Normandy to the Netherlands: Commemorating Contribution & Sacrifice

The VEDay75 Lesson Plans are developed by Craig Brumwell.

Big Idea

Canadians have a responsibility to remember the contributions and sacrifices of individuals who fought for Canada in the Second World War.

Inquiry Question

How can we commemorate individuals who participated in the Northwest Europe Campaign?

Overall description

In this activity, students expand their understanding of contribution and sacrifice, then explore the story map of a Canadian infantryman to identify how his actions demonstrate these concepts using war diaries and an interactive map. They analyze the actions of the soldier and assess his efforts as a means to develop a sense of responsibility to commemorate others like him.

Time Needed

80-120 minutes

Competencies and Skills

Students will use the historical thinking concepts and critical thinking strategies to:

  • Assess the significance of contributions by selected Canadians
  • Expand their understanding of the concept of sacrifice
  • Explore, organize and analyze evidence
  • Evaluate the actions of individuals and units
  • Communicate an ethical stance on the responsibility to commemorate participants of Canadian and Allied forces in the Second World War

Materials

  • Computer or mobile device access to the Internet
  • Worksheet 1: Comparing the Contributions & Sacrifices of Prominent Canadians
  • Worksheet 2: Understanding War Diaries
  • Worksheet 3: Using Evidence to Identify Actions
  • Written Reflections Sheet
  • Glossary and War Diary Guide

Minds On

What Does It Mean to Contribute to Society?

What does it mean to make a contribution to society? A contribution can be a gift of money in the form of a donation or financial support but a contribution to society, or in the case of war, to one’s country, allies and democracy, it means something more.

Students explore their understanding of what it means to contribute to society then determine criteria from which to assess the actions of Canadian public figures.

In small groups, students discuss what it means to contribute to society using the questions below, then generate a list of characteristics from which 3 criteria will be used to assess different personalities. One student should act as scribe for the group.

Questions for consideration:

  1. What forms do contributions take? How do we see contributions in our lives?
  2. In what ways must actions benefit others to be considered a contribution?
  3. How are individual and group contributions perceived differently by people?
  4. How should the significance of a contribution be determined? Consider the Historical Thinking Concept of Significance:To what extent should a person or groups actions:
  • have resulted in change, with deep consequences, and affected many people over a long period of time?
  • reveal anything that leads to a deeper understanding of the world?
  • be part of a “meaningful place in a narrative” (interpretation of the past or present)?

Teachers Note: Students may produce characteristics like: benefiting others, gifts of time (volunteering), advocating a cause (Human Rights Watch), guiding society (The Dalai Lama Foundation), membership in a group that offers services to less fortunate (Doctors Without Borders), researching and discovering scientific discoveries (Stephen Hawking), enriching our lives (Actor Meryl Streep), advocating for others (Amnesty International).

Discuss group responses and determine the 3 top criteria for to be used as a class in Activity 1.

Activities

Activity 1 – Comparing Contributions

Distribute Worksheet I: Comparing the Contributions & Sacrifices of Prominent Canadians and ask students to do the following:

  • select 2 prominent Canadians from the list and write their names in the spaces provided.
  • read their linked bios (Julie Payette, Carey Price, Drake, Clara Hughes, Sarah McLachlan, Terry Fox)
  • list what you feel are their top contributions to society under their names
  • apply the 3 class criteria into a single “contribution” score for each person between 0 (low) and 5 (high) and plot it on the vertical lines above their names.

Ask students to think and reflect on the question below, then write their response on the reflection sheet in the Materials section

Written Reflection 1: Contributions

Why is it difficult to compare the contributions of two people who do not share common experiences? What other factors did you have to consider?

(Responses may include: the personalities have different jobs, roles and responsibilities; accomplishments and contributions are different depending on who is judging them, some personalities are promoted more than others; they are not all from the same era).

Personal Sacrifice

Guide students through one of the two options below to determine the class criteria for the concept of personal sacrifice:

Option 1 (time permitting): repeat the same process in the “Minds On” section above.

Option 2 (shortened version): Write or project the following definition on the class whiteboard, discuss the criteria provided and decide on the 3 that the class will use to assess their chosen Canadians

“Personal sacrifice: to give-up something that is valuable to you for others or a cause.”

Criteria:

  • Degree: giving-up own needs versus dying for a cause,
  • Scale: the number of people making the sacrifice and/or benefiting from it.
  • Cost: loss or suffering to the individual or group;
  • Perception: the benefit to others for whom it was made; and,
  • Significance: the principle or ideal for which the sacrifice was made

Ask students to go back to Worksheet 1, list what they feel the sacrifices of their selected personality under their names, apply the 3 class criteria into a single “contribution” score (0-5), and plot it on the vertical lines marked “sacrifice” above their names.

