Georgia Craven is only 17, but she’s learned a lot about the sacrifices local soldiers made during the First and Second World Wars through researching their stories.
Since Grade 9, the Chatham-Kent Secondary School student has helped describe the contributions and sacrifices soldiers from Chatham-Kent made during their military service, during the annual Remembrance Assembly held at the school.
“It is an honour to be part of this ceremony and an honour to be able to remember all of the dead and tell their stories to other generations, so that they can continue to remember them,” Craven said.
Reminding young people of the sacrifices that were made is important, she said, “especially in the present time, to remember the consequences of war and the damages that it can put on a country.”
Friday’s Remembrance Assembly had an added focus on the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918.
Craven spoke about John Babcock, the last survivor among the 650,000 Canadian soldiers who served in the war, who enlisted at age 16 and lived to be 109.
Shortly before his death in 2010, realizing he was the last Canadian veteran from that war, Craven said, “Babcock summed up the historical situation when he remarked: ‘The duty not to forget now falls on a generation who has been separated from the history of the Great War by a period going on 90 years. I think there is danger.'”
She said the danger in Babcock’s mind was that generations of Canadians would forget the sacrifices of the 650,000 Canadian soldiers who served in the First World War, “particularly the 61,000 Canadians who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives in service to Canada.”
Craven said at least 358 of the Canadians killed in that war came from Chatham-Kent.
She provided details of several of these local soldiers during her presentation.
One was Cpl. Harry Miner, born in Cedar Springs, who earned the British Empire’s highest military award for bravery, the Victoria Cross, as well as the highest French citation the Croix de Guerre.
Craven said Miner was recognized for his action in battle on Aug. 8, 1918.
“Despite multiple wounds, including serious wounds to his head and shoulders, Harry refused to withdraw from battle to get medical attention,” she said. “Ignoring his terrible wounds, Harry rushed at an enemy machine post, killed its crew and turned the machine gun on the enemy.”
Once out of ammunition, she said Miner moved on to assault two more enemy positions, killing another two enemy soldiers in hand-to-hand combat before being mortally wounded by enemy grenades.
“It’s surreal,” Craven said about researching the sacrifices of local people made. “I think that could be someone just like a year older than me or one of my brothers that is going to war and dying.
“It creates a lot of empathy,” she added.
Although they lived 100 years ago, Craven said “. . . they’re real people, they’re not just people history books, these are real people like your family members who have sacrificed their lives for the good of the country.”
Jim Costello, director of education for the Lambton Kent District School Board, told those in attendance: “Remembrance Day is a special event on our school year calendar as it is on this day that we look back in time and remember those that gave their lives so we can live ours in freedom.”
He said in today’s fast-paced times, “it’s easy for us to focus on ourselves, our problems and our schedules.”
Costello said it up to today’s generation to ensure the stories of these brave soldiers do not fade from memory, “but instead help to illuminate our future.
“For, if we fail to learn our lessons from those young who have walked ahead of us, we are sure to walk in their shadow without the benefit of learning from our collective past experiences,” he added.
Greg Rowden, who retired from military about eight years ago as corporal with the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment, was among the younger veterans to attend Friday’s ceremony.
Having been deployed to Bosnia in 2001 as a peacekeeper with the Third Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment out of Petawawa, he said, “It was definitely an eye-opener as a young 21-year-old.”
Rowden, who has attend the ceremony at CKSS several times, said, “It’s really nice to see the great deal of respect . . . the younger generation is giving the veterans and the fallen.”
He was particularly impressed with Friday’s presentation, which also recognized the 44 graduates of the former Chatham Vocational School – predecessor to CKSS – killed in the Second World War, as well as the 158 Canadians who died in Afghanistan.
“It was above and beyond,” Rowden said.