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Port au Port Peninsula First World War veterans recognized at special ceremony


Fourteen forgotten veterans of the First World War and from the Port au Port Peninsula were recognized at a solemn ceremony Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes cemetery.

Betty Barter places a wreath on the grave site of her uncle, Theophile Dube, following a ceremony Saturday in Lourdes to commemorate forgotten First World War veterans who will receive new grave markers. Star Photo by Frank Gale

Lourdes - Fourteen forgotten veterans of the First World War and from the Port au Port Peninsula were recognized at a solemn ceremony Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes cemetery.

Six of the soldiers are resting at the cemetery in Lourdes while others are at the Cape St. George Cemetery, one at the Piccadilly Cemetery, three at the Port au Port East Cemetery, and one at the Holy Septicular Cemetery at Mount Pearl/St. John's.

Diane Hepditch, whose grandfather Michael Young was one of those recognized with a new grave marker, attended Saturday's ceremony and was happy to see him remembered.

"It's about time. Seventy years is a long time coming and it's good to see that his marker is finally there," said Hepditch. "I never met him and only heard about him and only got a photo of him when Bill (O'Gorman) started searching in the archives."

Hepditch put flowers on her grandfather's grave following the ceremony on Saturday and said now that she knows where he is she will keep it in good condition.

Allissa Young, who is Michael's Young great-granddaughter, was proud to be a cadet taking part in the ceremony to honour these veterans of so long ago.

It was while researching for an upcoming book on veterans of the First World War from the Port au Port Peninsula that Author Bill O'Gorman discovered the unmarked graves at the Lourdes cemetery beside the church, as well as the other locations.

Now they have military headstones to mark their grave sites after supplying the necessary information to the Last Post Fund at St. John's.

The unmarked graves belonged to Peter Cornect and Theophile Dube of Mainland, William Victor Young, Peter Woods and Michael Young of Three Rock Cove, and Henry Martin Jesso of Piccadilly. At Cape St. George Yves Lagatdu, Eve Ozon and Alan Le Moine are buried there, and Stephen F. Green rests at Piccadilly. At Port au Port East are brothers Henry and Joseph Felix and Julian Chaisson, and at Holy Septiclar Cemetery is John Bennett (Benoit).

Hank Gaudon, emcee for the event, had high praise for O'Gorman as he noted how acquiring the grave markers came about in the author's research for his second book.

"But today is not about an author writing a book. Today is about righting a wrong. Today is about putting a names to these graves which have been unmarked for so long so that these soldiers will no longer be forgotten," said Guadon.

Col. Dick Alexander, who is a honourary colonel of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, of which six of the veterans were members, said it was a wonderful thing that O'Gorman and the others responsible had done.

"The ceremonies for the posting of these markers is a very important day for me as a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. I've been fortunate enough to go to Beaumont Hamel in France and see there the large number of unmarked graves of unknown soldiers," he said.

Alexander said as he looked at those markers in the Lourdes graveyard, he couldn't help but think how this was a great thing for the families. "We have a very good history in this province and in this area when it comes to the military and still today 17 to 18 per cent of the military are Newfoundlanders and we've been in this position for a long time," he said.

"To see what happened here today and the large number of people that came out to be part of it, I could have cried," he said as his voice cracked. "Forgive me but I've been through two wars but it's a wonderful thing you've done… thank you."

Maxine King of the Last Post Fund said the organization relies on people like O'Gorman and the Royal Canadian Legions to help them identify forgotten soldiers, such as in this case.

She said the grave markers are provided through work done by Veterans' Affairs and private donations and it was an honour to see so many people out to the event.

"I'm just so happy to see so many come out to pay respect on behalf of their families and see that these heroes of the First World War will be in our memories for a long, long time," O'Gorman said.

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