BVP 2023 Recipients Blogs

Date published:

August 13, 2023

August 13

The 16 young VPA2023 recipients arrived in Belgium today. Here begins their 9 day journey across Europe where they will spend time visiting cemeteries, museums, battlefields and commemorative sites from the First and Second World War. And a big thank you to the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation for their generous support as well as the support of the Graham and Gayle Cooke Foundation and several other generous private donors.

On this first day, the students were able to visit the Saint Symphorien Military Cemetery and the Mons Memorial Museum.

Vishall AGASTHIAN presents his research on Private George Lawrence Price

In preperation for this year's program we asked each of the students to share their thoughts on this opportunity:

Vishall AGASTHIAN; In our generation, it can sometimes be hard to fully understand the gruesome conditions and lives that soldiers in war had to overcome. Even though we learn about the wars in school and in textbooks, to be able to experience these historical sites firsthand is something you really can’t take away from a page or a lecture.

Abrielle BURRS; Ce que j'attends de l'expérience du PVB 2023 est une révolution de ma personne, changeant à jamais ma perspective relative à la Première et à la Deuxième Guerre mondiale tout en découvrant des histoires cachées. En établissant des liens avec des éléments familiers et rapprochés, une plus grande place réservée au souvenir et à la commémoration se rend disponible. Par exemple, 3 600 hommes ont perdu la vie lors de la bataille de Vimy, soit la population de deux écoles secondaires de ma région.

Nina CRUZ; I believe that my time in Europe will push me outside of my comfort zone and will empower me to educate younger generations on the importance of history. Although we may not ever live through the horrifying experiences of war and thus will never fully understand what soldiers endured, furthering our knowledge in the World Wars will grant us with the empathy needed to properly commemorate Today so that we may be aware of how privileged we are to be living peacefully

Sacha FRANÇOIS; En tant que seul Français à participer à cette expérience unique, j'attends avec impatience de rencontrer les autres participants Anglais et Canadiens afin de pouvoir m'imprégner de leur culture et de leurs connaissances à propos de notre histoire commune. Nous nous rendrons sans doute mieux compte sur place de la grandeur des sacrifices endurés par tous ces vaillants soldats à peine plus âgés que nous.

Grace GOUDIE; Le PVB m'aidera à engager l’histoire d’une façon concrète, et de m’associer à un groupe diversifié de jeunes issu de chaque côté de l’Atlantique alors qu’on explore l’impact de la Première et Deuxième Guerre mondiale sur nos nations respectives. J’aurais une meilleur appréciation de l’histoire que je pourrait partager avec ma communauté.

Parker HILLMAN; I am eager to obtain a vast multitude of experiences and knowledge from other participants, local residents and the battleground memorials. I am hopeful to use all of these knowledgeable resources I gain from this incredible experience to assist me in my future endeavors as a Page at the Alberta Legislature and in my Political Science aspirations.

Liana JIA; I hope that participating in BVP gives me a deeper understanding of the war and those affected by it. Being at a historically significant site in person will allow us to have a direct connection to those who went through the war and the feelings that come with that. By putting ourselves in the positions of those who sacrificed so much for us today, we are able to better recognize their motivations and the different factors in their lives, allowing us to appreciate them in a more meaningful way.

Alex MASTALER; I truly believe this experience will be life changing, and I expect to form some strong relationships with my fellow participants. Ongoing commemoration of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the landing at Juno Beach connects each of us to the past and makes us more empathetic. Empathy allows us to transcend barriers of language, identity, time, space, etc. It allows us to connect with aspects of history that are underrepresented.

Gabrielle MAUSER; Il est impératif de se souvenir des contributions du Canada et des autres pays, comme au débarquement à Juno, afin de transmettre la mémoire et montrer notre respect aux milliers de soldats qui se sont sacrifiés pour leur pays. J’espère approfondir mes connaissances, agrandir encore plus mon intérêt sur l’histoire des deux guerres mondiales et par la suite, transmettre cette passion.

Konstantinos NIKOLAKAKIS; It is important to commemorate the Battles of Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach because they represent Canada’s contributions to the Allied cause in both World Wars. We must always remember the thousands of men who sacrificed life and limb. I expect to learn about the battlefields of the First and Second World Wars and the experience of the men who lost their lives there.

Larissa Neloumta LONA OUAÏDOU; Il est important de garder à l'esprit les sacrifices faits sur la crête de Vimy ou lors du débarquement à Juno car c'est une partie intégrante de l'histoire qui affecte le reste de nos vies. J'espère que le PVB me permettra d’acquérir de nouvelles compétences et de faire de nouvelles rencontres.

Arthur James PAULINO; Commemorating historical events like the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the landing at Juno Beach remains essential as it serves as a reminder to learn about the past and understand its impact. Through these acts of remembrance, we ensure that the events of the past inspire a better future.

Tristan SHAW; It is integral for understanding Canadian history by also understanding the battles fought at Vimy and Juno Beach. The effect of those events is enormous in building Canadian identity. With less and less survivors of the World Wars it is left to new generations to have that empathy towards them.

Pavel TELEGA; I'm excited to learn and gain valuable insights from my experience with BVP. I believe this experience will help me grow both personally and professionally. By remembering the Battle of Vimy Ridge and the landing at Juno Beach, we are reminded of the importance of peace and the necessity to work toward it.

