Monday, March 07, 2016

22824 Private Henry Robert Burn, 2nd Worcestershire Regt

Henry Robert Burn was a patient at Hickwells in February 1916. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s book is a cartoon – probably copied although I have not identified the original – in which Germania (represented by an old lady) is berating Kaiser Wilhelm about the turning tide. The cartoon is signed:

Pte H R Burn
2nd Worcesters

Wounded at Cambrian
on the 26th of January 1916

Henry Robert Burn’s birth was registered in the name of Robert Henry Burn in the March quarter of 1896 at Epsom in Surrey. He also appears on the 1901 census as Robert H Burn. When the census was taken he was living with his family at Ewell, Epsom. The household comprised: George J Burn (head, married, 29, general labourer, born in Penge), Ada E Burn (wife, married, 29, born Twickenham), Robert H Burn (aged five), Albert G Burn (aged three) and Primrose E M Burn (aged one). All of the children were born in Ewell.

Henry attested with the Worcestershire Regiment in Epsom on 5th June 1915. He was apprenticed as a plumber to Mr F J Godfrey of 14 Boundaries Road, Balham, south west London. He gave his mother – Ada Burn of 10 Woodcote Side, Epsom – as his next of kin.

Henry was in good health. He was five feet five and a half inches tall and passed the medical examination with flying colours. He was marked A1.

On 11th June he was posted to the 5th Worcestershire Regiment and shortly afterwards, on 1st August, appointed acting lance-corporal. On 3rd October he was posted to the 2nd Worcesters and embarked at Southampton with the 18th Reinforcements, disembarking in France the following day.

He joined the battalion on 6th October but just six days later was admitted to the 5th Field Ambulance at Rouen with tonsillitis. From there he travelled first to the 1st Casualty Clearing Station and then on to the 4th General Hospital. He was discharged to duty on 12th November and rejoined the 2nd Worcesters on the 16th.

He was wounded on 26th January 1916 at Cambrin with a gunshot wound to his right foot. “Gunshot wound” on army service records seems to cover a multitude of sins and it seems more likely that he was wounded by a fragment from a rifle grenade. The following extract is taken from the war diary of the 2nd Worcesters (my italics):

26th January 1916
Our trenches were shelled with shrapnel and a few 4.2s landed beyond our reserve trenches. Two men were wounded by enemy’s rifle grenades. We put out several wire bales and constructed some loop holes and knocked out an enemy’s snipers post… This company was moved into the 2nd lines about midnight. The night passed fairly quietly. Our artillery fired during the night.

Henry travelled to the 19th Field Ambulance at Rouen and then onward to a casualty clearing station before being admitted to Number 2 Canadian General Hospital at Rouen. He remained there for nine days before sailing (on 6th February) to England aboard the Hospital Ship Cambria. Landin at Dover, from there he was whisked away to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital at Brighton, The Sussex Daily News reporting the arrival of the convoy. It was the first convoy of the year and comprised a contingent of 180 men, 100 of whom were “cot” cases. The paper reported:

Many of the men had come straight from the trenches with the mud of Flanders still caked to their boots. They crossed the Channel to Dover and travelled to Brighton in an admirably appointed Great Eastern Ambulance Train which drew up at the main arrival platform at the Central Station at half past ten.

On 12th February 1916, Henry was named in the Sussex Daily News as having been admitted to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital Brighton but it seems likely that he was sent on immediately to Hickwells.

His time at Hickwells however, was remarkably short. By the 24th of February he had been posted back to the Worcestershire Regiment Depot where he remained until 4th July. There is then quite a bit of movement. On 7th July he transferred to the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was posted to its 3rd Battalion on 13th August. His surviving service papers give a number – 261825 – which was later crossed out. On 7th November he was transferred to the 13th Devonshire Regiment at Egg Buckland and then finally, on 29th April 1917, posted to 745 Company, The Labour Corps.

Although they no longer exist in his service papers, it seems probable that Henry attended a number of Medical Boards although why he was transferred to the Ox and Bucks and the Devons remains unclear. His medal index card, held at The National Archives only lists his Worcestershire and Labour Corps army numbers.

On 30th June 1917 he was posted again, this time to the 364 Res[erve] Emp[loyment] Company at Woodford and the following month, on 29th July he sailed for France again. Once overseas he was posted first to 745 Area Employment Company and then, on the 14th November 1917, to 945 Area Emp[loyment] Coy where he joined “A” (Artizan) Company.

Apart from 18 days in hospital with mild tonsillitis in February 1918, the remainder of Henry’s war appears to have been uneventful. In March 1919 he attended a medical examination at which it was found that he had suffered a ”Gunshot wound penetrating region of metatarsal phalangeal joint of great toe”

He was sent to the UK for demob at Shorncliffe on 9th April 1919 and on 2nd May was transferred to Class Z of the army reserve. He had served three years and ten months in His Majesty’s Army. Twenty eight days later a grateful country acknowledged that he had suffered a 20 per cent disability and awarded him a lump sum pension of thirty two pounds and ten shillings.

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