Researched and written by Anne Wright
Rifleman A H H Burrage
2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Died of wounds, 6.8.1917
Awdrey Hamilton Harcourt Burrage was one of thirteen children; by 1911 five sons and one daughter remained. Awdrey was the third oldest surviving child in the family of Edwin Harcourt (1839-1916) and Alice Louisa Burrage (nee Reynolds, 1859-1948). Edwin was born in Norwich, the son of a master baker and Alice in Christian Malford, Wiltshire the daughter of a prosperous farmer. They married in Alice’s local parish church on 5 September 1878. By 1891 the family lived in Reigate, which was to be their home for many years. Awdrey was born in Redhill in 1889 where he was baptised on 4 June at St. Matthew’s Church in Station Road.
Awdrey was part of a colourful and lively family. His father was a journalist and author known as ‘…the boys’ Charles Dickens’ for books such as ‘Handsome Harry of the Fighting Belvedere (1894)’ and many other stirring adventure stories. He was also editor of The Young Britain. The Bodleian Index credits twenty-eight books to his name. Awdrey’s uncle A. S. Burrage wrote in the same genre, as did his cousin A .M. Burrage who also expanded into light romance and ghost stories. His sister Marguerite was the author, under her married name, Rita Coatts, of girls’ books and his brother Athol followed in their father’s footsteps. Another brother, Douglas, was an artist, best known for his pen and ink drawings entitled Tales of Old Chelsea. Awdrey followed a more conventional career path becoming a commercial clerk and lived in the family home at 168, Station Road, Redhill in 1911 with his parents and twelve year old twin brothers Eric and Athol. He enlisted in Weybridge so he may have moved to the town because of work.
Awdrey joined the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Irish Rifles, a regular army unit, which went to France in August 1914. From 26 October 1915 until November 1917 they were in the 74th Brigade as part of the 25th Division. They saw action in the Battle of the Somme, 1916, and then spent the first quarter of 1917 in the Ploegsteert sector where they had a relatively quiet time punctuated by frequent raids and minor operations. This was followed by successful actions in the Battle of Messines, June 1917, but the 25th Division took severe casualties. It next moved to the Ypres area in preparation for the coming offensive, the third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), to be launched on 31 July, which optimistically aimed to push through the Germans to reach the Belgian Channel coast before German troops were diverted from the Russian front. In mid-July the 2nd Battalion arrived at the Pioneer Camp, Ypres where the next eight days were spent road making.
Awdrey died of wounds on 6 August 1917, so he may have sustained his injuries when three of his battalion were the victims of shell fire whilst laying corduroy tracks and a water pipe next to the Menin Road on 31 July, he may have been one of the four wounded on the ramparts of Ypres on 5 August or he may have been caught in the heavy enemy barrage as the Battalion moved into the line on Westhoek Ridge on the same day. He was one of two who died of wounds the next day. His final days had been filled with hard work and engagement with the enemy. Between the 5-11 August his Battalion lost 8 officers and 30 other ranks killed plus 295 wounded and 17 missing. He has no known grave probably because the atrocious conditions of the battlefield, which had been turned into a quagmire by the heaviest rainfall for thirty years, and the destruction of the natural drainage system by shellfire rendered it difficult to create secure burials.
Awdrey was not the only member of his family to go to war. His cousin Alfred McLelland Burrage, also born in 1889, fought in the third Battle of Ypres in the Artists Rifles. He survived and after the war resumed his writing career but departed from fiction in 1930 to pen a memoir of his war experience, War is War. It is one of the few memoirs written by a private soldier; George Simmers who has researched A. M. Burrage’s work described it as, ‘…one of the most vivid and definitely one of the most scabrous of war memoirs.’ Three brothers also enlisted; John and Douglas in Canada in 1915 describing themselves as ranchers and Eric in the UK, also in 1915 but he was discharged the following year as he had claimed to be 19 on enlistment but was in fact only 16! All three survived.
Awdrey is commemorated on the Menin Gate (Panel 40) at Ypres (now Ieper) along with over 54,000 others who have no known grave.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long Long Trail – 25th Division, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Burrage, A M, War is War, 1930
Canada, Soldiers of the 1WW, 1914-1918, www.ancestry.co.uk
Rita Coatts, www.goodreads.com
England, Select Births & Christenings, 1538-1975, www.ancestry.co.uk
Lam, Siobhan, ‘Victorian Children’s Periodicals: Penny Dreadfuls, www.victorianweb.org
Simmers, George, ‘Who was A M Burrage?’, www.greatwarfiction.wordpress.com
Surrey, England, Church of England Burials, 1813-1987, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1918, www.ancestry.co.uk
Wiltshire, England, Church of English Marriages & Banns, 1754-1916, www.ancestry.co.uk