Wallsend Cemetery butterflies bear names of beloved babies

In memory: Kirra Williams said 11 babies so far had been remembered with the plaques, which are available for free for inclusion on the tree. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
In memory: Kirra Williams said 11 babies so far had been remembered with the plaques, which are available for free for inclusion on the tree. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

BABIES buried in a mass unmarked grave at Wallsend Cemetery, but never forgotten, will be recognised with a memorial to be unveiled at a Mother’s Day service.

Newcastle City Council project assistant Kirra Williams said families who believed their relative lay in the grave could nominate to have the child’s name and requested details, including their parents, date of birth and date of death, inscribed on a butterfly to sit on the 80 kilogram cast bronze Recognition of Life Tree.

“After spending time with the families the big thing for them is recognition their brother or sister lived, recognition that these babies were here and were loved and always will be loved,” Ms Williams said.

“This will give them the opportunity to grieve and help with closure and peace.”

The seeds for the memorial were sown after Ms Williams fielded calls from three elderly women who wanted to “tidy up their affairs” and were enquiring where their babies who were stillborn or died in infancy were buried.

Ms Williams said at the time the women gave birth, society had different ideas about infant death, mourning, funerals and support.

“They just did not see it as a life and sometimes there was no record, or the families found it difficult to get death certificates to show they existed,” she said.

“A lot of the time there were complications and the women weren’t conscious for the births.

“The hospitals would take the baby and tell the mother their baby didn’t make it, to go home and try again.” 

Ms Williams said up until council assumed management of the cemetery in 1967, each religious denomination was responsible for their section and didn’t always keep sufficient records.

The 10am service will include Recognition of Life certificates.

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said Mother’s Day can be a reminder of loss for many families.

“For those mothers and families who have suffered the loss of a child, Mother's Day can become a painful reminder of that traumatic experience,” she said.

“What we want to do this Mother's Day is to help right a wrong from our past –  to memorialise the children who passed away at birth or shortly after and were buried in Wallsend Cemetery, in unmarked graves, and to support and grieve with their families.

“We saw a need in the community to remember these babies and I'm so pleased that council was able to create and fund this project, and to partner with Bears of Hope, to help meet that need.”