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Remembrance Dog Tags - Fallen Canadian service members under the age of 18

Aim

To increase youth awareness about Canadian teenagers who have served in wars and died before the age of 18.

Objectives

Through this activity, youth will:

  • learn that many Canadian teenagers have served in the military over the years;
  • discover that a large number of Canadians died in service at the age of 17 and even younger; 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]

When the First World War started in August 1914, many thought it would be a quick war. Thousands of Canadians rushed to enlist, wanting to be part of this great adventure. Among them were many teenagers, who were dreaming about fame and glory overseas. In Canada, the minimum age to enlist typically was 18 years old. Canadians under 18 could enlist, however, if they had their parents’ permission. In theory, only a handful of underage teenagers should have joined the war effort. In reality,  recruiting officers were not always enforcing the minimum age of enlistment. It was not required to show a birth certificate. Many underage Canadians, by lying about their age, made it through the enlistment process. They trained, traveled overseas and even reached the front lines. It will probably never be possible to know the exact number of Canadian teens who enlisted in the First World War, but some historians estimate that more than 15,000 did. War records have gaps and future research might refine the figures, but at the time the research was done for this lesson plan, approximately 350 Canadians, aged 17 and younger, died in service during the First World War. The number of 18-year-olds who died in Canadian military service during the First World War is greater than 1,000. Canadians under the age of 18 also died in the Second World War, the Korean War and in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Ask your students if they, as teenagers, would consider enlisting, if a world war were to break out. What would their reasons be to enlist or not enlist? If they were old enough (over 18), would it change their decision? There are no right or wrong answers expected, but have them find arguments to support their opinions. Alternatively, you could ask your students to put themselves in the shoes of teenagers living in 1914 and do the same debate.

This remembrance dog tag activity is designed to help youth “put a face on remembrance.” Tell your students that they will do research on a young fallen Canadian. The remembrance dog tags provided with this lesson include more than 100 Canadian teenagers who died in service during the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and with the Canadian Armed Forces, before turning 18. This remembrance dog tags activity does not list all teenagers who died in war. If they ask why, tell them that at the time research was done, not all the fallen teenagers’ profiles on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial had face photos to use on the dog tags. Tell them also that those teenagers, however, represent all regions of the country and the three military branches (army, navy, air force). By focussing on one individual in their research project, we can think of all the Canadian teenagers who died in war.

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 remember the many Canadian teenagers who have died while serving in the military.

Research and Preparation [15 minutes]

Using card-stock paper for added strength, print the dog tags of Fallen Canadian service members under the age of 18 (PDF). This document includes information on 112 Canadian teenagers (17 years old and younger) from all across the country who died while serving in the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and with the Canadian Armed Forces.  

  • 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 teenager, 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 their teenager 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 Canadian teenagers 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 at war, whether it was one hundred years ago or more recently?
  • What do student think about those teenagers who served at such a young age?
  • What do they feel when they see all the young faces on the dog tags?

Possible Extension Activity [variable]

Students can modify this activity by researching a relative or someone from their community or region who served in the military at a young age.

Some books have been published on the subject, by Canadian authors. You may want to ask your librarian about books on this topic.

You could also reach out to a local regiment and find out if there are young soldiers that would be interested in talking with your students about their military experience.

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