There are dozens of headstones at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in St. John’s commemorating casualties of the First World War and Second World War from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Also located at the cemetery is a large granite screen wall listing the names of 34 war dead whose graves are either lost or unmaintainable.
According to Dominique Boulais, deputy-general secretary for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s (CWGC) Canadian Agency, the screen wall represents the primary point of commemoration for those men.
But plans are now in place to eventually have at least some of those names removed from the wall as part of a process that will see new headstones erected and old ones maintained on a cyclical basis to honour those casualties of war.
“It is quite important, because our mandate is to mark and maintain all Commonwealth war graves throughout the world,” said the Ottawa-based Boulais, who is currently visiting cemeteries across Newfoundland as part of an inspection trip.
“When we know that we can maintain it to a certain standard, we will maintain it.”
The deteriorated state of some graves can be linked to migration patterns in the province, according to Boulais.
“There were Commonwealth war graves on the coastal regions of Newfoundland, and as these communities got to be abandoned earlier in the 20th century, the commission decided that instead of maintaining the gravesite that it was difficult to get to … we decided we would put their names on the Newfoundland memorial located here in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.”
Three years ago, CWGC colleague Gerald Mayer visited the gravesites of men listed on the screen wall, categorizing some as maintainable.
“Some of these sites now are maintainable, and as a result of my present inspection trip, I have visited some of these sites and we will be able to maintain these sites instead of commemorating these men on the Newfoundland memorial.”
Some maintenance work commenced in 2010 that included preparing concrete curbing and cleaning headstones. That work will continue on Boulais’ Newfoundland trip, and some headstones may be replaced if necessary. He is also checking on gravesites already maintained by the commission on a cyclical basis during this trip.
Of the 34 names listed on the screen wall, 19 are under consideration to be maintained. The gravesites can be found in areas that include Clifton in Trinity Bay, the former southern Labrador settlement of Battle Harbour, Elliott’s Cove on Random Island, New Perlican, Merritt’s Harbour on New World Island, Greenspond, Grand Bank and the St. John’s metro area.
If a gravesite is determined to be unmaintainable, that person’s name will remain on the screen wall. The wall was built in 1990 and is known officially as the St. John’s (Mount Pleasant) Cemetery — Screen Wall.
Boulais and his colleagues in Ottawa perform 12 inspection trips annually. Those journeys take them throughout the Americas, be it South America, North America or the Carribbean islands.
There are more than 20,000 Commonwealth war graves in the Americas, of which approximately 18,400 are located in Canada. The graves commemorate those who died as the result of an illness, a training accident or from wounds suffered during battle in the First World War or Second World War.