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Lesson Plan: Remembrance Dog Tags – Fallen Canadians in the Battle of the Somme

Aim

To increase youth awareness of Canadians who served in the Battle of the Somme and died in service.

Objectives

Youth will:

  • better understand the contributions of Canadians who died in military service in the First World War’s Battle of the Somme and are found in the Canadian Virtual War Memorial;
  • learn more about the various cemeteries in Europe where Canadians who died in the Battle of the Somme are buried;
  • learn more about military identity discs, known as ‘dog tags’; and
  • develop an awareness of the importance of remembering the sacrifices and achievements of Canadians who gave their lives in military service over the years.

Target Audience

This activity is suitable for ages 12 to 17.

Sequence of events and anticipated time frame [75 minutes]

(This activity can be modified to fit available time.)

  • 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]

This dog tag activity is designed to help youth “put a face on remembrance.” Canada’s efforts to protect world peace over the years have come at a high cost. Over the years, more than 118,000 Canadians have died in military service. The Battle of the Somme was one of the First World War’s most significant campaigns and Canadian soldiers from coast to coast would see heavy action in the fighting there in the summer and fall of 1916. Sadly, more than 24,000 of our soldiers were killed, wounded or went missing on the Somme. This activity highlights only a small fraction of fallen Canadians on the Somme. Taking a few moments to think about these individuals is a way to remember all those who served.

Ask youth what they know about the First World War. Are they familiar with the four month long Battle of the Somme? You may want to invite them to read The Canadian Corps and the Battle of the Somme historical sheet as an introduction to this lesson.

What is a military dog tag?

Ask youth if they know what a military “dog tag” is. Have they ever seen one?

A dog tag is a piece of formal identification for military personnel. It must be worn when soldiers are on duty. The name “dog tag” comes from the similarity to real tags used to identify dogs. It was officially called an “identity disc” or I disc. The tag bears important information on the individual, such as the name, rank, service number, blood type and religion (to call the appropriate clergy person in case of injury or death).

Identification tags have been worn by Canadians troops since the First World War. The Canadian tags are now designed to be broken in two pieces in the event of death; one piece remains with the deceased and the other piece is sent to the Department of National Defence.

Research and Preparation [15 minutes]

Using card stock paper for added strength, print the dog tags of Canadians who died in the Battle of the Somme (PDF). This document contains information on 175 individuals who died during the battle. Each full sheet (11) contains names of individuals from various regions in Canada, who are buried in the same cemetery. The last sheet contains ten names of Canadians buried in three cemeteries, making for a total of 14 cemeteries.

A second set of dog tags on Newfoundlanders who died on July 1, 1916 (PDF) is also available. As Newfoundland was not part of Canada during the First World War, men from that dominion served in the British Expeditionary Force and many would die at Beaumont-Hamel on July 1, 1916, the day of the opening of the Battle of the Somme.

  • Cut out the individual pieces. If you wish to re-use the dog tags, laminate them.
  • Make two holes in each of the dog tags and attach a piece of string or metal beaded chain.
  • Distribute the dog tags.
  • Have youth research the individual on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website and ask them to add the service number and age of their fallen service member directly on the dog tag
  • Youth may search the Internet to find out more personal information about their fallen soldier, such as their hometown, place of enlistment, places served, cause of death, place of burial, etc., which could be included in their presentation.

What is the Canadian Virtual War Memorial?

This site contains 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. Included on this site are the memorials of more than 1,800 men and women who died in service to Canada since the Korean War, including peacekeeping and other operations. The site also contains digital images of photographs and personal memorabilia. The purpose of the Canadian Virtual War Memorial is to recognize and keep alive the memory of the achievements and sacrifices made by those who served Canada in the defense of freedom and so have contributed to the development of Canada as a nation.

Presentations [30 minutes]

Have each youth present ‘his’ or ‘her’ fallen to the group.

Wrap-up Discussion [15 minutes]

Lead a discussion around the dog tag activity by asking the following questions:

  • Do youth have a better appreciation of the contributions of Canadians and/or Newfoundlanders in uniform who died in service?
  • Are there other ways to use the dog tags to honour those who served? (For example, wearing the dog tags at a remembrance ceremony, etc.)
  • Is it still relevant, in todays’ society, to take the time to remember Canadians and/or Newfoundlanders who died at war a hundred years ago?

Possible Extension Activity [variable]

Youth may wish to vary this activity by doing research on a relative or someone from their town or region who served in uniform. If the individual is a Veteran, and if this person is available and interested in coming, he or she could be invited to share his or her personal experiences in the military with the class.

You might want to refer to the special web section Battles of the Somme and Beaumont-Hamel for additional information, or visit the Memorials section.

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