November 10, 2017 6:10 pm
Updated: November 10, 2017 6:18 pm

B.C. group wants to buy headstone for a veteran’s unmarked grave

Children cleaning veterans' graves at the New Westminster's Fraser Cemetery as part of the Society of the Officers of the Honourable Guard work.

Credit: Officers of the Honourable Guard / Facebook

For 78 years, local war veteran William Stevenson has been lying in an unmarked grave. It wasn’t until the Society of the Officers of the Honorable Guard decided to research the unknown veteran that they were able to determine his name, military record and details of his death.

Now, the group is hoping they can ensure he is never forgotten again – by purchasing a headstone for Stevenson’s grave.

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President and guard commander, Robert Rathbun, said the project was inspired by an already existing program operated by the Honorable Guards.

They have worked in conjunction with school children since 2003 to clean war graves in New Westminster’s Fraser Cemetery.

“When we’re working with children, one thing that really bothers them is to see a resting place with no headstone,” said Rathbun.

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He said that’s why the organization selected one unmarked grave and decided to find out who was buried there.

They discovered the date the plot was dug by checking the New Westminster cemetery office and from there the group did some investigative work.

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“We went through the obituaries of the Columbian newspaper on microfilm and we found his obituary – the only one that day – and we found out that he was a veteran of the Canadian Mounted Rifles,” said Rathbun.

“From that information, we found his death record at the funeral home. He was 55-years old and he died of a stroke. He had nobody here; he had no relatives. So for the last 78-years, he’s remained nameless.”

A grave without a headstone at New Westminster cemetery.

Credit: Officers of the Honourable Guard / Facebook

After consulting with a local historian, Rathbun is hoping to soon verify speculation that Stevenson was also a veteran of the Battle of the Somme – a First World War battle that involved three million troops and one million casualties, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.

In order to ensure Stevenson is not forgotten again, the Society started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $1,200 for a new headstone. The group raised the funds and has now set up a new goal of $3,600.

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But the group won’t stop there, Rathbun says they’re hoping to continue their work and identify unmarked graves at the cemetery. “There are so many stories,” he said.

The Society of the Officers of the Honorable Guard is a non-for-profit organization that aims to educate youth about BC history and promote recognition for veterans, among other mandates.

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