Thursday, June 12, 2014

G/4780 L/Cpl Edward John Burnage, Royal Sussex Regiment

G/4780 Lance-Corporal Edward John Burnage was a patient at Hickwells at the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1916. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album comprises a drawing of the Royal Sussex Regiment badge and the following text:

The Iron Regiment [drawing of Royal Sussex Regt cap badge]
But are not Downhearted
Lc Cpl Burnage 2nd Royal Sussex
Wounded in the Battle of Loos Sept 25.1915 and again wounded at Givenchy Dec 24th 1915

Also on this page are entries from 23331 Private W H Baddock of the 3rd Grenadier Guards and Private S F Brown of the 2/9th Middlesex Regiment.

Edward Burnage was born in Eastbourne Sussex on the 25th June 1890, his birth registered at Eastbourne in the September quarter of that year. He appears on the 1891 census as a nine month old infant living with his family at 51 Ashford Road, Eastbourne. The household comprised Frederick Burnage (head, married, aged 28, working on the railways), Elizabeth Burnage (wife, aged 29) and their two children: Elizabeth (aged two) and Edward.

By the time the 1901 census was taken the family was still living at the same address but had grown by one. Mabel Burnage, aged ten is noted as the third child, Edward is recorded as “Ted”. The children’s father is noted as a railway engine driver.

On the 1911 census, Edward is noted as a 20-year old boot maker living at 78 Ashford Road, Eastbourne with his parents and sister Mable. Horrice (probably Horace) Burnage, the three-year old grandson of Edward's parents also makes an appearance on this return.

Edward attested with the 9th Royal Sussex Regiment on 5th January 1915. He gave his occupation as labourer and his next of kin as his mother, Elizabeth Burnage. She was now living at 78 Ashford Road, Eastbourne and Edward was also still living at home. He was five feet, nine and three quarter inches tall and distinguishing marks are noted as a two inch scar in the centre of his forehead and a mole one inch behind his right inner ankle. On 8th January he was posted to the 3rd battalion and then, on the 1st May, straight out to the regular 2nd Battalion in France. It was while serving with this battalion that he suffered a gunshot wound to his leg on 25th September 1915, the opening day of the Battle of Loos. Four days later he was back in England at The Royal Sussex Depot.

The wound must have been relatively slight as by 1st November he had been posted to the 3rd Battalion and then, on 10th December, to the 7th Battalion. It was while serving with the 7th that he was wounded at Givenchy on Christmas Eve 1915. The war diary for the 7th Royal Sussex Regiment notes that in December 1915 the battalion was in the Festubert-Hingette-Givenchy region. On 23rd December the Brigade moved to the Givenchy line and took over

“Right Battalion of Right Sector from 7th Suffolk Regiment. Front occupied from Sap ‘H’ just S of RIFLEMANS CRATER to S of DUCK’S BILL by ‘C’, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies. ‘A’ Company in support GUNNERS SIDING & MAIRIE REDOUBT.”

On 24th December at 7.15 in the morning, the diarist wrote that the Germans, “blew up defensive mine between their line and ours opposite Saps ‘G’ & ‘H’, blowing in the end of their two saps and causing considerable damage by burying men and subsequent shell fire. In afternoon the Germans occupied this crater temporarily and could not be got at owing to the depth of mud around the newly blown up crater. Sap ‘H’ was rendered untenable except for 15 yards. Rifle grenading began on both sides. Trench mortars were either out of gear or could not be found to reply and turn enemy out of crater. Machine-gun enfilade was of some use. Much artillery fire both sides day and night. Casualties 3 killed 23 wounded.”

The duel continued into Christmas Day but by this time Edward Burnage had already begun his journey home. He arrived at Brighton on 29th December, an event covered by The Sussex Daily News the following day:

ANOTHER RED CROSS TRAIN COMES TO BRIGHTON - MANY COT CASES … There was a greater percentage of ‘cot’ cases than has hitherto been known in a trainload to Brighton. In all, the cases numbered 170, and no fewer than 89 of these required to be transferred by stretcher. They had all come from France and were all Britishers. They landed at Dover and were conveyed by a Great Western Red Cross train via Norwood Junction to Brighton… a large number were sent to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital in Dyke Road where the Christmas decorations will provide a bright and gaily coloured environment."

Edward was probably sent almost immediately to Chailey. If an operation were required, that would have been carried out at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital and then he would have been sent the few miles north. This was the pattern of events for Private Baddock who had arrived with Edward at Brighton in the same Red Cross Convoy. Both Edward and W H Baddock are mentioned by name in the Sussex Daily News of 8th January 1916 as having arrived at Brighton.

On 18th April, by now recovered, Edward was sent the Command Depot. He was discharged from the army on 10th June 1916 having completed one year and 157 days’ service. He also applied for a Silver War Badge but on 30th November 1916 was compelled to write to the Colonel in Charge of Infantry Records for the second time.

Dear Sir
I trust you will forgive me for writing twice on the subject of War Badge. I shall be glad if you could let me have one quickly. I am awkwardly placed, being a Casual Porter on the Railway here. I am subject to a deal of annoyance, people thinking I ought to join up, not knowing I have done my Bit. On Saturday last the Guards played a football match and on their way back, the annoyance from them was so great I was compelled to defend myself which was greatly to my detriment. If I had the Badge to wear, the Public could see for themselves. 
Apologising for troubling you.
Yours Respectfully
4780 Pte E J Burnage, Royal Sussex Regt.

Edward Burnage married Georgina Field in Eastbourne at around the same time he was writing about his missing badge, their marriage recorded in the fourth quarter of that year. A son, Frederick K G Burnage was born in 1917 and a second son, Allan J Burnage, in 1919. Having received his Silver War Badge on 10th January 1917 one presumes - and hopes - that Edward started to settle back into some semblance of civilian life. In 1920, by now living at 49 Leslie Street, Eastbourne, he received his King’s Certificate on discharge.

Edward Burnage died in Eastbourne in late 1981 aged 91. His death occurred at around the same time I first saw the entry in Nurse Oliver's album that he had written over 60 years earlier.

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