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SRSS student returns following ‘very emotional’ Vimy experience

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 09/3/2018 9:00 AM

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A Steinbach teenager who recently returned from a whirlwind war history tour in Europe says the trip impressed on her the sacrifice of soldiers past and present.

"I thought I would understand from reading about it and seeing pictures. But once you’re there, it’s a whole different experience," said Cassidy Choquette, a 17-year-old SRSS student entering Grade 12 this fall.

Choquette was one of 16 students who beat out hundreds of applicants from Canada, France, and the United Kingdom to win the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, which grants recipients a two-week educational tour of historical sites in England, France, and Belgium.

The Vimy Foundation and Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation hope the prize instills in young people an appreciation for Canada’s contributions to the First World War, a release said.

"We opened so many new doors and had so many insightful conversations," said Choquette, the group’s lone Manitoban.

Her Grade 11 history teacher, Jolene Fiarchuk, urged her to apply after Choquette completed a soldier research project.

"That got me really passionate about history," Choquette said.

The trip gave her a chance to profile another soldier. She selected Private John George Baggs of Newfoundland, who enlisted in February 1916 and died, aged 23, in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917.

Choquette read Baggs a letter at his gravesite in the La Chaudiere Military Cemetery in Pas de Calais, France.

"That was the most impactful moment for me," she said.

Students also visited the Canadian National Vimy Memorial near Arras, France, where they observed 30 minutes of silence.

"It was a moment for us to take it in," Choquette said.

The trip also included a history lecture at Oxford University, a walk along Juno Beach, and a visit to Ypres, Belgium, where the Battle of Passchendaele was waged.

Choquette said walking around the battle sites "was very emotional."

"Empathy is very important to me. I like to think if I was a soldier," she explained.

"I tried my best to put myself in all of these people’s shoes…It’s such a difficult thing to do but it’s so important."

Military service isn’t an abstract topic for Choquette, who said her brother attends the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., following in the footsteps of her father, who also served.

Choquette herself is considering a history-related career in research or teaching.

While a century has passed since the First World War, Choquette said young people today should reflect on the troops who fought for their freedom.

"A lot of them were my age…If I, at this age, made that sacrifice for my country and the world, how would I feel if generations after me forgot about me? I wouldn’t want to be forgotten, so I want to carry that torch for them."

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