“Nobody had the sense to ask him. ” That comment explains why there are so many gaps in the story of William Burton (my paternal great grandfather) and his experience in World War 1 and the earlier Boer War.
Until I began tracing his story, no-one in the family had any idea that he had served on the French/Belgium front; as well as in Salonika and in Egypt during the Great War. That information only came to light through his war pension records. So here was a man who lived in a small village in Wales but who had seen parts of the world that many of his neighbours and also his children could only imagine. Yet he never talked about them and my mother’s comment that no-one thought to ask ‘What did you do in war?’.
What else do we know about William beyond what the official records tell us?
My mother’s recollections provide some tantalising fragments.
He would always wash outside in the yard, stripped down to his waste, using a pail of cold water
He went out once a week to the club and had one pint of beer
He was a member of the Buffs
He wore a muffler crossed at the neck (like most of the miners at the time)
On Remembrance Day he carried the standard through the village of Abertysswg
‘He loved talking about books and showed me his love of books’
On his illness in later life, when he seemed to develop what we now know as Alzheimer’s disease, she remembered that he would often get up early in morning and would walk to Rhymney (about five miles away) to visit his wife’s grave. One day, she went with him. ‘We were there one day and it was getting light and a policeman came to ask if we were alright. ”
Shortly after he went into hospital. the incident happened she thought about 1950 when he would have been in his seventies.
And his war experience? ‘We assumed that he’d had an injury.” There was a dresser in her grandparents house that contained his medals ‘wrapped in dark green cloth – may have been velveteen – and then in brown paper. I saw them a few times but we were never allowed to touch them.’