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Francis Edgar Burkett was the third son of William and Rebecca, born in 1890 in Bishopwearmouth. His father was a poor rate collector. The family had moved to Middlesbrough by 1901 and back to Sunderland by 1911. Francis was then working as an insurance agent and still living at home but, perhaps seeking to better himself, he matriculated at the university’s St John’s Hall in Durham in Michaelmas term 1912. He passed his first year Arts exams in Michaelmas term 1913. He was quite a sportsman within St John’s, being captain of the hockey club and secretary of the football club in Epiphany term 1914 and then captain of the cricket and athletics clubs in the following term. Already a member of the Officers’ Training Corps, he seems to have volunteered on the outbreak of war, without completing his degree. He was commissioned as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant into the 14th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry on 23 October 1914. The Battalion had been formed in September in Newcastle as part of the third wave of Kitchener division known as K3. It was in 64th Brigade of 21st Division, which trained at Aylesbury, Halton Park in Lancashire and then High Wycombe in November. In April 1915 it returned to Halton Park. The entire division suffered from a shortage of accommodation and equipment and had not completed its musketry courses until July 1915 such was the pressure on resources.
Despite this 21st Division went overseas in September and Francis arrived in France with his battalion on 11 September 1915. 21st and 24th Divisions had been designated as reserves for the British Army’s offensive on the Lens coalfield, known as the Battle of Loos. This opened on 25 September and achieved some initial success but Field Marshall French committed the crucial mistake of having his reserves too far back and ordering them into the battle too late to be of use. 14th Battalion were at Nœux-les-Mines on the evening of 25 September, some hours from the battlefield and were already tired and hungry. The circumstances have been a controversial matter ever since and the result was a disaster. The Durhams began their march at 19:15 that evening in heavy rain on heavily congested roads. At 21:00 there was a halt whilst they were issued with tools, grenades and ammunition to add to their already heavy loads. They reached the old British front line at about 01:00 in pitch darkness and after crossing the German line they found some shelter in a deserted German gun position. Orders reached them at 07:00 for an attack by the division on the village of Annay, some 2 miles behind the German line. An attack on the heavily fortified Hill 70 was necessary before the main assault went ahead. This failed and the Germans launched a counter-attack. 14th DLI were ordered up to reinforce the right flank of 63rd Brigade. By 22.30 they were advancing towards Chalkpit Wood under heavy machine gun and shell fire, an ordeal made worse by British troops also firing on them, mistaking the great-coated Durhams for Germans. Temporarily disrupted by retreating men they rallied and continued their advance, meeting further machine gun fire from Bois Hugo on their right flank. This wounded the commanding officer and all four company commanders and 14th DLI retreated back to the British lines. They recorded losing 2 officers killed, one of whom was Francis Burkett, while 14 others were wounded. Eight other ranks were killed and 263 wounded. Francis’ body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial. A short obituary was published in the Durham University Journal in December 1915.
Place of Birth: 4 Eden Terrace, Sunderland
Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Durham University Roll of Service
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