Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – Closing Entry For 2015

I write this final blog entry a week after this year’s BVP winners and chaperones said their final « so-longs » in Paris. In that week the participants have filled their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts with pictures and memories of their experiences. They have shared their thoughts and opinions and musings with family and friends. They have messaged each other regularly, not willing to say goodbye to each other (or summer!) just yet. They have formed life-long friendships born from sharing a unique experience that has to be lived in order to be truly understood.

I think they have done a brilliant job sharing their experiences through this blog, and I am so happy they were willing to do so – it’s not an easy task to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with the world, yet they all felt they needed to try to let others know what they were experiencing. They were a remarkable group of young people, and the kids were not the only ones shedding a few tears as we said good-bye.

I speak on behalf of the entire chaperone team – Gabriela, Gavin, Mike and myself – when I say we were truly blessed to get to work with this group this year. We learned as much from these young adults as they learned from us, and their commitment, passion, dedication, humour, kindness and selflessness have inspired all of us. The four of us are all teachers, and while we all love our students and our careers, we do sometimes lose sight of why we entered the teaching profession. This group of unbelievably gifted teens brought that back into focus for us, and they restored our faith in what we do and why we do it. I know the four of us will return to our regular classrooms and our own students with a renewed sense of determination and optimism. Thank you Alice, Aspen, Caitie, Carson, Derrin, Evan, Gabriel, Isabelle, Jessie, Josanna, Luca, Mollie, Nicholas, Palma, Rachel and Thomas for all that you did, all that you do, and all that you are. I know our respective countries are going to be in great hands, and I know your communities are going to reap the rewards of having you in them.

On behalf of the 2015 Vimy Scholars and their chaperone team, I would like to offer our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who helped make this incredible experience possible, namely the Beaverbrook Foundation and the Vimy Foundation. Not only did we learn and grow and laugh and cry, but we have come away with a deeper understanding of, and an appreciation for, all that we have and why we have it, and a commitment to share that with others. Lest we forget.

Loralea

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 18 & 19, 2015

The ceremonies at Dieppe were much different than any of the ones that I have seen at home. There were important figures from multiple countries, ranging from members of the Canadian Legion, to mayors, to veterans. The crowds were diverse as well. People of all ages were there, which I found to be very comforting. The knowledge of the sacrifices the soldiers of WWII made will not be lost with the generations directly affected by the war. Their memories will live on.

This morning, and yesterday evening, the Vimy Scholars had the honour of participating in the ceremonies at Dieppe. During this occasion, we had the opportunity to meet and converse with veterans, present wreaths, and even to read the Youth’s Commitment to Remember. I feel that it is very important to have youth involved in these ceremonies to show that we feel the relevance of these ceremonies, and to preserver the tradition of remembrance.

The commitment to remember is not simply a decision to remember those who have fought and died for our freedom in the past. It is instead a lifelong obligation to preserve and pass on the memory of these brave veterans to those around us. As youth ambassadors for the Vimy Foundation, we have been given the honour and the privilege to participate in many remembrance ceremonies that have truly impressed upon me that it is our duty to preserve their memory. Our walks through the battlefields and cemeteries have given us a unique outlook on the cost of war, and its modern relevance, equipping us with the necessary tools needed to continue to remind of the war and its terrible cost. In the future (both immediate and distant), it will be our obligation to spread our unique outlook and preserve the relevance of the war to all, especially the youth. To many youth, war is a distant and far off event that is often difficult to comprehend.
Yet, the ceremonies at Dieppe have shown me that although it is a distant event, there are still people from all walks of life that care to remember. As I stated before, there were many people at the ceremonies. There were people representing the Canadian Legion, soldiers and veterans, and mayors and other dignitaries there. Their ages ranged from young children to seniors. All of these people, no matter their age, seemed to understand the significance of what was happening. It is apparent that the act of remembering the sacrifices of the soldiers is very important to all of these people, as well as honouring the countries which they come from. I had expected to hear the French national anthem, but not the many others which included the American, Belgian, French, British, and Canadian anthems.

