When Lauren Teichrob visits Vimy Ridge in the next few days, she will be one step closer to piecing together the life of a Canadian soldier whose story has eluded her for more than a year.
The South Surrey teacher will be travelling to the memorial with a Historica-Dominion Institute program, which sends teachers from across the country to First and Second World War sites in France and Belgium that have historical significance to Canada.
All of the approximately 20 teachers going on the trip will be researching a soldier from one of the world wars.
The assignment is through Library and Archives Canada’s Lest We Forget Project, which releases the military files of soldiers who died on duty to those interested in learning more about the people who gave their lives for the country.
Teichrob – who teaches Grade 8 and 11 social studies at White Rock Christian Academy – had her senior class take part in the project earlier this year.
Each student was given a soldier’s military documents, and wrote a paper on what they learned about that person through the materials and additional research.
Teichrob said the process taught the students useful research skills that extend beyond Google searches, and made the war efforts more relatable to a generation far removed from the events.
“I’m a big believer in tangible, experiential learning for kids,” she said. “As they found out more about their soldier, it gained more meaning for them.”
Now, Teichrob is doing the project herself.
She was matched with Pte. John Wesley McMullen, a soldier in the 18th Battalion who was just 22 when he died at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917.
Teichrob had little else to go on from the primary documents she received, which included McMullen’s attestation paper and will.
However, in what she called a “fateful” occurrence, Teichrob came across an online auction during her research that was releasing medals belonging to McMullen.
“They were put on auction at the exact time I was beginning to do this,” she said, noting the auctioneer was unable to disclose where they had come from.
Teichrob now has McMullen’s cap and collar badges; a Commonwealth medal; a medal from King George; a “death penny,” which would’ve been issued after his death; and a condolence letter from Buckingham Palace.
When at Vimy Ridge, she plans to visit the mass grave he was buried in, Zivy Crater, and make an etching of McMullen’s memorial to show her students.
“When I come back and I have this to show the kids, it’s going to make (the war) so much more tangible and human, rather than facts and numbers that are sad, but don’t otherwise have meaning.”
This won’t be the first time Teichrob adds her own personal experiences to her curriculum.
In May, she participated in a program that brought teachers from all over B.C. to Victoria for four days to tour the legislature, meet MLAs, watch a question period and learn more about the government process.
Teichrob participated so she could better teach the subject to her students.
“I felt this was an area I wanted to improve in,” Teichrob said, noting she will present the topic differently in the future because of what she learned through the experience. “I think I got it in a new way I didn’t have, just in terms of vision and my own understanding of how government works.
“You have to have an appreciation of it in order for it to come to life.”
And, when Teichrob’s 13-day tour of war sites in France and Belgium wraps up, she plans to extend her trip to Auschwitz and Oskar Schindler’s factory in Poland and Hitler’s ‘Eagles Nest’ retreat in Austria.
“I’m trying to go to the places I teach,” she said. “I absolutely love the course but I think I will be a more effective teacher to share these experiences with the kids.”
Teichrob – who leaves July 2 – said one of the most surreal experiences will still be to stand at McMullen’s grave.
“It’s going to be… I’m not sure what it’s going to be like to stand there.”
She plans to frame the etching she takes of his memorial with his medals, and continue searching for more about his life.
Teichrob said she would love to find a picture of the soldier, as well as to track down any family members. She is currently working with a genealogist with the hopes of doing just that.
“I hope he does have living relatives and there can be a further story that comes from this.”