After more than 90 years. remains of Canadian girl may return from England

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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FREDERICTON - The remains of a young New Brunswick woman whose coffin has remained unclaimed at a London cemetery for nearly a century may soon make the final journey home to Canada to be buried with the rest of her family.

Gladys Winifred Fowler was 18 when she died on April 17, 1917.

She was the daughter of then New Brunswick MP George William Fowler, at the time a lieutenant-colonel serving with the 13th Battalion Canadian Infantry during the final months of the First World War.

Barry Smith of The Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery traced Fowler's story.

He said the coffin was properly sealed and crated up for transport back to Canada at the end of the war, but for some reason that never happened.

In Hammondvale, near Sussex in southern New Brunswick, a headstone at the community cemetery lists the names of every member of the Fowler family, including Gladys.

Smith said Fowler's father died in 1924 and her mother died in 1936, and the only sibling - a brother named Eric - died at the age of 30.

The search for a relative has finally had some success - a niece who lives in the United States.

"She is very enthusiastic about having Gladys repatriated to the family plot, and we've got some costs together for what would be involved here," Smith said in an interview from London.

He said discussions are preliminary because the niece is working and vacationing in Greece.

He estimates the cost of getting the remains ready for transport at close to 5,000 British pounds, or C$9,500.

"Within the catacomb the lead coffin would be opened and Gladys's remains would be transferred into a new zinc shell and that would be placed in a coffin and readied for transportation," he said.

Smith said the family would have to apply for permits, and the actual transport of the body could be at least three months away. Still, he said knowing Fowler's remains could finally go home to Canada has been emotional.

"I went into the catacomb last weekend, and I went to visit Gladys and I put my hand on her coffin and said to her: 'Well Gladys, after so long, I think you're going home,' " he said. "For me it was a very moving moment."

Gladys's story has sparked interest from Canadians around the world.

Smith said he has received emails from people asking if a fund has been set up to collect donations to help pay for the repatriation. But he said he is waiting to gauge the interest of the family before putting out any plea for donations.

Ontario Liberal MP Alan Tonks is among those who have taken an interest in the story, saying something must be done to bring Fowler's remains back to Canada.

"It is the right thing to do," he said. "The family should be at peace together."

Tonks said he was particularly touched because the girl was the daughter of someone who served his country in the Armed Forces and in the public service as an MP and a senator.

Tonks said he has discussed the matter with Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson.

A spokesman for Thompson said they are checking to see if there are any programs for such assistance.

Tonks said he has also discussed what can be done with his Liberal colleagues from New Brunswick and they will do what they can.

"We'll rally our resources and we'll complete this story, one way or another," he said.

And when the story is complete, you can expect Smith to be there.

"I would want to be part of Gladys's last journey home, without fail, and to see her laid to rest in the family grave," Smith said. "I will be there."

Organizations: Veterans Affairs

Geographic location: Canada, New Brunswick, England London FREDERICTON Hammondvale Sussex United States Greece

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