We, the youth of today, must take it upon ourselves to take up the torch of remembrance. Only through us will the stories of the soldiers be passed on. Through this trip, I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we now realize just how important it is to remember the stories, and just how much of an opportunity we have. There are still veterans left today, but they are becoming fewer and fewer as the days and years go by.
As Youth Ambassadors of the Vimy Foundation, we have had many unique opportunities on this trip. This was once again the case during the remembrance ceremonies in Dieppe. We were given the responsibility of being the honour guard during the evening vigil, had the honour of presenting wreaths at two out of the three ceremonies that we attended, and two of us were given the opportunity to say the Youth’s Commitment to Remember during the ceremony. I was one of the two people chosen to say the Youth’s Commitment to Remember. I have spoken at Remembrance Day ceremonies in the past at home, but I found these ceremonies to be very different.
This is something that is not understood enough, especially among the younger generations. These wars are just old stories to them, but that isn’t how it should be. Too often it is only the older generations who were directly, affected by the wars and the battles, that attend these ceremonies. That is why I was glad to see young people there, other than just our group. These young people will keep their history relevant. Having spoken with the veterans, I feel as if they would agree with me on that as well. They seemed all too happy to talk to us, about any subjects that we wanted to discuss. I think that they just want to see that their stories are not forgotten. Meeting and talking with the veterans was very interesting.

After this trip, I know that there are sixteen passionate individuals who will do their best to preserve the torch of remembrance. We have visited the battlefields, seen the results of the sacrifices made by the soldiers, and listened to the stories of the veterans. I can say that while working to spread and preserve the traditions of remembrance won’t always be easy, it will definitely be worth the time and effort. The soldiers died for us; the least we can do is to remember them.
– Derrin

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 17, 2015

A theme of our trip has been unconditional love. It is with this feeling in mind that we shook ourselves awake at 4:30a.m. to wander, cold and bleary, through quiet Normandy streets to Juno Beach. This place, this integral piece of our identity, drew us as the tide; and we, as a group, curled up together in a pile on the bleak beach to see the sunrise, as our ancestors before us might have before the iconic D-Day raids. Unfortunately, due to the complete inability of 16 Vimy scholars to check the time of sunrise, we ended up laced together, singing our national anthem, digging in the sand, creating bright inukshuks and brilliant memories, and waiting to see the light we knew would come again for over two hours. The camaraderie in the darkness; the feeling of absolute, unconditional love as we waited, with baited breath, for the lights to return, is a feeling not soon forgotten. We have been deep within the ground lately, exploring the living war — less cemetary than sous-terraine. We have explored how the darkness can consume, how it feels to trust your instincts and your brothers in arms in absolute darkness, we have discussed the theory of lightlessness. This morning, we discovered how it feels to wait, shivering and anticipatory, for over two hours just to see the sunrise. Hours later, at 6:55a.m., the sun rose bold and burning over the pale, swept beaches of Normandy, and as light rain hit the shoulders of our Vimy-issue jackets, we stood on the rocks, hands laced together, and felt the sweep of unconditional love.

The days are not easy. Far from it, in fact — we are poppies, the ground beneath our feet churned up, allowing us to grow up in red plastic jackets among the tombstones of a hundred cemeteries. It is easy to often feel rooted to the spot, being blown about, unable to choose where you land. It is looking up and seeing a field of poppies, a field of red jackets, that is grounding. It is hands on your shoulders as you feel lost looking at graves of soldiers murdered by the SS in a quiet country garden. It is standing before a row of pearly tombstones and knowing you have stood on the loose gravel that covered their shallow graves, and feeling fingers lacing within yours. It is the ineffable feeling of absolute trust after knowing someone a week. This is the experience the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize gives you.

Today, I will take away memories of a quiet girl feeling open enough to share the story of her great-grandfather’s best friend, who never made it home. I will take away the feeling of absolute horror, and pain, that you feel when you realize the memorial garden of the church you are standing in covered up the graves of 20 of your murdered countrymen. I will take home the final words of a Vimy scholar to his great-uncle, lost to the horror of war. These are experiences I feel in my bones. There are happy times, too — loud music on the bus, and Juno Beach at sunset in dripping swimsuits, and feather-light crepes, and Baroque-era a capella concerts in a 13th century church. Each and every moment is a memory I will never regret having, and even if it is painful at times, or hard to come to terms with, it is one of love. We enter each cemetery with a feeling of unexplainable gratitude and love. We are reminded by our leaders each and every day that they fought for us to feel this unbreakable bond, this laughter, this love. I have found a family in two weeks, found a home miles from where I thought it was, and found out exactly how far love can travel, how much it can sustain someone: whether on the battlefield or standing on the remains of one.

