Beaumont teacher brings veterans and pupils together
Rick MacWilliam, The Journal /Veteran David High recalls his days as a POW during the Second World War to Beaumont high school students (from left) Dawn Chitrena, Patrick Kehdy, Tanner Kipp and Meggan Hodge. The Grade 12 students were studying dictatorships as part of a social
Jeff Holubitsky, Journal Staff Writer
The veterans' stories took place in a world the 41 Grade 12 students could hardly imagine, one filled with bombers, Nazis and camps with names such as Stalag Luft 3.
But the words and memories of 20 former RCAF prisoners of war easily spanned the years since the Second World War.
As the Beaumont composite high school students listened with rapt attention, the veterans at the Jasper Place Royal Canadian Legion on Wednesday brought history lessons to life, moistening a few eyes, but also drawing a lot of smiles.
Beaumont teacher Philip LaGrandeur, an avid Second World War buff, brought the two groups together for his social studies lessons on dictatorships. "Having these people here as a source of information, I think will influence the students' lives forever," he said.
And the lessons the students learned were better than from any textbook. "I spent my 21st birthday in a camp," Ken Taylor told students Marnie Krauss and Aaron Mills, both 18.
He then described how he bailed out of a bomber over Europe, after it had been hit by anti-aircraft fire. Fortunately, the bomber recovered and returned to England, but Taylor and one companion were taken prisoner.
"I felt pretty badly about being a prisoner of war, but it turned out that 60 per cent of the ones that got back were killed later on another mission," he said, sadly.
"I was halfway through Grade 12 when I enlisted," Taylor said. "But in our time, any of these students would have done the same thing and not given it a second thought. They would have been as brave as we were."
Krauss and Mills could only shake their heads. "It scares me," said Krauss. "It's amazing and hard to picture that people actually went through this," Mills said.
But not all of the moments were of horror. David High, who had been a radio operator, told how he jumped out of line to freedom during a forced march at the end of 1944, before making his way back to Britain. "Did you hook up with any girls?" asked student Patrick Kehdy.
"I was in pretty poor shape and all I was hoping was to get back home," High said. "But if you asked me about when I went over ...."
Gordie King was shot down over Germany and spent most of the war in Stalag Luft 3, made famous by the book and movie The Great Escape. He told students about camp conditions and even shared a laugh about a constant diet of sauerkraut. "We had enough gas to clear the place out."
Bill Dunwoodie, who had been a pilot, described his feelings of guilt about not having been able to do more during the war. "A few years ago, I felt that I had done so little and there were so many things I could have done perhaps to have saved my crew, I hated to talk about it," he said. "But when I got together with this PoW group, I found everybody here had the same feelings. None of us were heroes, we were just doing what had to be done."
Dunwoodie was shot down and spent time in a Nazi SS hospital with serious injuries to his eyes and legs.
"It's really neat to learn from a first-hand source," said student Kristen McGregor. "I think all students learn better when they are participating."
After bidding farewell to the veterans, the students got on the bus back to Beaumont, just south of Edmonton, where they now face the task of writing a major term project on what they heard.
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