Family calling for change after baby grave anguish

Wood Lane Cemetery, Ramsey

Wood Lane Cemetery, Ramsey - Credit: Archant

A grieving family is calling for more openness surrounding the age-old system of burying stillborn babies in other people’s graves after making a heartbreaking discovery.

Doug Mcllwain and Gary Cook

Doug Mcllwain and Gary Cook - Credit: Archant

Ron Davies, a former Ramsey resident who now lives in Haverhill, says he was forced to relive the pain of burying his seven-day-old son, Kevan, when he learned the grave had been dug up to bury another baby.

Mr Davies’s former wife Maureen died at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, in Cambridge, on January 12, and when the family made inquiries to have her ashes interred with their son Kevan, they realised there had been a second burial.

Maureen and Ron’s first-born child died from pneumonia on October 13, 1958, and was buried at Ramsey’s Wood Lane Cemetery, on October 18. Public records show that two months after he was buried, a second baby was placed on top of him.

The cemetery is currently owned by Ramsey Town Council, but would have come under the control of Ramsey Urban Council or possibly the Ramsey Burial Board in the 1950s.

Mr Davies, now aged 83, has vivid memories of carrying his son’s tiny white coffin through the cemetery all those years ago and is distraught to learn Kevan’s final resting place had been “desecrated”.

He said: “Ramsey Town Council have told us that it was another council in those days, but it doesn’t matter, they should take responsibility and officially apologise on behalf of the previous council. They also seem to think that because it happened a long time ago, that somehow it doesn’t matter, but I still remember that day like it was yesterday and it is still very painful.”

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Ron’s daughter Anne Braso, from Worcestershire, says she was shocked to learn another baby had been placed in the plot with her brother when she phoned Ramsey Town Council to find out some information regarding her mother’s interment in Kevan’s grave.

“The town clerk mentioned the names of the baby’s parents and I told him I was confused as it was Kevan’s grave,” said Anne.

“It was unbelievable, I just couldn’t take in. We are all still deeply grieving for mum and it was only when we started making our own inquiries that we realised the stillborn baby had been placed with Kevan two months after he had died.”

The family were shocked to learn the mother of the second baby was someone they all knew. In the early sixties, both families had moved into the same street, in Ramsey, and Maureen and the other mother had grown up with each other.

The family made the difficult decision to go and see the mother of the stillborn, who is now in her late seventies, and found out she had never been told where her baby had been buried.

“She was distraught and immediately burst into tears and the story she told us was heartbreaking,” said Anne.

“The baby was stillborn at home and his body was put in a box overnight and placed in the wardrobe until the next morning when her husband took it along to the mortuary. The baby was not given a name and the mother and father were told he would be buried in the next available grave space, which in those days, was usually an adult female. She told us she thought she would ‘go to her grave never knowing where her baby had been buried’ so this has given her some comfort. Although it was incredibly difficult and emotional for everyone, the babies have now been blessed and she finally has some peace, somewhere to mourn and a place to remember her baby.”

It is only in more recent times that hospitals and undertakers have offered formal arrangements for stillborn babies. In the 1950s, the custom was to place babies in communal graves. It was also not thought necessary to tell parents where their babies had been buried and there was no service or permanent place of remembrance.

Anne says the matter does not end here though, as she wants parents to be aware that they can find out what happened to their babies even though it was a long time ago.

“We just want councils to do the right thing. To say sorry and check the records and make sure this didn’t happen to anyone else,” said Anne.

“We would like to know how many more babies were added to existing burial plots without the permission and knowledge of the families and were other graves disturbed?” said Anne.

“Ramsey Town Council needs to face up to what has happened in the past and decide how they can put things right. No-one deserves this, especially when they are already mourning a loved one.”

Ramsey Town Council has offered to waive the internment fees for Mrs Davies, but this has been declined by the family.

Ramsey mayor, Cllr Doug Mcllwain and town clerk Gary Cook agreed to meet with The Hunts Post and both offered their apologies to the family.

“We did make an official apology at the last Ramsey Town Council meeting, but we are happy to do that again,” said Cllr Mcllwain.

“This decision was made by a former council body and general practices were not as they are now. I don’t think there was the same compassion and understanding of grieving families and the sensitivities were not as they are today,” he explained.

“We are more than happy for people to contact us if they want to trace the burial of a stillborn baby. As long as they can give us a date, we will help them to find the grave and get some closure. We have looked at our procedures and we honestly don’t think anything needs to change.”