Remembrance dog tags – Canadians who died during the Italian Campaign 1943-1945

Aim

To increase youth awareness of the many Canadians who died in service during the Italian Campaign, between July 1943 and February 1945.

Objectives

Through this activity, youth will:

  • develop a better understanding of the contributions made by Canadians who died in military service during the Second World War’s Italian Campaign, and whose names are found on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial;
  • learn more about military “dog tags”; and
  • appreciate the importance of remembering the sacrifices and achievements of the Canadian men and women who have died over the years while serving in the military.

Target Audience

This activity is suitable for ages 12 to 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]

This dog tag activity is designed to help youth “put a face on remembrance.” Canada’s efforts to protect world peace have come at a high cost. Over the years, more than 118,000 Canadians have died in military service.

The Italian Campaign was an important military effort for Canada during the war. More than 93,000 Canadians served in this vital effort. As they pushed from the south of Sicily to the north of Italy over a 20-month period, Canadians faced difficult battles against some of the German army’s best troops. Canadian casualties in the Italian Campaign totalled more than 26,000, nearly 6,000 of which were fatal. They are buried or commemorated in more than 40 cemeteries across Italy. Some cemeteries have hundreds of Canadian graves, others only one.

This remembrance dog tag activity highlights only some of the Canadians who died during the Italian Campaign, between July 1943 and February 1945. Please note that the activity contains information on 210 individuals who died in service, in groups of 15 Canadians for each of 13 war cemeteries and one war memorial. The other cemeteries, having less than 15 photos available when this activity was developed, are not included in this activity. A map of Italy will help situate those 14 locations.

In the extension activities, you will also find a list of 41 individuals, one to represent each of the 41 places in Italy where Canadians who died during the Second World War are commemorated.

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 Second World War. Are they aware that thousands of Canadians fought in Italy? You may want to invite them to read the Canada Remembers the Italian Campaign 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 Canadian 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.

Click on the following links to see commemorative pages showing images of dog tags from the First World War and the Second World War:

First World War

Second World War

Research and preparation [15 minutes]

Using card stock paper for added strength, print the dog tags of Canadians who died during the Italian Campaign (1943-1945) (PDF). This document contains information on 210 individuals (of almost 6,000 who died between July 1943 and February 1945) from across Canada who lost their lives during this important Second World War campaign.

  • Cut out the individual pieces. If you wish to re-use the dog tags, consider laminating 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 additional personal information about their fallen service members, such as their hometowns, places of enlistment, places served, causes of death, places of burial, etc., which could be included in their presentations.

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 more recent military operations. The site also contains many digital images of photographs and other 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 defence of freedom and so have contributed to the development of our nation.

For further research

When 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. It should be noted, however, that not all of the military service records of the men and women who died during the Second World War are available. The digitization of service records from the Second World War is ongoing and new files will be added every two weeks. 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.

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:

  • Do the students have a better appreciation of the contributions made by Canadians who died in service?
  • Do they have a better understanding of the Canadian participation in the Italian Campaign, from July 1943 to February 1945?
  • 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 the Canadian men and women who died at war?

Now ask the class to list possible activities they could pursue to mark the anniversary of the Italian Campaign. Examples might include:

  • Compiling a list of Italian Campaign Veterans who live in their community;
  • Designing and developing a commemorative display to mark the anniversary that could be showcased in the school;
  • Organizing a commemorative ceremony at the school and share the event on Canada Remembers social media channels;
  • Visiting a local war memorial or cemetery which pays tribute to men and women who served;
  • Contacting the local municipality or Veterans' organization and volunteer to assist with commemorative activities or events that may be planned for the area;
  • Creating a presentation about the Italian Campaign, using the Italian Campaign photo gallery and art gallery;
  • Listening to stories of Italian Campaign Veterans on the Heroes Remember database, the Memory Project website or on the National Film Board website;
  • Including a visit to a war cemetery or memorial as part of an overseas school trip, etc.

Possible extension activity [variable]

Youth may wish to modify 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 is available and interested in visiting, he or she could be invited to share memories of military service with the class.

Students may also do a research project based on the Selected list of 41 Canadian fallen buried in Italy. This provides the name of one fallen for each of the 41 war cemeteries and memorials where Canadians are commemorated in this country.

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