Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte T J Burgess
1st Battalion, Wellington Infantry, NZEF
Killed in action, 24.8.1918
Thomas James Burgess was born in Australia, lived in New Zealand, married in England and died in France. His parents were Mr & Mrs William Burgess of Opotiki, North Island, New Zealand. Opotiki sits on a harbour inlet close to the Pacific Ocean. Their son was born on 27 June 1895. When Thomas joined the army in 1916 he was a labourer and he was registered for compulsory military training but had been unable to attend the sessions because he lived too far out in the country. He stood five feet ten and a half inches tall, had a fair complexion, grey eyes and light brown hair. His first unit in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) was the 18th Reinforcements, Wellington Infantry Battalion, B Company. They embarked from Wellington, on board the Willochra on 16 October 1916. The ship called at the Cape of Good Hope before reaching Devonport on 28 December 1916.
Thomas spent a short time in hospital in Walton-on-Thames in 1917 and on 13 December of that year at St. James’ Church, Weybridge he married Alice Mildred Scragg. Alice was born in Weybridge in 1897 and seems to have lived there all her life. Her parents were William (a house painter) and Louisa; the family home was at 5, Crown Terrace, Monument Green.
New Zealand forces fought at the Battle of Messines and the third Battle of Ypres (‘Passchendaele’) in 1917 and the first battles of the Somme in 1918. Thomas, by now, with the 1st Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment was caught up in the Hundred Days Offensive (8 August – 11 November 1918) a series of Allied offensives which brought the War to its long-awaited end. Thomas’ last days were spent fighting in the Battle of Albert (21-23 August) and its immediate aftermath. This battle marked a new phase in the British advance to include General Byng’s 3rd Army in the IV Corps of which the New Zealand Division was a part. The initial aim was to secure the Arras – Albert railway line. At 4.55am on 21 August the attack began in dense fog when five infantry divisions advanced on a 7 mile front. The IV Corps faced relatively stiff opposition but still took their first objective quite quickly. Byng paused the attack on the 22nd, a hot summer’s day, to allow his forces to regroup, which they did but they also beat off several German counter-attacks. On the 23rd the 3rd and 4th British Armies attacked over a battlefield 33 miles wide with the 3rd Army creeping ever closer to Baupaume until they finally took it on 29 August. Thomas did not live to see the fruition of their efforts as he was killed in action on 24 August.
His final resting place is in Adanac Military Cemetery (III.C.15) in Miraumont, which is 14.5 km north-north-east of Albert. He is also commemorated in his homeland on the NZ Cenotaph in Auckland. Alice Burgess remained a widow for six years until she married Eward Amos Hyde on 14 September 1924 at the same location as her first wedding.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – New Zealand Division, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Cunningham W H, Treadwell C A L, Hanna J S, The Wellington Regiment (NZEF) 1914-1918, http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz
NZDF Personnel Files, www.archives.govt.nz
New Zealand WW1 Soldiers, www.findmypast.co.uk
Online Cenotaph Record, www.aucklandmuseum.com
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk