Lieutenant James Burnside


James Burnside was born on 9 May 1895 at Ballymacombs, Bellaghy, County Londonderry, the first of four children of farmer Samuel Burnside and his wife Rebecca (nee Patterson). His mother died in the Derry Asylum when James was just 12 year old. He was educated at Glenvale National School, Castledawson. By 1911 he was living and working on the family farm.

Burnside enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Antrim on 19 April 1915 (No.1488). He was promoted to lance corporal on 28 July 1915 and corporal a year later. On 11 January 1916 he embarked for France with E Squadron of the North Irish Horse. The squadron was then serving as divisional cavalry to the 34th Division, but in June that year they joined with A and D Squadrons to form the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to VII Corps.

On 7 January 1917 Burnside applied for a commission in the infantry, expressing a preference for the Royal Irish Rifles. His commanding officer Lord Cole recommended him, writing:

This N.C.O has shown keenness and capability, writes good reports & is well educated.

Burnside left for officer training the following month, reporting for duty at No.19 Officer Cadet Battalion at Pirbright on 13 March. On 27 June 1917 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant and posted to the 20th (Reserve) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. Later that year or early in 1918 he embarked for France, where he joined the 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, in the field. He was posted to A Company.

The 12th Battalion sustained heavy losses in men killed, wounded or taken prisoner during the German Spring Offensive. Burnside was taken prisoner on the first day, which he later described as follows:

On the Morning of the 21st March 1918 I was with the Company in the Front Line. During the Bombardment we Commanded our positions according to our Instructions. At 10-30 A.M. we were attack[ed] on the Front. S.O.S. Signals were thrown up, but got no reply from the Artillery. Owing to a heavy Fog which had settled on the Line signals could not be seen. This attack was beaten off then suddenly we were attack[ed] heavily from the Left Flank and from the back. We held the Line to 12:30 PM, during these two Hours we had very hard fighting and a great many Casualties. About 1 PM we were completely surrounded, beaten out of the Trench and by force taken prisoners.

Burnside remained a prisoner for the rest of the war. He was held at Rastatt POW Camp in Baden and Schweidnitz Camp near Schlesien. While in captivity he was promoted to lieutenant (an automatic step). After his release following the Armistice, Burnside returned to the UK, arriving on Christmas Day 1918. He was demobilised on 13 April 1919 and relinquished his commission on 1 September 1921.

Burnside later became a successful businessman, carrying on a large drapery business and shirt-making concern in Bellaghy. Following his death on 30 August 1953, the Londonderry Sentinel reported:

The death occurred in the Mid-Ulster Hospital, on Sunday, of Mr. James Burnside, J.P., Chairman of Magherafelt Rural Council. A native of Bellaghy, he took a prominent part in local Government and public affairs in County Londonderry for more than twenty years. He was a member of the County Council, the County Education Committee and the Magherafelt Technical Education Committee, of which he was Chairman. An ex-Serviceman of the 1914-18 War, he was a founder member of the Magherafelt Branch of the British Legion, and for a number of years was Chairman of No. 4 Group, British Legion. He is survived by his wife [Charlotte], one son and two daughters.