Minister of Veterans Affairs applauds King's students' research
May 7, 2020
At a time when they were to be immersed in an experiential learning trip to Europe as part of the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day, King’s history students have shown how to carry on despite the cancellation of the trip due to the pandemic. On May 7, 2020, the students and faculty met, via Zoom, with the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veterans Affairs to discuss their research.
Joining the meeting were Dr. Graham Broad, Associate Professor of History and 2020 full-time Teaching Award recipient, Professor Katrina Pasierbek ’12, part-time faculty in History, and King's students in History 3710/4710 were to be at the Juno Beach Centre in Normandy, France as recipients of the Juno Beach Fellowship.
As part of their experiential learning trip (the first for History at King’s), the King’s students chose a specific individual whose life was impacted by one of the World Wars and researched their stories. Once in Europe, the group would visit the grave of each individual and the student would present their stories graveside.
“The people our students selected were all united through some sort of wartime service, and yet their stories are so incredibly unique. The students themselves had to do a lot of work - they travelled to archives, spent hours reading wartime letters, examined military service files, conducted genealogy research using the skills that their studies in History at King's have equipped them with,” says Pasierbek.
Although they were unable to visit Europe due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the students, under the leadership of Dr. Broad, decided to present their soldier’s story via Twitter (https://twitter.com/history_kings). The stories began appearing on May 1 and have been shared and liked by many.
The stories attracted the attention of the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Veteran’s Affairs, who arranged to meet with the students, faculty, and Dr. David Malloy, King’s Principal. Dr. Malloy has a personal interest in the research as his family has a military history. (As the students presented their stories, there was a poignant moment as Dr. Malloy discovered his father was in the same World War II fighter squadron as student Jenna Miller's grandfather.)
Several of the 19 students involved, including Paige Elliott, Jenna Miller, Reese Gordon and Terri King, related their stories to Minister MacAuley, who was very appreciative of their interest and research. He acknowledged the sacrifices made by these women and men allowed us the freedom we enjoy today.
"It is so important that we remember (these people and their stories). These people put their lives on the line for freedom. I want you to know we appreciate them so much," said Minister MacAuley.
The Minister learned about the research from students such as Paige Elliott. She is finishing her fourth year in an Honours Specialization in History. She chose to research three different soldiers, her grandfather Harold G. Elliott, her great-grandfather William Macleod and his brother Murdo Macleod.
“I was always very interested in learning about my grandpa because my family heritage has always been of great importance to me,” says Elliott. “While researching, I had moments where I cried while thinking about the pain that these men and their families must have experienced, but I also had many moments where I was so excited that I could hardly contain my joy because the pieces were finally coming together or when I read the words written acknowledging how special my grandpa was. I genuinely believe that this has made me a better student and had prepared me for my next step as I will begin at Western’s Faculty of Education in September,” says Elliott.
Harold G. Elliott served in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II and later served in the Royal Canadian Navy. After his service, he became respected as a journalist, was married, and built a family of six.
William and Murdo Macleod were both born and raised in Tong, Scotland. William served during the First World War with the Ross Mountain Battery, part of the 4th Highland Brigade of the Royal Garrison Artillery during the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign. He later moved to Guelph, met his wife and raised two children.
Murdo Macleod moved to Saskatchewan before the war and served with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was killed in action on December 4, 1915.
Brody Robinson, 3rd Year Double Major in English and History, chose to research his great uncle Clifford (Cliff) Stanley Johnston who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. Serving with the 419 Moose Squadron, Cliff’s plane was shot down over Sterkrade, Germany, during a bombing raid. All seven crew members, including Cliff, were killed.
In addition to the family connection, Robinson also researched his uncle because he was killed at 22 years old, the same age Robinson is now. “To think men like Clifford, so young, and so full of life, went off to war knowing they may never return really struck an emotional and personal chord with me,” says Robinson.
Robinson says he found the process rewarding, one he would recommend. “To wholly encompass the memory of a person you must include the broad, the personal, and the familial. We must remember those of the past and impart their stories to those in the future, not just their descendants, but anyone. I believe history, though grand in spectrum, can only properly be understood via the personal,” he says.
Brianne Little, who just finished an Honours Specialization in History,” chose four young men all from one extended family, Eric, Bernard, Gerald and Wilfrid Ayre. Eric and Bernard were brothers and first cousins with Gerald and Wilfrid.
All four were from St. John’s Newfoundland and died July 1, 1916 in the Battle of Albert, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Little says she chose these men because of their family ties and “it is hard to imagine the loss the Ayres experienced when so many of their beloved relatives died on the same day. I
To mark the VE Day anniversary, Dr. Broad will also be presenting a virtual history lesson: entitled At the End, the Beginning, How Canadians Experienced the Second World War and the Lessons for Today.
For more information, and to register for Dr. Broad’s talk, held on May 8 as part of Alumni at Home and King’s Virtual Open House, please visit https://www.kings.uwo.ca/about-kings/media-and-communications/newsroom/virtual-history-lecture-to-honour-ve-day-anniversary/
To learn more about History at King’s, please visit https://www.kings.uwo.ca/academics/history/.
Photo credits: CVWM, National Archives (UK), UWO Gazette 1915