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5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders

Brothers Who Served in the Great War

The Burr Brothers of Methlick


 From The People's Journal 25th August 1917

"This group shows three sons and a son-in-law of Mr and Mrs James Burr, The Village Methlick, two of whom have been killed in action. Left to right Sgt Bertie, Gordons, killed in July 1916; Pte George, Gordons, killed in April 1917; Pte James, H.L.I, wounded and lost an eye in January 1916; Lance Corpl W.A Hay, Gordons, in France."

James and Annie Burr (Chalmers) were married in 1886 in the village of New Deer. James was a master shoemaker, carrying on the family business.  He worked for his father making and selling boots and shoes.  By 1901, the couple had  six children, four boys – James, Charles, George and Herbert, always known as Bertie.  In December 1910, the couple’s eldest daughter, then living in Fraserburgh and employed as a dressmaker, married Aboyne police constable William Abel Hay.

James Burr was the eldest son, born in 1888.  At the beginning of the war he was working in the Glasgow tramways as a motorman and enlisted on 18th September in a battalion of employees of the Corporation.  There is an interesting story attached to the raising of this battalion. James Dalrymple, the man in charge of the Glasgow Tramways Depots took it upon himself to raise a civic battalion from the tramcar drivers , conductors and maintainance men from the tramway depots. Before leaving his office he phoned every depot in Glasgow asking for a list of names of those men in the Department who would wish to enlist and on turning up for work the very next morning he had over one thousand names on his desk and from there the 15th Glasgow Tramways - First Service Battalion - were born...in a total of sixteen hours. Officially this battalion was the 15th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Tramways).  

James [No. 13699] was with the battalion when it  left from Southampton for France on 22nd November 1915 and when it saw its first action in front of Thiepval between December 1915 and January 1916. On 3rd January 1916 James was severely wounded, receiving a gunshot wound to the left eye.  He was evacuated to 21st Casualty Clearing Station and shortly afterwards to 3rd Stationary Hospital at Rouen before being returned to England on 7th January 1916 aboard the hospital ship "St Andrew".  Following treatment at Cyngfeld VAD Hospital Shrewsbury he was posted for a short time to the 2/4th Royal Scots Fusiliers and then in July 1917 transferred to the Labour Corps. He was eventually classified as unfit for service and discharged on 27/2/1918. After the war he was able to resume his career with the Glasgow tramways, now as a conductor.  In 1921 he married Jane Bright Burns in Glasgow. James Burr died in 1974.

James' original battalion took part in the opening day of the Battle of the Somme where it suffered a large number of casualties.

George Burr was three years younger than James and was also living  in Glasgow in 1914 where he was employed as a drapers assistant.  Unlike his brother, he decided to return home and join the Gordon Highlanders.  On 25th November 1915 he married Elizabeth Chalmers in Aberdeen. He is shown as being a Private in 3/6th Battalion No. 12259, stationed at Camp Barry (Forfar).

He was wounded at the battle of Beaumont Hamel in November 1916. Buchan Observer 28th November 1916 reported: – “Information has been received by Mr & Mrs James Burr, Village, Methlick, that their son Pte George Burr, Gordons, was wounded on 13th inst. He was buried by a shell and sustained injuries to one of his legs. He is lying in a hospital. This is the second time he has been wounded. Previous to enlistment he was a commercial traveller with Messrs Arthur and Co, Glasgow. He is 24 years of age.”

At some stage George was transferred to the 4th Battalion (202487).  The Buchan Observer of 5th June 1917  records that he had been officially reported wounded on 23rd April 1917 (Battle of the Chemical Works), but had subsequently been declared missing. By August his death was confirmed.

Herbert William (Bertie) Burr, the youngest of the brothers, was living in Fraserburgh and working as a joined with Messrs Brebner & Son when war was declared and he immediately volunteered for service with the 5th Gordon Highlanders. He proceeded with the battalion to Bedford and then to France in May 1915.  He was  killed in action at Mametz Wood on 24th July 1916.

William Abel Hay was a police constable and consequently did not join up until 1916.  He enlisted in the 5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders and was in France by June 1916.  In 1918 he was recommended for a commission and was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in the Gordon Highlanders on 26/6/1918.  He survived the war.

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Anne Park for supplying the photograph and to Adam Harland for identifying James' battalion and for the information relating to the H.L.I.

The War Memorial at Methlick

Dunbar brothers of Fraserburgh

Thomson brothers of Burnhaven

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Carolyn Morrisey