FAMILIES unable to find their loved ones for decades said they’ve “reached a milestone” as a new memorial plaque is unveiled.
The plaque sits in the centre of the baby memorial garden in Landican Cemetery in Wirral after months of campaigning by family members and mothers of babies that were born dead. It is there to “commemorate all babies lost” including those “whose resting place is unknown or who have no memorial.”
The memorial for stillborn children at Landican Cemetery (Image: Wirral Council)
Before the 1980s, it was common practice across the UK that when a woman had a miscarriage or a stillbirth, hospital staff would quickly take the baby away. Families were sometimes told that if they quickly had another child and didn’t see the baby, they’d get over it.
In Wirral, stillborn babies were taken to cemeteries such as Landican or Frankby and buried in graves containing up to 90 children in some cases. Families were often told they were buried with another person that day, but this later turned out to not be true.
Some families were unable to find the babies for decades and sometimes in a different cemetery to where they’d been told, while others still cannot find where their children or siblings were buried decades ago.
Mothers like Gina Jacobs have been working with Wirral Council cemetery staff to help locate those buried in the baby graves, though many of the burials took place before the local authority even existed.
Gina, whose son Robert was taken away from her immediately after giving birth, has been campaigning for a memorial along with other families for months. On November 13, a memorial was unveiled by Wirral’s Mayor Cllr Jerry Williams and Gina at a ceremony.
Katie Davis (Landican), Mayoress Irene Williams, Gina Jacobs, Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Jerry Williams and Lisa Parkes (Landican) Katie Davis (Landican), Mayoress Irene Williams, Gina Jacobs, Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Jerry Williams and Lisa Parkes (Landican) (Image: Wirral Council)
Thanking council officers, Gina said: “So many parents, mums and dads, have carried the pain and trauma of the practice of the past.
“There are so many babies yet to be found. I am hoping that the events of today will enable more families to come forward as well as bringing some comfort and peace to the families who have now been reunited with their babies.”
She told the LDRS: “I feel as if all the babies have been acknowledged. They have been given that dignity and respect as well as the parents who went through that at the time.”
Diana Williams who lost her son John at Clatterbridge Hospital said: “It’s reached a milestone. It’s very gratifying seeing Gina being recognised for all she has done and to see the babies recognised. We can’t change it but at least we have got something going forward.
“It makes you think it was a government decision that babies were going to be buried this way and the truth is they didn’t tell anybody.”
Rose Turton lost her little brother John when she was four and a half but only found him two months ago. Her mum died 20 years ago on November 25.
She said: “It’s so sad but I am happy he has been found and for now on, we will sort out a plaque. The nice thing about it is that it is not that far from where my Mum’s buried but we never knew.”
Rose Peers said a lot had happened in recent months including finally finding her brother Carl, adding: “It brings me closure. I know where he is buried now and we come here now too (to the memorial.)”
Pauline Roberts’s daughter, Paula Jane, was still born in 1972 and buried with more than 60 other babies. She found Paula in 2018, adding: “It was wonderful to be able to find out where she was after all those years. It brings closure.”
She said: “I don’t usually talk about it. I had to get on with my life and when you talk about it, it comes flooding back,” adding: “Years down the line, you wonder what she would have been like.”
Colette Truman said she was told her Dad picked up her baby brother in a sports bag from the hospital, adding: “You could never imagine that happening now when people tell you but it did happen.”
She added: “Sadly they didn’t know where he was and I am sad we didn’t find him sooner. I think their way of dealing with it was never talking about it. My Dad never talked about it and once my Mum told me, she put it back in the box. That was the only way she could deal with it.”
Mayor Williams said the memorial was to “recognise the families’ suffering a loss in the past, present, and future,” adding: “There are many parents and families whose babies were cremated or buried who still do not know where the final resting place is. It is important that these parents and families have a place where they can grieve their loss and remember their lost children.”
He added: “The treatment today would be very different than in the previous period, but this does not detract from the grief that everyone may still be experiencing.”
Cllr Liz Grey, who chairs the committee that now oversees Wirral’s cemeteries, said: “There have been significant changes nationally – in practice and law – to ensure that those who suffer this tragedy now and in future are supported in the most compassionate and respectful manner.
“I hope that with the unveiling of the memorial plaque at Landican, local families affected by the insensitive practices of the past are able to take some comfort in knowing there is somewhere for them to come where their loss is acknowledged and remembered.”