Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthApril 19, 1885
Place of BirthChatham, Ontario
CountryCanada
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs DJ Burns, 435 4th St, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingRailroad Brakeman
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number820
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion8th Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentValcartier, Quebec
Age at Enlistment29
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarYes
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathApril 2, 1961
Age at Death76
Buried AtVeterans Cemetery, Esquimalt, British Columbia
PlotSection B - Row 03 - Plot 0013

Burns, Walter

The son of Dennis James and Flora (née Balne) Burns, Walter was born on 19 April 1885 in Chatham, Ontario. It appears that his father, a railroad brakeman, was from the United States while his mother was from England. Walter had a younger brother, Dennis, born in Saskatchewan.

Walter signed his attestation papers in Valcartier, Quebec on 21 Sep 1914, enlisting with the 8th Battalion. His occupation was given as railroad brakeman and his mother Mrs DJ Burns in Kenora, Ontario as next of kin. He gave previous military experience with the L Troops, US Cavalry. The 8th Battalion was organized at Valcartier Camp that September, composed of recruits from Winnipeg and from the 96th Lake Superior Regiment of the Active Militia. The unit embarked in October in a convoy of 32 transport ships, arriving in Plymouth two weeks later. After training on Salisbury Plain for a number of months the battalion arrived in France in February of 1915.

For the first few weeks the battalion was based south of Ypres in the area between Hazebrouck and Armentiéres. In April the Canadians moved north to the Ypres Salient to a section of the front line near Gravenstafel. The first large-scale use of poison gas by the Germans took place on 22 April at Gravenstafel Ridge and the 8th Battalion was hit by it on 24 April, the start of the Battle of St Julien. The unit suffered very heavy casualties from the poison and in the fighting that followed as German infantry advanced behind the cloud of gas. The Canadians held the line until they were relieved on 25 April, suffering 6 000 casualties over the two days.  First reported as missing on the 25th, it was later confirmed that Walter had been taken as a prisoner of war.

Walter’s family received their first cable on the 8th of May, reporting that he was missing. On the 10th of July a second cable informed them that he was at the Munster Prisoner of War camp in Westphalia. The family received a letter from Walter in July from Munster, published in the Kenora Miner and News on the 21st. He asked his mother if she could send a fruit cake, and stated that he was receiving clothes and cigarettes from the Red Cross and some food packages from friends. In October of 1916 Walter was transferred to Minden, a camp with the reputation of being in hell. By December he had moved on to Friedrichsfeld, also in Westphalia, known as being one of the better camps. The family received a card from Walter in July of 1917, dated ten weeks earlier. Walter spoke of a very cold winter, with temperatures of -40 degrees and two feet of snow. Near the end of the war Walter was transferred to Chemnitz before being repatriated to England in late December of 1918.

Upon returning to England Walter was on command to the Prisoner of War No 36 S Camp at Ripon. By the end of January he was detailed to the Depot Company of the Manitoba Regimental Depot at Seaford. In early March Walter was admitted to the 16th General Hospital at Shorncliffe, hospitalization unrelated to his internment as a prisoner of war (VDG). He was discharged in late April and embarked from Southampton for Canada aboard the Aquitania on the 14th of June.

During the war Walter’s family moved to Winnipeg. On 24 December 1919, in Winnipeg, Walter married Alice Edith Young. Born in 1900 in  Brighton, England, Edith had arrived in Canada on the 18th. It appears that the couple gave birth to son, Walter Dennis James Burns, on 6 December of 1920 in Winnipeg, but sadly he died on the 23rd.

By 1950 Walter had retired as a yardman for the Canadian National Railway and he and Edith were living in Saanich, Victoria, British Columbia. Predeceased by his father in 1922 and his mother in 1924, Walter died on 02 April 1961 in the Veterans Hospital in Saanich. His Veteran Death Card listed his wife Edith of Victoria as his next of kin. Walter is interred in the Veterans Cemetery in Esquimalt, British Columbia. Edith died in 1962 at their home on Harriet Road in Saanich, informant on the death record niece Eva Marshall of Kamloops. Edith is interred with Walter.

by Judy Stockham

photos of Friedrichsfeld: Friedricshfeld POW Camp
grave marker photo: Dan and Betty on findagrave.com