Emma WESTON; By putting ourselves in the shoes of everyone who was on the front line it gives us more of an understanding. From this experience I’m hoping to gain a greater understanding of the World Wars and how they affect our lives today. I’m looking forward to being able to pay my respects to all the fallen soldiers and everybody who contributed to the war efforts.

Claire ZHONG; The commemoration of the world wars is frequently reduced to statistics like casualty numbers. However, the human stories behind each digit are why we commemorate these events. Empathy connects us personally to each of these stories, shifting remembrance and commemoration from our brains to our hearts.

August 14

Today the BVP recipients visited the Thiepval Memorial and the Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial where a few of the students gave presentations to their peers on the stories of particular soldiers. Then they visited several cemeteries including the Ayette Indian & Chinese Cemetery, and the Neuville Saint-Vaast German Cemetery. 

Also, the students have begun to share their daily reflections starting today with AJ and Liana.

Arthur James PAULINO, New Westminster, British Columbia

Today was the 14th of August, the second official day of the Beaverbrook Prize Program. Refreshed from our hotel stay after a day of travel, we embarked on our journey with enthusiasm. Our first destination was the Thiepval British Memorial, where the architecture, especially the symbolic arch, captured my attention. Our coordinator Sean shared that this arch represented rebirth. The arch was a symbolic act of rebirth, leaving the old behind and entering the new. In the afternoon, we visited the Ayette Indian and Chinese Cemetery. Me and my group presented our field presentation answering the question “Why did soldiers enlist?”. It was quite nerve racking but nevertheless it was still a really fun experience to present with other program participants. What resonated with me was when Holly gave a speech about marginalized ethic groups. The Ayette cemetery's rural ambiance, contrasting with the more commercialized cemeteries we had seen earlier, was a refreshing sight. Holly showed us the three bow where we all bowed in front of a pagoda in the Ayette cemetery paying our respects to our loved ones. At the end of the day, we went to the Vimy memorial and stayed there until the lights came on. It was very pretty at night and I look forward to tomorrow's deeper exploration into Vimy which will expand my understanding even further.

Liana JIA, Toronto, Ontartio

On August 14, 2023, we started our second day of the Beaverbrook Vimy Program with a visit to the Thiepval British Memorial, which commemorates soldiers with no known grave. I found it interesting that unlike other memorials, this one is still “active” in a way, since if a soldier is found, then their name is erased from the memorial. We then went to Beaumont-Hamel, which commemorates soldiers from Newfoundland, and we took a tour of the site to see the front lines and the Hawthorn Crater. After lunch, we went to the Ayette Chinese Indian Cemetery. The bus had to park by the side of a dirt road and we walked through a short trail to reach the cemetery. Compared to the other Commonwealth cemeteries we went to, it was much more obscure and much smaller, but this was my favourite part of the day. Holly told us about how the cemetery wasn’t originally part of the program and was added later, allowing us to gain a more diverse view of the soldiers in the First World War. This really stuck with me because I thought it was really impactful to see diverse names in the context of a war that was mainly considered European, and it meant a lot to me that we were taking the time to pay our respects to these people. Even if they weren’t allowed to properly serve because of their ethnicity or background and were relegated to other tasks, they still made an effort to help in the war and still deserve to be remembered for that. One thing that surprised me was learning that in other European-dominant cemeteries, Chinese or Indian people were buried separately from the others, and it made me appreciate the Ayette Chinese Indian Cemetery even more. We also stopped at the Neuville Saint Vaast German Cemetery. Next, at the Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery, I did my soldier presentation on Gunner Thomas D. Edmanson, who went to the same school as me. I was pretty nervous, but I enjoyed sharing his story and it was a good experience. We also got to see the grave of the Unknown Soldier. We then went to Notre Dame de Lorette, which is the largest French military cemetery. Finally, at night, we went to see the Vimy Monument. We saw the sunset and the lights turned on when it got dark, which looked very beautiful. Overall, it was a packed day and I had a great time!

Grace GOUDIE, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador

While at the Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, Grace read this poem to Charles A. Mesher, who prior to the First World War lived as a trapper in Labrador.

Footprints falter – he leaves no trace

Chasing furs across earth’s frozen face

Over snow clad hills, he makes his way

Seeking more than repetitious day

While spruce and bays are all he knows

He craves to go where no man goes

And sets his eyes an unseen view

The land o’er the Atlantic blue

His sister pleads him not to go

But what lives here except for snow?

A life of war might promise more

Than the endless frozen shore

At twenty-two, he says goodbye

Thinking that he’ll come back by

The time the sun makes its rounds

He’ll have stumbled to his trapping grounds

But there to fight on unknown land

With his brothers, hand in hand

Bloody, beaten, they beg to brave

The barren fields of their unmarked grave

But o’er the plains of darkest France

He soon discovers, he stands no chance

Where blood and metal paint the air

They shoot him down in one quick tare

Footprints falter – he leaves no trace

His gaze passes o’er this bleary place

Thirty days is all it took

For Death to hang him on Its hook

In rivers’ falls he’ll joke no more

He’ll never hear the thunderous pour

Of August storms o’er the bay

Nor watch ice breaks in sunny May

And although thankful for his fight

His sister wishes that she might

Hear his laughter one more time
Instead of begging for his dime

Where he rests, we shall not know

O’er his grave do grasses grow

But his spirit, we might see

In hollowed lights that dance so free


August 15

On the thrid day of BVP 2023, the students took some time to reflect as they visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial and the Kazerne Dossin Holocaust Memorial.

