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Remembrance Dog Tags - Canadians buried alone

Aim

To increase youth awareness about Canadians who have died in military service around the world and are the only Canadian buried in their cemetery.

Objectives

Through this activity, youth will:

  • discover that, while the vast majority of Canadians who served in the military over the years were often part of large groups, many individuals died in remote places and end up being the sole Canadian buried in a particular cemetery; 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]

Camaraderie, brothers-in-arms and “esprit de corps” are terms often used by Veterans when they talk about the strong ties that unite military people. We are stronger together than alone. Protecting each other in the pursuit of peace and freedom far from home for long periods of time and living in close proximity with others help form tight connections. So when a service member loses his or her life, a large group is affected. Nowadays, when a member of the Canadian Armed Forces dies in service, the body is almost always returned home to help families mourn and bring closure. However, this wasn’t the norm until the early 1970s. So, for over a century in Canada’s history, men and women who died in military service have been buried close to where they fell.

We often see images of large war cemeteries overseas, with row after row of headstones adorned with the Canadian maple leaf, but not all fallen Canadians lie with their comrades. Canada lost more than 118,000 men and women in uniform since Confederation in 1867, the majority during the two world wars, in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and England, to name a few countries. But Canadians who died in service are buried or commemorated in more than 80 countries around the world, in some 6,850 locations, from Algeria to Zimbabwe. Larger war cemeteries in France, the United Kingdom or the Netherlands have over 2,000 Canadians buried together. However, hundreds of the fallen are the only Canadian buried in their cemetery. In this lesson plan, we selected 30 of them to help us think about those who served with Canadian comrades, who died in service for Canada but are the lone Canadian in their final resting place.

Tell your students that Canadian fallen are found in some 6,850 locations around the world. Ask them to guess how many war dead are the only Canadian in their cemetery. Were they surprised to learn that more than 3,700 cemeteries have only one Canadian buried? Some are military cemeteries where other Allied or even enemy have been buried, but many cemeteries are local ones filled with civilians.

This remembrance dog tag activity is designed to help youth “put a face on remembrance.” To help youth have a visual overview of where in the world the 30 fallen they will be researching are buried, show them the map of 30 selected cemeteries (PDF). Students might wonder why only 30 individuals were identified for this activity if there are over 3,700 of them buried alone. If they ask, tell them that at the time research was done, not all the profiles on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial had face photos, that could be used on the remembrance dogtags. Tell them also that those 30 men and woman represent all regions of the country, different eras 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 those who are in the same situation, being the only Canadian buried in their cemetery.

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, more specifically in the context of this learning activity, to remember the many Canadians who have died while serving in the military and who are now the only Canadian in their final resting place.

Research and Preparation [15 minutes]

Using card-stock paper for added strength, print the dog tags of 30 Canadians buried alone (PDF). This document includes information on 30 Canadians from all across the country who died while serving in the military, from the South African War to the 1970s.

  • 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 individual, such as his or her hometown, where they enlisted, the places they served, cause of death and where he or she is buried, which they can include 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. You can make use of a world map to locate the cemetery.

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 Canadian men and women who died at war, whether it was one hundred years ago or more recently?
  • Are Canadian fallen buried alone in their cemetery getting the same recognition as the fallen whose names are found on the Vimy memorial or in large Canadian military cemeteries?
  • What could Canadians do to better honour fallen Canadians who are buried in remote locations?

Possible Extension Activity [variable]

Students can modify this activity by researching a relative or someone from their community or region who served in uniform in remote locations. If that person is a Veteran, and if the Veteran is available and interested, he or she could even be invited to come to the class and share his or her military experiences and talk about what is it like to serve far from home.

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