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A realistic experience of trench warfare for students

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BerichtGeplaatst: 21 Nov 2010 19:23    Onderwerp: A realistic experience of trench warfare for students Reageer met quote

A realistic experience of trench warfare for students

TILLSONBURG -- Armed with rubber grenades, wooden rifles and bayonets, about 70 Grade 10 students from Woodstock, London, Strathroy and other communities exper ienced first hand what it felt like for soldiers in the trenches of the First World War on Tuesday.

The experience is nothing new to Robin Barker-James, owner of "The Trenches" farm on New Road, but the 14-and 15-year-old students were clearly overwhelmed by the experience and the prospect of going to war.

"I just couldn't handle it," Daniel Vandenbr ink said. "I don't want to kill anyone. It's not worth all the lives people lost."
Daniel and his friend, Kyle Dejong, agreed war would take a toll on them.

"I'd probably go insane," Kyle added.

The pair, who had just been "killed" by enemy students as they attempted to clear the trenches, admitted they would have preferred the weather was rainy and overcast instead of Tuesday's sunny blue skies.

"That would have made it even more realistic," Daniel said.

Barker-James, a teacher who designed and built the trenches 14 years ago, said it's not unusual for students to have an emotional and physical reaction to the trench warfare reenactments offered at his farm.

"We teach them how to use the grenades and bayonets and let fate take its course," Barker- James said. "Some of them lose a sense of context while they're out there and experience some very real emotions, especially fear. When those grenades come whistling past their heads or into their laps, they can come unhinged and run crying to the rear.

"I ask them why they are running away, and they'll say, 'I don't want to die.' Quite often the experience can turn into a kind of bridge to what our grandfathers experienced."

Replica wooden rifles and helmets enhance the experience, Barker-James said.

If re-enacting trench warfare doesn't garner a response from the students, Barker-James said a lesson afterwards on the wounds the soldiers suffered often does.

"It really gets to them," Barker- James said.

After emerging from a bunker built over a portion of the ditches, Barker-James said there had been "some very nasty bayonet fighting."

The battle was nearing a building dedicated to Vimy Ridge, the location of a landmark First World War battle won largely by Canadian forces, where Bill Findley was posted.

Findley is a Second World War veteran who came out to speak with the students and participate in the re-enactment.

He served in the 7th Medium artillery regiment from 1941 to 1946 in Holland, German, Belgium and England, and approved of the re-enactment's value to students.

"I think it's important they are not only taught, but trained to see what people like myself went through," Findley said.

Findley believes the instability of the world would benefit from youth who have a strong understanding of the horrors of wars.

"We need the co-operation of North America's youth to squelch the negative attitudes of today," he said. "Otherwise, there's a danger that planet Earth will go in reverse. The better informed they are, the better citizens they'll be."

Findley found being in the trenches a strong reminder of his days on the front lines.

"The flashbacks I've had are very graphic," Findley said.

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