Remembering an Officer of the Great War: Second-Lieutenant Howard Burton

Remembering an Officer of the Great War: Second-Lieutenant Howard Burton

Second-Lieutenant Howard Burton

Howard Burton was born in Walsall, Staffordshire in 1896, the son of William and Annie Burton. At the time of the 1901 census he was living with his family at 29 Rutter Street in Walsall, but by the time hostilities broke out in 1914 he was recorded as residing at 29 Emery Street. On the 8 September 1914, he enlisted into the army as a private in the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. At the time of his enlistment, Burton stated his occupation as a ‘bag maker’ and appears to have been somewhat tall for the time, being 6’1”. Burton initially served at home with the Grenadier Guards until, on 1 April 1915, he was granted a temporary second-lieutenancy with the New Army. A few days later, he was posted to the 10th (Reserve) Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment.

Burton was later made permanent second-lieutenant, on the 3 September 1916, and was subsequently posted to a theatre of war, landing in France on 17 October where he is attached to the 1/7th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. However, his time in France is cut short when he returns to England, on 4 February 1917, in order to receive medical treatment. According to his service records, he was suffering from an ‘auxiliary abscess’ and was treated at the Southern General Hospital in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Following his release from hospital, Burton was granted sick leave for the period 14 April to 5 May 1917 in order to complete his recovery. During this time, he received orders for a new posting, this time to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, South Staffords.

With his period of sick leave over, Second-Lieutenant Burton returns to France, re-joining the 1/7th Battalion, Royal Warwicks, although he was transferred on the 1st October to the 8th (Service) Battalion, South Staffords. It would be with this latter unit that, a few days later on the 12th, he would be wounded-in-action, tragically dying of his wounds on the 14th at the 47th Casualty Clearing Station in Belgium. He was 21 years old.

The following is an extract from the History of the South Staffordshire Regiment by Colonel W. L. Vale (1969), which outlines the events of the 12th October 1917:

“Normal routine in the trenches or behind occupied the next three months and on 23rd September the 17th Division assembled for a move to Poperinghe and then gradually moved towards the fighting round Ypres. It was to attack on 12th October in the northern sector of the Salient and the 8th Battalion’s objectives were a trench system north-east of Pilckem; in spite of cold, wet weather, morale was high.

“Shortly before dawn the unit moved forward with two companies forward and two in support and although many junior commanders were hit in this initial phase, the first objective and numerous prisoners were taken. As the Germans withdrew, the Staffords, almost leaderless, followed and lost direction and when Barker, the CO., came up he was seriously wounded and by 7 a.m. only four officers and a few N.C.O.s had not been hit. To their great credit and thanks to the willing help of their men, they got back on the right direction, captured the final objective and consolidated with ever-increasing casualties. At noon the Battalion was commanded by a subaltern and he and two others with the remnants of the companies held their ground until they were relieved during the early hours of 14th October. Losses were tragic, with 18 officers and 340 other ranks killed and wounded.”

Shortly after his death, the following appeared in the Walsall Observer newspaper (Note: Some of the information below differs from his service records):

“2nd Lieutenant Howard Burton of the South Staffords died on October 14th of wounds received while in action on the 12th. The official news has been received by his parents at 64 Emery Street. He enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in September 1914 and obtained his commission the following April, he went out to France in June attached to the Warwicks. After taking part in the great Somme advance and the fighting that followed he came home on sick leave in January. On returning in April he was attached to the South Staffords. He had been on active service for 16 months in all. He was a single man of 22 and before enlisting was in employ of Messers Mark Cross LTD of Warewall Street. He was a member of St. Michaels Church in Rushall and as a boy attended Chuckery council schools.”

He is buried at the Dozinghem Military Cemetery in Belgium.