Elora VanderWal has entered several Royal Canadian Legion Literary and Art Contests, and even placed first in her local branch, but when she heard that she had placed first this year in her zone, district, and province, she was stunned.
VanderWal, 14, took second place in all of Canada in her age group, for her poem about war and its effects. A member of Stratford (Ont.) Christian Reformed Church, she just graduated Grade 8 at Stratford & District Christian School, and credits teacher Paul Delleman with inspiring the poem’s topic.
“In class our teacher focused on the effects of war on individuals instead of glorifying war or sugar-coating it. He talked a lot about PTSD and how it affected soldiers. . . . I felt like I was seeing it from an entirely new perspective,” said VanderWal.
She took the idea of an aging war veteran living with PTSD, and worked backward to create the poem. “The idea was to follow the soldier through all of the different emotions and situations he had to go through in the war and beyond it,” she said.
Delleman is glad that VanderWal found inspiration in what he shared about the sacrifice of soldiers in every conflict. “I hope always to influence my students in my teaching, but it is hard to really know. Elora has always been an independent thinker, so it is great to hear that she found my words beneficial,” he said.
VanderWal was happy to find out she had won at the local branch level, but said she wasn’t expecting to move on from there. Five months later, a representative of the Stratford Legion came to her school to tell her that her poem had placed first in all of Ontario, and had been entered at the national level.
When she found out she had placed second in Canada, she said, “I was super excited and told all of my friends at school. My principal even made an announcement about it.”
VanderWal attended a youth awards ceremony at the Royal Canadian Legion, Stratford Branch 8, on June 5 where she read her poem to the audience of about 150 people.
Glowing cheeks and a smart haircut
Don the face of a young man
He’s prepared for this day for months
To fight for their freedom and their land
His friends crowd around him
Congratulating him for what they couldn’t
His warmed heart elevates in his chest
Proud of what they wouldn’t
A train rolls forward on its daily route
He awaits its coming
His mother kisses his cheek
And away the train goes, thrumming
Sweaty face and aching arms
Don the body of a tired man
He’s working his hardest
And trying the best he can
His feet are soaked to the bone
His new friends are all grumbling
His old friends are home with family
He succumbs to the mumbling
Loud noises and flashing lights
Bounce off the face of a scared man
His friends fall dead at his feet
And onward still he ran
Wispy hair and wrinkly eyes
Dawn the face of an old man
His eyes still hold the memories of battle
Tries to forget them if he can
St. Marys, Ont.; Stratford & District Christian School