By David Rose
If you are in Guildford High Street this Saturday morning (December 2, 2017) and hear the bells ringing out from Holy Trinity Church, there will be a good reason why.
They will be ringing for about three hours and 20 minutes to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Private Albert Victory Burdock of the Machine Guns Corps who was killed in Belgium on December 3, 1917, during the First World War. He lived in Guildford and had been a bellringer at Holy Trinity Church.
Pte Burdock was aged 20 and has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in the military cemetery at Passchendaele.
Holy Trinity has been alerted to Pte Burdock by Alan Regin, a bellringer from London who has been supplying information on soldiers who were also bellringers before joining up.
The details he has supplied has uncovered some interesting information, but at the same has thrown light on what appears to be some discrepancies on details of Pte Burdock known here in Guildford.
With a keen interest in Guildford on the home front during the First World War and those from the town in the armed forces, I just had to look into this.
Mr Regin notes that Pte Albert Burdock was born on August 21, 1897. He was one of five children born to William and Elizabeth Burdock who lived at Henfield in Sussex.
Albert came to Guildford at some point and was an apprentice at printers Biddles before he enlisted in the army.
One of his brothers, Pte William Burdock, was in the East Surrey Regiment. He lost his life in May 1917. He too has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France. He is not known to have been a bellringer.
Two other brothers also served during the war but survived. They were Charles Nicholls Burdock, who joining the Civil Service Rifles, and Harry Burdock, who joined the Royal Army Medical Corps.
What I believe to be the first “error” in Guildford regarding Albert appears in the Guildford Roll of Honour listed in William Oakley’s book Guildford in the Great War, published by Biddles in 1934.
It lists him as “presumed killed, France 1917”, and, along with his brother William, “as son[s] of Mrs and Mrs Burdock of 17 Woodbridge Road”.
Of course, the family home was in Sussex. However, Mr Regin notes that brother Harry was living at 17 Woodbridge Road at the time of the 1911 census. Some confusion may have arisen about who was actually living at the house in Guildford in 1917.
The details for the roll of honour were compiled from the best of information known at the time. Errors did creep into the list as did two names on the war memorial in the Castle Grounds of men who were later to found to be alive! So their names have been chiselled out.
I believe the “error” or “misunderstanding” was an honest mistake. The Guildford Roll of Honour was mostly complied after the war from local information as well as from reports published in the local press during the war. One of those who helped to compile the list was William Oakley, who wrote the book. He was the editor of the Surrey Advertiser for many years including throughout 1914-18.
There are definitely men from Guildford who are not on the memorial. How many is not known. I had one name added in 2014 after a friend discovered a man named Stinchcombe who once lived in the house where she now lives. I have had another name corrected on the memorial as his regiment was incorrectly listed. He was Second Lieutenant Eric Skeffington Poole, who was shot for desertion. He was likely to have gone AWOL due to shell shock.
I have heard recently of yet another man whose family wish to have his name added and Guildford Borough Council will be pleased to do this once all the details have been checked and confirmed.
I visited the war memorial in the Castle Grounds on Monday (November November 27) to check the names of Albert and William Burdock. Their names are on the same panel, with William’s name at the foot of one column, while Albert’s is at the top of the next column.
I took some photos on my iPhone and when I downloaded them I was surprised to see that Albert’s surname is incorrectly spelt ‘BORDOCK’. I wonder whether this is the first time since the memorial was unveiled in 1921 that this has been noticed?
Also, it was not until the edition of the Surrey Times of January 26, 1918, did it list Albert as “missing” – almost two months after he had died. I found this in the wonderful Great War Scrapbook in the archive collection at the Guildford Institute.
At the end of 1917 battles were ranging in places such as France, Belgium and Palestine. For each edition, the local press, at that time, printed long lists of those who had died, were injured, captured or missing. Some of the reports gave details of men from Guildford and the surrounding towns and villages, sometimes with photos of them. There does not appear to be any further details of Albert in the cuttings in the scrapbook.
Back to the peal of bells on Saturday, this will be the first peal of Holy Trinity’s bells since 2006. The church’s tower captain, Michael Bryant, says: A peal is a specific length of ringing of a set number of ‘changes’, typically 5,040 changes of a named method, and takes about three hours and 20 minutes in our tower as the bells are quite heavy.
“There are rules for peal attempts, one of which is that we can’t stop for a tea break or snack! So we have to keep ringing, although the only reason we may stop would be because either one of the ringers has gone wrong or for a mechanical failure (typically a rope breaking or a clapper dropping out).
“We are proposing to ring 5,040 changes of Grandsire Triples with the bells half-muffled, that is the backstroke is muffled, which provides a more echoey, haunting sound.
“We don’t ring many full peals at Holy Trinity these days as the bells are heavy and quite challenging to ring. There is some tower movement (not alarmingly so!) but enough to affect the swing of the bells, so this peal will be attempted by a band of determined ringers.
“This unique English tradition of change-ringing goes back hundreds of years. We are keen to keep an experienced team of bellringers together, which enables us to ring bells for Sunday services, weddings, funerals and other special occasions.”