Grandmother can’t find sister’s resting place after 74 years

A grandmother has been unable to find the resting place of her sister for 74 years.

Sue Bowers was born in June 1950 as a twin but her sister was sadly stillborn at Grange Mount Maternity Hospital in central Birkenhead. The hospital closed in 1978.

Despite her sister being known about in the family, Sue’s parents Patrick and Mary Murtagh never knew where she was buried but kept receipts for decades for a £1 13/- 9d payment to the Birkenhead Corporation.

The receipt said Sue’s sister was buried in a plot at Landican Cemetery but despite efforts by Wirral Council staff, they have been unable to locate her.

Before the 1980s, it is understood to have been common practice across the UK that when a woman had a miscarriage or a stillbirth, hospital staff would quickly take the baby away. Families were sometimes told that if they quickly had another child and didn’t see the baby, they’d get over it.

In Wirral, awareness has been raised by a campaign by Gina Jacobs and other mothers who want an apology from the government for the practice. They have also successfully campaigned for a memorial for those who have never been able to find their children or relatives.

Sue had previously tried to find her sister but had been unsuccessful. She said, “I always knew but my parents didn’t know what had happened. In those days they were whisked away and that was the end of it,” adding, “It wasn’t not talked about but it wasn’t talked about a lot either. It had an impact.”

She said, “I am sorry that my parents aren’t here to know about it. They were told to forget about it. There was no certificate or anything.

“I didn’t realise there were so many. I always thought it was something disgraceful that they had covered up and forgot about. The way the parents were treated, no compassion or anything at all and having to take their babies on the bus. It’s horrific.”

However, Landican cemetery staff, where Sue’s sister is believed to have been buried, were unable to match the details on the receipts with any of their records. Following the creation of Wirral Council in 1974, the local authority took over the management of cemeteries like Landican as well as their records from the Birkenhead Corporation.

She told the LDRS she was heartbroken, adding, “I can’t say I’m surprised after all that has gone on. It looked pretty gloomy from the start. I do not know if we will ever find out.

“I thought we were going to get somewhere but we haven’t. I know it was a long time ago. The receipts said she was buried there but the records show that she isn’t.”

Sue said, “It’s not their fault but it’s a shame,” adding, “I do not think there is anything we can do.”

The receipts suggested the baby was buried in a specific grave that contains multiple babies and “was used during the time we believe Baby Murtagh would have been buried.” However staff said: “There is no record to match the name or date details we have for Baby Murtagh of a baby resting in this grave.”

Staff said it was possible the reference may not be related to the grave but “unfortunately we wouldn’t know anything further about (this) if this is the case.” With no record for Sue’s sister, the council suggested the “most likely Baby Murtagh was buried with a lady whose burial was taking place at that same time.

“We know that in previous times it was seen as a gesture from the community, to offer support and compassion to families.”

After searching further, staff found a woman who was buried around the same time meaning Sue’s sister could have been buried there. However, no record would have been kept and staff have sent condolences to the family.

If she had been able to find her sister, Sue said, “I would be able to after all this time to know there was something there. It has always been something in the background. There was no grave to go to.

“We didn’t know where the grave was but it didn’t mean it wasn’t real. It was totally real. It’s just a shame that my parents won’t be able to find out. It must have been awful for people who have had one child. It must have been devastating.”

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