Students Hear Nova Scotia’s Call To Remembrance

July 22, 2008 by Dan Black

One second. That’s about all you’ve got after you hit the buzzer. If you hesitate or begin to waffle, the question will go to the other team. And that’s not cool because the other team could get it right and score a point. And so here’s your question: What was the code name for an offensive launched on Feb. 8, 1945, preceded by a crushing air and artillery attack on the enemy positions?

The remarkable thing here is that you’re not a military historian—although you may be some day. You’re a junior high school student, born in 1995—50 years after the end of the Second World War. What’s also amazing is that when you blurt out the words Operation Veritable, the moderator looks at you and says you’re correct.

Chalk up one point for your team in the provincial finals of the Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command Call To Remembrance competition.

Hosted by the Legion’s Calais Branch in Lower Sackville, N.S., the 2008 finals May 1-2 stretched over a day and a half and featured six teams of students who faced a barrage of tough questions on all aspects of Canadian military history. “It’s exciting,” says Grade 9 student Pelham Flowerdew, 15, who helped his team from Halifax Grammar School win the Gold Medal round. “You get an adrenalin rush when you are up there waiting for the round to begin—waiting for the first question to be asked. It’s a lot of fun.”

Sharing the victory with Flowerdew were fellow students Ian Weaver, Allan MacDonald, Daniel Guns, Pelham’s brother Mark and their coach Teresa Woodford. “You never know when you’re going to blank out when you’re up there,” adds Weaver, 14. “You just have to prepare—study hard in the weeks leading up to the final, and then you have to listen carefully to the question and be quick on the buzzer.”

For the Flowerdew boys, participating in the provincials also served to honour their past. Their great, great-uncle, Lieutenant Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, earned the Victoria Cross during a daring cavalry charge on March 30, 1918, at Moreuil Wood in France. He died as a result of wounds received that day, and is buried in Namps-au-Val British Cemetery southwest of Amiens. “It is our family story and we certainly make sure our boys learn it well,” explains their mother Kathleen Flowerdew who has high praise for the Legion and the hours of work it puts into organizing and hosting the competition. “We encourage Pelham and Mark to be part of this—to absorb as much as possible about Canada’s military history, and we think their teacher is amazing. She motivates them and has them commit to studying for the competition during their lunch hours—when they could be outside playing basketball.”

Anyone who has seen the CBC program Reach For The Top will be familiar with the format for Call To Remembrance. It is essentially a round-robin competition with two opposing teams in each round. Even the look is similar: Two tables positioned one behind the other with the rear one on a slightly higher elevation. Each table is equipped with a microphone, a buzzer and a light, and each place at the table features the student’s name in big letters.

This year’s moderator was Howard D’Arcy who delivered the questions from behind a podium placed to one side—between the students and the audience. Also helping out were three judges, a timekeeper and a scorer—all of them Legionnaires. Observing were a number of key Legionnaires who have been instrumental in the program’s success, among them Nova Scotia/ Nunavut Command President Dave Blanchard, Call To Remembrance Chairman Ronald Trowsdale and Joe Murphy who has taken on the responsibility of supplying the questions and study material.

The idea stemmed from a 1995 pilgrimage to the Netherlands when Blanchard met some Dutch school­­-chil­dren who amazed him with their knowledge of Canada’s service in the Second World War, in particular the role Canadian forces personnel had in liberating the Netherlands. “I came back to Canada and immediately talked it over with a few other guys. We all agreed we should put a program together in order to get the kids over here to know even a fraction of what the kids over there know.”

Blanchard’s small group contacted a man who worked for a radio station in Kentville—a fellow who had worked on the CBC’s Reach For The Top program. They also contacted a schoolteacher in Windsor who—along with his sister—had been a contestant on Reach For The Top.

That fall, students from approximately five schools participated in a local competition in Windsor. The following year, the Call To Remembrance drew schools into several local competitions supported at the branch, district and zone levels—all of them aimed at producing teams that could make it to a provincial final. “The competition is open to any student enrolled in Grades 7, 8 or 9, or in the case of a middle school, Grade 6,” explains Trowsdale, a 30-year member of the Legion. “It takes dedicated students, teachers and Legionnaires to make it all work.”

This year the command’s budget for the program was approximately $6,000, and Trowsdale reports that the committee is well within that. Zones raise money for their competition expenditures by asking branches to donate so much per member. The program, he says, can also be supported through the Poppy Trust Fund. “It doesn’t cost that much to do this,” says Trowsdale. “Most of the time it is just a matter of someone stepping forward and doing it.”