As the sun rose halfway behind grey clouds on Juno Beach approximately 2.5 hours after we expected it, I stood hand in hand with my family, sang an off-key and sleep rough national anthem, and walked slowly up the pier, rocks clacking in our pockets. The boots of 14,000 soldiers walked behind us, marching us slowly into the morning light. No matter what happens, their light will sustain us. No matter what happens, we will face the hardship together. No matter what happens, we will love each other, wholly and unconditionally. And on days like these, it almost seems like that could be enough. Lest we forget.

– Rachel

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 15 & 16, 2015

Yesterday, after months of anticipation, we finally saw the highlight of our trip: the Vimy Memorial. We arrived at the site of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the morning, and had a tour around the tunnels used by the canadian soliders. It was fascinating to explore the passages in which they lived, and to see what they’d have seen in those last days leading up to the attack. After that, we visited the monument itself. It truly defies description. Imposing, awe-inspiring, symbolic, spiritual and beautiful are all words that but echo the essence of the majestic monument. Not only was the structure itself breathtaking, but the feeling of being there, where the Canadians fought, died and were victorious, was incredible. After wandering around for a while, we had a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the base of the monument. There was a reading of the Youth Committment to Remember and a wreath-laying. At the end, Mollie played a beautiful piece on her violin that sent us all into tears. We all received our Vimy Pilgrimage Medals, sang O Canada and then had a group hug. More tears ensued. We then left Vimy to see cemeteries, such as the one where John Kipling is buried, and a major German cemetery containing the graves of 200,000 men. We also visited the Ring of Remembrance and Notre Dame de Lorette. In the evening, we returned to Vimy to see the memorial lit up at night.

Today was mainly a day on the road as we drove to Bernieres and Juno Beach. We did stop in a few cemeteries and Aspen, Rachel, Gab and I did our soldier presentations. Here is the poem, entitled  » Flowerdew » that I wrote in honour of my solider, Captain G. M. Flowerdew.

Were they cannons he saw?
But no, they only seemed so to his eyes.
(Horses shied and nickered)
They were not cannons

In the woods of Northern France, in the midst of the Great War, he led them.
Through the trees whose very leaves crackled with fear, he led them.
Into the open field, he led them.
And there stood the others
With the weapons that were not cannons.

It would have been better if they had been cannons.

To retreat would mean destruction, to attack would death…

And he ordered the charge, and forward they galloped.
And down they fell like flowers in a hailstorm.
But it was not a hailstorm they rode into.

It would have been better if it had been a hailstorm.

But the others fell too, and soon they fell back.
Thus it was he stopped them, thus Paris was saved once again.

And thus he was wounded unto death,
Death who came to claim him the next morning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today I stand before him.
This is what I tell him –

(It is your eyes that get to me
And the way you loved your horses
And that you were an orchardist
And that)

You knew
Either way, most of your men would die

And so

With a kind of hopeless courage
A desperate bravery
You charged
They say there is no glory in war
But is not laying down your life for your friends
And
Sacrificing your all for a higher cause
A different kind of
Glorious?

You led a cavalry charge against machine guns.
In the face of their endless bullets, you brandished swords.

« It’s a charge boys, it’s a charge! »

(They were not cannons)
-Isabelle Ava-Pointon

In the evening, we walked down to Juno Beach and wandered around, wading into the cold Atlantic water and remembering the soldiers who had fought and died on that very sand so that we could enjoy it in peace. It was a tranquil, fitting end to our long day.

– Isabelle

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 14, 2015

Today was, as many of us have put it, « a rollercoaster of emotions. » I can crudely summarize my day into four major experiences.

