U.K. children who tend graves of N.L. soldiers making Memorial Day visit

30 Jun 2018 | Canada
U.K. children who tend graves of N.L. soldiers making Memorial Day visit

Six students from Beatrix Potter Elementary in the United Kingdom were in Brigus on Friday, marking a school tradition that started by chance nearly 15 years ago.

It began in November 2003, when a group of children from London went to the Commonwealth War Cemetery, near their school, to collect chestnuts.

While there, the kids noticed that a group of 18 headstones stood out. They were untended, and even at that time of year, they had no poppies.

Those graves belonged to a young female nurse and 17 members of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, all of whom had served during the First World War and died in London General Hospital.

The class took care of the graves as if they belonged to their own families. It's a tradition that continues today, and has now brought some of the students to the island to visit the homes of some Newfoundland counterparts.

"We started out doing it because we didn't really know who these people were, and now we do it because we know who they are and we know the families, and the families are grateful," said student Alice Goldberger.

Home of nurse Bertha Bartlett
Bertha Bartlett was from Brigus, the small town the children visited on Friday. 

The young nurse volunteered for service during World War One. She died at 23, and her name is inscribed on the War Memorial in St. John's.

The students placed a wooden cross in memory of the only woman among the graves tended to by the classmates. 

"I feel really honoured because she looked after all the wounded and she got the Spanish flu from looking after them," said student Sophia Anderson.

Anderson is among the group of Beatrix Potter students who have spent the week learning about Newfoundland and its contributions to both world wars, as well as speaking with the relatives of the 18 people who lie in the graves they keep tidy.

Coming to Barrett's home has been emotional, the students said.

"It's interesting learning where she was from and her day-to-day lifestyle," said George Overy.

"It's absolutely amazing 'cause she helped soldiers get better and basically helped them get through their injuries," said Oscar Heard.

Participating in Memorial Day ceremony
Their time in Newfoundland has also brought home to the students the impact the war had on this province.

"It was like a whole generation wiped out in Newfoundland and they did so much for us and they signed up," said Goldberger.

The students will still be in Newfoundland on July 1, which is observed as Memorial Day during the first half of the day.