One winner of the 2013 Legion Poster and Literary Contests has had a rare opportunity to get his message across—twice. Owen Brown, 17, from Guelph, Ont., wants other young people to appreciate that soldiers and veterans are real people who carried a burden that can only be imagined by today’s youth.
“Those people carried such a great weight,” says Brown, who has had back-to-back first- place finishes in the senior black and white poster category. His poster, submitted by Waterloo Branch, depicts a young soldier and a veteran, standing side by side under the words “The Weight of our Freedom.” Where their shoulders meet are scenes of battles on the ground, sea and air, representing “the duress and pain they went through,” says Brown. They represent the weight of freedom for their generation.
“They were real people who sacrificed for us, and as real people, we need to choose to honour and remember them.” Remembrance: the weight of freedom for this generation.
In Remembering the Brave, first-place intermediate poem, Emma Giesbrect of Comox, B.C., understands the threat passing time poses to Remembrance:
“Remember those who gave their lives,
The ones who were injured,
And the ones that survived.
Remember the sacrifices that the heroes gave
As time recedes and memories fade.
And Colton Smith of Parrsboro, N.S., whose poem Proud placed second in the senior category, yearns for more constant remembrance.
They lived in holes, faced everything
Mother Nature had to offer,
Waiting in a mix of dirt,
They stand among us today,
Only praised on one day
After fighting for our freedom.
Risking their lives…
More than 100,000 students participate in the Legion’s annual literary and poster contests, joining a 50-year tradition of sharing thoughts on remembrance. Young people have fewer and fewer opportunities to connect with people with wartime experience as the generations that lived through the Second World War and Korean War pass on. This year, only one winning entry focuses on experiences of a family member.
Eleven-year-old Frances Milner of Peterborough, Ont., interviewed her grandfather Peter Milner, who served during the Second World War as a navigator in a Lancaster bomber, for her first-place junior essay. He talked about experiences far removed from her everyday life.
“His job was difficult because concentrating through all the noise and commotion in the plane and arriving at the target at the exact time was very challenging,” she wrote. He was wounded in the leg in an attack by a German fighter plane. But “not all times were bad…he made strong, lifelong friendships and had good times with his crew.
“He says he only did what millions of others did… He doesn’t believe he’s a hero, but I do.”
In an interview, Frances said it’s difficult for youth today to appreciate the contrasts of service then, the very bad times and very good times, fear and pride, being part of something bigger than themselves. “No one now really knows…no one who hasn’t served,” she said.
But the 2013 winning entries show young people do connect to the experiences lived by earlier generations. Some use imagination to put themselves in the shoes of those who experienced fighting for their country and upholding its values. Others contrast their own youthful experiences with those of generations before. Many focus on the duty to remember and the power of remembrance.
Lacking a role model in her own family, Daniela Gallardo of Dieppe, N.B., used her imagination in her first-place senior essay, submitted by Moncton Branch. She put herself in the sensible shoes of a military nurse in Sicily during the Second World War. “People to this day still don’t really know what it was like; don’t really realize what we did. We were soldiers just like the men, carrying bandages to heal instead of guns to kill.” She writes about gruelling days, about the emotional toll, “countless sleepless nights, the never-ending shifts.” Why did they volunteer for the job? “‘If not I, then who else?’ Someone had to pick up the pieces of what had been damaged.” And then make sure the experience is remembered. “My experience in war, and that of every other, must stay alive. It must stay alive to prove that even in the bleakest of times, hope exists.”
As a first-generation Canadian whose parents emigrated from El Salvador about 20 years ago, Daniela, 15, wanted to write about war from a different perspective than that of a soldier. Remembrance activities increase her connection to Canada, make her appreciate even more all that she has, she said in an interview.
In their essays, Melissa Liu, senior second-place winner, and Robert Deacon, intermediate first-place winner, describe older veterans attending Remembrance Day services.
Liu of Surrey, B.C., captures the way services spark fearful memories for a survivor of the Battle of Ortona: lonely, fear-filled nights, the faces of comrades who were killed, the sound of rubble underfoot. “Before he realizes, the ceremony is over, but the memories from 1943 are still ringing in his head.”
