As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, an elementary school in Regina is proving that Canada's military sacrifice isn't being forgotten by the younger generation.
"They gave up their lives, I'm just giving up recess," said Max McFadden, 11.
McFadden is one of 35 members of Club du Souvenir (Remembrance Club) at École St. Andrew. The students meet in the school library every week wearing red shirts that say N'oublions pas (Do Not Forget).
'When we do this research, we bring that soldier's spirit — their memory — back to life.' - Club supervisor Carolynne Kobelsky
As part of the learning experience, the teacher in charge of the club, Carolynne Kobelsky, is known as "Colonel" and, like soldiers, each student has a rank. They earn promotions by serving the community and honouring soldiers, present and past.
"It's really important to remember the soldiers who fought for our country and made the world a better place," McFadden added, explaining his interest in the club.
Project started in 2007
The unique club got its start as a straightforward class project in 2007. The objective was to research a member of the Regina Rifles Regiment who died on D-Day, June 6 1944, and purchase a commemorative brick in his honour at the Juno Beach Centre at Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy.
The Regina Rifles were among the first to storm Juno Beach, losing more than a hundred men on the first day of fighting.
As part of that project Kobelsky requested military documents from Library and Archives Canada.
"It started as a research project," Kobelsky explained. "A way to get the kids involved in information literacy, learning how to surf the web, and looking at authentic documents."
Now, seven years later, the D-Day research is no longer just a class project. Now, students apply to be in the coveted club and take an oath at the beginning of the year to dedicate themselves to another Soldier Project.
Each year, they research another deceased soldier from the Regina Rifles. They learn about his family life, his military service, and his death.
"When we do this research, we bring that soldier's spirit — their memory — back to life," explained Kobelsky.
They often spend their recess or lunch hour in the library flipping through 70-year-old documents, trying to read the faded handwriting of army personnel.
This year, in an interesting twist, the youngsters are researching soldier Steve Bryksa, one of the students' great uncles.
"It's really cool," Jenna Bryksa said. "I didn't think we'd do one of my relatives of all people."
Students' interest is a boost to soldiers
Their research has also attracted attention from people in the community with connections to the Regina Rifles.
The former regimental sergeant-major in charge of the regiment, Jerry Roenspiess, often visits the classroom.
"Every time I come here, it's a boost," he said. "It's refreshing to see a younger generation that's into being part of the community and wanting to learn about Canadian history."
One way the students pay homage to the sacrifice of soldiers is to send care packages to soldiers overseas and raise money for local charities, such as Regina's neonatal unit and Coats for Kids.
"This is about selflessness," student Ainsley Priddell said. "It's not a forced thing. You're here because you genuinely want to help people."
After seven years, the school's project of respect and remembrance has become a personal mission for each of the little soldiers in the club.
"I think that is the best feeling in the world knowing that you've done something to help people," Priddel said.