Loralea shared Lawrence Wark with us today, her great uncle who had been killed in the Great War. She played a hymn at the end that held a significant place in the memory of him. The hymn was titled Blessed Assurance. Hearing the tune and lyrics hit home in a way I had not felt before. I have been affected by the graves and cemeteries we visited before but not like this. I began walking up and down the rows reading the inscriptions on the bottoms of the headstones. I stared picking out and looking for specific inlays. « Thy will be done. » « God hath taken him. » « He is in the arms of Jesus. » I saw them one after another; they began to go by in a blur yet I saw each individual one. Tears began streaming down my face. I didn’t know why. I was mournful for the dead, for the ones God had taken before they had a chance to grow old. I should have been happy, I believed they now sat with God. Maybe I was sad for those who didn’t or don’t believe that their loved ones resided in heaven, sad for their suffering. Maybe I was sad that God could take those away from their families. Maybe I felt confusion about what I was feeling. What I do know is that I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion. This was just the start of my day.

My day brightened as we moved on to the Commonwealth War Graves Commision. These people had the responsibility of looking after all the Commonwealth graves and cemeteries. They were responsible for maitenance of cemeteries including lawn, gardens, repair or replacement of headstones, Crosses of Sacrifice, Stones of Rememberance, gates, doors, grates, registry compartments, etc. It gave me a comforting feeling that everything was being done to ensure that the dead were being properly looked after and respected like they should be. We saw all the effort, countless hours, and money that went in to the process. How much time they spent to make sure eveything was not only kept in excellent condition but also made to look aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

After, we went to the tunnels at Maison Blanche. Although it was extremely dark down there it was one of our brightest experiences of what the war was. This was where the young soldiers had lived for long periods of time. We saw the etchings in the walls of chalk made by the Canadian soldiers who had been there. There was everything from regiment badges to memorials to fallen comrades. It showed the soldiers living down there as real people.

Finally, the biggest part of my day was visiting the grave of my soldier, Charles Welsh. Reading the story of Charles Welsh inspired me to choose him and write to him and tell others about him, but I never realized how much he and his story meant to me until I shared it with everyone. All the emotions of grief, anger, happiness, regret, fear, and thankfulness washed over me in an instant. Seeing the thousands of graves came down to the spot where this one man lay buried. To explain exactly what I felt in the time I read the biography and tribute and letter would be impossible. In the end, I felt overwhelming joy welling inside me. I feel fully what it meant for them to give their lives for us so that I could gain this experience with a new family that I know and love.

– Evan

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 13, 2015

Today was an extremley emotional day for me. I searched out my soldier at the Thiepval memorial and found his name. There he was. Finally this person I had heard about and researched. However seeing my soldier up on a wall completley covered with soldiers that were never found was heartbreaking. This man is part of my story, my family, my identity and here he is without a grave. I lay my cross down at the memorial, on it I inscribed « For Albert Smith » « In remembrance and loving memory from all your family at home. » Then I gave my tribute to my soldier the best way I know how, through poetry:

Here lies a man,
an etched name into a piece of stone.
A life for a piece of stone,
a small rememberance
for the love of someone’s life
a father of someone’s child
a smile on someone’s face as they rush to meet him down the cold London cobbles.

You died once on a cold field,
without the people you loved
without seeing your child’s first steps.
You died then alone in the cold.
You won’t die again.
I won’t let you die.
I won’t lthe memory of you be lost,
Let your name fade from this stone,
As the sands of time fall into forever,
I will hold them back
Won’t let the grains fall through my fingers.
Take thistime to think of yours.

I’d like to think you’d be proud that now,
Your blood that was split
Runs through my veins,
And my mother’s veins
And my Grandmother’s veins.
That you will always live through us.

And thus time may continue
And as i travel the journey that you one took
I think now how rain can never wash away blood,
how bodies can never pick themselves up.
That families can never pick themselves up.
That families can never sew up wounds that aren’t visible,
but gape open with loss.
That time is easily forgotten but impossible to erase.

– Alice Vines

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 12, 2015

Today we visited quite a lot of cemeteries and memorials. When we woke, after taking a look at the day’s itinerary, we already knew that it was going to be an emotionally challenging day, much like yesterday. Personally, I am already extremely overwhelmed by this trip – more than I really ever thought I’d be. I do not, however, consider this a negative thing, because I know this means I’m truly understanding what I’m seeing. I know all of my fellow scholars feel like this as well.

