American flags and flowers littered the grass on Deadman’s Island yesterday.
Since 2005, military and consular officials have held a service on Memorial Day to remember 188 prisoners from the War of 1812 who were forgotten in their graves for 188 years.
A developer was looking into the site in the late 1990s when residents waved a red flag. HRM purchased the land in 2000 for a public park.
“It was, unfortunately, a burial site that was forgotten for far too long,” said Anton Smith, the U.S. consulate general for Atlantic Canada.
The concentration camp on nearby Melville Island and its cemetery of unmarked graves on Deadman’s Island was small and it was a confusing time, Smith explained.
“During those days, being a prisoner of war wasn’t as nice as it tends to be in modern times. Disease was often a problem and sanitation was poor.”
More than 100 black refugees fleeing slavery as well as Irish immigrants who were quarantined in a hospital on Melville Island are also buried on Deadman’s Island. The stone prison on Melville Island is now used by the Armdale Yacht Club.
Roberta Clark was at the first remembrance ceremony on Deadman’s Island and while the ceremony is simpler these days, she said it’s still an important service.
“It’s a wonderful thing to come to any service in honour of anyone who suffered and died far from home.”
There are no grave markers on the island, just a granite and bronze monument that lists all the names of the American POWs.
The 20 or so people who attended the ceremony yesterday were asked to scatter flowers all over the island in respect of the fallen.
“Rest easy, brothers, we have the watch,” concluded Lt. Cmdr. Brad McGuire with the U.S. navy.