Private Stephen Burberry: Gamekeeper turned Poacher

Stephen Burberry was born in Godstone on 10 September 1890 and baptised 12 October 1890 in Godstone. He was the second son of Albert Burberry (baptised 29 March 1863, Bletchingley St Mary, Surrey; died 1895 Godstone) and Kate (Katherine) Glosby (1866-1911).

Albert and Kate moved to Godstone following their marriage in 1888 in Limpstead and Herbert, their first son, was born in Godstone in 1889. When Stephen John Burbery was born in September 1890, they were living in the village twenty houses away from the Horse & Hounds, according to the census of 1891, and three houses from William Burbery (Albert’s uncle). Albert was employed as a ‘Hearth Stone’, a miner in the local quarries. In the first quarter of 1893, Herbert died, then in 1895 Albert Burbery died, leaving Kate a widow with a young child, Stephen. Following the death of William Burbery’s wife in 1899, Kate and William married on 9 June 1900, in St John’s, Caterham. On the census of 1901 the family was living at Tyler’s Green, Godstone, and William was employed as a ‘Stone Digger’; his stepson Stephen was a still at the local village school. On the census for 1911, Stephen Burbery is listed as employed as a ‘Game Keeper’ and his stepfather William Burbery as a bailiff, and the family was then living at 4 Rustic Villas, Tyler’s Green Godstone, Surrey.

Stephen Burberry, like other young men in the area, enlisted in the army on 8 December 1915, before compulsory call up (conscription) was introduced. On his surviving soldier’s papers he is described as 5ft 4½ inches tall, complexion ‘flesh’, brown hair, brown eyes, chest fully expanded 34½ inches, weight 120lbs, with other distinguishing marks, aged 25 years 2 months. He initially was assigned to the 3rd Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) and signed on for the duration of the war, and placed with the 10th Service (Battersea) Battalion. After basic training, Stephen embarked overseas on 5 May 1916 at Southampton for Le Havre, moving to Ploegsteert sector (Flanders). On 8 June 1916, he was awarded 7 days’ ‘Field Punishment No. 2’ for making an improper reply to an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) and again on 21 August 1916 forfeited 1 day’s pay for making an improper remark to an NCO. The war diaries of the 10th Service (Battersea) Battalion state that it was in a rest area in September prior to being moved up to the Somme, that in mid-September the battalion moved to Pommier redoubt, and that on 15 September 1916 it took part in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, at which casualties suffered were 18 officers and 303 men killed, wounded and missing. Stephen Burbery is listed wounded/killed in action 15/17 September. He was 26 years old. He was officially posted as killed in action on 17 September. He had only been in France for 134 days. This was the first use of tanks in battle.

Stephen’s body was either never found or was not identifiable and his name is inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme. Stephen is commemorated on the war memorial in St Nicholas Churchyard, Godstone, Surrey.

He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and his family received the Death Plaque inscribed with his name (otherwise known as the “Dead Man’s Penny”).

Stephen was not married, his natural father was dead and his mother had died in 1911. His other relatives were his stepfather William Robert Burbery, half-brothers Jesse and Henry and uncles and aunts John Burbery, Nellie Packham, Edwin Glosby and George Glosby. A letter was sent to William Burbery asking where the plaque and scroll should be sent.

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