The son of hum­ble folk and a war hero

His­to­rian DON­ALD STAN­LEY looks at the life of VC re­cip­i­ent Al­fred Burt who made his home in Che­sham

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NOSTALGIA -

WHEN Don­ald Trump, pres­i­dent elect of the United States said “Some­times by los­ing a bat­tle you find a new way to win the war” it is un­likely he had in mind the lessons of the First World War Bat­tle of Loos or that com­mem­o­rat­ing it would in­clude Che­sham re­mem­ber­ing an out­stand­ing act of brav­ery.

Al­fred Burt was a gas fit­ter in Hert­ford­shire who joined his county reg­i­ment as a part-time ter­ri­to­rial sol­dier and took part in the An­gloFrench of­fen­sive to break through the Ger­man de­fences at Loos, the British army’s big­gest at­tack in 1915.

The Royal Fly­ing Corps, later re­named the Royal Air Force, car­ried out its first tac­ti­cal bomb­ing op­er­a­tion by at­tack­ing the routes for Ger­man re­in­force­ments. How­ever, on the ground there was a lack of am­mu­ni­tion for the pre­lim­i­nary ar­tillery bom­bard­ment of the en­emy de­fences, poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions and a lack of re­in­force­ments.

In ad­di­tion the ter­rain was un­suit­able for the pro­posed at­tack and in­ex­pe­ri­ence in us­ing poi­son gas for the first time re­sulted in self­in­flicted British ca­su­al­ties. The bat­tle lasted nearly three weeks dur­ing which 20,000 of the British and Com­mon­wealth at­tack­ing force, were killed or wounded.

Amid the de­feat and car­nage, which in­cluded the lives of three ma­jor-gen­er­als, were many in­di­vid­ual acts of brav­ery and devo­tion to duty which led to the award­ing of six Vic­to­ria Crosses. Burt’s com­pany had lined up in the front trench pre­par­ing to at­tack the en­emy some 40 yards away when a Ger­man mor­tar bomb fell amongst them.

Rather than dive for cover he put his foot on the fuse which he wrenched out and threw to safety. He was dec­o­rated by King Ge­orge V at Buck­ing­ham Palace.

The class­less na­ture of this, the high­est award for brav­ery, was recog­nised in Burt’s home town where the lo­cal news­pa­per wrote that he had given rise to ‘the ad­di­tional joy of know­ing he was just one of the peo­ple – the son of hum­ble work­ing folk, an ele­men­tary school­boy, an ar­ti­san, a com­mon sol­dier’.

He sur­vived the war and from 1925 man­aged a pub in Wa­ter­side. He died in Che­sham in 1962. In 2013 a new hous­ing de­vel­op­ment in the town was named af­ter him.

In the inim­itable way of our peo­ple not only were the fallen com­mem­o­rated but the de­feat it­self re­mem­bered by the re­nam­ing of a town in Canada and Robert Graves and oth­ers writ­ing of their ex­pe­ri­ences.

PHOTO: DAPHNE NEW­TON

Hero: Cor­po­ral Al­fred Burt VC from Che­sham. Circa 195

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