Topics like processing and comprehending everything we’re seeing have been very consistent in conversation throughout today and yesterday. For me, one main thing that has stood out through this intensive, outstanding program is how clearly I’m able to just see the evidence of sacrifice. More simply put, the first time you enter a memorial, battlefield, or cemetery, it’s sincerely impossible not to become emotional. You are filled with a haunting feeling that confuses you. All our lives, each of us have been made aware of the staggering numbers of casualties both wars created, but when you just hear a number, it’s more simple to accept. When you witness all of these real live places, however, being accepting and comprehensive is one of the hardest things I as a human have experienced.

For instance, this morning we went through Passchendaele cemetery, and as I entered I nearly lost the strength to stand. This sounds so funny, but when you walk by thousands of white, neatly-arranged graves, that is when you…get it. You get the loss, the sacrifice, the feeling that all these young people who gave their lives for you are here.

Seeing the cemeteries, however, as hard as it may be, is also comforting in a way. Each time we visit one, I am filled with a lot of conflicting feelings, but one that really does surface is that of sheer relief. This is because we as Vimy Foundation ambassadors all share this common need to have all these soldiers’ lives remembered. I possibly think it may be because of the empathy we’ve gained through researching one each. Whatever reason this may be for, we all are exceptionally comforted when we see these garden-like graveyards, and that’s one thing I feel so proud of. It could not be done without the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which is something I’m incredibly supportive of.

This may come across as a jumble of thoughts and feelings, but that’s because to me, that’s what it is! I’m experiencing so much, and I can’t wait to see what comes next on this adventure, whether what it is brings about joy, anger, devastation, or a multitude of each.

– Aspen

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 11, 2015

It was an early start this morning for what turned out to be a very emotional day. We met our driver, Franky, this morning in Lille, and then we came to Belgium. Our first stop of the day was Essex Farm Cemetery, which is where John McCrae’s dressing station was located, and it was here he penned In Flanders Fields. Aspen gave a great presentation on McCrae, and then we got to do our first soldier presentation when Palma found her soldier. There were not many dry eyes when we left the cemetery, and the silence that permeated the bus when we got back on 45 minutes after we got off of it actually spoke volumes. I do not remember ever having a group be so profoundly moved by the first cemetery visit, and it was an indication of what the rest of the day would be like.

We went on to visit three more cemeteries: Gavin gave a very moving military tribute to his soldier, Cailtin found her godmother’s great-uncle, and Mollie found her soldier on Menin Gate. The stories and tributes to these fallen men were all incredibly heartfelt and beautiful, and again, many were moved to tears. It was so wonderful to see the kids supporting each other, not only in the rubbing of the headstones by holding papers (and umbrellas over the headstone when it started to rain) but also emotionally. This group is already completely cohesive and it was evident that they already « get it » and we’re really only on the first day in the cemeteries. It is truly an honour for all of us to be able to work with these wonderful youth.

Our day concluded at Menin Gate, where the group formed the honour guard at the Last Post Ceremony while representatives from our three nations – Thomas from Canada, Alice from the UK and Nicholas from France – laid a wreath on our behalf. I think it was a very moving ceremony for most of the kids, judging from the comments and discussion tonight.

We were back at the hostel early enough to have a game of soccer, which was a great way to end the day as it was a good physical release of the emotions felt today.

Mollie and Thomas both blogged tonight so I know they can say all of what they were feeling far more eloquently than I can, so I am turning this blog over to them now!

– Loralea

Within the narrow confines of a paragraph it is often difficult to sum up events of great emotional impact and profound personal feeling. The same can also be said for the most complex essay written by the most eloquent author. In fact, it is often the simplest events and words that convey the most meaning, and thus provide us with the most memorable and emotional experience. Today, I had the honour and the privilege to participate in a simple ceremony that has provided me with a most profound emotional impact, greater than that provided by any textbook. Surrounded by the names of thousands of young men whose bodies were never recovered, two other prize winners and myself placed a wreath in front of a crowd of hundreds of veterans and ordinary civilians. This simple action gave me a first hand indication of the sacrifice of war, and the lengths that many are willing to take to ensure that the sacrifice endured by those who died is never forgotten. I found it encouraging and touching to see people of many different nations and backgrounds uniting to remember those, whose bodies have been forever lost beneath the muddy fields of Belgium and France. It has reminded me that it is up to us, the new generation, to take up the torch and preserve the memory of these brave young men. I will never forget this experience, and I feel truly honoured to have been given this incredible opportunity. ~ Thomas

