Gerald Burnett visited the museum to relate the story of his grandfather Ernest Wyatt Burnett.
My Grandfather, Ernest Wyatt Burnett was born in Chudleigh, Devonshire, in 1886. After minimal schooling and several agricultural jobs, Ernest moved to London and became a chauffeur with various employers including Thomas Tilling. He spent the pre-war years driving around Great Britain with American tourists and contemporary industrialists such as Tommy Lipton of tea fame.
Ernest enlisted with the Royal Army Service Corps, Mechanical Transport Branch, in April 1915 and became a Staff Car driver.
In 1915, the Government appointed five official Western Front War Correspondents, Philip Gibbs, Percival Phillips, H. Perry Robinson, W. Beach Thomas and Herbert Russell. Ernest was assigned to be their driver, a position he held until the end of the war.
Ernest was transferred to the Reserve in February 1919. Alongside his ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ decorations he was awarded a Silver Medal for Merit by Nicholas I, King of Montenegro.
During WW2, Ernest served with the Home Guard at Balcombe Place, his Sussex home, where he was chauffeur to Lady Gertrude Denman who was President of the Women’s Institute and Honorary Director of The Women’s Land Army.
My Grandfather was one of the lucky ones. He served his country, survived two World Wars, and lived a full and interesting life.
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Deborah Hutchinson sent us this information about her Great Uncle, 459480 Driver James McAndrew, 450th Field Company, Royal Engineers. James was the oldest boy in a family of 9 – 3 girls and 6 boys much admired by his brothers and sisters, especially by his youngest sister Kitty – her grandmother. Born 1898 in Chester-le-Street, James moved with his family to 11 Mary Agnes Street, Coxlodge, Newcastle upon Tyne in 1901. When he left school he worked as a coal miner in Regent’s Pit, Gosforth along with most of the community. In 1914 he enlisted and joined the Royal Engineers as a driver. He was part of the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force. He was one of the many non-battle casualties in the area due to the extreme weather and unhygienic conditions. He died of yellow fever on 10th October 1918 at the age of 22 – just a month and a day before the Armistice – it was also his mother’s birthday. He is buried in Amara War Cemetery in Baghdad, Iraq. His name appears on the War memorial in St Charles RC Church, Gosforth. His parents, Thomas and Liza, had been active fund raisers to build this church when they arrived in the area in 1901.
Submitted by Pam Reed – William was her first cousin once removed. William Billam was born Robert William Beckwith Earsdon in Jarrow on 17 September 1893. By 1906 his mother and stepfather Elizabeth and George Billam had moved to Hinderwell, 8 miles north of Whitby. In 1911 William was living with them and had taken his stepfather’s surname of Billam. In 1913 William married Ada Simpson and continued to live in the same village. On the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted on 15 August 1914 at Whitby as 12122 Private Billam in the 11th Reserve Cavalry Regiment. However on 1 November 1914 he was discharged as ‘being unlikely to make an efficient soldier’. Having failed to make the grade in the cavalry, he promptly volunteered for the infantry . At the end of 1914 he enlisted again at Whitby as 18687 Private Billam in the 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. William was killed on 1st July 1916, first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was buried in the Dantzig Alley British Cemetary in Mametz along with 2052 other British soldiers. His name is on the Hinderwell War Memorial. He left a widow and 2 year old daughter. Extract from the Whitby Gazette Friday 18 August 1916 as follows:- Killed in action on July 1st. Private William Billam, aged 22 years. He was the first to enlist from Hinderwell on August 15th 1914. “His country called and he answered”
Teresa Maxwell came into the museum to tell us about her grandfather, Percival Charles du Sautoy Leather. Captain Leather was born at Cramond near Edinburgh on 28th March 1867. He graduated from New College, Oxford in 1886. He worked as a Tea Planter and Stock Broker. Captain Leather original saw service as a Captain with the 3rd Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers but was transferred to the 4th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment on 5th September 1914 and he joined his new Battalion in France on 8th May 1915. It was not long before he was in action and he suffered the effects of a gas attack on 23rd May 1915 and was wounded again at Sanctuary Wood in June 1916. His wounds ended his military service and he relinquished his Commission on account of ill health stemming from his wounds and was granted the honorary rank of Captain from 15th November 1918. After the war Percival lived at Maison Dieu in Richmond where he died on 4th October 1944.