David Alexander fondly recalls the phone call he received this past June informing him that he was one of the winners of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize to study the history of Canada, France and Great Britain during the First and Second World Wars.
“I was walking to the bus,” Alexander said. “My phone started ringing and I picked it up. I recognized the voice of one of the people who had done the interview with me. And they said they had some good news for me. That’s when I realized (what was happening.) It was a big surprise honestly.”
Alexander is one of 16 students from Canada, France and Great Britain preparing to embark on a two-week scholarship program from Aug. 7 to 21. The Beaverbrook Vimy prize was founded in 2006 by the Vimy Foundation and is funded by the Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation. The summer scholarships are intended for 15- to 17-year-old students who will travel to the United Kingdom, France and Belgium where they will visit historical sites, such as Vimy Ridge, Beaumont Hamel, Passchendaele, Dieppe and Juno Beach.
“This is a great opportunity . . . to connect with the history that in so many cases affected people their own age a hundred years ago,” said Vimy foundation executive director Jeremy Diamond.
Diamond said he was impressed by Alexander’s involvement in the community as a volunteer with Scouts Canada, where he has worked alongside war veterans distributing poppies to commemorate Remembrance Day.
“He obviously has a particular affinity towards this subject,” Diamond said.
Alexander’s passion for history stems from childhood. From a young age, he has travelled to England many times since his mother is originally from there. An avid reader of history novels, the now graduated Dorval-Jean XXIII high school student said he feels a personal connection to the world wars.
“I’ve been reading war stories as a kid,” he said. “I’ve had family members who have fought in the war, I’ve been there before. It’s one of my great interests.”
His great-great-grandmother on his mother’s side lived through the Blitz in 1940 and 1941 during the Second World War, when Germany bombed Great Britain. His great-great-grandfather was an air raid warden during the First World War. Alexander’s great-great-uncle died fighting in the First World War. Meanwhile, he said much of his family on his father’s side worked in the air force outside of these wars.
Alexander said he is looking forward to meeting the other students selected for the scholarship. While he hopes to gain more knowledge and understanding of the world wars, Alexander said he is also fuelled by a desire to deepen his personal connection to the subject matter.
“I love hearing the stories,” he said. “So it’s just the personal side (that) really gets to me and makes it incredible to me.”