Emma WESTON, Portsmouth, United Kingdom

Today was the third day of our journey of immersing ourselves in our history, learning about how we have become the civilisation that we are today and learning from our past to make sure nothing like the First and Second World War can ever happen again. We can only move forward in the future if we discuss and learn from our past.

The first stop on our journey today was Vimy Ridge. Being the UK recipient, this is not something that we learn at school, I had done some of my own research before the program; educating myself on the basis of the battle and how it effected the course of the war for Canadians. However, going to the scene of the fight and learning much more in depth knowledge of the course of the events that happened was extremely interesting. When going down into the bunkers I was able to get an idea of what life would have been like during the War, the small, claustrophobic tunnels that around 1000 soldiers had to wait in for 36 hours, anticipating the battle to come. I wondered what their thoughts were. Did they very regret their decisions? What caused them to enlist? Walking in the footsteps of these soldiers was very moving and made the whole thing feel so much more real to me.

Our second stop was Kazerne Dossin, a Holocaust museum that commemorates all of people who lost their lives due to the concentration camps and the mass execution that happened between 1933-1945. One thing that stood out to me was the large wall on each floor that has a mass of photos of many Jewish people who suffered in concentration camps. There was a distinctive point about the walls that stood out to me. Almost all of the photos were black and white however on each wall there would be a few photos with a yellow tone, I was taught that these the were people who survived. Out of the 25,500 Jewish people on the walls only 1,300 survived. However as I looked closer at the specific people, it was noticed that almost all of them were men. I learnt that this is because men were actually given the chance to live and work however women were seen to have no use, meaning much less of them survived. Overall I found this museum very emotional, looking at all of the photos and art made about the camps gave me a real insight on what life was like and I could never imagine going through such terrible trauma.

Today was very interesting and insightful, I learnt a lot and am looking forward to learning more throughout this journey.

Parker HILLMAN, Beaumont, Alberta

We started the morning by returning to the Vimy Ridge Memorial. It was incredible as even though we were at the monument for a few hours the night before, seeing it again in the morning was like seeing it for the first time. The monument is absolutely beautiful, not only because of its sight but its representation as well. We were able to listen to the amazing and heroic stories of the soldiers that Alex and Claire recounted on the monument. Myself, Pavel and Vishall then shared our Field Presentation of the daily lives of soldiers. It was fitting as it gave the group a acknowledgement that the names on the memorial all have each of their own stories of hardship and suffering. I was very fortunate to have a personal connection with the monument and the environment when I went down on the field in front of the monument, as my great-great-grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge in 1917 where he was injured in battle. We later visited the trenches and tunnels that were used by the Canadians for the months leading up to the battle in April of 1917. The tunnels and trenches were able to allow us to attempt at comprehending the true experiences and loses of our soldiers on the front lines. Later in the day we visited our last tour of the day due to the long driving.

We went to Kazerne Dossin, a transit camp in Belgium which kept approximately 26,00 Jews and Roma, who were then put on trains to concentration camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau. There were countless images of Jewish citizens who were sent from this transit camp to concentration camps in Poland. It was a very somber tour as we learnt about the many gruesome and horrific experiences that the Jewish population experienced from the 1930s until after the Second World War. Although we learned many details and experiences of the Jewish minority, it was impossible to truly understand their suffering. After this intense experience, we made our way to the Netherlands. We are all getting along very well together and are having a great time! Today was an incredible and emotional experience and I can’t wait to continue our journey of developing lifelong knowledge, skills and friendships!

Claire ZHONG, North Vancouver, British Columbia

While visiting the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, Claire shared a poem she had written in remembrance of Edgar Arthur Hugh.

Ringing the Bells for St. Symphorian: Missing, Believed Killed, in France

An epistolary poem by Claire Zhong

Dear Edgar:

Edgar Arthur Hugh. Your name is, as far as I know, etched,

Touchable, readable, on three surfaces:

In stone, twice – the first a national memorial of your

Found country, the second in the cradle of

Your existence, where you

Rang the bells for St. Symphorian.

The third is on an unfinished paper that lives

Hidden between thicker paper on a shelf,

Collecting dust and years, and there sits your name

with a darkened cross, under 1914, third column,

eighth row, Hugh, Edgar Arthur, and five empty quotation

marks, placeholders for a life, never filled.

I met you for the first time on that paper, just

Your name, with the cross, and a fancy “g” and the empty

Quotations; your emptiness was not filled here, no,

There is nothing left to hold but your name, now.

“Canadian Engineers” on your cap badge– why did you fight?

Money, maybe. Honour, probably. Religion, likely,

You came here, North Vancouver, to lay your bricks

And you found yourself enroute to France, a life you signed up for.

June 15, 1915. That day, they say Engineers set

a mine to blow at Zero hour under the German line;

Were you one of them? They also say it blew up short. Heavy casualties.

North Vancouver had 99 casualties in the Great War; you were one.

Here, I should probably thank you for defending our country,

Express gratitude for your immense sacrifice for peace.

I thank you for your life. But I wonder:

How far was peace from your mind the day you left this world?

Did you die defending a country or did you die, trying, in that moment,

Not to die?

Some came out of the war heroes, others

Became victims; you were killed the first day you fought. You

Tell me: are you a hero? Or are you simply “Missing,

Believed killed, in France”? I guess “Our Saviour” tattooed

On your left forearm couldn’t save you; you couldn’t wait for peace to rest,

And the bells didn’t ring for St. Symphorian.

