Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 09, 2015

I don’t know who put in the order for good weather, but whoever it was, thank you! It was an absolutely gorgeous day here in London, and we definitely made the most of it!

We got on the Tube first thing and headed back to the Westminster area so we could walk White Hall and get a look at the British War Memorial and the Women in War statue. Luca gave his presentation on Women in War there, and then we had a bit of a group discussion after before heading on to the Churchill War Rooms.

I heard a lot of the kids say that this museum was the highlight of their day, and that they were shocked that WWII was run from these rooms underground. It certainly gave them a new appreciation for the sacrifices that were made on the home front as well as the battle front, and the idea that war involves an entire society, not just the military.

From there we walked to Buckingham Palace and made it just in time to see the end of the changing of the guards, along with half of London. (I’d love to say we timed it that way but it really was just a fluke!) Once the crowd cleared we had a few photo ops, and I have to say, the group is getting really good at getting their jackets on and arranging themselves for photos! If they were this good on Day 2, I can’t wait to see the efficiency of this maneuver on Day 10!

We ate lunch right behind the gate and beside the Canadian War Memorial in Green Park, and we had presentations from Alice, Nicholas and Aspen on what their respective countries (Britain, France and Canada) were like prior to WWI. This really gave everyone an idea of what the history and political situation of each country was heading into WWI. The group gave big kudos to Nicholas: not only did he give his presentation in English, but he was not flustered at all when the policeman in the car parked between us and the Canadian War Memorial honked his horn to get the people climbing on the Memorial (which is water flowing down a concrete slab, so it acts like a mini waterslide) to stop climbing on it. Nicholas not only maintained his composure during the honk but also while the rest of the group laughed when the man being honked at jumped in surprise and fell. (Of course the man in the Memorial was not the only one who jumped … Luca also saw some air time courtesy of that horn). Nicholas will be a tough act to follow in terms of professionalism during a presentation!

In the afternoon we explored the Imperial War Museum, and I saw a lot of serious faces in there. We had some great discussions about that exhibit in particular on the ride back to Harrow … it is so hard for any of us to comprehend what went on during that time, and to wrap our heads around the fact that people did that to other people. That exhibit is, in my opinion, one of the best of its kind in the world, and is worth checking out on a trip to London. It is not an easy exhibit to visit by any means, but I think we all have a lot to learn from it.

We had supper back at Harrow, then had a bit of a break before our evening presentations and group discussion. Evan talked to us about Borden, and Rachel told us about Clemenceau, so heading into the lectures at Oxford tomorrow the group already has some in-depth knowledge of the histories of the three countries we’re learning about, as well as the political leadership at the time of the war. All of the other chaperones and I have been completely impressed by the calibre of the presentations so far. It is evident that a lot of time and effort was taken in preparing these, and that is appreciated by everyone here as we are all learning a lot.

We added a new component to the BVP this year, which is music. Songs can tell us about a people and a generation in ways that history books can’t, so we listened to two songs from WWII tonight. I didn’t expect any discussion after them, I intended to simply play the songs to get the group to reflect on what they had seen today, and to maybe prompt some thoughts in their journals. Was I in for a pleasant surprise when they started offering their opinions and thoughts about the songs, and discussing what the songs made them feel and think about. We had a wonderful group discussion, and I suspect those will be the first of many as we try to match the days with appropriate songs. (In case you’re wondering, I did not merely forget to mention the name of the songs. Since I want to use them again and I am told by applicants for this program that they read this blog and it inspired them to apply, I don’t want them to know the songs since I intend to use them again if they strike the right tone!)

If the group discussion after the songs was impressive, the group discussion about Lord Beaverbook was mindblowing. The other chaperones and I got the group started on a discussion and then we sat back and let them at it. They were so focused on on-point, and their respectful disagreements and thought-provoking questions were so mature, I thought I was in a university seminar. We started the discussion at 8:00 and I am sure they would still be talking now (it’s after midnight) if we hadn’t stopped them at 9:30 so we could discuss the plans for tomorrow and get them back to their rooms in time to journal and get ready for tomorrow.

I am thrilled each year with the calibre of students who apply for this scholarship, and we have never had a bad bunch yet, but this group is really off to the races in terms of impressing the adults with their discussions, insights, passion and knowledge about the topics we’ve given them. I have not collected journals yet so I am eagerly awaiting those – I’ll get to read all of the London days at once on the train to Belgium – because I just know that they’re going to give me goosebumps.

I think the student blogging portion will start once we reach Belgium and we are not separated into two buildings and rooms in the four corners of all the floors in each dorm! It has been a bit difficult to coordinate, but I know once they start contributing it’ll be obvious why we’re so impressed with this group!

Goodnight from London on Day 2!