit: Rachel Collishaw, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Historial de la Grande Guerre – Museum of the First World War
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme
Credit: Rachel Collishaw, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Y Ravine Cemetery, Beaumont Hamel
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 12 August 2017

St. Julien Memorial. Credit: Rachel Collishaw, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today the BVP2017 group took part in a Ypres Salient Tour, visiting the Christmas Truce Memorial, Hooge Crater, the St. Julien Memorial and many others. They were also able to visit the Langemark German Military Cemetery, which strikes a very different chord than those of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Please note: participants will blog in their mother tongue.

Today was our day for the Ypres Salient Tour, and so we visited Tyne Cot Cemetery. 11,950 soldiers are buried there. Commonwealth, British and a few Germans are all present in that sea of marble, the sword of sacrifice standing (protectively or threateningly?) over them all.

There were two soldier commemorations that took place there, both beautifully moving. We found a soldier who had lived in the same house as one of our chaperones. It made me think. There is a word in English, “to sonder”, which means to wonder about the lives of all the people around you and realize that they are all individuals, with a life at least as complicated as yours. That is what I felt today.

Every single man in the Great War was an individual, a unique human being with his own stories. I was surrounded by 11,950 stories. Some, buried as Soldiers of the Great War, Known Only Unto God. But we know a little. This one was from Scotland. This one was Australian. We can guess more. We can guess that somewhere there is a family who remembers. Somewhere, their names liveth for evermore.

David Alexander, Pointe-Claire, Quebec

Today, we visited the Passchendaele New British Cemetery where I commemorated a soldier. Alexander Decoteau was a Cree-Canadian soldier who was shot by a German sniper on the morning of 30 October 1917. I had the greatest honour of sharing his story and bringing his legacy to the rest of the group, and back home with me.

Alexander was a remarkable, wonderful man who lived his life to the fullest. He was one of Canada’s greatest athletes and first Indigenous police officer. Before the war, Decoteau entered a race not realizing that it was a bicycle race. Undeterred, he borrowed a bicycle and won the race. He was posthumously inducted into the Saskatchewan and Alberta Sports Halls of Fame in 2000 and 2001.

We should not remember him just because he won races, we should remember him because he never gave up, regardless of the circumstances. What joie de vivre can a man possess that he looks upon every obstacle and overcomes them? Like all the soldiers of the Great War, we must remember him. He gave his life for the future, for our future. I will remember him, I will pick up his torch and tell his story. He has been part of my journey as I partook in his past journey; he is now a part of who I am and I will carry him with me wherever I go.

-Ariadne Douglas, Prince George, British Columbia


Why should Percy Louis Barber and men like him be remembered? Is it because of the millions of lives they affected indirectly by making the ultimate sacrifice on the fields of war? Or maybe it’s because of the willingness and undying love to step up to the call when asked upon. What’s tragic about it is the fact that many of these men are not recognized or remembered by people because they weren’t lucky enough to be published, or recognized by an officer. Nevertheless men like these need to be recognised and Percy Louis Barber is no exception.

Percy at the early age of 21, like many others, had borne the scars of war multiple times. He pushed through his wounds and what must have been fear to resume his role leading troops to the front lines; battling along side his comrades in the most demanding circumstances for one and a half years. He inspired his students just as he did his soldiers that he led into combat.

So once again if you were to ask me the question why Percy Barber should be remembered I would say that the sacrifice and endless suffering that often extended past the war could not have been for nothing. These young innocent men who fought valiantly for our freedom at the very least deserve our respect as the sun sets where they lay in Flanders fields.

-Daniel Schindel, Surrey, British Columbia

Christmas Truce Memorial. Credit: Rachel Collishaw, 2017.
Hooge Crater. Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation, 2017.
Langemark German Military Cemetery. Credit: Rachel Collishaw, 2017.

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.

Essex Farm Cemetery

Today, the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize group is visiting Essex Farm Cemetery, the Passchendaele Memorial and taking part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. In May 1915, it is believed Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army Medical Corps wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” while operating at Essex Farm Cemetery. To mark the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission historians broadcast a series of live videos while visiting CWGC sites. Today we share the recording made at Essex Farm Cemetery.   

Live from #CWGC Essex Farm Cemetery

Posted by Commonwealth War Graves Commission on Friday, July 28, 2017

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 10 August 2017

Today in Oxford, the 2017 BVP group toured Oxford University and attended seminars by guest speakers Dr. Emma Login and Dr. Aimee Fox. They also tried punting and participated in our “BVP Amazing Race” Oxford edition! Please note: participants will blog in their mother tongue.

It is not every day that I get to talk with history PhDs about their field of study. Today, we had the privilege of learning from two such experts.

Our morning started with a lecture from Dr. Aimee Fox, who spoke to us about theaters of WWI outside of the Western Front. We learned of soldiers, whose voices had been muffled in our school curriculums, who had been deployed to Gallipoli, Salonica, Cairo, and more. We learned of the isolation, desolation, and exhaustive heat these men faced, and how, in spite of working hard to serve and often contracting illness, they were not regarded as highly as the soldiers of the Western trenches.

Following this, Dr. Emma Login opened up a conversation about memorials – their perceived value and how that changes across diverse populations and over time. We learned of symbolism, abstraction, representation, and function, examining in depth the specific cases of WWI memorials.

These lectures were not simply lectures – they were conversations. Throughout, I felt the compulsion to scribble some new insight in my notebook far too many times.