In A Field of Red, Deacon of Victoria writes about a former prisoner of war: “All of the people around me wear poppies… To some, like me, they symbolize personal experiences. For others, they are a way of never forgetting loved ones. But to all, wearing a poppy is a special way of showing respect for those who fought and died to make our country what it is today.”
In these excerpts from Through the Eyes of a Soldier, Jack Thomas Moulton of Manotick, Ont., second-place intermediate poetry winner, writes about the universal Canadian soldier.
Through the eyes of a soldier, I see an old soul
I see the beaches of Normandy, the agony of Bosnia,
The victory at Vimy Ridge, the despair in Afghanistan.
Through the eyes of a soldier, I see a young soldier
Who courageously has chosen to fight for our freedom
Family that is left behind, for months or a lifetime…
Through the eyes of a soldier, I see a huge heart
Showing what Canada is made of, regardless of cost…
Katelyn Hogan of Northern Bay, Nfld., won first place for her senior poem submitted by Carbonear Branch. Titled I’ve Been Lucky, I Know, the poem contrasts the lives of youth during wartime and her own generation, whose chief worries are curfews, assignment due dates and exams.
I guess you can see
My problems lack weight,
So with reference to war,
It’s hard to relate.
I’ve been lucky I know,
To have been spared the cost
Of a headline saying
That my sister was lost.
Or to be the little boy,
Whose tears did shed,
When he wished for his Dad,
But received a flag instead.
In War Is Not A Video Game, Phillip Sevigny of Cowansville, Que., whose poem placed second in the junior category, shows that being part of the electronic-game generation doesn’t dim his ability to tell reality from fantasy.
War isn’t a video game,
You don’t get three lives.
You’ll be lucky if you
Make it home alive.
Flags don’t give you life,
You don’t just reappear,
You can’t make peace by running,
It’s men you shoot, not deer.
You can’t just pause the war,
You can’t just save and run.
Tanks don’t come out of games,
You don’t get to use a toy gun.
The contests have two divisions: poetry and essay in the literary contests, black and white and colour in the poster contests. Awards are made at the Primary (kindergarten through Grade 3), Junior (Grades 4 through 6); Intermediate (Grades 7 through 9) and Senior (to Grade 12) levels.
First-place entries from all levels are displayed at the Canadian War Museum for a year. Second-place entries and honourable mentions are displayed in the foyer of the Parliament Buildings during the remembrance period in November.
In addition, the Legion sponsors winners of the four senior categories to attend the national Remembrance Day ceremony in Ottawa, where they place a wreath on behalf of the youth of Canada, and meet the governor general.
This will be Brown’s third national ceremony. In 2010, he accompanied his brother Jonathan, whose black and white poster also won a first. That trip planted the seed for Owen’s 2012 first-place poster. Attending the national service in his own right changed him. “I stepped away from a passive kind of behaviour towards remembrance to a more purposeful place. I can choose to put more effort into personally remembering and choosing to be thankful.”
Senior Essay First Place
Light In The Darkness
By Daniela Gallardo
World War II, Italy. The war had been underway for some time now. All of us had grown used to the countless sleepless nights, the never-ending shifts. We could do this forever, it seemed. Our movements were mechanical, like that of an unfeeling robot. Our eyes were open but did not see. If we had let ourselves absorb the horrors of the aftermath on the battlefield, we couldn’t have done the job.
People to this day still don’t really know what it was like; don’t really realize what we did. We were soldiers just like the men, carrying bandages to heal instead of guns to kill.
That was my life, the life of a military nurse.
I was stationed at a nearby hospital in Sicily, Italy, a couple of hours away from the battlefield. Our mission did not have an enemy; we were not fighting for a team, or a specific victory. Our mission was to fight to save lives, not to kill other men. Whether the patients were German, Italian, or even American, it made no difference to us. Our priority was to get the men home, wherever that may have been in the world.
Routine days were gruelling, never an easygoing pace. Every day held new miseries: another cringing injury, or a tortured scream from the surgery table that would keep me and other staff members awake at night.
