Son of Mr. Frederick Burgess, and Mrs. Harriet Burgess, of Astbury Lane Ends, Mossley, Congleton, Cheshire. He had four sisters, Ethel Daisy, Lily Grace, Lucy May and Beatrice Anne Burgess, along with two brothers, William and Charles Burgess. Prior to enlisting he was serving his apprenticeship to 4 Weighbridge Fitting at Pooley's Ltd, Kidsgrove, Staffordshire.
Private Robert Arthur Burgess enlisted in the 8th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers who were part of the 36th Brigade, 12th Eastern Division on the 11th of November 1914 at Hounslow Barracks in London. He was 17 years of age.
On the 1st of April 1916, the Battalion was situated in billets at the small village of Annequin some 4 miles east of Bethune. On the 2nd of April, orders were received to move to Vermelles and that they should take over the front-line trenches in the Holhenzollern subsector from the 5th Battalion the Royal Berkshire Regiment. At 09:45 hours on the 3rd the relief was completed, and the Battalion had three Companies in the front-line and one Company in the Quarry and reserve trench, the rest of the day was fairly quiet. The next day was again fairly quiet but saw 1 Other Rank killed and 2 wounded. On the 5th of April, again the day was fairly quiet and plans to explode a mine at midnight were postponed, until 17:00 hours the next day when two mines were exploded on either side of Crater 4. Very soon after the explosion, 7 of the enemy were killed by sniper fire. The Battalion casualties were 2 Other Ranks killed and 7 wounded. At 09:00 hours on the 7th the Battalion was relieved by the 7th Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment and went into the support trenches with one Company in the Reserve Trench, one Company in the Railway Reserve trench and two Companies in Lancashire Trench. The following day was spent mainly carrying barbed wire to the Reserve trench during which 2 Other Ranks were killed and 6 wounded. At 18:30 hours the Germans exploded a mine, which buried 17 men, but they managed to get out alive by 02:00 hours. At 09:00 hours on the 11th of April, the Battalion relieved the 7th Battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment in the frontline, at 10:30 hours the enemy exploded a mine between No 4 and B Crater, just as the relief was being completed, the saps were buried and there were several casualties 4 Other Ranks killed and 40 wounded and shocked by the mine. Much work had to be done in clearing the blown in and damaged trenches. On the 12th of April, the start of the day was fairly quiet until 10:30 hours, when the Germans blew a small mine opposite the right Company which caused no damage but wounded 2 Other Ranks. At 06:30 hours on the 13th of April, the Battalion blew three mines, one between Crater 1 and 2, one between A and 2 and one between 4 and B. Heavy artillery fire was opened up on the enemy five minutes afterwards which continued for an hour, with two or three short burst of intense fire. 2 Other Ranks were killed and 13 wounded. The 14th of April was a fairly quiet day, spent working on the trenches, until the Battalion was relieved by the 7th Battalion the Royal Sussex and went into the support trenches, 1 Other Rank killed and 1 wounded. It was during the action of the 13th of April, that Private Robert Arthur Burgess was killed in action. He is buried in the Vermelles British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France.
Extract from teh Congleton Chronicle 1916.
We are still in the throes of a war which for ferocity of hatred and defiance of all regulations of humanity on the part of the enemy has never been approached. There is scarcely a family in Congleton which has not one or more members serving with the colours and many a family has been robbed of some dear unit on the battlefield. This week it is our duty to record the death of yet another Congleton soldier in the person of Private R. A. Burgess of the 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. Enlisting as far back as the 11th of November 1914, at the time when Lord Kitchener's insistent call for more men and yet more men, vibrated through the length and breadth of the land and when Sons of the Empire in our Overseas Dominions were flocking to defend the cause of right and justice, in meeting the requirements as laid down by the Army regulations was passed fit for active service. How this youngster imbued with the fighting spirit and bulldog tenacity that is a heritage handed down to the Anglo Saxon race by our forebears, responded to the terse commands of his drill instructor, first at Hounslow and afterwards at Dover is known only to his comrades. That he took his training seriously with a full realisation of what would eventually be expected of him was gathered from the letters he sent to the dear ones at home. While at Dover the routine of military life was punctuated by many experiences calculated to excite the imagination of the most matter of fact person, chief of which were three separate visits of German Aircraft. On the whole life at Dover was thoroughly enjoyed by this soldier in embryo. Time rolled remorselessly on, and the sound of martial feet, and the muffled tread of mighty hosts was ever in the ears of the young soldier even while he was springing to or lying awake at night watching the wreathing clouds move slowly across the placid face of the moon. At last a draft was (told off) on the 28th of December 1915 to be precise - included in which was young Burgess. It is not given to us to describe the manner in which the soldier crossed the Channel, nor is it meet to dwell on the final scenes as the troop train with much snorting and hissing, started on its journey to somewhere in France. Be sure that the lads were as light lighted as schoolboys even though some were destined to journey into the Great Unknown, be sure too, that they made their presence known when at last they gazed with every sense on this alert across the intervening space that separated them from a ruthless foe, which is appropriately designated No Man's Land. Of the many thrilling deeds which stand to the credit of the Royal Fusiliers, the fight for five craters on the 2nd of March 1916 in which Private Burgess took part is perhaps one of the finest. In a letter home he alludes to the sanguinary fighting on that occasion in the following terms. We were ordered to (stand to) and to occupy the craters, when the mines went off. I was amongst those who got into the craters. All night the enemy poured Shrapnel into them, and in the morning, they attacked us with bombs, but we gave them three to one. It was a slaughter shop I can tell you. When we marched out, we were plastered up to the eyes with mud, but only about half of our Battalion returned. I thought I should never have got out alive but thank the Lord I am left to tell the tale. I only received a slight shrapnel wound between the fingers. It would have been interesting to have heard the full details of that all-night vigil in those shell swept craters from his own lips, but the fates have decreed and on April the 27th 1916 official intimation to the parents told of the passing of another Congleton soldier. Looking back on the months that have gone we realise how great have been the sacrifices of Congleton soldiers and looking ahead we can fully understand that more sacrifices may have to be made. There is certainly much sorrow in our retrospect, but there is a growing hope that the universal pall may soon be lifted and peace be restored.
Cheshire County Memorial Project would like to thank John and Christopher Pullen for this information on Arthur.