Eleven Peninsula youth will each sit at the faraway grave of a soldier they’ve come to know.
In April a group of cadets from the Admiral Budge Sea Cadet Corps, based in North Saanich, will visit France on a nine-day trip to tour the historic battlefields of the First World War and participate in the 95th commemorative ceremony at Vimy Ridge.
Lieut. Earl Phillips will lead the group in his third time accompanying cadets to Europe, a program he started in Manitoba with a trip to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the battle at Vimy Ridge.
“We made the kids research a soldier and get in touch with their family,” he said.
The kids connected with the family of a fallen warrior, then gave them the opportunity to offer a memento to be left behind on their soldier ancestor’s grave.
“It was really moving for those kids to do that. It’s a powerful thing to see those gravestones,” Phillips said. “It really gives them a connection to our history, not just boring stuff learned on Nov. 10 each year in school.”
The Peninsula cadets will do the same as they prepare for the spring trip. Each cadet will be assigned his or her soldier, all selected from small B.C. towns, this month. Aside from the research, the group of 12- to 18-year-olds will fundraise for the travels in Europe.
“It forces them to take ownership of the trip and they’ve got some skin in the game,” Phillips said. “It’s important they have buy-in.”
The local youths will join a group of cadets from the Prairies as they start in Paris to visit the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral. They will travel to the Normandy region where they will tour Dieppe and visit the D-Day beaches including Juno Beach then pay respects at the Canadian War Cemetery (Beny-sur-Mer) and take advantage of the educational opportunities at the Juno Beach Centre.
The last two days will be to the Vimy region where the cadets will see where Canadian soldiers fought during the First World War. They will tour the Passchendaele Memorial, the Newfoundland Memorial and attend the Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate.
On the final day of their trip, the students will participate in the Vimy Ridge 95th anniversary ceremonies.
“For me the reward is seeing the experience in their eyes. There’s not a kid that at some point doesn’t sit at a grave and cry,” Phillips said. “With veterans dying off, if we don’t get kids learning war history, it will die with the vets.”