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New Cree headstone given to fallen soldier 99 years after his death

15 July 2016

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) has erected its first Cree inscripted headstone for a soldier who died 99 years ago on Friday, July 15, 2016 at Englefield Green Cemetery, Surrey.

Private John Chookomolin was a Cree First Nation Canadian with the Canadian Forestry Corps, and was originally buried with a Commission headstone bearing the name Jakomolin - the phonetical spelling given, as he didn't speak English.

After discovering that Mr Chookomolin was in fact from the Canadian First Nation community, Englefield Green resident, John Scott MBE, managed to contact some descendants in Canada.  They confirmed John Chookomolin had been signed up as John Jakomolin by the Canadian military authorities in 1917. 

Mr Scott then put the family in touch with the CWGC, who after verifying the family information, agreed to provide a new headstone inscribed with the correct spelling of his surname and gave the family the opportunity to add a personal inscription.  They asked if it would be possible to include one in John's mother tongue, Cree.

Pte Chookomolin's family asked for the new headstone to read 'I left my daughter and my wife at Nahmehkoo Seepee (Trout River) for this war.'

The 22 year old, married father of one, died on September 20, 1917 at Windlesham Court Military Hospital, near Bagshot. He had just arrived a few days before at Liverpool on September 15, but died five days later from pneumonia. He was originally from Attawapiskat in Canada.

Friday will also see the unveiling of Englefield Green's first private War Memorial, naming more than 245 men and women who gave their lives during both world wars. Mr Scott, along with a team of people, helped raise more than £80,000 to enable the memorial to be built. It seemed fitting to also remember Pte Chookomolin on the same day.

John Scott MBE, said: "When I started my research into our war dead in Englefield Green, I came across a story of a First Nation Canadian (Cree Nation) who had laid under the wrong name for 99 years.

"His family did not know where he was buried and only found his grave some ten years ago.  I felt it was again wrong that this should be the case and his headstone should be changed. I lobbied along with a Cllr Shannon Saise-Marshall, herself a descendant of a Canadian First Nation family, to see John Chookomolin correctly remembered.

"I am extremely pleased that the CWGC have agreed to give John the correct headstone, with a personal inscription from his family. Remembering John during a special ceremony to unveil the new war memorial seemed like the perfect opportunity."

Roy Hemington, CWGC Records Data Manager, said: "When I received the request to include an inscription using Cree syllabics, my first thought was, is this possible? We had never done anything this complex before, to my knowledge.  However, out of respect to this man's family and their culture we found a way."

The CWGC are asking people to be part of its Living Memory campaign to encourage people to go and explore their local war graves in the UK and find the stories behind the names- just like John Scott did.

For more information, please visit www.cwgclivingmemory.org