Stories from the front

David Evans has been very busy this week supplying a wealth of further material relating to the wonderful history of Arthur Burton MM. First of all, he sent a copy of Arthur’s diary entry relating to White Chateau, Ypres.

The actual Arthur Burton war diary. Image kindly supplied by David Evans.

My experiences on the 30/3/16 at White Chateau, Ypres.

This was our 3rd day in the trenches and the morning was fairly quiet, it was a beautiful warm day & we were looking forward to the morrow when we should get releived. At 1 PM the Germans started a terrible bombardment on our Hqrs & support lines. This lasted for 2 hours & it seemed as if every minute would put an end to our dugout & all in it but although we were right in the place where the shells were dropping they missed us. By this time all our wires & lines of communication were broken & we were starting out to mend them when John started again. This was 3 PM & he kept it up till 6.20 PM & it was very heavy. At 6.30 the Sgt & I went out on the lines & had just reached the front line at 6.40 when they started again. We did our best & mended many breaks until we had used all our spare wire, then I was sent back to Hqrs for more. At this time the shells were not coming so quick & I got back & obtained the wire & was half way back again in a wood when old John started the full force of it again & it seemed as though he had seen me & turned two batteries on me to wipe me out, but of course this was not so, the fact was that I just happened to be in the place he had decided to strafe. I picked the largest tree I could see & crouched behind it & for three quarters of an hour I stuck there dodging from one side to the other & it was just marvellous that I was not killed 100 times over. I seemed to bear a charmed life for the shells dropped as close as 4 yds off me & yet not a bit touched me. Half way through in a quiet moment I heard my friends calling me & answered back that I was hanging on deadly & waiting for a chance to make a dash for it. However at last they stopped & I managed to reach the trenches with the wire. They could not make out how I had lived through it & told me it was a case in a million. During the time it was on I had all my wits about me & this probably saved my life but afterwards I was like a jelly for about an hour. However we finished our job & finally established communication & next morning I was feeling myself again but never want to live through anything like that hell of fire again. Of course there were others of our section out wire mending & they also had marvellous escapes & we had to congratulate ourselves on being perhaps the luckiest section in the British Army.

4.4.16 A.C.Burton

David also supplied details relating to Arthur’s discharge:

Hi Bob

Arthur Burton’s second tour of duty was in the Somme where he suffered the wound which brought him back to England for hospitalisation.

His diary entry for Monday 7 August 1916:

Bank Holiday in Great Britain and Ireland

‘I wonder if they are having the old Flower show at Lichfield today. Parade at 8 a.m. and have arms drills and signal drill until 9 a.m. Signalling from 9.30 until 12 noon. Finished for day. Still hot.’

(he was now stationed at Sarton in the Somme area)

Saturday September 16 1916

‘Well by some strange fate thre are a lot of us still alive and unhurt and up to now John’s counters have failed. Me and J Fincham are hanging on in a hole my head is very bad and I am going to dressing station as soon as it gets dark. On my way down I get a bit of shrapnel in my righ thumb, The poor old Batt gets relieved tonight thank God. There will be little more than 100 answer the call.” (He was in action near Guillemont. He mentions little of the severity of his head wound, which becomes apparent in later notes in England).

Kind regards

David Evans

Arthur's discharge paper. 'Surplus to military requirements' - how very functional, the unfeeling bastards. Kindly supplied by David Evans.

On a slightly brighter note, a further mail contained the following, which raised a wry smile:

Hi Bob,

Two  entries from Arthur Burton’s  diary caught my eye this evening. One , very British and almost Blackadderish, the other quite different.

Friday 14 April 1916 (in Ypres town ruins)

‘My mate was on Phone again last night everything was quiet and the day also is quiet. I am fetching water for tea from our usual “Johnson Hole” when the Captain sees me and puts me on report for getting water from a shell hole. Rotten luck’

(Note; Jack Johnson; a shell named after the black heavyweight boxing champion of this period. Hence “Jackie”, “Johnson Hole” )

Thursday 27  April 1916 (still in Ypres town ruins)

‘On duty this morning from 9 to 1 and we are kept quite busy running about the town. We leave cellars at 8.30 and arrive at Poperinghe at 9.30.p.m. We get a good billet in a house nicely away from everyone. Am glad we are back for a bit’

Talbot House

There was this ‘nice house’, Talbot House, pictured, which he may mean. Readers might like to find the details in Google. One notice in this  wartime rest house says, ‘If you are in the habit of spitting in your own home, please spit here.’ The house is a Toc H house, and is well worth a visit. At the outbreak of WW2 local people took the  museum exhibits and hid them  for the duration, returning them in summer 1945, hence everything there is original. Even the Joannah!

Nearby and in the same street is an excellent Museum of Beer, proper hop beer!

Sadly the town was  also the place where deserters were shot at dawn, and by googling ‘shot at dawn’ readers will see what is still there from this period.

Best wishes

David Evans

Finally, as an aside to another fascinating instalment of this unfolding story, the wonderful Julian Ward-Davies today posted the following image, supplied by Steve Hickman, in The Stonnall Local History Group on Facebook.

Lots of people will remember Mrs Oakley, who taught many generations of Stonnall children at the school. This photo depicts her retirement presentation in about 1964. Centre, Mrs Oakley. Centre right, Rev T J Ward-Davies. Right, Garnet Burton, who was of course Arthur's brother. Photo courtesy of Steve Hickman, also late of this parish.

Once again, my immense gratitude goes out to David for all his research and hard work on this story. It’s wonderful to read such raw material from the hand that endured the privations of such a dark time.

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4 Responses to Stories from the front

  1. A little correction required Bob: Garnet was Arthur’s brother. Not his sister.

    • Now corrected. Thanks, Julian, I feel so stupid. I had no idea Garnet could be a male name, and due to my general uselessness with left and right, never noticed the subject in the picture was a fella.
      In my defence, I know a female Garnet really well, so that probably skewed my judgement. My apologies to anyone tuned in who may have been offended.
      Best wishes


  2. Ian says:

    Talbot House is superb, very worthy of a visit, as, of course, is Ypres, a really interesting and memorable (and thankful) weekend is well worth a go.

  3. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    Ypres is a fascinating Flemish town. It was able to be rebuilt to the original pre-World War One design mainly because two local amateur photographers, two sisters in fact, had photographed the whole town…people, shops, churches, the lot, in the early days of photography…late 1800s, early 1900s.
    The carillon in the Town Hall will often be heard ringing out English tunes..because visiting English students are playing the instrument! I have often seen local students from Walsall area there and at Tyne Cot ( the huge military cemetery near Passendale, east of Ypres),and am struck by the sense of purpose and respect they show.
    best wishes
    David Evans

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