The AIF Project

William Norman BURNS

Regimental number7032
Date of birth26 December 1881
Place of birthChelsea, London, England
Age on arrival in Australia29
ReligionRoman Catholic
OccupationPressman
AddressHurstville, New South Wales
Marital statusMarried
Age at embarkation36
Height5' 11"
Weight168 lbs
Next of kinWife, Mrs F B Burns, Dorking Hurstville Road, Hurstville, New South Wales
Previous military serviceNil
Enlistment date24 October 1917
Date of enlistment from Nominal Roll23 October 1917
Place of enlistmentHurstville, New South Wales
Rank on enlistmentPrivate
Unit name18th Battalion, 21st Reinforcement
AWM Embarkation Roll number23/35/4
Embarkation detailsUnit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT A38 Ulysses on 19 December 1917
Rank from Nominal RollPrivate
Unit from Nominal Roll18th Battalion
FateKilled in Action 3 October 1918
Place of death or woundingFrance
Age at death36
Age at death from cemetery records36
Place of burialNo known grave
Commemoration detailsAustralian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux, France

Villers-Bretonneux is a village about 15 km east of Amiens. The Memorial stands on the high ground ('Hill 104') behind the Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Fouilloy, which is about 2 km north of Villers-Bretonneux on the east side of the road to Fouilloy.

The Australian National Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux is approached through the Military Cemetery, at the end of which is an open grass lawn which leads into a three-sided court. The two pavilions on the left and right are linked by the north and south walls to the back (east) wall, from which rises the focal point of the Memorial, a 105 foot tall tower, of fine ashlar. A staircase leads to an observation platform, 64 feet above the ground, from which further staircases lead to an observation room. This room contains a circular stone tablet with bronze pointers indicating the Somme villages whose names have become synonymous with battles of the Great War; other battle fields in France and Belgium in which Australians fought; and far beyond, Gallipoli and Canberra.

On the three walls, which are faced with Portland stone, are the names of 10,885 Australians who were killed in France and who have no known grave. The 'blocking course' above them bears the names of the Australian Battle Honours.

After the war an appeal in Australia raised £22,700, of which £12,500 came from Victorian school children, with the request that the majority of the funds be used to build a new school in Villers-Bretonneux. The boys' school opened in May 1927, and contains an inscription stating that the school was the gift of Victorian schoolchildren, twelve hundred of whose fathers are buried in the Villers-Bretonneux cemetery, with the names of many more recorded on the Memorial. Villers-Bretonneux is now twinned with Robinvale, Victoria, which has in its main square a memorial to the links between the two towns.

Panel number, Roll of Honour,
  Australian War Memorial
84
Miscellaneous information from
  cemetery records
Parents: Austin and Catherine BURNS; husband of F.B. BURNS, 'Dorking', Hurstville Road, Hurstville, New South Wales
Other details

War service: Western Front

Statement, Red Cross File No 0650205, 6178 Pte J.P. O'REILLY, 18th Bn (patient, 55th General Hospital, Boulogne), 11 February 1919: 'Burns in my platoon C.XI. got killed at Bellicourt on Oct. 3rd up at the wire of our objective. I was nearby and saw him dead. We were hung up a bit there but afterwards went forward. I know nothing of his burial. Burns was a man of 36-40 with a black moustache. He used to be in D. Co. and I didn't know him much but I was with him in a post the night before or I mightn't have known his name. He was in the 21st Reinf. and they said he was married.'

Second statement, 7040 Pte D.F. CAMPBELL, B Company, 18th Bn, 1 February 1919: 'I saw burns of D. Company (B. and D. Coys were together) killed instantly by sniper's bullet through the head near Wiancourt about 10 yards from me near the barbed wire about 8. a.m. during an advance. We were about 10 yards from our objective when he was killed. Don't know about burial ...'

Third statement, OC, C Company, 18th Bn, 7 January 1919: '7032 Burns W.H., was killed in action on the 3rd October 1918, and was buried (Sheet 62B) H.3. (near Wiancourt). A more definite location of the grave cannot be given in this case as those who buried him are not now with the Battalion. A cross was erected by those who buried him.'

Fourth statement, Lt M.G. RYAN, 5th Company, Machine Guns, 2nd Bn, 6 March 1919: 'I found Burn's [sic] body shortly after he was killed by machine gun burst in chest which must have killed him instantly outside Estrees slightly to rear of front German line of trenches. He had crept round to a German machine gun and was shot at close range. He was German interpreter to the Battalion, and I gave his effects in to Battalion. I buried him where he fell ...'

Grave subsequently lost.

Medals: British War Medal, Victory Medal
SourcesNAA: B2455, BURNS William Norman
Red Cross File No 0650205

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