“Hundreds if not thousands” of babies buried in mass graves at a Wirral cemetery

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Many families were never told where they were buried.

Mothers and families of stillborn babies buried in “mass graves” at a Wirral cemetery are demanding answers about what happened.

In the 20th century, stillborn babies were taken to cemeteries across Wirral and buried in “mass graves” or at the foot of someone being buried that day. Fathers were asked to collect their child in a box from the hospital and take it to the cemetery themselves.

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At Landican Cemetery in Wirral, it’s believed that potentially “hundreds if not thousands” of babies are buried, with many families never being told where they were.

The issue, which happened across the UK, came to light after a BBC North West programme featured Lilian Thorpe who was able to locate the burial site of her daughter Belinda in Manchester.

Gina Jacobs, who lives on the Wirral, heard about the programme and was able to locate her baby Robert at Landican after 53 years of not knowing what happened to him. Robert was buried along with 62 other children but Gina said she’d heard of some cases as recent as 1991.

Gina Jacobs wasn’t able to find her son Robert for 53 years. Image: Edward BarnesGina Jacobs wasn’t able to find her son Robert for 53 years. Image: Edward Barnes
Gina Jacobs wasn’t able to find her son Robert for 53 years. Image: Edward Barnes | ed barnes

She is now working with staff at Landican to help locate the babies of other families, with more being found at other cemeteries in Bebington, Wallasey, and Frankby. Those who work at the cemetery were praised for their help with people finding their family

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Gina said: “We didn’t know where our babies were. 50 years and we could have visited my Robert on his birthday and at Christmas.

“The thinking was that you will have never seen the baby and then you can have another one. You didn’t have all this counselling and all these wonderful things they have now. You just got on with it but that doesn’t mean you didn’t feel it. I wanted to know all these years and I didn’t know how.”

Rose Peers’ brother would have been called Carl. He was born November 3, 1958 at St Catherine’s Hospital in Birkenhead but died an hour later. He weighed 13 pounds.

Rose Peers still doesn’t know exactly where her brother was buried as the area has now been grassed over. Image: Edward BarnesRose Peers still doesn’t know exactly where her brother was buried as the area has now been grassed over. Image: Edward Barnes
Rose Peers still doesn’t know exactly where her brother was buried as the area has now been grassed over. Image: Edward Barnes | ed barnes

She said her Dad was told to pick the baby up in a cardboard box tied with string and carry it on the bus down to the cemetery. The box was so heavy he “cut his hands to pieces” on the string.

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Rose, who was 11 at the time, said: “He wouldn’t speak about it. He’d been in the Second World War and he didn’t want to talk about things, it hurt so much.

“I always remember my Dad poking the fire and I was sitting on the couch. I said to him ‘when’s Mum coming home with the baby’ and he said we’re not getting a baby now and that was it. It was dreadful.”

Rose said her mother had a nervous breakdown after Carl’s death and she started looking 15 to 20 years ago to try and locate her brother. He was buried in what is now a grassed-over area so even now she doesn’t know exactly where he’s buried.

Colette Truman’s mum had a stillborn boy the year before she was born but “never knew what happened to him.” Her mum was sedated and woke up two days later to find out Colette’s dad had already picked the baby up and taken him to the cemetery.

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Colette Truman, whose brother was not found for years, said: ”I feel quite angry at the way it was dealt with.” Image: Edward BarnesColette Truman, whose brother was not found for years, said: ”I feel quite angry at the way it was dealt with.” Image: Edward Barnes
Colette Truman, whose brother was not found for years, said: ”I feel quite angry at the way it was dealt with.” Image: Edward Barnes | ed barnes

Colette said: “She was under the impression until she died in 2005 that he’d been buried with somebody else in Frankby Cemetery. They were told the baby had been taken care of.

“I’ve been contacting the cemetery and the central records office over the years and I’ve just been stonewalled. Nobody came back to me or knew anything about it.

She then saw Gina’s story and got in touch. Gina passed her onto the staff at the cemetery and it turned out her brother was buried not at Frankby but at Landican.

Colette said: “There’s a whole plot full of them, no markings on these graves at all. They just weren’t recognised and there’s 62 babies in each plot. He wasn’t named unfortunately but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be recognised.”

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“My mum said very little about him and I think it was because she found it too difficult. She didn’t know where he was or where to go.

“I think that’s true for a lot of people here today because there’s still a lot of people who don’t know where these babies are. They weren’t given the right information.”

Colette said it was nice to know where he is but added “I feel quite angry at the way it was dealt with and I feel really angry on behalf of my parents. Both of my parents aren’t here now.

“They passed not knowing where he was and I can’t help but think if they’d known and they had somewhere to go, it might have been some comfort to them but they didn’t.”

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Wirral Council

As a response to growing awareness of the issue, Cllr Tracy Elzeiny asked Wirral Council on February 11 to organise a baby memorial service for those affected at a chapel at Landican and offered support.

Cllr Elzeiny said she found out after Gina got in touch about getting a memorial to mark the sites at the cemetery and the council is now looking to have something in place by the summer.

After the service, she said: “I think actually focusing on the fact these ladies, and a lot of women everywhere, have just not known what’s happened to their children. It’s just unbelievable that people for so many years had no idea where their child was.

“I was so shocked and so moved when Gina first wrote to me. I’ve got three kids myself and I thought I’m going to do all I can to sort this out.”

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Though questions remain about who is responsible for the handling of this issue and where the babies were buried, many of those who spoke to the LDRS believed an apology would go some way towards offering some comfort.

In 2022, a Wirral Council spokesperson said: “The loss of a baby is a terrible tragedy for parents and the trauma of this is better understood now both here in Wirral and elsewhere across the country. Sadly there are many babies in Wirral’s cemeteries and if you wish to find the resting place of a baby please contact Landican Cemetery Office. The easiest way to do this is by contacting us directly by emailing [email protected] or calling 0151 666 3001.”

The information the council would need include:

The full name of each parent

Date of still-birth

Address at the time of birth

Religion of the parents

The hospital where the birth happened

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article, support is available through many charities including Wirral SANDS at [email protected] or on Facebook, Elsie’s Moon, Misscarriage for Men, or Daddy’s with Angels.

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