August 16

On the fourth day of BVP 2023, the students travelled to Nijmegen, Netherlands and visited a number of historical sites as part of a tour with Joris from The Battlefield Explorer before participating in the sunset march.

Grace Goudie, Happy Valley-Goose Bay

My pockets are empty as this morning I forgot to move my collected handful of pebbles from one pair of shorts to the other. This means that I had to scrounge the parking lot around the Groesbeek cemetery for rocks...

Since our first day of the program when we were at Mons, Sean explained that it’s a Jewish custom to leave pebbles on graves and so I’ve tried to keep my pockets stocked in case I see the tombstone of a Jewish soldier, so that I might leave a stone to commemorate them. I’m not sure why this tradition has become important to me while on this program as I’m not Jewish, and I have no other particular personal connection to any of the perished soldiers. However, placing a pebble on a gravestone to me has become a simple way that I can acknowledge their lives lived and lost. In some cemeteries, like the German one in France (Neuville St-Vaast) that we toured the day before yesterday, there are almost no stones on any of the graves and I felt that they were sitting lonely, untouched and unremembered. But in today's cemetery in the Netherlands (Groesbeck Canadian War Cemetery), the soldier whose grave my group presented at, had a number of rocks. He’s already honored and remembered. Nonetheless, I handed out a stone that I had collected to each of the members of my group. We left them as a token of our commemoration and a symbol that his soul will last for eternity, just like the pebbles on his tombstone. It was a special moment for me.

Later in the afternoon, I found myself continuing our tour of the Netherlands and learning about allied contributions to the country’s liberation during the Second World War. Canadian forces played an important role in Operations like Market Garden and Manna, which created a strong connection between both Canada and the Netherlands. Tonight, we’ll finish our day with a sunset march across the same bridge we started out at this morning. It’s for experiences like these that I applied to Vimy: I’ve learned about history and customs that I was oblivious to before, from the Allied liberation of the Netherlands to the Jewish custom of placing stones on graves. And while my pockets might be empty today, I’ll be sure to carry a handful of pebbles for the rest of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize.

Konstantinos NIKOLAKAKIS, Outremont, Québec

Today, our group visited various sites in the Netherlands relating to the Second World War including the location of the Crossing of the Waal River by men of the American 82nd Airborne Division which was the start of our Battlefield Tour with Joris.  

I have been interested in this site, as well as other sites connected to Operation Market Garden ever since I saw Richard Attenborough’s 1977 war film: A Bridge Too Far, which in my opinion was one of the most historically accurate war films of all time.  To see these locations in person, such as the Nijmegen Bridge and the Arnhem Bridge was amazing for me, and one of the major reasons I wanted to go on this program.

We also saw the Canadian War Cemetery at Groesbeek, which contains Canadian war dead from Operation Veritable and other events in 1944-45.  We were guided today by our local tour guide Joris, who had a wealth of information to share with us.  

That however was nothing compared to the Sunset March we partook in this evening at around 9pm.  We joined a group of Dutch civilians and veterans in a march along the Waal Crossing Bridge, which was built above where the American paratroopers rowed across the river.  The march has been a daily occurrence since the bridge was built in 2013.  Our twenty one group members and chaperones accompanied the veterans and others on a completely silent march across the bridge, marching along as the forty-eight lights on the bridge turned on for the forty-eight Americans killed during the crossing.  The march ended at the memorial on the north bank of the river where a moment of silence was held, with veterans saluting.  I myself said a brief prayer after the event.  Overall, I found it to be a very respectful commemoration of the dead.  I am honoured to have been a part of this event.

August 17

Today on the fifth day of BVP2023, the recipients took some time to visit the Bergen Op Zoom Canadian Cemetery and Langemark German Cemetery, before traveling to Ypres where they were able to participate in the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate with the laying of a wreath.

Nina CRUZ, Fredericton, New Brunswick

We began the day in the Netherlands at the Bergen Op Zoom Canadian Cemetery where three of the students gave their presentations on the soldiers they had researched. It was moving to stand at the gravestones of the soldiers and hear about the lives they led, proving that they weren’t just soldiers, but people as well. People who had lived their own lives prior to the war which they had given up in order to obtain the peace that we see today. 

Following the presentations, we climbed back into our bus and went to our next destination: Langemark German Cemetery. Throughout the history lessons I have taken at school, I never learned about Germany’s side of the war in great depth. At the cemetery (which contains the bodies of 44 061 German soldiers from 1914-1918), we learned of the consequences that Germany experienced following the First World War. Most of the time, we learn about the World Wars and their aftermath from the perspective of Great Britain, France, Canada, and the United States. Thus, it was good to also learn what Germany endured so that we could know both sides of the story. Seeing a German cemetery in Belgium led me to reflect on the post-war healing process of the countries and how they sought to rebuild strong and peaceful connections with each other. The cemetery also contained several German bunkers that were used in the Great War; it felt surreal to witness what we had learned in school classes come to life. 

After yet another bus ride, we arrived in Passchendaele where myself and the rest of my Reading Group led a discussion regarding the Causes of the War. We asked several questions that covered topics such as the role that religion played in the Wars, nationalism, and the power of human pride. It was fascinating to hear all the different ideas and perspectives that our peers had and gave us a sense of independence as we navigated our way through such a difficult conversation. The topics we discussed led us to consider how political decisions were made in the past and how they can relate to today’s society. 

