BROCKTON – A group of people, most of them members of Royal Canadian Legion Branch 102, Walkerton, is determined to honour the memory of all war veterans buried in Brockton cemeteries by placing small rocks painted with the poppy symbol of remembrance on each grave.
Last year, thanks to painstaking research spearheaded by Clarence Kieffer, the group was able to place poppy rocks on close to 400 graves at the local public cemetery and the Catholic cemetery.
The initiative began as a way to mark the 100th anniversary of the selection of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance. This year, the committee is continuing the initiative, said Jan Briggs-McGowan.
She explained that getting information about war veterans isn’t as straight forward as people might think. Kieffer pored over copies of old newspapers to try to match up information in obituaries with stories, for example, those listing names of men and women coming home from overseas. War service was sometimes not mentioned in obituaries, especially those of women.
As the project progressed, sometimes community members and even people from out of town would hear about what was happening and would contact the committee. They’d be asked to provide some sort of proof their loved one had served.
Sometimes it turned out that people weren’t buried where records said they were, and sometimes war veterans who had lived for a time in one community were buried in another. The committee continues to be made aware of graves that might have been missed.
Briggs-McGowan said another researcher, Jim Kelly, “has been confirming quite a number” of graves of First World War veterans.
Last year, in June, the poppy rocks were placed on the graves. Family members were invited to place the rocks themselves, and volunteers looked after the rest of the graves.
“Last year, 36 families picked up rocks from volunteers on hand at the two cemeteries, to place them,” said Briggs-McGowan. This year they’ll have the same opportunity. On the afternoon of the first Thursday in June (June 2) committee members will be on hand at the Walkerton cemetery to assist people. On the Friday, the rest of the rocks will be placed.
Briggs-McGowan said more team members are needed – anyone interested is asked to contact the Legion and leave a message for her – 519-881-0821.
John Hemstock, caretaker at the cemetery, remarked that he had two people with tears in their eyes come up to him and ask about the stones with poppies painted on them, placed on their loved ones’ graves. “They were so happy that someone remembered their great-uncle, etc.”
Briggs-McGowan said the second stage in the project will include other Brockton cemeteries – Brockton has 28 active cemeteries. She said the municipality will “tag” on a storyboard every grave identified by the committee. In the case of the smaller cemeteries, the whole cemetery will be indicated; in the large two, it will be individual graves. “This will allow researchers and relatives to find the grave,” she said.
The goal of the committee is to turn over the individual profiles to the municipality in September.
Briggs-McGowan urges community members to get in touch, if there’s someone, especially a person who served in the Second World War, they’d like included. “Please contact us,” she said.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times