He says the program is making more young people familiar with the Legion and its commitment to remembrance. “The students just blow me away with the amount of knowledge they gain from this,” he adds. “They have fun, but they take it seriously. What impresses me, too, is that you see the veterans here. For sure, their numbers are thinning, but they make the effort to attend, and you’ll often find them just staring in amazement at the students. They know it is all about remembrance, and they understand that our goal is simply to give the students the right tools to remember….”

Blanchard, whose great-uncle was killed during the Boer War, says the program serves to distribute knowledge of Canada’s military past—and present—throughout the province. “The great thing would be to find a way to take it national, but we realize there would be a big cost to that. Still, it would be great if word could get out and other commands could launch similar programs.”

Blanchard and others are also hoping more schools from across the command will get involved. However, it would—for example—cost a fair bit in terms of money and time to transport students and chaperons from Nunavut, although Blanchard says there is a lot of interest in Nunavut for the program. This year, dozens of teams in Nova Scotia participated prior to the provincial final.

The other five teams represented at the final were Eastern Passage Education Centre; West Hants Middle School; Liverpool, South Queen’s Junior High School; North Colchester Consolidated School and Annapolis Royal Academy. Eastern Passage and West Hants placed second and third, respectively.

“Not nearly enough military history has been taught to us in school,” says contestant Kelsey Hatt. “Our teacher, Mr. (Steven) Nickerson, is an exception. He has helped us a lot, and stressed the importance of it.”

Blanchard says the participating students are earning huge “knowledge” dividends. “I’ve noticed twice the number of kids showing up at our Remembrance Day services, and the first thing they do after the service is they take off their poppy and stick it into the ground by the cenotaph. A lot of these same kids will stop there and say a little prayer or have a moment of reflection. And that is because they can appreciate what was done.”

“It’s really inspiring,” says Teresa Woodford, coach of Halifax Grammar School. “I’ve been coaching at this school for seven years and the students come in not all of them knowing very much about the Canadian forces and Canada’s participation….I think the most important part is not so much the studying they do as individuals, but during the competitions they get to meet the veterans. And that is always what they talk about afterwards. It shows them that these are not just people in books, they are real people. It’s made personal by the fact that so many veterans come and participate in the competition.”

Woodford says come September, students interested in the program will meet at lunch on Tuesdays. “They do a fair bit of studying at home. For many of them it is a family commitment…. I have one student who is actually struggling in almost everything else at school and for some reason this student is committed to this. He just loves it.”

Student James Hunt from North Colchester Consolidated School couldn’t find a teacher to coach the team, so he took it upon himself to create a team. A teacher at the school was very much interested, but his schedule was just too tight. Hunt says he and the other team members read a lot of material and then quizzed each other. “When you know this stuff you certainly develop an appreciation for Canada’s military sacrifices.”

“If there are other students out there who are thinking about participating,” adds Ryan Oxner, 15, from South Queen’s Junior High School, “I’d tell them to go for it. It is a really fun way to get to know your history, and the guys at the Legion are nice guys to get along with.”

Each branch in the command receives a yearly information package. Branch representatives then visit the local junior high schools to interest students as well as teachers. “The biggest stumbling block is getting enough teachers to participate. It is difficult to get them because of their work load and so on. It is not because they are not interested. I can tell you though that any school that does participate, doesn’t look back.”

Blanchard, Trowsdale and Murphy believe there is a “golden opportunity” to connect Canada’s veterans with youth. “This opportunity is becoming more critical with the passing of veterans,” says Trowsdale. “This program must be done now, while we have some veterans with us.”

Blanchard thanked the countless volunteers who help out in Nova Scotia, including those at Calais Branch who helped host the final. “We couldn’t do this without these comrades in here working,” he said.

Try The Quiz

OK. It’s time to test your knowledge. The 10 questions below were among more than a 125 put to junior high school (Grades 7, 8, 9) students participating in Nova Scotia/ Nunavut Command’s 2008 Call To Remembrance provincial competition hosted by Calais Branch in Lower Sackville, N.S.

  1. Approximately how many Royal Canadian Navy personnel were in service at the end of the Second World War?
  2. Name the stewardess who was serving on the Athenia when it was torpedoed on Sept. 3, 1939.
  3. Which SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent was an ex-Golden Glove boxer?
  4. What line did the North Koreans cross to begin the Korean War?
  5. What was Operation Torch?
  6. True or False: In 1885 Canada contributed military contingents to Lord Wolseley’s Nile Expedition.
  7. In what country were the Gustav and Adolf Hitler lines located?
  8. What is engraved on the reverse of the Victoria Cross?
  9. Where was the Korean Armistice Agreement signed?
  10. What am I? First clue, for three points: I am a result of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Holland in 1995. Second clue, for two points: On Nov. 2, 1995, I became what I am today. Third clue, for one point: At present I have been in existence for 14 years (annual competitions).

Click here for the answers.

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