N.B. veteran takes journey of remembrance to 244 cemeteries

·5 min read
Etienne Gaudet is visiting 244 New Brunswick cemeteries where 609 Canadian soldiers who died while serving are buried. He is pictured in the Stilesville Cemetery near Moncton. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)
Etienne Gaudet is visiting 244 New Brunswick cemeteries where 609 Canadian soldiers who died while serving are buried. He is pictured in the Stilesville Cemetery near Moncton. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC - image credit)

Etienne Gaudet has spent the last year driving on back roads, knocking on doors and at times searching through the dense woods of New Brunswick to find gravestones of soldiers.

Those efforts have brought him near the end of a journey to visit all 244 cemeteries where 609 Canadians who died while serving have been laid to rest.

He has been taking photos and adding information to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

Gaudet, 51, served 21 years in the Canadian Armed Forces before retiring in 2018, with deployments to the former Yugoslavia, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan. He was a military police officer, grew up in Memramcook and now lives in Dieppe.

After retiring, Gaudet searched his family name on Google to see how many died while serving in the military. It took him to the virtual memorial website. He was surprised to find a veteran named Claudin Gaudet buried in the St. Thomas-de-Memramcook cemetery in his home village.

"I was shocked, so I decided to visit the cemetery and I discovered that he had died in the Halifax Explosion in 1917," he said.

'Buried right here in New Brunswick'

That initial discovery kick-started Gaudet's project to visit cemeteries across New Brunswick.

"I slowly began to discover that there were many soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice, and contrary to what I believed, are not buried in Europe, are not buried in Hong Kong, some other foreign land," he said. "They're buried right here in New Brunswick."

The 609 soldiers died from various service-related causes, according to records from Veterans Affairs Canada. In many cases, they were preparing for deployment in the First World War, the Second World War or other conflicts and died from illness or training accidents.

In some instances, soldiers became injured or ill overseas and were returned to Canada only to die shortly after. Others were returned home to be buried.

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial, a website run by Veterans Affairs Canada, lists information on the graves of the 609 Canadian soldiers buried in the province after service-related deaths.

Gaudet has been taking photos at each cemetery and uploading them to the website as a way of paying respect and making the graves easier for others to locate.

"In many cases, the deceased members had no images on the site. I really wanted to do my part to rectify that," he said.

Remembering their sacrifice

Gaudet's travels have taken him to all corners of the province, from the massive Fern Hill Cemetery in Saint John to isolated dirt roads leading to small burial sites on the Acadian Peninsula.

On a sunny afternoon, he made a second visit to the Stilesville Cemetery, a short drive from his Dieppe home but a place he didn't discover until later in the project.

Alexandre Silberman/CBC
Alexandre Silberman/CBC

In the hilltop cemetery is the gravestone of Leading Aircraftman Lloyd Edward Briggs of Moncton. The stone bears the emblem of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Briggs was killed on March 23, 1943, when he rushed to the scene of a plane crash in Yarmouth, N.S., attempting to save the crew members on board. The bomber suddenly exploded, according to newspaper clippings. He was 29.

Library and Archives, Ottawa
Library and Archives, Ottawa

At the Stilesville grave, Gaudet placed a small Canadian flag while paying his respects. He has taken similar flags to each cemetery.

While reaching this site was straightforward, many required multiple trips and some investigating, enlisting the help of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Veterans Affairs Canada.

Hidden grave in the woods

Gaudet said the most difficult cemetery to track down was in Shemogue, about 55 kilometres from Moncton, where Pte. Arthur McMorris was laid to rest in 1916. It had been long forgotten and thick brush and trees had grown around the site.

After venturing about 400 metres off a road into the woods, Gaudet managed to locate the gravestone and take a photo for the virtual memorial. He has reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada about improving and restoring the site.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission said it visited the site in 2011 and found the headstone in good condition, but in 2017, the inspector could not find it as the cemetery had become overgrown.

"One can take motivation from their sacrifice in the way we live our lives." - Etienne Gaudet

Spokesperson Catherine Paterson said the commission is working with local officials with the aim of appropriately commemorating McMorris by next year.

"When we encounter war graves in cemeteries that are no longer maintained, such as Pte. McMorris, our preference is to work with local authorities to improve access to the grave. If this is not possible, CWGC policy is to alternatively commemorate the casualty in another location with a headstone that indicates where he or she is known to be buried," she wrote in an email.

'The magnitude of their sacrifice'

Gaudet said the stories of many of the veterans are challenging to read and emotional to research.

At times, the details could be uncovered through newspaper articles and photographs on the virtual war memorial website.

Gaudet said the most difficult visit was seeing the graves of six veterans who served in Afghanistan, where he was deployed twice.

"That was quite tragic and painful."

Submitted by Etienne Gaudet
Submitted by Etienne Gaudet

Gaudet aims to complete the journey by Remembrance Day if circuit-breaker pandemic restrictions are lifted. The remaining 20 cemeteries are on Grand Manan island and in northwestern New Brunswick.

He hopes the project inspires New Brunswickers to take a moment to pay their respects to fallen Canadian soldiers in their area.

"What really stood out was the magnitude of their sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice," he said. "No matter how tragic that is, no matter how depressing that is, one can take solace, one can take motivation from their sacrifice in the way we live our lives."

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