Stephen Davies, Vancouver Island University history professor, by a screen displaying the Nanaimo Remembers project, a video memorial of soldiers from the First and Second World Wars. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

VIU professor hopes project helps to humanize casualties of war

Vancouver Island University professor works on Nanaimo Remembers and letters projects

With the number of world war veterans dwindling each passing year, a university professor in Nanaimo is trying to impress the importance of the wars to students.

The First World War ended in 1918 and the Second World War in 1945, long before today’s youths were born, and Stephen Davies, who teaches history at Vancouver Island University, hopes the Canadian Letters and Images and Nanaimo Remembers projects, publishing letters and names of war vets respectively, educate about the importance of both global conflicts.

Being able to preserve stories and letters for future generations is “absolutely crucial,” said Davies, and when his students see names or read letters, they realize that some soldiers were between 18 and 20 years of age, much like them. Davies said he thinks it puts the reality back as to what those sacrifices actually meant. The human component that’s been lost is so rich, he said.

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It is important for his students to learn about the humanity of veterans, he said.

“I think being able to preserve those stories and those letters for future generations is absolutely crucial,” said Davies. “I think too, for my students, when they start to look at these names, or they read the letters, what they realize is they’re not those men that they think they’re going to expect to see at the (Dallas Square Park) cenotaph.

“What they’re going to find is these guys [were] 18, 19, 20 years old, just like them and I think it puts that reality back, as to what those sacrifices actually meant. The lives that are lost. The human component that’s been lost is so rich …

“I use the letters and try to understand the human component because if you talk about World War I, Canada’s loss is over 60,000 dead, it’s so large, it’s so abstract that they really don’t get it,” said Davies. “So we take an individual soldier with their letters and lives and we dissect that essentially and they get to see these people as individuals.

“They love chocolate and they had a dog and had a girlfriend and they had all these hopes and ambitions and they realize, how real these people were and then you extrapolate it to 60,000. Then they begin to get it, ‘Wow! The human component.’ The loss that we suffered is really something.”

The letters project is an online archive and Davies said the Nanaimo Remembers project sees names from the downtown cenotaph and First and Second World War records displayed in prominent places around the city until Nov. 11, Remembrance Day. The project began last year and this year, Davies said additional information like occupation and attachment to Nanaimo, was added.

“We also have some First Nations involvement that’s been brought in from the area, so we’re trying to expand from last year,” said Davies.

In addition to VIU’s welcome centre at the Nanaimo campus, the project can be viewed at Beban Park and Oliver Woods community centres, Nanaimo Museum, Port Theatre, Woodgrove Centre, Habourfront, Nanaimo North and Wellington libraries and schools, social media sites and the website of Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools.

“Hopefully … everyone will get a chance to, at least spend a few minutes looking at these names and understanding their connection to Nanaimo and then perhaps on Nov. 11, if they’re down at the cenotaph, then they can look at those names themselves and appreciate this is who that person was,” said Davies.

For more information on the Canadian Letters and Images Project, go to www.canadianletters.ca.

The Nanaimo Remembers project video can be seen by searching for Nanaimo Remembers 2019 on YouTube.



reporter@nanaimobulletin.com

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