Remembering the Battle of Passchendaele

Aim

To increase youth awareness of Canadian efforts in the Battle of Passchendaele during the First World War.

Objectives

Youth will be expected to:

  • demonstrate a basic understanding of the events surrounding the Battle of Passchendaele;
  • gain an appreciation of the challenges faced by the Canadians who participated in the Battle of Passchendaele; and
  • develop an awareness of the importance of remembering the sacrifices and achievements of Canadian Veterans.

Target Audience

This activity is suitable for ages 12 to 18.

Sequence of events and anticipated time frame [80 minutes]

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

Materials

Introductory Discussion [15 minutes]

Begin a discussion about the First World War. More than 650,000 Canadians served in uniform during the First World War. Ask youth if any of them know about the Battle of Passchendaele - based on movies they have seen, books they have read, stories they have heard or having a family connection to the country - and the important role that Canadians played in this battle.

Talk about where Belgium is located compared to Canada and how large and deadly the First World War was. Share that October to November 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Canada’s participation in Battle of Passchendaele and that an official Government of Canada delegation, including Canadian Veterans and youth, will be visiting Belgium to participate in special events to commemorate this important milestone. Even 100 years later, Canada remembers those who served and sacrificed in this important battle.

Viewing the Passchendaele Video [3 minutes]

Explain to youth that they will be watching a video called Passchendaele about the Battle of Passchendaele. The video is told from the perspective of those who know about it best - the Veterans who fought there. Listening and watching will provide an understanding of a chapter of our wartime history that helped to shape Canada as a nation.

This activity will help set the scene for the fact quest activity that will follow.

Battle of Passchendaele Fact Quest Activity [30 minutes]

Distribute the Canada Remembers the Battle of Passchendaele historical sheet. Have everyone read the information sheet and answer the questions. Tell them that they will be called on to share what they have learned. They should also locate Belgium, France and Passchendaele on a map during this phase of the activity.

Once the class has completed their research, lead a debriefing of the video and the answers they found for the historical sheet questions. Take the opportunity to see if anyone is related to someone who may have served in the First World War or the Battle of Passchendaele. They can also share their personal thoughts on Canada’s military efforts in that key battle so long ago.

Wrap-Up Discussion [20 minutes]

At the end of the video, youth will hear some historians suggesting that Passchendaele symbolizes the futility of trench warfare. Discuss. Follow up with a group discussion based on the following questions:

  • Do you think the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform during the Battle of Passchendaele were worth it?
  • What do you imagine the people in Belgium think about the Canadians who fought and sacrificed to help liberate their country?
  • Do you think it is important to remember the Canadians who served in the First World War even though the conflict was over 100 years ago?
  • How can we best remember the Canadians who have served in the cause of peace and freedom?
  • Do you think there is any relationship between what Canadians did during the First World War and international military missions that our country has undertaken in more recent years?

The people of Belgium have never forgotten the great sacrifices Canadians made for them. After the war, a memorial arch called the Menin Gate was built in Ypres, Belgium. The Arch commemorates, by name, nearly 55,000 dead of the armies of the British Commonwealth who fell in Belgium, most of them in the Ypres Salient, but whose bodies were never recovered. Of these, 6,940 are Canadians. The dead are remembered to this day in a ceremony that takes place at Menin Gate every evening at 8:00 pm. All traffic through the gateway in either direction is halted, and two buglers move to the centre and play the Last Post. This is a volunteer operation, neither arranged nor supported financially by any government.

Ask your students to consider the following question:

If volunteers can remember the Allied fallen (including Canadians) who served there, do you think Canadian youth should remember, too? Discuss.

Possible Extension Activities [timing is variable]

There are a number of ways you could extend this lesson:

Create a Multimedia Presentation (time variable)

Encourage youth to create engaging, visually-appealing multimedia presentations to demonstrate what they have learned about the Battle of Passchendaele and the First World War. Working in small groups, make use of the Passchendaele photo gallery and other on-line sources to produce a dynamic, appealing record of their learning. Have each group share their completed presentations with the whole group and seek feedback on what they have learned from the project. Presentations could be shown to a larger group of youth during a school or youth organization’s Remembrance Day ceremony.

Design a Poster

View the Veterans’ Week 2017 Battle of Passchendaele poster and read the text on the reverse. What feelings does the poster evoke? Do youth feel it is effective in getting a message across?

Next, have the youth create a poster of their own that highlights the achievements and sacrifices of Canadians in the Battle of Passchendaele and during the First World War as a whole. It could include historical elements of significant Canadian battles, personal elements of individual Canadians who served in the war, as well as remembrance elements to show why it is important to reflect on the sacrifices and achievements of those who served in the war.

Write a War Telegram

During the days of the First World War, before the days of Instagram and Twitter, the only way for people in Canada and those serving overseas to keep in touch was with letters and telegrams. Telegrams used Morse Code to encode the messages into a series of dots and dashes which were then sent by telegraph operators. Telegrams were expensive and people were charged by the word, so messages generally had to be short.

Have half of the youth in the group imagine they are soldiers who had fought and were injured at Passchendaele. Have them write a telegram home saying what they saw, how the battle was, how they got hurt, or how they feel about the war. Remember that telegrams had to be short! Have the other half of the participants imagine they are back on the home front, writing a telegram to a son, brother, father or husband who is fighting in Europe, after having just read in the newspaper that Canadian soldiers are seeing heavy action in Passchendaele. Once the messages are completed, have the youth convert their messages into Morse Code, using the supplied Morse Code Guide so they will know what combination of dots and dashes corresponds to each letter of the alphabet. Have each youth trade his or her coded message with a youth who wrote a telegram from the opposite standpoint and ask them to decode it. Then have the recipient create a response to the telegrams he or she has received, code it and send it back to the youth who wrote it!

Here is the word "Passchendaele" in Morse Code:

.--. .- ... ... -.-. .... . -. -.. .- . .-.. .

Create a Time Line

Time lines offer a way of graphically representing complicated events that occur over a span of time. Have the youth create a time line of the Battle of Passchendaele on large pieces of paper. Entries could include when different phases of the battle began and ended, when Victoria Crosses were earned, and when relatives or men from your home community were injured or killed (check out the Canadian Virtual War Memorial for information on this). Alternatively, the youth could create a time line for the whole of the First World War. Encourage youth to use colour and relevant Battle of Passchendaele photos or drawings.

Let’s Go to the Movies!

Watch the bilingual 2009 Canadian production of the movie Passchendaele by Director Paul Gross from the National Film Board (NFB) website. There is as well an innovative bilingual Passchendaele Education Guide created by Historica Canada that accompanies the highly acclaimed Canadian production of Passchendaele.

You may wish to ask youth in small groups to create their own “Heritage Minute” based on the experiences of Canadians who saw action at Passchendaele. It could feature the men in the trenches, the people on the home front back in Canada and the efforts of war on them all.

Those Who Served Research Project:

Have the youth research a relative, a person from their community who served in uniform or contributed on the home front during the First World War or one of the Victoria Cross recipients. Veterans Affairs Canada offers a wealth of resources that can be of help, such as the Books of Remembrance, the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and the First World War Audio Archive. They could then share their findings with each other and even compile their research into a 'book of reflection' for all to see.

 

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