Military ties to the past enhance student futures

Fallen Soldiers

The headstones of 198 military personnel who served in WWI and WWII stand in perfectly manicured rows in the heart of Burnsland Cemetary in southeast Calgary. Among them is the grave of Arthur B. Polley, a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot officer who died in service during WWII. He is one of 27 Mount Royal University alumni whose sacrifices will be honoured on Nov. 8 at the institution's first annual Military Memorial Ceremony. JESSICA BURTNICK PHOTO

The ultimate sacrifice paved the way for a brighter future for 27 Mount Royal University students.

Twenty-seven bursaries worth $2,500 were established for MRU’s first annual Military Memorial Ceremony Nov. 1, each bearing the name of a former MRU student who died in military service.

“This idea first started about three years ago with Hunter Wight, former [MRU] Vice-President,” said MRU centennial strategist Lara Unsworth,. “He asked our archivist to find [the soldiers].”

Unsworth said a large advertising campaign was launched last year in hopes of connecting with fallen soldiers’ families. It was a massive undertaking, as most soldiers, too young to have a wife or children of their own, had few – if any – living relatives left.

But the campaign worked.

“We found our 27th soldier through the ad campaign,” said Unsworth. “A friend that served with [Lt. Dennis F. Harvey] saw the ad [and] called us.”

MRU’s website states the intended purpose of the Military Memorial Bursaries as, “keeping with our tradition of forging lifelong connections with our students, the thread that ties each revered member of this group to Mount Royal will now stretch beyond their lifespan, to touch generations.”

Third-year MRU bachelor of communications student Michelle Cahoon is part of that generation. Cahoon was awarded the Capt. George Garry Foster Military Memorial Bursary at Tuesday’s ceremony.

“I feel blessed and honoured and a bit overwhelmed,” said Cahoon. “[The armed forces] were, and still continue to be so much a part of our history.”

Military Memorial Bursary applications are open to all MRU students and take financial need into consideration. While a military connection is not necessary, recipients like Cahoon – who says three of her relatives served in the armed forces – feel profoundly touched by the new memorial bursaries.

“It’s not just about the money – there’s a name attached to it,” said Unsworth.

“Now, I pay a little more attention to the news, because it’s still happening,” said Cahoon.

Despite a pertinent military history, SAIT Polytechnic does not have an equivalent bursary program at this time.

According to the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, Royal Canadian Air Force No. 2 Wireless School opened Sept. 16, 1940 in the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art (PITA) – now known as SAIT Polytechnic.

“Shortly after the outbreak of World War II, PITA began delivering courses under the federal War Emergency Training Program. At the height of the war-effort training, classes ran around the clock to accommodate regular students as well as vocational training for the armed forces,” according to SAIT’s website.

In the SAIT Archives, a single, black binder is all that remains to document SAIT’s military history from 1940-1945. Inside its covers, photographs, articles and handwritten notes allude to the stories of military students, faculty and staff that passed through Heritage Hall’s doors.

It is unclear as to whether a similar initiative will occur at SAIT in the future. SAIT student awards coordinator Lisa Morrison could not be reached for comment.

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