Ask students to think and reflect on the question below, then write their response on the reflection sheet.

Written Reflection 2: Sacrifice

Does considering personal sacrifice change your sense of your selected person’s contribution to society? Explain why or why not. How could adding personal sacrifice complicate how people’s contributions are perceived?

(Responses may include: sacrifice can intensify the perception of a person’s contribution; struggle and loss sensitize people to value those who make personal sacrifices for others; a lack of sacrifice could diminish the perception of a person’s contribution when they are deserving of recognition).

Recreate the chart from Worksheet 1 on the classroom whiteboard with scales for all of the 6 personalities and asks selected students to come to the front and plot their ratings for the personalities they analyzed.

Encourage students to share their thinking on the nature of contribution and sacrifice first in pairs or small groups, then as a class. Focus the discussion on the difficulties they had rating and comparing their personalities.

Teachers Note: Students will likely want to discuss more on this topic. The activity is designed to force them to rethink what it means to contribute to society and the difficulty of comparing actions between different people with varying degrees of personal sacrifice. At this point, a discussion or debate where students can provide further examples can heighten their engagement with the next activity, where fighting in the Second World War expands their understanding of the concepts.

Activity 2 – Exploring the Context of the Events

Students will transfer their new awareness and understanding of contribution and sacrifice to Canadians who landed on Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944 and fought in the Northwest Europe Campaign. They will assess their knowledge about the events in the period between the Normandy Invasion and Victory in Europe – or VE Day – May 8, 1945 with a quiz, then analyze a story map of a Canadian soldier while exploring the tools of the Project 44 site.

Quiz: VEDay 75 – Normandy to Netherlands: What Do You Know?

Assess student’s current understanding of this topic with a short quiz. The response options for each question allow them to select their level of knowledge about the events of the Northwest Europe campaign rather than a correct answer.

The quiz is provided here as an editable Google Form. It can be completed on a computer or mobile device or printed on paper (see resources). For online use, copy the quiz into your Google Drive to ensure that the responses go to you or to edit the questions in any way you prefer. Click ‘Responses’ to see real-time visualized results of student responses.

Teachers Note: Check with your school authority to determine what online quiz platforms are allowed for your district or institution. Platforms like Google Forms, Kahoot and SurveyMonkey can collect email and personal information that may be prohibited in your jurisdiction.

The questions are designed to assess general awareness levels for each of the following events (linked to June Beach Center website information pages) : D-Day, The Normandy Campaign, the Battle of the Scheldt, the Liberation of the Netherlands and Capitulation of Germany. Brief overview summaries are also located on the operations tab of the Canadian War Museum website section, Democracy at War. Teachers are encouraged to provide contextual information on the end of the Second World War in Europe aligned to the information provided by this quiz through their own methods and resources.

Activity 3 – Exploring the Story Map

George Pollard’s Last Stand

Project 44 is an interactive website by the Canadian Research and Mapping Association who are developing presentations that document the campaigns of the end of the war through a range of digitized primary sources accessed through interactive tools.

On computers or mobile devices, direct your students to the Project 44 site and open The Road to Liberation web map. Open the story map George Pollard’s Last Stand by zooming into the map and clicking on the icon below.

You can also access the site directly here.

What was Pollard and his unit attempting to do and why?

In order to answer this question, students will need to explore the available evidence. The Project 44 site includes sources such as maps digitized from original battlefield versions and war diaries. These are not diaries in the common sense of the word, but day-to-day descriptions of unit activities for army units in active service, and contain information about unit location and the military operations in which they may be involved. Project 44 has digitized thousands of these war diaries and indexed them by unit on their site.

In order to follow Pollard between his landing at Juno Beach on D-Day and his death 11 days later, students will need to know the movements, activities and operations of his unit, the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders.

Ask students to explore the navigation tools, unit locations and war diaries throughout The Road to Liberation web map. The war diaries are exact translations of the originals which are written using abbreviations that are sometimes difficult to interpret.

Students complete Worksheet 2: Understanding War Diaries using the Glossary and War Diary Guidein the Materials Section and to give them practice decoding the shortened text.

When they are finished, ask students to work with a partner to complete Worksheet 3: Using Evidence to Identify Actions where they use the information in the story map, war diaries and interactive map to analyze and better understand the objectives of Pollard, his unit and the operation in which they were participating. Encourage student pairs to share and compare the lists and responses to the questions on the worksheet with other pairs.

