As the centenary commemorations for the First World War draw to a close, I thought it would be interesting to look at an ordinary Barnstaple man whose records we have here in the museum. Bertie Burrington wasn’t a hero, and he wasn’t one of the thousands who gave their lives in the Great War, but he served in both World Wars. He was an ordinary North Devon man, who happened to keep many of the documents which recorded the ups and downs of an ordinary life in 20th century North Devon.
I think I first came across Bertie in 1993, through his son in law “Andy” Anderson. Andy had been helping us with our Second World War displays – he was the driving force in the 36 Squadron Association and gathered lots of stories and collections for us about their time at Chivenor as part of Coastal Command during the Second World War. Andy married a local girl during the war, and we interviewed both of them about their own lives, but they were particularly keen that we should have Bertie’s documents and photographs. We were very happy to accept them into the Museum Collections.
Bertie joined the 6th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment before the First World War. This was a volunteer battalion, like the current Territorial army, that met regularly for training and was called up as soon as war was declared.
When war broke out in August 1914 Bertie joined his regiment and was sent to India, where some of the Devonshire Regiment were already serving as part of the British Army’s garrison. He visited the Taj Mahal and saw all kinds of things vastly different from his life in North Devon.
The 6th Devons were later moved to Mespotamia (present day Iraq) where they underwent a gruelling route march from Basra and then fought against the Turkish army at the battle of Dujailah.
Bertie survived the war but struggled to find work to support his growing family. The items we have in the collection include references from his commanding officers and the MP Sir Basil Peto which he used to try to get work during the difficult inter-war years. During the second World War he joined up again, serving in the pioneer corps, a group of older men who carried out important work behind the lines.This is Bertie in later life (second from the right). He worked for many years as a crossing keeper on the railway line between Barnstaple and Brauton, and successfully brought up his family – an event-filled life that seems remarkable today.