My time in Europe with the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Being in such an empowering atmosphere has truly pushed me out of my comfort zone and educated me in ways that I never had expected. I am thrilled to be a part of this program and cannot wait to see what it has next in store.

Vishall AGASTHIAN, Regina, Saskatchewan

Words cannot express how grateful I am to be on this trip. It is day 5 on this amazing journey and I am already able to say this has been a once in a lifetime experience. All us recipients were able to click almost immediately and we have built and fortified our relationships to what I’m sure will be lasting friendships. Everyday we have been visiting cemetery’s and memorials for WWI and WII soldiers. Today we visited the Bergan Op Zoom Cemetery, Langemark German Cemetery and the Tyne Cot Cemetery. By visiting these memorials it gives us an opportunity to sit and reflect on the sacrifice these brave Canadian soldiers made for our country. In visiting the Langemark German Cemetery today I also came to another epiphany. Even though during the wars the Germans were our “enemies” seeing all the graves made me realize humanity even in war. Often when studying history in a generalized manner, as how we are taught at school, it is easy to forget that behind every one of those casualties, we see as numbers on a page is a story—a person with real emotions, feelings and lives, just like us. Whether of German, Canadian, British, French, or any other countries origin at the end of the day we all share one thing in common. Our humanity.

Finally, we visited the Menin Gate memorial where we were given the honourable opportunity to experience the Menin Gate ceremony celebrated every night to commemorate those lost during the wars. Here at the Menin Gate there is usually the names of many soldier inscribed into the monument. Although the monument was under renovation with scaffolding covering every corner, learning that fact reminded me of a cemetery we visited earlier in the trip. On August 14th, we visited the Ayette Indian and Chinese Cemetery. As a person of Indian descent this visit particularly impacted me. In school we learn more about the British and American perspectives of war, but the true reality of the wars was that almost everyone on the planet was involved. Reading these Indian names with the “Om” symbol (a Hindu symbol) inscribed next to them, made me feel a different type of empathy for those soldier that I had never felt before. The Om symbol also serves as a symbol of unity, which I found it beautiful that these graves were marked with this symbol as it is a perfect representation of how despite our past we all live in unity; our diverse group of Vimy recipients being the perfect example. ॐ

And today Abrielle shared this letter she wrote to Pte J. O. Claude Demers, a Canadian Soldier from the Second World War.

Abrielle BURRS, Gatineau, Québec

Elizabeth Brown 

312 Laurier Avenue East 

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 

C.W.A.C. Headquaters 

August 1944, 

Dear Claude,

I don't know if you still remember me, but I took the chance to write to you anyway. We go to the same school from 33-39, if I'm not mistaken. My brother, Théophile, was in your class. He often talks to me about you on his way home from school.

Now that Théophile had gone overseas, Father wanted to get as far away from the war as possible. He was granted land south of Ottawa. Alas, father never recovered from the war of 14-18, and I fear for all these men here. So, I inquired and I learned that several people from Hull had enlisted, and then I saw your name.

There are many rumors here of possible conscription and I find tremendous bravery in you for answering the call before you were forced to. I didn't think, however, that you thought of the guy to enlist so quickly. No doubt you wanted to proudly serve our country or maybe you thought like me - I was terribly bored on the farm with my parents. So I joined the Canadian Women's Army Corps. Now I live in town with my colleagues. It's really life changing to know that I'm making a difference, that my work is having an impact. Despite everything, I managed to convince father and mother to do their part before leaving. It's called a "Victory Garden", I don't know if you've heard of it.

If you have time, write to Théophile, he would be delighted and it's always good to hear from an old friend. I leave you his coordinates at the bottom of the letter. I wonder, Claude, what did you do after you left school? I was told you worked in a carpentry, but I'm not sure. That being the case, I hope all is well on your side and that you are not too bored of home. Dearest Claude, take care of yourself. When I see ghosts, I can't stop my heart from sinking. They tell us the worst stories, without suffering their wounds. Of course, I'm not telling you anything new. I hope we can see each other very soon and that we can have tea together.

The news of the war is very encouraging, I don't think the Boches and the Japanese will be able to hold out for long. You have no doubt spent time in England. I am told that despite the war, it is quite dynamic, people are dancing and singing. In short, you will tell me when you come back.

I'm sorry, Claude, I should have written earlier, but don't forget that we are all praying for you and thinking of you,

I always remain yours,


Canadian Army Overseas 

Fusiliers Mont-Royal 

Field Unit Coy A 


August 18

On the sixth day of BVP 2023 the 16 recipients visited the St. Julien Canadian Memorial also known as the Brooding Soldier. Then, they travelle to France where they spent time in Dunkirk before participating in the Candle Light Ceremony in the Vertus War Cemetery.

Larissa Neloumta LONA OUAÏDOU, Moncton, New Brunswick

At 6:50 a.m., my alarm clock does its job. I'm doing my usual routine, but most of my stuff is downstairs. I'm ready around 7:30 a.m. We were all able to eat lunch in peace and now it's time to wait. Around 9:30 a.m., we are at the Canadian Memorial in Saint-Julien. There, I was able to learn that it was one of the places where Canadian soldiers were victims of a gas attack by the Germans. Me and my discussion group were able to discuss the Canadian memory of the two World Wars. It was good to know the opinions of the other recipients, most of them overlooked the fact that good is demonstrated more than bad during these wars. Around 11:00 a.m., we took a break and it had a small corner, clearly for tourists, some items were very similar to big brands. In France, we can see several unique buildings in different styles. We went to Durkin Cemetery, where we could eat our dinner and discuss war tourism. This subject was not something that I thought would be or was something. I thought among various opinions that going back to the norm is tough.

During the afternoon, we had a presentation of a soldier at the Wimereux cemetery. A beautiful poem was presented. At the Étaples cemetery, we were able to have two presentations on nurses who died during the First World War. Their contribution has been demonstrated and well explained. Also, we had a presentation on women during the two World Wars, in Canada and in France. Driving to our accommodation, I was able to observe how the coast influences the town of Étaples, the navy is very present. I had the chance to see the famous Leonidas. In Dieppe, we are running out of time so we just eat and go straight to the ceremony. During the ceremony, we were able to visit the monument in the Canadian cemetery in Dieppe. It was a moment when I remembered the reason for my coming to Europe: my passion for history that touches my everyday life. This day was very enriching when it comes to the experiences lived today. No bad feelings came from me and being in the company of others was my moral support during the day.

Abrielle BURRS, Gatineau, Québec

On the sixth day of the 2023 BVP, we commenced our day's journey by visiting the Brooding Soldier in St-Julien, Belgium. There, we discussed different narratives of the war, their legacy as well as the various memories we hold of the war, whether them being personal or communal. As I sat there, in front of the memorial, I would look up at the soldier high above me and could not help this feeling of debilitation taking over me - more specifically - a mixture of angst and sorrow. Although made out of stone, the expression in his face meant everything to me, subsequently, enabling me to reflect on all these lost lives. Each and everyone of these individuals had a story and a future that was abruptly erased forever.

The highlight of my day was, however, our afternoon visits. We first started by visiting John McCrae. It was very meaningful because he is quite famous back home. I remember reciting In Flanders Fields to my friends and to my English teacher,  and so, I am very grateful to have to have had the opportunity to pay my respects to him. In the cemetery where John McCrae is buried, Wimereux Cemetery, in France, I came across lots of women. Some were Nursing Sisters, others volunteers for the Red Cross, one was a canteen worker. When I saw the first grave, I cried, and again for all the others. I've been studying these ladies and their work for over a year now, and being able to visit them means everything to me. At the Étaples Cemetary, Nina and Gabby each presented a Nursing Sister - two of three buried there. When I saw Katherine Macdonald's grave, I could not stop crying, and further, when Gabby told her story. I still cannot believe I had the chance to see her. When Nina presented Magaret Lowe, I equally could not stop tears from shedding. I was happy to see that these ladies had been visited and remembered by others as there were poppies and gifts at their graves.

After having payed my respects, I did my field presentation. It was about female spies and codebreakers, well that was my part. In the whole, Claire, Emma and I presented women on the font lines. This is a topic I am highly passionate about, and so, it was amazing to share these women's stories, especially Miss Atkins's and the SOE. I was quite nervous, but nevertheless did well and was praised up sky-high.

In the evening, we all attended a ceremony at the Canadian War Cemetery in Dieppe. It was very distressing seeing all these graves marked with the same date: 19 August 1942. Toward the end of the ceremony, we were presented as the Canadian youth and lined up in the center in front of a flaming torch and maple leaf. As we walked, people started clapping. It was an incredible yet sad experience. I cried but also felt proud.

-Abrielle B.

August 19

On the seventh day of BVP 2023, the 16 recipients travelled to Normandy where they participated in a ceremony, and the laying of a wreath in commemoration of the Dieppe Raid in Canada Square.

Claire ZHONG, North Vancouver, British Columbia

Today we spent the day in Normandy, enjoying the beaches, visiting memorials, and paying our respects at the annual commemorative ceremony for Operation Jubilee of August 19, 1942.

We began the day at Pourville beach near Dieppe, where the second Canadian division landed during the operation. Tourists and locals alike dotted the shallows and the breeze brushed gently through our hair. I picked my way across pebbles of various shapes and sizes, stopping every few steps to gaze up at the sheer chalk cliffs rising up along the beach. Listening to children’s laughter as they raced across the sand, it was hard to picture what occurred here 81 years ago. The turquoise waves would have been mottled with blood, and from the beach the cliffs would look far more menacing than majestic as bullets rained down on the largely Canadian force.

Yet today was a beautiful day, the leisurely atmosphere painting a veneer almost shielding history from view. For me, the immense Canadian sacrifice that took place here was brought to my mind by a simple moment: a young boy, crying for his mother on the beach, scared by the waves. Many of those who lost their lives upon these beaches were not men at all, but mere boys, not even 25; did they cry for their mothers as they drowned or were gunned down by German fire? The little boy’s mother lifted him into her arms. But for those boys who perished in the failed Operation Jubilee, the safety of a mother’s embrace was far from reach as they stumbled up the stony beaches, 916 of them never getting up again.

One of those boys was Paul John Morency. At the ceremony, the letter Paul wrote to his parents shortly before he lost his life was read aloud by his grand-nephew. I teared up listening as Paul asked his Ma and Papa for forgiveness, professed his love to his sweetheart, Winnie, and joked one last time with his Uncle Dan. This moment was particularly emotional for me; I thought it was the best part of the ceremony, as it confronted all of us with the very personal reality of war history.

We went back to the beaches this evening where the sun set on the crowd of tourists. Although these beaches were once sites of incredible loss, sacrifice, and pain, the way we experienced them today and for generations to come will change the way locations like these are remembered in the larger fabric of human history. Thus, for me, today was an incredible day, both remembering past sacrifices, and creating new memories together on the beaches of Normandy.

