New Brunswick

After nearly a century, WW I veteran gets burial service, headstone

A First World War veteran, who died nearly 100 years ago, finally has a headstone on his grave thanks to some keen middle school students in Fredericton, N.B.

Students discover war veteran was in unmarked grave, petition for headstone

A headstone marks the grave of First World War veteran Lt. Charles Blair. (Gary Moore/CBC)

A First World War veteran, who died nearly 100 years ago, finally has a headstone on his grave thanks to some keen middle school students in Fredericton, N.B.

Teacher James Rowinski and students from both George Street and Devon middle schools were researching war veterans from the area as part of a project.

They stumbled upon Lt. Charles Blair about a year ago and realized there was very little information about him, including where he was buried.

"We grabbed a service record and started digging," Rowinski said.  "And he had a really unfortunate outcome to his life in 1920."

The only known photo of Lt. Charles Blair was on display Saturday during a special memorial ceremony by the Royal New Brunswick Regiment. (Gary Moore/CBC)

According to the information that Rowinski and his students found, Blair died when he was 36. The cause of death may have been suicide.

He wasn't given a proper burial. 

For 99 years, Blair's remains were in an unmarked grave, next to his family, in Devon.

"We contacted the caretaker here and he did some work for us as well, and said, 'Yeah, it looks like there's another person buried here,'" Rowinski said Saturday at Sunny Bank Cemetery on the city's north side. 

A special graveside memorial service was held Saturday to honour the life and service of First World War veteran Lt. Charles Blair. It is believed he never had a proper burial when he died nearly 100 years ago. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Blair was suffering from shell shock, known today as post-traumatic stress disorder, when he died. It was a time when there was little support for soldiers suffering from the mental scars of war.

Capt. David Hughes, a historian with the Royal New Brunswick Regiment, believes that's why Blair wasn't given a proper burial.

"For veterans who are suffering nowadays compared to when he lived, it's just looked upon in a totally different way than it was back then," Hughes said.

Burial ceremony

Rowinski and his students didn't stop at telling Blair's story. They petitioned for a headstone for him.

Dora Graham, one of Rowinski's students who researched Blair's life and helped track down where he was buried, spoke at a special graveside memorial for Blair Saturday morning. 

"He finally got a burial," Graham said, adding that Blair was a hard-working soldier. 

Rowinski said it's rewarding to see the headstone in place.

"These are teachable moments, right?" Rowinski said. "These are fantastic days where kids can actually see the result of their work, see a community come together."

About the Author

Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.