Enshia Li, Richmond Hill, ON


Today we had the privilege of traveling to Oxford. It wasn’t anything like I expected, in a good way, as I had no idea about all the beautiful architecture and museums. I also wasn’t aware of the deep history surrounding the university, such as the story behind “All Souls.” But along with the history, we also learned many team building skills and bonded further as a group. After we had some free time to roam around Oxford, we all partook in the Oxford/BVP version of “The Amazing Race.” In our leadership teams we raced around trying to be the first team to complete the task, which caused us collaborate our ideas in order to solve the problems and helped us bond. After that we went punting, which was a new experience for all of us. It was very hard – trying to propel a long slim boat along a river, with a small current, with a long metal rod, is not for a short person like myself. Because it was so hard, albeit really fun, we had to work together to try and paddle our way down the river. Today I feel we bonded and grew closer as a group. I feel like this will be important as we travel to Ypres tomorrow to a more sombre scene of remembrance as we visit more memorials and cemeteries.

Abigail Garrett, Conception Bay, NL

The BVP 2017 group in front of the History door at Bodleian Library, Oxford. Credit: Thomas Littlewood, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 9 August 2017

Today in London, our 2017 BVP students visited the Imperial War Museum where they attended lectures by Dr. Anna Maguire and Dr. James Wallis, explored the Churchill War Rooms, and were guided through a memorials walking tour. Please note: participants will blog in their mother tongue.

Our first stop in London today was the Imperial War Museum where we had the pleasure of learning from two excellent guest speakers, Dr. Anna Maguire and Dr. James Wallis who spoke on the lasting legacies and impacts of the First World War. I really enjoyed these presentations as they provided many new things to consider about the war and a new perspective on the conflict. We visited the First World War Gallery and Dr. Wallis answered questions for us as we walked through. It was very effective for me as they had a beautifully laid out exhibit with a huge array of artifacts with comprehensive backstories. From the exhibit, I definitely felt the impact that the war had on the UK, along with many other nations. The museum allowed me to clearly see the important details and stories behind the war, and I ultimately learned a lot. Next, we visited the Churchill War Rooms, and there, we saw the Second World War’s side of things. The complexity of the stuffy underground bunkers was stunning, and it showed me yet again how a war impacted the UK. Seeing these bunkers, I felt a great deal of pride from the resilience that was shown by the British people in those harsh times, and it was quite moving. Overall, I had an absolutely incredible day, and I learned so much. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Cole Oien, Calgary, AB


Today was the first full day in London and in Hyde Park we visited the Canadian war memorial. It’s a small one, slightly sunken into the ground surrounded by a grove of maple trees. On clear days, the sun would reflect in the water running down the memorial’s slanted surface and over the maple leaves which are embedded in the stone. But today, rain splashed off the bath running down its centre. As we approached, one of the group suggested that it looked like the bow of a ship. But I saw a shipwreck, sticking out of the water with the waves crashing over.

I ran my hand over a maple leaf, with the water washing over it. As the water flowed past, so much flowed with it: time, lives lost in the war. Was it wasted time? Were they wasted lives? The path in the middle of the memorial looked very much like a trench in the rain. This was where they died on the ships, in the trenches, and in the cloud-filled sky. I felt it was a very powerful memorial.

David Alexander, Pointe-Claire QC

Group outside the Imperial War Museum.

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 8 August 2017

Today the 2017 BVP recipients all met in London and visited Westminster Abbey and Parliament.
Please note: participants will blog in their mother tongue.

Today was a fantastic first day of the Vimy Beaverbrook Prize! Our team of 16 students and 4 chaperones journeyed from many different provinces (and countries) to congregate at the Harrow School in London, England, where we began to get to know each other through some ice-breaker games. We’ve really got a great group of people with a diverse range of interests and personalities that will make our experience all the more enjoyable!

After lunch, we toured the British Parliament building, Westminster Palace. In contrast to our Canadian Parliament, this building is much larger and older. Like our Canadian Parliament, it too has been damaged by fire. With the frequent debate on Senate Reform back home, it was interesting to hear how the reformed system works in the UK, including that Lords are not paid, and that most cannot even fit in the upper chamber! It was also cool to see the original copy of the British North America Act of 1867 (and various other founding documents of Canada), which created the Dominion of Canada, 150 years ago.

Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting the Imperial War Museum, hearing from education speakers, and exploring the Churchill War Rooms, the British Prime Minister’s bunkers from the Second World War.

Evan Kanter, Toronto, ON


Aujourd’hui était le premier jour de notre programme avec la Fondation Vimy. Personnellement, je venais de Paris et j’étais hâte de rencontrer le reste du groupe qui était déjà à l’école Harrow. À Londres, nous sommes descendus du bus à l’Abbaye de Westminster puis nous nous sommes baladés dans Parliament Square ou l’on peut notamment voir des statues de Churchill, Mandela et Gandhi. Ensuite nous avons visité le parlement, situé dans le Palais de Westminster. Il y avait une exposition intéressante sur le Parlement pendant la Première Guerre Mondiale. Pour célébrer les 150 ans du Canada, des documents relatifs à son indépendance étaient exposés. Le parlement était une visite très intéressante pour mieux comprendre comment le Royaume-Uni est gouverné et comment ses parlements ont évolué. C’était une longe journée, donc nous sommes directement rentrés à Harrow ou nous avons diné. Nous avons donc passé une superbe journée pendant laquelle nous avons eu la chance de mieux nous connaitre et de mieux nous préparer dans notre compréhension du rôle du Royaume-Uni dans les Guerres mondiales.

Paul Toqueboeuf, Boulogne, France

Group photo in front of Westminster Abbey.