Two northwest Winnipeg teachers are getting a first-hand look at the battlefields of the First and Second World Wars.
Alison Lynch of West Kildonan Collegiate and Paul Longtin of Garden City Collegiate are among the 22 Canadian teachers in France this week for the Juno Beach Centre’s 10th annual Professional Development Battlefield Tour for Educators.
Mary Ellen Campbell of St. John’s-Ravenscourt School and Scott Powers of Gimli High School are also on the tour, which started on Mon., July 28 and runs until Mon., Aug. 4.
Longtin, 59, a history, English and drama teacher, said his interest in military history dates back to his involvement with Cadets as a youth. Also, his uncle fought in the Italian Campaign during the Second World War and his father joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1946, but didn’t see any war action.
Longtin, who majored in history at the University of Manitoba, said he is well-educated on Canada’s involvement in the First and Second World Wars, but noted that books and documentaries can’t compare to actually being there.
"History involves using your imagination to try to visualize, to try and put yourself into the position of these people," Longtin said. "I have imagined Juno Beach, but my imagination is not going to be the same as standing there, going into the gun placements and looking down at the beach and seeing that stretch of sand that the Canadian soldiers had to get across."
Like Longtin, Lynch has had a lifelong interest in military history, which she said she picked up from her dad, whose own father served in the Italian Campaign. But, when it comes to applying the experience in France to the classroom, Lynch’s situation looks a little different than her tour mates’.
"They kind of gear it towards history teachers, but I’m actually a science and math teacher, so when I applied I put in the science and technology twist on why I wanted to go," said Lynch, 30. "The (Second World War) was such an interesting time because of all the technology advances, in medical terms, in the aircraft, in the guns and artillery and in the boats. You can apply that all to science. It’s not just a history tour. There’s so much going on, like the literature that was written at that time, the changes in geography and political issues."
Included in the tour itinerary are trips to Dieppe Beach, Vimy Ridge and of course Juno Beach. This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
The tour will start at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, dedicated to the Dominion of Newfoundland soldiers who died in the First World War.
"One of the other things I’m looking forward to most is visiting the military graveyards," Longtin said.
"You read the numbers, but it’s a different thing to see that marked in crosses. I think that’s going to be a very dramatic and powerful underscore of the sacrifices that Canadians made."