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Remembrance Dog Tags - 365 days to remember

Aim

To increase youth awareness about the more than 118,000 Canadians who died in military service over the years, using a calendar approach to help realise that every day of the year, we could pause to remember.

Objectives

Through this activity, youth will:

  • learn that more than 118,000 Canadians have died in military service since Confederation;
  • discover that every day of the calendar year, even for leap years (February 29), Canada has lost service members;
  • reflect on the fact that for any given day in a calendar year, Canada had lost an average of more than 320 service members; and
  • learn more about military “dog tags.”

Target Audience

This activity is aimed at youth between the ages of 12 and 18.

Activity sequence and expected duration [approximately 75 minutes]

(The activity can be modified to fit the amount of time available.)

  • Introductory discussion [15 minutes]
  • Research and preparation [15 minutes]
  • Presentations [30 minutes]
  • Wrap-up discussion [15 minutes]
  • Possible extension activity [variable]

Materials

Introductory Discussion [15 minutes]

Remembrance Day, on November 11, is a well-known date to pause to honour those who served and died in military service. Many people agree that taking a moment to reflect on the contributions of those who made the ultimate sacrifice, at least once a year, is important. Ask your students what Remembrance Day means to them. Then, lead a discussion about remembrance and the other days of the year. Do they think about remembrance only once a year, or are there other dates or events that trigger reflection?

Tell your students that Canada, since Confederation in 1867, has never invaded another country. The only times that Canada has declared war on other countries was during the Second World War. Canada is seen by many as a peaceful place. However, Canadians have been involved in wars, conflicts, military operations and various other military missions over the years. Protecting peace and freedom comes with dangers and sadly, more than 118,000 Canadians have died in service over the years. It can be hard to put such a large number in perspective. To help your students realise the scope of this sacrifice, you can break it by the days in a year. Dividing 118,000 fallen by 365 days equals over 320. So, you could tell your students that Canada has lost, over the years, on average more than 320 people in military service for each day of a calendar year. Look at the size of your school, and consider 320 in relation with the number of students you have.

Most of Canada’s military fallen occurred during the two world wars, with more than 66,000 being killed during the First World War and some 45,000 during the Second World War. Some days have been particularly deadly for Canada. On 9 April 1917, the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Canada lost over 2,400 soldiers. On 8 August 1918, the start of “Canada’s Hundred Days,” our country suffered almost 950 fatalities. The Dieppe Raid on 19 August 1942 cost more than 900 Canadian lives. The goal here is not to inundate your students with numbers, but to make them realise that Canada has lost many people in service over the years, and each and every day of the calendar could be a day to reflect on our fallen.

This remembrance dog tags activity is designed to help youth “put a face on remembrance.” Tell your students that they will do research on a fallen Canadian. The remembrance dog tags provided with this lesson include 366 Canadians who have died in service since Confederation—one fallen for each day of the year (even one for February 29). Tell your class that these individuals were randomly selected to represent all regions of the country and the three military branches (army, navy, air force), as well as the Merchant Navy. By focussing on one individual in their research project, we can think of all the Canadians who died in service.

You can also print each month of the 365 days to remember calendar (see under Materials) and display them in your class, as a visual reminder to remember each day of the year.

What is a military dog tag?

Ask the students if they know what a military dog tag is. Have they ever seen one?

A dog tag is a piece of formal identification designed for military personnel. Soldiers must wear them when they are on duty. The term “dog tag” comes from its similarity to the tags used to identify dogs. Officially, it is called an “identity disc” or “ID tag.” The tag bears important information about the person wearing it, such as the person’s name, rank, service number, blood type and religion (so the appropriate clergy person can be called in case of injury or death).

Canadian troops have been wearing identification tags since the First World War. Canadian tags are now designed to be broken into two pieces in the event of the person’s death; one piece stays with the deceased and the other piece is sent to the Department of National Defence. 

Should you wish to view examples, click on the following links to see commemorative pages showing images of dog tags from the First World War and the Second World War:

Remembrance dog tags were developed to help youth to “put a face on remembrance” and, in the context of this learning activity, to help realise that Remembrance can happen each day of the year.

Research and Preparation [15 minutes]

Using card-stock paper for added strength, print some or all of the “365 days to remember” dog tags (PDF). Each month of the year has a separate set of dog tags.

These documents includes information on a total of 366 Canadians from all across the country who died while serving in the South African War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and with the Canadian Armed Forces in more recent years.  

  • Cut out each dog tag. Laminate them if you would like to reuse them.
  • Punch two holes in each of the dog tags and insert a piece of string or a metal chain through the holes.
  • Hand out the dog tags.
  • Have students research the individuals using the Canadian Virtual War Memorial. Ask them to add the service number and age of the individual directly on the dog tag.
  • The students can search the Internet to find more personal information about the fallen, such as their hometown, where they enlisted, the places they served, cause of death and where they are buried, which can be included in their presentation.

What is the Canadian Virtual War Memorial?

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial is a registry of information about the graves and memorials of more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who served valiantly and gave their lives for their country. The site includes the memorials for the over 1,800 men and women who have died in service to Canada since the Korean War, notably in the context of peacekeeping missions and other operations. It also has digital images of photographs and the personal memorabilia of Canadians. The purpose of this registry is to remember the men and women who served Canada in the defence of freedom and who, in so doing, contributed to the development of Canada as a nation.

For further research

  • If the student is researching an individual who died during the First World War, you can suggest that he or she use Library and Archives Canada’s Personnel Records of the First World War online database.

  • If the student is researching an individual who died during the Second World War, you can suggest that he or she use Library and Archives Canada’s Service Files of the Second World War - War Dead, 1939-1947 online database. You can also encourage students to click on “How to obtain copies or consult a file” from the left-hand side menu and follow the instructions noted for Option #1, which will redirect them to the Ancestry.ca website. You and your students can create free accounts on Ancestry.ca. Although there are a few important steps to follow before accessing a military file, with some patience you will be able to access a wealth of information on the individual, which will allow you to do more extensive research and give better presentations.

  • If the student is researching an individual who died after the Second World War, official sources like Library and Archives Canada are generally not very accessible due to privacy legislation. A minimum number of years must have passed before those documents are made public on government websites. However, students can still use search engines to find relevant information and search the websites of local newspapers, which may have digitized articles about the individual’s death.

Presentations [30 minutes]

Ask each student to present his or her individual who died in service.

Wrap-Up Discussion [15 minutes]

Lead a discussion on the dog tag activity by asking questions like:

  • Do the students have a better appreciation of the contributions made by Canadians who died in service?
  • Are there other ways of using the dog tags to honour those who have served? For example, wearing the dog tag during remembrance ceremonies.
  • Is it still relevant to take the time to remember Canadians who died in service, whether it was one hundred years ago or more recently?
  • What do student think about the fact that remembering does not have to be confined to Remembrance Day?

Possible Extension Activity [variable]

Students could research a fallen that died on a holiday (New Year Day, Canada Day, Halloween, Christmas…) or on their birthday. They could use the names provided in the “365 days to remember” calendars or visit the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and use the search tool. By entering the desired date, such as student’s own month and day of birth (leaving all other fields blank), they could also access a long list of service members who died that day. Alternatively, they could make use of “Today’s Honour Roll” on the same page.

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