Teachers Note: This activity provides an opportunity to reinforce the Historical Thinking Concept of Evidence. Examples are: recognizing the Pollard story map as an interpretation based on inferences by the authors, analyzing the sources, considering historical context and to what extent the war diaries and maps corroborate the story map.

Consolidation – Commemorating Canadians in the Northwest Europe Campaign

In this final activity, students consider the actions of Lance Corporal George Pollard as an example of the contribution and sacrifice that individuals in the Canadian and Allied forces made towards victory in Europe and the Second World War. They finish by discussing the responsibility to remember and respond to their contribution and sacrifice through commemoration.

Ask students to return to their original groups to complete the contribution and sacrifice analysis and chart scale plotting for George Pollard on Worksheet 1.

Write or project the following questions on the classroom whiteboard and encourage students to share their views after completing the worksheet, then discuss their responses as a class.

Does your understanding and perception of contribution and sacrifice change when you consider individuals who fought in the Second World War to defeat Nazi Germany? How?

How can the contributions and sacrifices made by an individual be measured against the collective efforts of the Allied forces fighting in the war?

Teacher Note: Focus the discussion on the difficulty that students have comparing Canadians at war and during peacetime. Some of them will attempt to conclude that the situations are “just different,” without offering a reason. Encourage them to describe the differences, then ask how others could argue that there are no differences.

Reflection – Exit Slip: Responsibility to Commemorate

Understanding Commemoration

Explain to students that commemorations—which comes from the Latin word commemorare meaning “bring to remembrance”—involve, in some form, a story that captures the nature of the individual’s actions. They are distinct from memorials—which include street names, names of buildings such as schools, statues, and tombstones—help to preserve the memory of the individual, but on their own do not tell the story of that person’s contributions.

Exit Slip: Responsibility to Commemorate

Hand-out Exit Slip: The Responsibility to Commemorate and ask students to reflect in writing on the following question:

What responsibility to Canadians have to remember the efforts and actions of individuals who contributed to the Allied victory in the Second World War? What can be done to commemorate and remember their actions?

(Responses may include: individual contributions can be lost when considering the scale of participants fighting in an army, yet their collective actions lead to victory over Germany and the liberation of occupied people across Europe. Our country and the world would be a very different place if not for the personal sacrifices and contributions made by thousands of those individuals. Canadians have a responsibility to recognize and honour their lives and actions through appropriate commemorations.)

Teachers Note: This final reflection can be used as a formative assessment tool to determine the extent to which students perceive the imperative to commemorate individuals and their efforts in the war. It also provides an opportunity to further discuss the Historical Thinking Concept of the Ethical Dimension. Some students may question the difference between commemorating efforts of individuals and glorifying war. Issues of civilian casualties war crimes are likely to emerge. See A Note of Caution on the Defining Moments Canada: Teaching About Juno 75 website (scroll to bottom).

Reflections & Worksheets

Glossary and War Diary Guide

Reading Canadian Army war diaries can be tricky. Here are some tips to help you.

Written Reflections

Written Reflection 1

Why is it difficult to compare the contributions of two people who do not share common experiences? What other factors did you have to consider?
Download the Written Reflection 1 worksheet

Written Reflection 2

Does considering personal sacrifice change your sense of their contribution to society? Explain why or why not. How could adding personal sacrifice complicate how people’s contributions are perceived?
Download the Written Reflection 2 worksheet

Written Reflection 3: Exit Slip

What responsibility to Canadians have to remember the efforts and actions of individuals who contributed to the Allied victory in the Second World War? What can be done to commemorate and remember their actions?
Download the Written Reflection 3 – Exit Slip worksheet

Worksheets

Worksheet 1: Comparing the Contributions & Sacrifices of Prominent Canadians

Select 2 of the following prominent Canadians and write their names in the spaces above. Research information about them from reliable online sources.
Download Worksheet 1

Worksheet 2: Understanding War Diaries

Use the information sheet, Reading a Canadian Army War Diary from the Second World War in the Materials Section to interpret the abbreviations used in the selection from the July 16, 1944 war diary for the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders below. Write the decoded terms and their definitions in the space provided under each entry.
Download Worksheet 2

Worksheet 3: Using Evidence to Identify Actions

Use the Pollard story map, war diaries and interactive map to identify the actions taken by Pollard, his unit and the operation. Respond to the questions below when you are done.
Download Worksheet 3

The VEDay75 Lesson Plans are developed by, and courtesy of, Craig Brumwell.