HoC - Roll of Honour - Lionel Frank Burgess
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Private 77552 Lionel Frank Burgess
7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers
Lionel Frank Burgess b1896, was the son of Thomas and Fanny Burgess. Lionel had two sisters, Kathleen b1890 and Eleanor b1899, and a brother Thomas b1892. The 1911 census shows the family living at 2, Herbert Gardens, Chiswick and Lionel is listed as a clerk in a catering company. At the time of his death the Commonwealth War Graves records show his parents living at 24 Milson Road, West Kensington. Records also show that Lionel served in both the Royal Fusiliers and formerly in the Middlesex Regiment where his identity number was 11365.
Contact was made with two of Kathleen’s grandchildren who supplied some interesting details about their great uncle. Lionel was clearly held in great affection by his family and his great niece remembers her grandmother telling her how devastated she had been to learn of her brother’s death – so much so that when she had a son of her own she named him Lionel. Lionel’s great nephew recounted the following story which has come down through the family:
‘Lionel came home on a short leave and with great pleasure told his sisters and father that he had been given a new job that he was very excited about – he was to transfer to the elite machine gun corps. His father was shocked and told him under no circumstances to tell his mother. Apparently it was common knowledge that it was a near suicide post …. They had to be positioned above the trench and one was lucky to last six weeks.’
The Machine Gun Corps, which served in many of the key theatres of the war, earned itself the grim nickname of ‘The Suicide Club’ and the memorial at Hyde Park Corner, London bears witness to horrific loss of life it sustained. Some 11,500 officers and 159,000 other ranks served with the corps of whom 1,120 officers and 12,671 other ranks lost their lives. A further 2,881 officers and 45,377 other ranks were wounded, missing or prisoners of war. The Corps, raised in 1915 and disbanded in 1922, recruited personnel from other units. The Machine Gun Corps website asserts that it took some of ‘..the fittest and the best to try and satisfy the demand for more, and yet more intelligent young men to man the guns …and that in two short years it became a model of ruthless efficiency and operational supremacy’
Unfortunately many records relating to the corps were lost during fires in 1920 and 1940 and it has not been possible to determine at this point in exactly what location Lionel lost his life on May 26th 1918. However, Commonwealth War Graves Commission records show he now lies at rest in Mensil Communal Cemetery Extension, Department of the Somme, France.
A sad postscript provided by Lionel’s family was that tragedy touched the Burgess family not just during WW1 but also during WW2 for Lionel’s sister, Eleanor, lost her life in a civilian air raid on London in 1943. Private 77552 Lionel Frank Burgess, 7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers lost his life in what was fought as ‘The War to End Wars’ - all too evidently it was not.