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Combat Boots

Aim

To increase youth awareness of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War and to remember the sacrifices and achievements made by Canadians.

Objectives

Youth will be expected to:

  • develop a basic understanding of the Canadian efforts at the Battle of Vimy Ridge;
  • develop an awareness of the importance of April 9 in Canada;
  • understand the human cost of war; and
  • develop an awareness of the importance of remembering the sacrifices and achievements of those who served and died.

Target Audience

This activity is suitable for ages 5-12.

Sequence of events and anticipated time frame [Variable]

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

  • Introduction discussion [10 min]
  • Combat Boots Handout [5 min]
  • Combat Boot Maze [5 min]
  • Combat Boots Colouring Sheet [10 min]
  • Extension Activities

Materials

Introduction discussion

2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Canadians from all across the country served in this battle. They had a uniform that was similar to the British uniform, but they had a badge that said CANADA on them. The Canadians were a very diverse group of soldiers coming from many regions of Canada but one thing that most had in common was their boots!

Canadian boots that were given out early in the First World War in 1914 were not able to endure the harshness of war in the muddy wet trenches. The soles of those early boots dissolved in wet conditions - and the first weeks in war were very wet! By 1916, the Canadian-made boots were replaced by British boots. The standard combat boot worn by Canadians was called the “Ammunition Boot”. These were dark coloured ankle-high boots made of textured leather.

Soldiers also wore puttees which are strips of cloth worn wrapped around the lower leg in a spiral pattern, from the ankle up to below the knee. They provided ankle support and helped prevent dirt and debris from getting into the boots. Khaki-coloured wool puttees were worn with the Canadian Ammunition Boot. At the time, Newfoundland was not a part of Canada, and interestingly, the Newfoundland soldiers wore puttees that were blue, giving them the nickname “Blue Puttees”.

Combat Boots Handout [5 minutes]

Share with your students the handout Combat Boots to help students understand the combat boots that Canadians wore in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and that, sadly, close to 3,600 soldiers died in the battle and those boots would never come home to Canada.

Talk to your students about the number 3,600. Is it big or small? How tall would a pile of 3,600 tulip bulbs be? And if those bulbs grew into 3,600 flowers, how big would that garden be? Help them understand that 3,600 is a lot of soldiers. Compare that to how many students are in your school.

You could also discuss how far 3,600 pairs of boots would stretch if you lined all of them up (in pairs) one after another, toe to heel (approximately, 3,600 feet). Older students could research the distance in kilometres (approximately 1.1 km) and then use a tool such as Google Maps to visualize the distance from your school to another location. Ask them to imagine a soldier in each pair. You could also have the students line up closely one behind the other to envision the distance of their class and how this distance compares to 3,600 people.

Combat Boots Maze

Provide each student with a copy of the Combat Boots Maze. Help the child bring the wreath to the Vimy monument in France.

Combat Boots Colouring Sheet

Provide each student with a copy of the Combat Boots Colouring Sheet. After they complete their drawings they can hang them in the classroom or hallway of your school. You may wish to remind them that the poppy flower is red.

Borrow a Boot!

Share with your students the Boots of the Fallen image gallery. The first photo is a replica of the boots worn by Canadian soldiers at Vimy. They will also see the art installation of thousands of modern day combat boots that surrounded the Vimy monument on April 9, 2017, in memory of the Canadian soldiers who died during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Students from Canada and France took part in laying four rows of boots, representing the four divisions of the Canadian Corps that fought for the first time as one formation at Vimy a century ago. Take time to explore the images from that day to see the sea of boots. What a powerful way to have a visual symbol to show the human cost of war.

Why not Borrow a Boot? We will send you a pair of the combat boots that were part of the 100th anniversary ceremony at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 2017, free of charge with return shipping included. Contact us toll free at 1-877-604-8469 or by email at distribution@veterans.gc.ca for further details.

Once you receive the boots, pass them around to your students. Remind them that these boots would have been worn by modern day soldiers and so look a bit different from the boots worn by the soldiers at Vimy. You may wish to compare them to the “Vimy” replica boots in the photo gallery to discuss how combat boots have changed over the years.

Missing Man Table Setting

Missing Man Table Setting

You may wish to have a culminating activity where you have a “missing man” luncheon in your class.

At a desk or table in your classroom or cafeteria, set a spot for a “missing man” to represent one of the soldiers who died at Vimy Ridge. Set the desk / table with symbols of Remembrance:

  • a white tablecloth to symbolize peace or the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty
  • a slice of lemon on the bread plate to remind your students of the bitter fate of those who will never return
  • a pinch of salt on the table can symbolize the tears endured by the families of those who have sacrificed all
  • one empty chair with the glass at that seat inverted will remind students of those no longer with us, and the fact that they cannot make a toast
  • a pair of combat boots under the empty chair or any other suitable pair of boots

How Big is 3,600? - Extension Activity

Another possible culminating activity is to plan your own “visual” representation of the number 3,600 to symbolize those who died during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Brainstorm with your students on creating a visual and then take a photograph and share it on the Canada Remembers FaceBook page or Instagram account. Here are some possible ideas:

  • Organize a mural of 3,600 pairs of boot cut-outs in your gymnasium. You may wish to use the Combat Boots Colouring Sheet. Each class in the school could be responsible for creating a certain number of pairs of boots and take their turn adding their boots to the mural.
  • Organize a Remembrance walk of 3,600 steps for your school on or around April 9. Link the idea that the youth are carrying on the steps of the solders whose lives were cut short. You may wish to create signs and hold them on your walk.
  • Hold a special Remembrance activity for 1 hour (60 minutes x 60 seconds = 3,600 seconds, 1 second per individual who died at Vimy).
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