Remembrance dog tags – Canadians who died during the Battle of the Scheldt

Aim

To increase youth awareness of the many Canadians who died in service during the Battle of the Scheldt, in the fall of 1944.

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 Battle of the Scheldt, 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 youth 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 Battle of the Scheldt was an important and difficult military effort for Canada during the Second World War. After D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, from June 6 to August 25, 1944, the Allies were making progress in their fight against the Germans. By early September, the Allies had reached Belgium, but to keep putting pressure on the enemy, they needed a major port to feed and fuel their large armies. The major port of Antwerp in northern Belgium was taken by the British forces in early September. However, the Germans still controlled the Scheldt estuary (which runs through parts of Belgium and the Netherlands) that connected the port to the North Sea, about 80 kilometres downstream. You may show the map of the Battle of the Scheldt to help your students locate the area.

The Canadians were tasked with clearing the Scheldt to open the supply line. The difficult series of battles in a wet environment lasted about a month, from early October to early November 1944. It was a tough assignment, but with the help of other Allies, they succeeded. Canadian casualties in the Battle of the Scheldt numbered more than 6,300.

This remembrance dog tag activity highlights only some of the Canadians who died during the Battle of the Scheldt. Please note that the activity contains information on 75 individuals who lost their lives during this campaign. 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 Belgium and the Netherlands in the fall of 1944? You may want to invite them to read the Canada Remembers the Battle of the Scheldt 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.

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:

Research and preparation [15 minutes]

Using card stock paper for added strength, print the dog tags of Canadians who died during the Battle of the Scheldt (PDF). This document contains information on 75 individuals (of the more than 1,400 Canadians who died in Belgium and the Netherlands in the fall of 1944) from across Canada.

  • 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. Please note that officers didn’t have a service number.
  • 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 read 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 Battle of the Scheldt in the fall of 1944?
  • 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 other possible activities they could pursue. Examples might include:

  • Organizing a commemorative ceremony at the school and sharing 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' organizations and volunteering to assist with commemorative activities or events that may be planned for the area;
  • Listening to stories of 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.

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