This year’s group of BVP winners and chaperones are truly wonderful and passionate people and as much as I knew, and have certainly found this, in our correspondence before actually meeting and in our days spent together in England it was not until today that it hit me how indescribably fortunate I am to be a part of this. Today, our first day in the beautiful country of Belgium, we began by visiting a few of the many vast cemeteries of WW1 dead. Knowledgable and aware as we are of the enormity of the catastrophe and tragedy of this war we have learned so much about, walking through the rows upon rows, the neat headstones and graceful flowers that stand for those who lived through such horror, died in such suffering and annihilation, a great quiet, a deep thought and contemplation came over us. We saw those of our age and younger who had given their lives, grew too fast into men, and then far too rapidly were gone, extinguished forever. We read the inscriptions of loved ones left behind in this cruel world, desperate and clinging to the chance to send one last message, express all their love and despair in the limited space of a headstone. We touched the crests of our nations, felt pride grow, and then the sorrow that swept us up, tore families and ripped love, and the loss that consumed and twisted our histories, our presents and our futures. For us, I believe, with all the world ahead of us, it was all those futures, those gifts, and those could have beens and those unfound joys and passions that these men had taken away from them, that hit us the most. We live in a better world because of them and today we learned how truly blessed and grateful we are. Because of these experiences, already so early in the trip, the war for us has changed. We far, far better understand and with the loved ones, with the orphans, with the lost, together we cried and along with them, that is something we will never forget. ~ Mollie

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 10, 2015

Maya Angelou said she could learn a lot about a person by the way they handled a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I think that if she had ever travelled with a group of students like ours she may have added that she could learn a lot from people by how they handle plans changed at the last minute. I know that I learned today that our participants are truly flexible, good-natured, and realistic, and that makes them such a joy to work with!

We got off to a good start to Oxford today, but it started to rain as soon as we left London. We walked to Jesus College in the rain and had a quick tour, then proceeded on to another college for our lecture by Dr. Jonathan Fennell on WWII. I think he was as pleased as we chaperones were with the calibre of discussion in his session. He was thoroughly engaging, and the group all told me they really learned a lot and enjoyed his session. We then had a wonderful session on WWI presented by Dr. Matthew Seligmann. He had a totally different style, but the kids again all told me they loved his presentation, too … and they weren’t just feeding me a line, they meant it. I know they meant it because they continued to talk about both sessions amongst themselves over lunch, and it was wonderful to see and hear them enthusiastically discussing, critiquing and debating ideas they had formed during the discussions. This is one of my favourite activities with this group – not many non-Oxford students get to have lectures in the school, given by Ph.D lecturers from some of Britain’s top universities, and to see them engage at this level is awe-inspiring. As I sat watching our future leaders today, it was confirmed for me that we are going to be in good hands down the road.

Jessie gave a presentation on the impact on children during war time, and Caitlin presented on minorities during war time, and it was at this point that we got to see how the group handles last-minute plan changes … It had been raining off and on all morning and we had been keeping a close eye on the skies because we were due to go punting after lunch. Gabriela and I decided to cancel the punting because of the rain – we knew it would be a disappointment, but we didn’t really want everyone outside in boats in the rain, especially since we still had the play to go to tonight. The kids were real troopers about it: I know they were disappointed because they had been looking forward to it, but there was not one word of complaint or disagreement, which made us feel slightly better about having to cancel. We did give them some free time instead, and I know they boosted the Oxford sweatshirt and souvenir economy during that time!

To save us some time the bus dropped us off at Hillingdon tube station, and we took a one-hour ride on the Piccadilly line to Piccadilly Circus, where everyone got a chance to shop and have supper before taking in the play, The 39 Steps. Based on the wide grins and rave reviews from the group on the way home, I know the kids had a wonderful time. (As did the chaperones!) It was good to have some laughs as we are heading into some pretty emotional days now, something our Oxford seminars prepared us for today.

We are going to be up at 5 tomorrow for our train to Lille so we’re off to make sure the kids are all packed up! Hopefully we can get a student to blog a bit tomorrow night, but it’s going to be another very long day and late night as we have the Menin Gate ceremony tomorrow night, so you may have to put up with me for one more night after this!

See you from Belgium tomorrow!

Loralea

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!

Loralea