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Uncovering the lessons of war

UPDATE: Brett Clifton has been awarded The Historical Society of Alberta's $1,000 award for the best student essay of 2011.

Entitled "From Bridges to the Ridge", the essay deals with Lethbridge soldiers who fought and died at Vimy Ridge in World War I. The author examines the careers of two officers and 17 men from the Lethbridge area who came from all walks of life, but in 1917 died together. They were among the 3,598 Canadians who died that day in a battle that the author says was the turning point in the war.

Clifton is pursuing a degree in Canadian Studies and Education and has spent several years pursuing his interest in military history.

"This award is a great reflection on Brett and his accomplishments," said Dr. Heidi MacDonald, a U of L history researcher and Clifton's academic supervisor.

"Brett not only has remarkable intellectual curiosity, but is committed to disseminating his research in a number of ways, including among the families of his Lethbridge First World War veteran subjects."

The following is an original story created in 2010 on Clifton's research interests.

The University of Lethbridge puts great emphasis on providing undergraduate students with access to research related opportunities they may not receive at larger institutions.

With a smaller school atmosphere and low student to teacher ratios, undergraduate students like Brett Clifton can take full advantage of what the
U of L has to offer.

Clifton, a third-year Canadian Studies major with a keen interest in military history, has done just that while attending the University of Lethbridge.

"History is very important and relevant to today's society. It helps us understand where we came from and where we are going," says Clifton, who is pursuing a BA/BEd combined degree. "Too often Canadians focus on the heroes of war and not on the ordinary day-to-day people who fought for Canada. I want to do research which focuses on ordinary people from our community who had to suffer for our freedom."

Brett Clifton
Undergraduate student Brett Clifton has self-published two local history books related to the Lethbridge Cenotaph.

Clifton's interest in military history is influenced by his own family history, coupled with a high school trip to France in 2007 that marked the 90th anniversary of The Battle of Vimy Ridge.

"My great grandfather served in the First World War and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal. My grandfather is also a veteran, and he served in the Second World War," says Clifton.

Clifton's first military-related research project was in 2008, and it involved working with names on the Lethbridge Cenotaph. It was a project that again hit close to home and was generously received by the historical community.

"I was surprised that no previous work had been done regarding this subject, and I feel honoured that I was able to complete the cenotaph research," he says.

In the summer of 2009, Clifton completed an independent study on Canada's participation in the Dieppe Raid. He worked under the tutelage of history professor, Dr. Heidi MacDonald. Following her advice, Clifton applied for the Canadian Battlefields Foundation (CBF) scholarship program and was subsequently granted a trip to France and Belgium to further his research.

"Dieppe holds a close place in my heart, and was really the highlight of my trip," he says. "My grandfather had been taken prisoner of war there during the Second World War, so it is especially significant to me."

Clifton was one of two University of Lethbridge undergraduate students to receive the CBF scholarship. Only six were handed out nationally.

"It just shows that students from a smaller university like the U of L can compete with those attending larger institutions," he says.

In the summer of 2010, Clifton received the Chinook Research Award to research under the supervision of Dr. Amy Shaw. The award aims at encouraging research and advanced training of undergraduate students from the U of L by providing students the opportunity to study under the guidance of a faculty member. Their study efforts focused on the 113th Lethbridge Highlander Battalion, and the award only served to further inspire his research goals.

Clifton now plans on completing another independent study project in May 2011, this time travelling to Europe with the help of a bursary from the U of L. He will have the chance to study some of the most famous battle sites in the European theatre.

Clifton is a third-year student but he's actually been a part of the University since he was in the ninth grade at Winston Churchill High School, attending U of L classes as part of an open studies program. After graduating from high school, he says there was no question as to where he was headed.

"A small school atmosphere and relatively small class sizes are important to me," he says. "I really didn't consider attending another university. I am so grateful for all the research opportunities I have been able to pursue here."

GET THE FACTS

· Clifton plans on continuing his studies beyond the undergraduate level, eyeing master's and PhD work in Canadian studies.

· Clifton's study focus will remain on military history, and he plans on one day teaching at the university level.

· Clifton, 20, is currently working on a combined BA/BEd degree and is doing his Professional Semester I course with a practicum at École Agnes Davidson. His Teacher Associate is David Nussbaumer, husband of U of L Librarian Alison Nussbaumer.

· Clifton has been employed as a student digitization assistant at the University Library since 2008.

For a look at the full issue of the December Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.