The information displayed here is at the time of death.
William was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Jesmond, leaving in 1908. He went on to read for Classical Honours at Armstrong College. He had qualified by examination for the BA degree, taking the prize for French. He was described as being of a modest and retiring disposition who exercised much influence for good and won the respect of both dons and undergraduates.
William joined the Northumberland Fusiliers, 6th Battalion at the rank of Private on 26th June 1916. He served in France, also being attached to the 1st Battalion, and wrote on 6th October 1916 that he was ready to leave for the trenches at any moment. William was seriously wounded in the battle of the Somme on the 15th November 1916. This was during the last phase of the Somme, called the Battle of Ancre which lasted from 13-18 November. Beaumont-Hamel was finally captured but Serre was once again an unreachable objective. Considerable casualties were sustained and the battle was called off.
He died almost a month later on 7th December 1916 from those wounds.
The Quartermaster Sergeant for his unit wrote that "he was a brave and plucky lad and even when he was hit displayed the greatest courage. After being attended to by the Medical Officer he walked to the advance clearing station; in fact he came back to the Sergeant-Major’s dug-out and squared everything up, even to putting into good order some effects of other poor lads who had paid the full penalty.”
54 Balmoral Terrace, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne (place of residence 1901 Census)
72 Chillingham Road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne (place of residence 1911 Census)
William is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France, close to the site of the battle of the Somme.
There is a family grave in Heaton Cemetery, which includes the inscription "Here lies the remains of William H. Burke, B.A., beloved only son of W and F Burke, who died Dec 7th 1916 aged 21 years, from wounds received in France". However his name also appears on the Thiepval Memorial which would not normally include the names of those who returned to England injured. Remains of the dead were not repatriated after 1915, so it is unlikely that William died on the battlefield but that his body was returned to his family. It is therefore unclear whether William did in fact return home injured and later died, or whether his family perhaps meant something else to signify his remains (personal effects etc) when they engraved the words on the memorial.
William is also commemorated in the Memorial Book for the Royal Grammar School Jesmond, where he was a student.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The War Graves Photographic Project.
North East War Memorial Project.
UK Census registers, National Archives (available via Ancestry.co.uk)
UK Military Service Records, National Archives (available via Ancestry.co.uk)
Newcastle University Archives (Armstrong College Calendars, The Northerner)
The Long, Long Trail
Copyright 2021 Newcastle University Library. Designed and developed by Digital Library Services.