Private William Burke


William Burke was born on 8 August 1897 at Agherton, Portstewart, County Londonderry, the second of nine children of tram driver John Burke and his wife Susan (née Law). By the time of the 1911 Census he was living in Main Street, Portstewart, with his parents, six siblings, and a grandfather. He later worked as a grocer's assistant.

Burke enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Antrim on 20 November 1916 (No.2310). He trained at the regiment's Antrim reserve depot before embarking for France on 14 May 1917, where he was posted to one of the squadrons of the 1st or 2nd North Irish Horse Regiments.

In August-September 1917 the 2nd NIH Regiment was disbanded and its men, together with some surplus to the needs of the 1st NIH Regiment, were transferred to the Royal Irish Fusiliers, an infantry regiment. Most, including Burke, were transferred on 20 September and posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion – renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion – joining it in the field at Ruyaulcourt five days later. Burke was issued regimental number 41465 and posted to B Company.

He probably saw action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917.

On 28 December 1917 Burke was one of twenty-four former men of the 1st and 2nd North Irish Horse Regiments who transferred from the 9th (NIH) Battalion to the Tank Corps (No.304852). While training at the Tank Corps Depot at Bovington near Wareham, Dorset, he was posted to the newly-formed 17th (Armoured Car) Battalion, which on 27 April 1918 embarked for France. Burke, however, remained at Bovington.

On 29 July he was awarded 4 days' confined to barracks for 'hesitating to obey an order'.

It was not until 3 September 1918 that he embarked for France, where he was posted to the Tank Corps' reinforcements depot. On 7 September he was awarded 3 days' confined to barracks for being absent from parade.

Burke was posted to the 9th Battalion, Tank Corps, on 22 November, eleven days after the Armistice. He returned to the UK on 2 April 1919. On 1 May he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.


Burke's younger brother Robert John also served in the war, in the Royal Air Force. He died of pneumonia at Blandford Camp, Dorsetshire, on 10 October 1918, less than a month after he had enlisted.