What I enjoy most about working in Archives is the sense of discovery you feel when learning about a collection: taking a lid from a box and examining its contents sparks a need to know more and you begin researching; gathering more and more information to build up a picture of what life may have been like 50, 100, 200 and more years ago. It’s exciting and totally addictive!
I felt exactly this need to learn more when I opened the box catalogued ‘Albert Burton’. A collection of private papers which contained First World War Service Records, photographs and documents relating to Mr Burton’s time as a hospital orderly at Timberhurst Auxiliary Military Hospital in Bury. I didn’t get chance then to explore his story as some of the photographs were loaned to the Art Museum to form part of a number of exhibitions marking the centenary commemorations of The Great War. However, earlier this year I was contacted by a Mrs Carole Cockshott from Campbelltown, Australia – who requested copies of Albert’s photographs – and so began yet another journey of discovery!
Carole is the granddaughter of Albert Burton and wanted copies of her grandfather’s photographs to help enable her to document his life at Timberhurst so that his story can be passed on to his descendants. Through several email messages from Carole I learned a great deal about Albert Burton and his role as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) Orderly culminating in the kind request from Carole to accept, as a donation, Albert’s medal from the St. John’s Ambulance for his War Service. A few weeks later, we now have in our possession Albert’s medal with accompanying stories of his time at Timberhurst and have provided Carole with digital copies of photographs of her grandfather.
A couple of months ago, Carole gave a talk on Timberhurst Auxiliary Hospital and Albert’s War Service at her local Family History Society using the stories handed down to her by her father Norman Burton (Albert’s father). Carole was more than happy for me to share these stories with a wider audience and so here are a selection! I hope you will find them as fascinating, informative and entertaining as I did. For more information on Timberhurst and its role as a military hospital please come and see the exhibition entitled ‘Miss Openshaw’s Scrapbook’ on display in The Art Museum, Moss Street, Bury.
Albert Burton’s Memories by Carole Cockshott
‘My grandfather was Albert Burton born 2nd October 1880 at Pilsworth in Bury; he died 24th July 1947. On 15th February 1910 he married Bathsheba Jane (known as Bessie) Hardman and their only child, Norman, was my father.’
‘A few years ago I asked Dad if he would write down for me the stories that his father had told him about his childhood and early life. These are those stories as Dad wrote them.’
‘During WW1 Dad was an orderly at Timberhurst Auxiliary Hospital. In the four years or so it operated they only lost one patient and he died not from wounds but cerebral spinal meningitis. This highly contagious disease resulted in Dad, a nurse and the patient being isolated in a ward for two weeks. Their food was left outside the door and only the doctor, as far as I know, went into the ward. The patient’s final hours were sustained by champagne from the Wrigley family’s cellars and this was administered via a champagne tap in the bottle neck. Dad stood for two hours, relieved by the nurse, allowing the champagne to drip into the patient’s mouth. When the patient died the authorities wanted him interred in Bury but Miss Wrigley fought them and was successful in having him returned to his own town in Yorkshire. This was granted only on condition that the hearse went straight from the hospital to the graveside and was disinfected before returning to Bury.’
‘A further patient was the 14 year old boy, wounded and Dad found out his real age since he lied to join up. When he was fit again Dad took him to see Col. Southam to whom he had already spoken about the boy. They went into Col. Southam’s office and the Colonel said, “Well soldier, you’re fit and well again and I suppose you will want to go back to France”. Tears welled up in the boy’s eyes and he replied, “No, sir”. Southam answered, “You are the only honest soldier in the bloody army and you won’t be going back”. The Colonel found the boy a job that kept him in England.’
We will be featuring more stories from Albert Burton’s time as an orderly at Timberhurst in future blog postings – if you would like notifications on new items please click the ‘follow’ icon on the bottom right hand side of the page.
Alongside Albert’s stories Carole included a newspaper clipping published in The Bury Times on Tuesday 14th October 1997. The article was about her father, Norman – who had made the journey from Sydney back to Bury as part of a three month vacation in the UK. Norman, then in his eighties, had contracted a severe chest infection and very sadly died at Bury General Hospital. In the article, Carole states that her father’s passing away in his spiritual home was ‘perhaps appropriate as even though he had made his home in Sydney his heart was always in Bury’.
It’s with great pleasure that the archives will be able to preserve Norman’s memories of his father, Albert Burton, along with the photographs and related documents which make up the collection. A huge thank you to Carole who has provided us with unique insights into the life of a Hospital Orderly during WW1.