Stepping into the front entrance of Windsor Secondary School brings a powerful sensation of loss, hope and remembrance. Haunting black-and-white drawings of soldiers' portraits line the walls, accented with bright red poppies. The poppies, while beautiful with their explosion of colour, are also stark in the messages of remembrance they contain. Each poppy marked with the name, age and hometown of a Canadian soldier lost to war.
"Each one of these poppies that we see here is a symbol of life, and a life lost to war," said Megan McEwen, teacher, Windsor Secondary School.
The inspiration for Windsor Secondary's poppy project, which will see more than 350 poppies line the hallways of the school, comes from a similar student display McEwen saw this summer while visiting the Thiepval Memorial in France. Red poppies filled the green lawns of the cemetery, each poppy commemorating a soldier lost in the First and Second World Wars.
"These soldiers contributed to what our country is today. It is important that we educate students about the two world wars, and bring these soldiers back to life – not just in name, but also in spirit," said McEwen.
The project at Windsor Secondary is a partnership between the Arts and Social Studies departments. The Arts students are drawing soldier portraits, while the Social Studies students, from grade 8 to grade 12, are researching fallen soldiers and telling the soldiers' stories on paper poppies.
"I have family members who fought in both world wars. I feel I am able to relate to this subject a lot easier than studying something like the Magna Carta. I researched my family name for the Poppy Project and discovered that there were many Batten's that fought in both wars. No matter what name I typed into to the search engine, I was shocked by the number of results. Doing this project is good to remind people that war is something that still happens today, even if it might not be happening in Canada," said Alex Batten, grade 11 student, Windsor Secondary.
The Commonwealth forces lost 1.7 million people throughout the two world wars. In McEwen's experience, this strikingly large number is something most students are unaware of and they are quite shocked when they realize how broad the impact of the world wars really was. The poppy project adds impact by putting faces to the figures.
"Doing this project reminds us that all of these numbers and statistics we hear about are actually people. Numbers don't make you feel anything but when you see names it makes it real, it makes the people real. It also made me realize that even though it feels like these wars were a very long time ago, they were not. A hundred years is not a long time ago really," said Julie Cohen, grade 11 student, Windsor Secondary.
The poppy project is also helping to extend remembrance beyond Remembrance Day in celebration of Veterans Week.