Calvin Smith dons an oversized helmet on his head at Journey Middle school. The Grade 8 student bought the U.S. Second World War talker helmet at a garage sale in Sooke last year. The helmet fits loosely on his head, wobbling from side to side.
“Each soldier would get a radio that was strapped into their helmet,” Smith explained. “It would help them figure out where they were going.”
He’s not the only one that brought war artifacts from decades past to show at Journey Middle’s interactive museum in honour of Remembrance Day.
Black Porter, another Grade 8 student, shows off a British service medal that his great-grandfather, Jim Wright, was given after the Second World War. “My grandma found it in an old box and gave it to my mom, who passed it down to me.”
Journey vice-principal Katrina Abell organized the walk-through museum the day before Remembrance Day for her students. She was tired of following the norm of watching a short video about the war. With no assemblies allowed during the pandemic, she knew she had to raise the bar for Remembrance Day.
Each group of cohorts are taken through the school, from an interactive museum with artifacts to a sit-down chat with a historian. Then, they listen to a student who recorded Taps and observes a minute of silence.
“We have to remember that there was a human element of war,” said Wade Berglund, who served 24 years in the Royal Canadian Navy. “These artifacts each have a story behind them.”
Berglund pointed out a large piece of copper called a “death penny” that was given out during the First World War.
They are about the size of an open hand, each with a different name inscribed on the front. Over 1.5 million pennies were produced, Berglund said.
Berglund traced the man’s name on the penny and discovered that he was killed in action due to an exploding shell while fighting on the front against German soldiers.
Berglund is one of two members from the Victoria-Esquimalt Military Re-enactors Association that came dressed in clothing similar to the period they chose. His outfit represents a soldier during the Second World War, and his friend Don Thomas came as a nurse during the Korean War.
“We thought this would be a great chance to get these kids engaged with history,” said vice-principal Abell. “They’re not watching another timepiece film, but instead learning from historians who are passionate and have a wealth of information.”
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