Sergeant Arthur BURGESS
(Listed as 'Private' on the Memorial)

Regiment/Service:
Royal Irish Rifles
Unit:
1st Battalion
Service Number:
7137
Date of Death:
9 May 1915 - Killed in Action
Age:
29
Cemetery / Memorial:
Memorial Reference:
Panel 9

Personal History:
Arthur was born in the June quarter 1886 in Hough, Cheshire, the son of Joseph (Carter) and Sarah Marie (née Worthington) Burgess. He had three older brothers, James, George and Harry [see Footnote below], two younger brothers, Walter and Charles [see Footnote below], and a younger sister, Harriett. (1891 Census RG 12/2779)

Sometime before the birth of another son, Sidney, the family moved to Marlow Farm, Fairfield, Buxton, but mother, Sarah died in the March quarter 1897. In 1901 (Census RG 13/3269) Arthur was working as a "Golf Caddy", no doubt at the nearby Fairfield Golf Course.
By 1911 (Census RG 14/34979) Arthur had already attested (c. July 1908) in the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, on a six year enlistment and was a serving as a Lance Corporal with his Regiment in Burma and Andaman Islands.

[N.B. In the December quarter 1901 Arthur's father, Joseph, re-married Elizabeth Wibberley and by 1911 (Census RG 14/21235) Arthur and his siblings had six more half-brothers and sisters - Herbert, Annie, William, Joseph, Redge and Martha. The family were still living at 12 Marlow Street, Fairfield, with Eliza's children from her first marriage - Samuel, Fred, Alfred, Leonard and George. Arthur's brothers, Walter and George, were also still at home.]

Military History:
Arthur enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles at Buxton. His Medal Index Card shows that he entered the War in France on 6th November 1914,  and has been annotated: "Presumed Dead". His Service papers have not survived and without them it is not possible to say what his War service postings were, but certainly he was a serving soldier at the outbreak of the War, or maybe had recently been discharged, only to be recalled from the Reserves in August 1914. (Private 7133 Robert Dickey, i.e. a near adjacent Service Number, had enlisted in July 1908, on a six year enlistment.)

The Medal Index Card also confirms that Arthur began as a 'Lance Sergeant', being promoted to 'Sergeant'. He was eligible for the Victory and War Medal, together with the 1914 ('Mons') Star medals and the clasp to show he was in action with the British Expeditionary Force before the end of November 1914.

If Arthur was still serving with the 1st Battalion he was stationed in Aden in August 1914, returning to  Liverpool on 22nd October 1914. It moved to Hursley Park and came under command of to 25th Brigade in 8th Division before being posted to France, landing at Le Havre on the 6th November 1914, probably confirming Arthur as a serving soldier with the Battalion, although he could have been recalled from the Reserves. The 8th Division provided  badly-needed reinforcements to the BEF after the Retreat from Mons.

In 1915 Arthur's 25th Brigade were engaged during The Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10th March - 22nd April) and The Battle of Aubers Ridge (9th - 10th May). The British attack on the 9th May was a total failure. They "went over the top" early on the morning and were cut down by German machine gun fire. The survivors were pinned down in no mans land and there was no significant progress. Early the next morning Field Marshall Haig called off the offensive. The British suffered 11,000 casualties in one day of fighting on a narrow front, one of whom was Private Arthur Burgess, killed on the 9th May 1915.

The task of the 8th Division was to break through the enemy's lines in the neighbourhood of Rouges Bancs, south of the Des Layes stream, and gain a position, from the old line in the neighbourhood of La Cordonnerie Farm, through Fromelles and Le Clercq. It was to attack with the 24th Brigade on the right and the 25th on the left, the dividing line being the Sailly - Fromelles road. 

The 25th Brigade was to attack with the 2nd Rifle Brigade on the right and the 1st Royal Irish Rifles on the left.  The task of these battalions was the capture of the front system of trenches and the road behind them running from Rouges Bancs towards Fromelles. 

On the 8th May Arthur was in billets at Bac St Maur, and at 11.00 p.m. that night marched to the assembly trenches at La Cordonnerie Farm, arriving at 2.00 a.m. to take part in the attack against the German trenches at Rouge Bancs.

The Battalion War Diary relates a graphic account of the action on the 9th May:

"At 5.40 a.m. when our artillery terminated their bombardment on the German trenches, "C" and "D" Coys advanced in line of Platoons at about 30 paces distance and rushed a portion of the German trenches and advanced beyond it to a road at point 730 the Rifle Brigade being on our right and on our left the 13th London Regt. (Kensington).

"A" and "B" Coys followed in the same formation immediately behind "C" and "D" Coys (minus 2 Platoons) and was subjected to very heavy Machine Gun and Rifle fire obliquely from both flanks from Germans who remained in portions of trench on either flank of line.

The two Platoons mentioned above: one advanced obliquely to the right under the Commanding Officer and the other under the Regimental Sergeant Major obliquely to the left to check and stop the cross fire. Both Platoons were unable to achieve their objective and were beaten back or killed or wounded." (The C.O. - Lt. Col. O. C. Baker - was killed during this manoeuvre - see below)

The remainder of the Battalion continued to hold the road under continuing machine gun and rifle fire, expecting another Regiment (unnamed) to go through them and continue the advance. After waiting more than half-an-hour the order was given to retire as the Regiment was suffering heavy losses in both Officers and men.  The War Diary goes on:

"About 7 a.m. what was left of this part retired to the captured portion of the front German Trenches and established themselves there and put themselves under the command of the C.O. Rifle Brigade also in the trench.

They remained all day 9th instant and until about daybreak 10th when they were driven out by bombs and heavy fire to our original tranches. The Retirement having lost all Officers either killed, wounded or missing. They were brought out of action by the Regimental Sergeant Major and returned to their billets."

At 5.00 a.m. on the morning of the 10th May, at Roll Call, the extent of the Battalion's
casualties were revealed and carefully noted in the War Diary.  The total casualties,
including wounded and missing, were recorded as 477 out of about 600 who had gone
into the attack.

Sergeant Arthur Burgess was one of this number and, perhaps not surprisingly, has
no known grave and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial with most of his
comrades. Nine Officers (including Lt. Col Osbert Clinton BAKER) and 179 men of
the 1st Battalion were killed in action on the 9th May. Another 9 died of wounds in the
next few days. All but 13 have no known grave and are commemorated with Arthur on
the Ploegsteert Memorial.

Footnote:
· Arthur's brother, L/Cpl. 9175 Harry BURGESS, was killed in action on 9 August 1915
   serving with the 'B' Company, 2nd Battalion, Sherwood Foresters Regiment.

· Another brother, Pt. 1946 Charles BURGESS, enlisted in the 6th Battalion, Sherwood
  Foresters Regiment on 28 May 1913, becoming part of 'D' Coy., 2/6th. He was posted to
  France on 24 February 1917, but was wounded on 18 March and returned to England
  two months later. Charles was discharged on 28 September 1918. He moved to live in
  Leicestershire with his wife, Margaret, and son. Charles Sidney.

Sources:
· I am grateful to Robert Lindsay for the extracts from the War Diary
· I am grateful to Chris Pratt for the photo of Arthur's name on the Memorial

Link to CWGC Record
The Ploegstert Memorial
Pt Arthur Burgess' name on the Memorial
Page from War Diary
Page from the War Diary listing Casualty Names and Numbers
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