Robert Hamer traveled just over 1,100 kilometers to pay his respects to a fellow Sedbergh School alumni.
Hamer visited Leslie Sutcliffe’s grave in Smithers Oct. 5 as a part of their school’s, which is based in England, First World War centennial event to honour alumni that were killed in the war by visiting and holding a small ceremony at their graves.
Hamer, who lives in Calgary, volunteered to visit Sutcliffe’s grave.
With help from Bulkley Valley Museum curator, Kira Westby, and Bulkley Valley Genealogy member, Sharon Eastabrook, Hamer completed his mission last Friday.
Hamer sprinkled a small amount of consecrated soil from a hill behind Sedbergh school on Sutcliffe’s grave and planted a small wooden cross. Doug Campbell, a chaplain for the Smithers branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, said a prayer and Westby, who features Sutcliffe’s grave in the museum’s annual cemetery walk, read his biography at the ceremony.
“It feels good to be able to honour [a fallen veteran],” Hamer said.
Sutcliffe was born in Sowerby Bridge, England in 1892. After his time in Sedbergh he enlisted in the army in 1914.
He got wounded in the foot while serving in Turkey close to a year later. He was evacuated to the the Island of Mudros where, according to Bulkley Valley Museum’s biography of his life, he spent the next several months suffering from dysentery, lumbago sciatica, rheumatic fever, and cardiac issues.
Eventually Sutcliffe’s health had weakened to the point where he was invalided out of the army in 1917. In June of 1918, Sutcliffe sailed from Liverpool to Ellis Island in New York. He arrived in Smithers on Oct. 15.
It is believed Sutcliffe decided to come to Smithers because soldiers returning from the war were given land as a part of the Soldier Settlement Act. One of the first designated settlement areas in B.C. was in the Bulkley Valley.
One day after starting a new job in Smithers, Sutcliffe became ill with the Spanish flu. He contracted pneumonia as a result of his illness and died on Nov. 4, 1918, just two weeks after arriving in Smithers.
He was 26 years old.
Sutcliffe was one of two people to die from the Spanish flu in Smithers.
“I think it gets harder and harder to connect people to it on an emotional level and I think things like this are important because it makes it personal,” Westby said. “I think it just makes it more relatable for people when they can see it on a personal level and think about them as people and not just First World War soldiers dying. They had names and dreams of their own.”
Eastabrook said she although she’s not 100 per cent sure, Sutcliffe may be related to former Bulkley Valley-Stikine MLA Dennis MacKay.
“I’m certainly honored to be here today,” MacKay said. “You get a little emotional when you hear about the lifestyle that they had and the fact he was only here for short time before he passed. Even though I don’t know the guy … you still feel some tie there.”
At time of publication all graves with the exception of those in Syria and Russia have been visited.