Pavel TELEGA, Mississauga, Ontario

Last night's ceremony at the Canadian War Cemetery in Dieppe cast a shadow over our second day in the city. It reminded me of the significance of the raid, its impact on the local population, and the lessons it taught for future military operations. Even after eighty-one years, we still honour and remember those who sacrificed their lives for our tomorrow.We began our day by visiting Pourville, one of the landing zones during the raid. The town was surrounded by towering cliffs on either side, with a beautiful turquoise beach in the middle. But beneath the surface, we knew the devastation that occurred here, with nearly one thousand lives lost and over fifteen hundred soldiers captured. Walking along the beach, we felt the challenging terrain and the immense disadvantage the soldiers faced. They were caught in the crossfire, with Nazi machine gun posts turning the area into a deadly trap. Taking shelter at the base of a cliff, we learned about the hardships faced by indigenous soldiers.Witnessing the terrain gave us a newfound appreciation for the soldiers' heroism. At Canada Square, representatives from various countries attended the ceremony. The reading of soldier John-Paul Morency's letter to his parents on the eve of the operation was particularly impactful. The emotions expressed in the letter allowed us to connect with the soldier's experience. The announcement of the passing of the last surviving soldier from the raid deepened the atmosphere of emotion and grief.The ceremony reminded us of the pain felt by the families and the bravery of the soldiers. Our visit to Puys revealed the same deadly trap and impassable beach. The remnants of German defences served as a stark reminder of the sacrifices made by those who fought here. It stood as a testament to the soldiers' courage and determination as they pressed forward despite overwhelming odds.As the day ended, I felt a sense of pride that, even after all these years, the soldiers are still remembered. The last veteran from the raid stated that they would want us to live life to the fullest. This sentiment reminded me of the epitaph found on many Commonwealth graves: "For your tomorrow, we gave our today." It fills me with hope that organizations like the Vimy Foundation will continue to preserve the memory of these brave soldiers.

August 20

The eighth day of BVP 2023 was an emotional one for the 16 recipients as they visited the British Memorial in Normandy, Le Mémorial de Falaise - La Guerre des Civils, and Abbey d'Ardenne.

Alex MASTALER, Spruce Grove, Alberta

Today was particularly difficult for me, more than almost any other day of the program. I think after days of hearing about harrowing subject matter, today was just the day that the pot boiled over. We visited Abbaye d'Ardenne, an isolated abbey where 20 Canadian POWs were executed in 1944. There were bullet holes in the stone walls. As the faces of the fallen stare back at you from plaques, it is impossible not to consider what they were thinking in their last moments. Was the garden just as quiet? Did they stare steadfastly at the wall in front of them, as I was unable to do? I had the privilege of walking out of that garden. They did not. I heard the aching silence of death and I had to turn away.

I'm not sure exactly why that moment hit me in the way it did. In many ways, it was not something I had not heard before. The brutality of war stares us in the face in these places. It was not even the first time I'd cried on this trip. It was simply so pointless, so cruel, that every account of devastation I'd heard seemed to weigh on me all at once. I hadn't yet truly wept, but I wanted to then.

But I got back on the bus, and I just wanted to weep more. Here were those lovely, kind people that I had joined on this trip, each and every one of them a bright spot of hope for humanity. Birds alighted on top of the abbey, light reflecting off their wings, and I felt my heart beat faster. I looked at the endless blue sky, and I thought: how dare there be such suffering and such beauty in the world. I feel hopeless and incandescently alive at once. Perhaps that is the nature of being human. I can look in the face of suffering and mourn the lost, and I can find a reason to keep living, to fight for the world. At least I try to, every single day.

Sacha FRANÇOIS, Hauteville, France

Today was the 8th day of the program and it was an emotional day for me and it seems to me, for the whole group. We woke up this morning in a good mood in Dieppe. After gaining strength for the big day that awaited us, we left the hotel at 8:30 am to take the direction of the surroundings of Caen. After about 2 hours by bus, we arrived at the British Normandy Memorial located in Ver-sur-Mer in Calvados. This Memorial invites us to reflect and remember the thousands of young British fallen in combat during the Battle of Normandy. We had a discussion there on the suicide of resistantance, on the role of propaganda to encourage the soldiers, and of that dance and the song which made it possible to galvanize the troops during the 2 world wars. Then we continued our bus ride and had lunch. We then went to the Abbaye d'Ardenne in Saint-Germain-la-Blanche-Herbe near Caen. It is a place that particularly upset me. This abbey rises above agricultural land that has long exploited. If we do not know that it was the scene of dramatic episodes at the time of the liberation in June 1944, we could find this place magical. Unfortunately, it was in this building that Kurt Meyer, commander of the 25th Grenadier Regiment of the 12th Armored Division of the Nazi forces (12th Panzerdivision SS Hitlerjugend) had established his headquarters. There, on June 7 and 8, 1944, 24 Canadian soldiers were shot by the Nazis after the landing. They were found buried without any respect in the courtyard of the abbey. The atmosphere was very heavy, it reminded me of the massacre in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in Limousin, perpetrated in a few hours on June 10, 1944 by a brutal, methodical and deliberate action by part of the division Waffen SS. The atmosphere and the emotions I felt when I went there were similar to those felt today. How could men have been so fanatical to express such hatred towards other young men and end up killing them with such barbarity when they had their lives ahead of them?

