Mother Shares Military Grave with Her Son

Harriette Raphael first put in her request in 1929. The mother of Lieutenant John Raphael, a soldier who died in 1917 during the First World War, Harriette wanted to share a grave with her son. At the time, such requests were especially unusual, and the military would not grant her what she wanted. Harriette was firm, however, and the mother approached the groundskeeper in charge of her son’s grave directly to ask if he would be willing to give her what she asked.

The groundskeeper, Walter Sutherland, must have felt some sympathy for Harriette. After all, when the poor mother’s ashes were sent to him by mail just a little over one year later, he sought out the grave of her son and made a small hold next to it, where he dutifully packed in her ashes. Sutherland could have easily forfeited his job for fulfilling the task, but he kept his word and told no one about the ordeal outside of his own family.

The fascinating story of a love so strong between mother and son that they would literally take it to their graves is only known to the public now because of Sutherland’s own son, George, who shared the story long after his father’s passing away. Sutherland and his family discovered the heart-wrenching story of Raphael’s injuries at war, and how his mother held on to her prayers for him to heal. Unfortunately, it was less than a week later that Raphael would be put to the grave. His official cause of death had been injury due to being struck by German artillery, the Express reports.

Harriette tried her hardest to cope with the passing of her son, arranging memorial services and having sculptures created so that no one would forget his early trip to the grave. Harriette was never quite the same after his death, and George Sutherland believes that she was simply one mother among many who had to deal with such a striking tragedy.

George is proud to be of his father’s blood, believing that he allowed Harriette Raphael one final moment of peace in knowing that she would finally be reunited with her son in the grave. While the military restrictions would not allow such a thing at the time, Walter Sutherland showed his human side and risked his job to do the poor mother just one favor, a favor which was literally the last thing that she ever wanted in life.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE