A man living in the middle of Flanders Field is looking for the family of a young soldier from Victoria.
Martijn Wouters lives in Belgium in an area full of the graves of foreign soldiers from the First and Second World War.
“There is so much respect for all these war victims,” Wouters said. “They came to fight here, far away from their motherland in a country with which they had no connection.”
Many of these soldiers have no family nearby, so two months ago Wouters decided to join the “Adopt a US Tommy” program, which ask volunteers to look after the graves of fallen soldiers.
Wouters became responsible for the grave of Mark Edward Berton and learned that he’d been born in France, had parents in San Francisco, and attended the Victoria High School in Victoria, B.C.
In the First World War, Berton signed up for the Canadian Army. He died on May 30, 1916 at the age of 17.
Since then, it’s unknown if any family members have visited. Now, Wouters is on a mission to find any remaining relatives Berton might have.
“I decided to look for relatives of Mark Berton just to let them know that someone on the other side of the world is visiting the grave of their uncle or grandfather…I think this is a reassuring feeling for them,” Wouters said. “I would like to tell them that he is not forgotten. That we will remember him and that there is a lot of respect from the people who live here for the sacrifice, he and his friends have made.”
So far Wouters knows that Berton’s mother and father were Gaston and Jeanne Jacquet Berton, and that they pair lived at 232 10th Avenue in San Francisco, California. Wouters has reached out to the San Francisco city archives and the Victoria city archives, but has yet to hear back.
He also reached out to Victoria High School and was able to attain a portrait of Berton from its archives, but was unable to find any relatives.
Wouters said he feels closer to Berton as he learns more.
“Looking after his grave becomes more and more special. The first time I visited it, it was just a grave like the others with a name on it,” Wouters said. “Now, I have a picture of Mark and I already know a little more about his background, so his grave is no longer like the other graves. You can put a face on the name, it creates a bond.”
Anyone who has information about Mark Edward Berton or his relatives can contact Wouters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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