Belgian-Canadian students talk about 100 year old poem

Above watch: To commemorate the centennial of John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” students at Fairview Junior High skyped with students near where the poem was written in World War 1. Ray Bradshaw reports.

HALIFAX – Students at Fairview Junior High in Halifax do Skype exchange with students at a junior high in Belgium to commemorate “In Flander’s Fields.”

This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most iconic war poems in history. On May 3, 1915, Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae penned “In Flander’s Fields” just after presiding over the battlefield funeral of his friend Alexis Helmer, who died in battle.

To commemorate the centennial of McCrae’s universally recognized poem students of Fairview Junior High in Halifax had a Skype exchange with students at a Junior High in Belgium on Thursday. The students in Belguim live near where McCrae served in the war, and wrote the poem.

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21 Fairview students waved to their fellow students in Belgium and recited “In Flander’s Fields” together.

“In Flander’s Fields the poppies blow,” they all said in unison and continued with the rest of the 100-year-old poem. The students talked about the poem’s importance after reciting it.

“It was just so sad,” said Raheem Elliott, a grade 9 student at Fairview.

Another grade 9 student, Ritaj Abdoulla added, “it was really emotional.”

The students from the two schools were curious about each other’s culture and interests, and what they did in their spare time.

The cultural exchange is very important to these students, says their school principal, Peter Wicha.

“What’s the school like there? What do you you eat? What do you like to listen to? So, kids are kids and they need to connect. It’s a small world now and I think the experience will be life-lasting,” Wicha said.

Matthew Oake, another grade 9 student, said the experience will be life-lasting for him.

“I definitely will remember this. I learned a lot of things about the world wars and how their country works and stuff. I never really heard much about Belgium and it’s a good experience to learn about the rest of the world,” he said.

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Abdoulla added, “we found out we like the same sports, we like the same music. It’s somewhat the same, culture wise.”

Raheem Elliott is originally from Jamaica. He loves learning about other cultures and asked a lot of questions.

“I learned that they celebrate Canada a lot more than we’d ever think, because I didn’t know that Canada had such a big part to play in World War I,” he said.

The exchange was arranged by the Great War Centenary Society.

“The students had to learn the meaning behind Flander’s Fields,” said Corinne MacLellan, a spokeswoman for the society. “And I think it helps them understand the cost of war and also the support of Canadian soldiers and troops in the first World War.”

“It’s going to be wonderful to get to tell people that I was able to talk to people in Belgium and that we were the only school in Canada top do this,” said Elliot. “I just think it’s going to be one of the best moments of my life.”

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