Rachel Bannerman is an undergraduate student at studying political science, ethics and Drama at the University of Toronto. She has been a Vimy Ambassador since the program began in 2015 and hopes to continue her work with historians and service people around the country.
In 2015, at age 17, I, along with 15 other Beaverbrook Vimy Prize winners [A prestigious summer scholarship offered to youth 15-17 years of age, to study the interwoven history of Canada, France, and Great Britain during the First and Second World War], went to England, Belgium and France with the Vimy Foundation to explore the World Wars and their effects.
This experience was truly humbling and one that has changed me forever. I went into this experience with a Canadian flag on my backpack and all of the books from the recommended reading list stacked and dog-eared in my room. I knew, in great detail, the tactical role my country played abroad, and why the word “Canadian” has earned the glowing reputation it has on most European shores. I knew the casualty counts and the statistics of war. I was not prepared for the reality, for the living war that remains in Europe.
When I applied for the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, I wrote an essay on the importance of youth in ensuring that the First World War and the history around it remain relevant into the future. I had academic reasons then, but I can tell you now more than ever that the drive to keep record of our histories, to tell our stories, to share our memories was illuminated at Vimy.
It is said that Canada was forged as a nation at Vimy Ridge. It is said that Canadian troops throughout the war showed the world exactly what Canada was made of: courage, loyalty and a strong sense of justice — traits our service people still embody today in all that they do. To see Vimy Ridge, to stand on a memorial carved with the names of your ancestors and look out to the Douai plain to see all that they guarded, to see whole towns that existed because of Canadian bravery, to stand in a sous-terrain and see the carvings and drawings and signatures of the children of our war: this is to feel the heartbeat of Canada, so far from home.
The unconquerable spirit of service people, forged in conflicts such as the Vimy drive, has helped shape our nation, and our world, into what it is today. Congratulations and good luck to all participants of the Invictus Games!