We were able to read the biographies of each soldier shot on June 8. Each time I discover the personal stories of soldiers, I feel closer to the people they were.

The bullet holes still visible on the walls of the abbey alongside the photos of the soldiers show the coldness of the massacre. Rosalie then told us about Kurt Meyer's war crimes trial. He was sentenced to death on December 28, 1945 but this sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by Major General Christopher Vokes who evokes a "beam of suspicion" rather than tangible evidence.

Then all very shaken by the place we had just visited, we took the direction of Falaise, which is a village which suffered a lot of Allied bombardments. In Falaise, we visited the civilian museum. There were many source elements, testimonies from children of resistance fighters and civilians of the time, explanatory texts that allowed us to put ourselves in the place of civilians. The tour ended with an explanatory video of the horror of the bombings for civilians which contained a simulation of what the bombings could look like. I imagined the terrible nightmare experienced by civilians during the bombardments. One paragraph particularly marked me, it concerned the violence, sometimes physical and sexual, suffered by the population at the hands of the allies during the liberation.

We then went to the Canadian cemetery in Bretteville-sur-Laize where we had a discussion on sexual violence during the war. This discussion touched me a lot because these subjects are too often forgotten in historical books.

This emotional day ended with the observation of a magnificent sunset on Juno Beach. The magnificent landscape on this Normandy beach almost makes you forget the horrors it has known.

I take advantage of this blog to thank the Vimy Foundation, the participants, the laureates, the chaperones and all the organizers of this program which will forever mark my way of seeing the events which have marked the history of my country and that of the whole world.

August 20

On the ninth and final day of the BVP 2023, the 16 recipients visited the Juno Beach Centre, the Mulberry Harbour site in Arromanches, and the final stop in their journey, the Canada house, believed to be the first house liberated by Canadians during D-Day.

Tristan SHAW, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Today was the final day of the program and we spent the morning at the Juno Beach Centre. Here we were given time to explore the inside of the museum, where we discovered explanations and background leading up to the Second World War. Continuing through the Museum we saw discussion of the war itself with a focus on D-Day and the roles of different branches of the military. Coming towards the end of the museum we saw a film about D-Day and the Normandy campaign. The film was quite moving and there was a lot of information to unpack about the sheer number of losses with the first waves of the landings. Following the museum we went on a tour of the German bunkers that are located in the site. This was very interesting becuase we got to see the ingenuity present in the design of the bunkers. An example of this is the ventilation hole near the door of the bunker. If an attacking soldier were to attempt to put a grenade through the hole it would fall right onto there feet as the top hole led to another one closer to the ground where the grenade would pop out. The walls were solid concrete and two metres thick throughout, and the bunker seemed to be in good shape. Although there was another bunker we saw that was built with a multitude of materials and it seemed less tough. Making me prefer the first one if I had to choose. This exploration of the bunkers gave perspective to the difficulties these bunkers posed to the Allied troops while they tried to knock them out and clear the bunkers.

Afterwards we took the bus to a cemetery where had an informative discussion on war justice. With focus on the World Wars, one of the topics discussed was the Nuremberg Trials. Discussing the justice or lack of justice given towards the individuals accused. Also covered was the bureaucratic nature of international justice and the difficulties it posed to getting all the war criminals justice.

Continuing through the cemetery I was looking for the name of a soldier local to me, his name being Private James Moss of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders who was murdered by the 12th SS Panzer division during the Normandy campaign. This is the following day after we visited the garden in which he was murdered. This was the deepest personal connection I have felt to the sites we have visited. I had the honour of doing on etching of his headstone.

Today was the day that tied it together for the program as a whole; ultimately reminding all of us how lucky we were to develop connections with these sites, our soldiers and nurses, and the people around us this past week. As I write this, I am certain that I got everything out of the program there is to offer.

Gabrielle MAUSER, Vancouver, British Columbia

I have cried four times today. I’m sure this number will change later, a testament to the change of perspective that has me caring this much. As you last full day, I’m trying to take it in, but it feels like Sean (our chaperone) told us the halfway point was just yesterday. However, I know this is a good thing, because great things make time go by quickly.

The first time I cried today was at the Juno Beach Centre, towards the end of the short movie. Composed of real footage from the D-Day landings in Normandy, it showcased the hardships of being a soldier during that moment, the actual landing and the casualties at the point, something that really touched up me way the would show photographs of soldiers before the war, smiling, and would fade away the ones who did not make it back from Normandy.

This really touched me, because even though I have never lived through, or will experience anything like it, I believe these specific things and cases make it easier for various people to make a link to themselves, which I did. I was already struggling with the fact we only had one night and a day and a half all together, so it just reminded me of our limited time that we had left. It feels like I have known these people for all of my life. I looked around the showroom and recognized that fact.

the second time was after we got out of the museum, following our tour guide in the Germans bunker part of our guided tour. I can’t recall who but someone from the group turned to all of us and said “this is our last bunker” and the realization of this hit me. This is one of my last historical sites I would experience this with this special group. As I am mentally  preparing to leave, I think back that I was extremely lucky to have experienced a lot of these moments for the last time, but also for the first time. During this trip, I have been pushed out of my comfort zone during not only our group presentations, riding the plane alone, but also by being able to make so many valuable memories connected to the historical significance of it all. I had a lot of firsts during this trip, and I am glad to do it with this group of people.


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