Some people might have thought why we were even doing what we did, why we would put ourselves through daily extra stress and sadness? But the question I asked myself was, “If not I, then who else?”
Someone had to pick up the pieces of what had been damaged; in this case it was the men. At the end of all the chaos, the spilled blood, and broken bones, there had to be someone to try and fix the damage.
That thought was what kept me in that hospital.
Someone had to take that responsibility; the world had to move on, and the least I could do was step up to that plate. Trying to not get emotionally compromised was the everyday challenge as a nurse. The patients we were nursing were men, men like our husbands, sons, and fathers. They were just broken souls trying to get home. We, as nurses, had to provide a means for them to escape their harsh reality, even if just for a moment.
Something that I only realized after the war was that amidst all the destruction, death, pain and heartache, we gave the wounded soldier something even better than a victory; we gave them peace. That peace we gave them healed more than a bandage, or stitches; it healed their souls.
War kills more than just the physical bodies of men; it also destroys their innocent souls, day by day. My experience in war, and that of every other, must stay alive. It must stay alive to prove that even in the bleakest of times, hope exists.
2013 National Results
COLOUR POSTER—First: Ginny Hsiang, Surrey, B.C.; Second: Mackenzie Wintyr Chorney, Unity, Sask.; Honourable Mention: Erica Peterson-King, Kingsville, Ont.
BLACK AND WHITE POSTER—First: Owen Brown, Guelph, Ont.; Second: Catharina Venter, Virden, Man.; Honourable Mention: Jon (Hwec Dong) Yoo, West Vancouver, B.C.
POEM—First: Katelyn Hogan, Northern Bay, Nfld.; Second: Colton Smith, Parrsboro, N.S.; Honourable Mention: Evan Whitfield, Marwayne, Alta.
ESSAY—First: Daniela Gallardo, Dieppe, N.B.; Second: Melissa Liu, Surrey, B.C.; Honourable Mention: Jean-Christophe Slattery, Longlac, Ont.
COLOUR POSTER—First: Justice Jasmine Morin, Prince Albert, Sask.; Second: Hayley Bouwman, Chatsworth, Ont.; Honourable Mention: Chen, ching-ting (Melody) Richmond, B.C.
BLACK AND WHITE POSTER—First: Emily (xiao) Yu, Calgary; Second: Vera Liu, Vancouver; Honourable Mention: Casey Xue Li O’Neill, Belleisle Creek, N.B.
POEM—First: Emma Giesbrect, Comox, B.C.; Second: Jack Thomas Moulton, Manotick, Ont.; Honourable Mention: Autumn Della Grace Bennett, Monastery, N.S.
ESSAY—First: Robert Deacon, Victoria, B.C.; Second: Natalie Arsenault, Moncton, N.B.; Honourable Mention: Robyn Ann Boytinck, Fairview, Alta.
COLOUR POSTER—First: Vince Ropitini, Medicine Hat, Alta.; Second: Kaela Whittingham, Aurora, Ont.; Honourable Mention: Vicky Chen, Surrey, B.C.
BLACK AND WHITE POSTER—First: Angel Qiu, Vancouver; Second: Marion Hofer, Holden, Alta.; Honourable Mention: Desirée Boulter, Bruce Mines, Ont.
POEM—First: Navin Dosanjh, Surrey, B.C.; Second: Phillip Sevigny, Cowansville, Que.; Honourable Mention: Amber Thiessen, Maryfield, Sask.
ESSAY—First: Frances Milner, Peterborough, Ont.; Second: Jasmine Porier, Hemmingford, Que.; Honourable Mention: Tyler Smith, Ellerslie, P.E.I.
COLOUR POSTER—First: Joseph Brink, Brampton, Ont.; Second: Ida Yang, Surrey, B.C.; Honourable Mention: Samantha Schurman, Kensington, P.E.I.
BLACK AND WHITE POSTER—First: Joseph Brink, Brampton, Ont.; Second: Jessica Hofer, Holden, Alta.; Honourable Mention: Dahlia Maendel, Pilot Mound, Man.