I’m still receiving a large amount of comment and input on the continuing story of Arthur Burton, local hero. I can’t possibly put these contributions into a better narrative than they make themselves, so I’ll run with various contributors as appropriate. First up, Desmond Burton, grandson of Arthur’s older brother Garnet Burton, posted the following a couple of days ago in Julian Ward-Davies’ Stonnall History Group on Facebook. It helps clear up my confusion over Arthur’s actual name – you’ll remember he’s occasionally been referred to as Cecil…
I spoke to Arthur Burton’s daughter, Pauline Burton, on the phone yesterday, and I’ll visit her next time we are in the area. She seemed pleased and slightly amused (bemused?) that her dad has become a celebrity in local history circles. She confirmed that her dad’s full name was Cecil Arthur, not Arthur Cecil, though he was always known as Arthur. Arthur’s son was also christened Cecil Arthur and known as Arthur! Pauline also mentioned that the original copy of Arthur’s wartime diary is now in the possession of a grandson in Cornwall.
Desmond also posted some interesting comments about Wordsley House, in Stonnal, which is due to be auctioned in early Novemebr:
Originally one house, the building was at some stage divided into two, Wordsley House on the left and Marlais House on the right. Obviously the division is not straight down the middle: the porch, front door, and room above the porch, are part of Wordsley House; Marlais House has two of the attic rooms and windows. Both houses have had extensions added at the back. The building was Grade Two listed in 2002.
I do hope the Burton family are not finding the attention intrusive. If you are, please drop me a line and I’ll take the posts down.
David Evans has been busy scanning Arthur’s diary again.
As a child in Walsall Wood I knew some old veterans from the first World War. Very few of them talked about their terrifying experiences Not the done thing. Sufficient to wear medals on Armistice Day and take part in the sad ceremony at the Cenotaphs. These men were often visibly maimed and scarred by their ordeals.
Yet, from some of them I learned my first French phrases;-
Oommpitty Poo. San Fairy Ann and Tray Bonn, and the song Mademoiselle from Armentieres, parley-vous.
So I was amazed to find a reference in Arthur Burton’s diary to soldiers’ yearning for more French!
He was on rest leave from the front, and stationed at Tatinghem, near St Omer, itself the GCHQ at the time
My final extract, and my final offering is this diary entry;-
Saturday 20 May 1916
‘Have been having a look around today. We are billetted with the officers in a fine old French Chateau and there are some lovely grounds of fruit trees. The company are not so very far apart’
Saturday 27 May 1916
‘The Sgt and 10 men went to Bgd today so there are only 4 of left now well I think we shall have an easy time while they are away. Bex and I go to St Omer we find 50 waiting for No 4 to open so we go to No 1 but it is worse and we return to No 4. I go upstairs costing me 4frcs 50cts. Tray bon’
With best wishes
This was actually very far from David’s last submission on the subject, and he continued a couple of days later, by sending me the introduction page to the book of Arthur’s diary. I’ve transcribed it below, in order that it be searchable:
Arthur Cecil Burton was the third son of Frederick Burton of May Bank Farm, Leigh Road, Walsall, one of a prolific line of farmers and market gardeners in the Lichfield district of South Staffordshire. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Arthur volunteered for the army, enlisting at Walsall on Sept. 8th. Being over six feet in height, he enrolled in the Grenadier Guards and trained in Chelsea Barracks.
The book in which Arthur kept this record of his active service is a Walker’s Diary for 1916. It measures 5 x 3 inches (15 x 9 cm), is bound in deep crimson leather and has gilt edged pages. Inside the front cover is pencilled the purchase price of 1/9 (one shilling and nine old pence, approximately 9p.) The entries for each day are written in indelible pencil in the then prevailing copperplate script.
The diary was filled in faithfully throughout the eleven months that Arthur spent on the Western Front. Entries are tantalisingly brief, although sometimes supplemented by additional notes. Unfortunately, although Arthur obviously meant to write further notes about the action on the Somme in which he was wounded, he did not do so.
In later years, Arthur told his family of an incident, not recorded in the diary, concerning the visit of the Prince of Wales. Arthur had to clean and oil the Prince’s bicycle and when returning it he overheard a heated conversation between the Prince and the Coomanding Officer. The Prince wanted to go even nearer to the front line, saying ‘~t does it matter if I am killed? I have plenty of brothers to take my place.” The C.O replied ”With respect, Sir, that may be so, but what if you were taken prisoner?” The C.O.’s wish prevailed!
In September 1916, Arthur was sent back to England with a serious head injury. Whilst walking on the Downs during his convalescence at an army camp in Sussex, he met his future wife, Mabel Ruth Chapman. When fit enough, Arthur was transferred to the Labour Corps and was thus able to work at home on the farm until his discharge at the end of the war.
The rest of Arthur’ s life was spent in farming and market gardening. He farmed at Little Aston for about 14 years, moving to Shelfield Farm near Walsall and then, in about 1939, to Sandhills Farm. He was active in the National Farmers’ Union, being chairman of the Lichfield branch and later County chairman. He also worked in the Special Constabulary from 1930 and reached the rank of Vice Commandant at Brownhills before retiring in 1957.
In the 1950s he settled at Mill Green Farm, Chester Road, Aldridge, dying there in 1974 at the age of 82.
David had this to say (I assume the ‘buzzer’ Arthur speaks of is morse):
The forward to Arthur’s diary includes a unique reference to an incident involving the Prince of Wales. While Arthur was stationed at Merville he recorded this:
Thursday 23 December 1915
‘On Orderly 9 till 1 but things are pretty quiet and I only get one message for round Coys. Stopped raining this morning. many troops passing through town. I get letters for HQ among them one for HRH the Prince of Wales.’
(David’s note. Troops were marching to the front lines at Estaires and Croix Rouge, then later, from near the front line trenches at Croix Rouge… just South of Laventie. Now called Rouge Croix)
Tuesday 1st February 1916
‘Buzzer all day and fresh sergt is put in charge of us more strict. Big bombardment somewhere just in front have a bath and change of linen at night’
Wednesday 2nd February 1916
‘A quiet day practising on buzzer with plenty of talk of the big advance which is supposed to be coming off soon.’
Thursday 3rd February 1916
” Preparing lines all day. 8 men told off for trenches tonight for operating lines so that all Coys can move forward at the same minute”
Friday 4 February 1916
‘After all the attack did not come off. it seems that an R.E. sergeant who has just been reduced to the ranks was out firing aerial torpedoes and did not return neither could his body be found. The Officer thinks that to take revenge for being striped the R.E. man has surrendered himself to the Germans and probably told them of the plans of attack and so it has been cancelled for the present.’
The aerial torpedoes Arthur speaks of were the first smart bombs to exist – although there was little that was smart about them.
Again, this post is very long. I thank David and Desmond for their kindness and time taken to assemble and collate this fascinating material. There is one final instalment to come in this gripping, engaging story which I’ll feature as a postscript next week. It really is wonderful that these people have taken time out to shine a light on a very local connection to a very dark time.
Thank you all.