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Burton sons tragically fell as more rushed to sign up for Great War

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: September 04, 2014

By Laura Hammond

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AS hundreds of Burton men raced to the recruiting office to sign up and serve their country, two more of the town's sons lost their lives hundreds of miles from home.

This was the scene 100 years ago, as the horrors of the First World War began to unfold in Europe.

At home, single men of military age were starting to feel a sense of shame as their peers went off to fight, and the Drill Hall and Armoury in Horninglow Road were packed with new recruits full of eagerness to head to the front line.

Burton Railway Station was packed with men departing for the front – with the class of each man clear from the hat he wore, ranging from a top hat for brewery directors to cloth caps for the average worker.

Among the throngs were sportsmen from Burton Rugby Club and Burton Leander Rowing Club, and around 130 territorial reserves heading to join the ranks.

Their enthusiasm for action contrasted with the fate of two men from the town who lost their lives on September 4 and 5.

Stapenhill man Private Wilfred Durant, known as Leonard, of the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, was the first of these to fall when his company was cut off from a vicious rearguard action covering the BEF retreat to the Marne, carried out by the 4th Guards Brigade. In the confusion the battalion did not receive the order to retreat, and soldiers were left fighting to their deaths.

Pte Durant, who was 19, was among those reported missing.

His body was discovered in a mass grave at Rand de la Reine, Villers Cottings, during two search expeditions by relatives of officers involved in the action.

He was identified by his body disc and now lies buried in the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery along with 97 comrades.

On September 5, Able Seaman Lawrence Robinson, of Albert Place, Burton, also gave his life.

The 23-year-old was travelling on HMS Pathfinder when it was torpedoed by a German submarine. The vessel was the first ever ship to be sunk in this way. Just 11 men of the 270-strong crew survived.

The famous author Aldous Huxley was staying near to the site of the attack, off the coast of Berwickshire, Scotland, and saw the explosion. He described an account of the events given by lifeboat crews as 'appalling'.

The Burton seaman is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent.

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