Private, S/41832, William Burgess (19) – Killed in Action

5th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, 13th October 1918 

Morayshire Roll of Honour

Extract from the above 1921 publication :- BURGESS, William, No.41832, Private, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders; born at Bogmoor, Spey Bay, Morayshire, 10th July 1899, joined at Aberdeen, October 10th 1917; served in France; killed on Cambrai Front, 13th October 1918, and buried at La Scala. Son of William and Elizabeth Robertson Burgess (both deceased), Bogmoor, Spey Bay, Morayshire. Occupation – Railway Porter.

Diary of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders – 13th October 1918

The Diary of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders for the 13th October 1918 reads:-


In accordance with orders received the Battalion resumed the attack the next morning at 0900 hours.  The final objectives being the Eastern edges of LE GRAND BOIS, BOIS DE LENTRE, Hill 79, Hill LE MOLHE and thence to Eastern outskirts of NOYELLES.  The Battalion were on the right of the Brigade front with the 6/7th Gordon Highlanders on the left, and a Battalion of the 49th Division on the right.  The 6th Seaforth Highlanders being in support.  Colonel THom, 6/7th Gordon Highlanders commanded the attacking force. The 255 Brigade Royal Field Artillery under Major FAIRLIE provides immediate support, No.4 section, ‘A’ Company 51st Battalion Machine Gun Corps, and a section of the 152nd Infantry Brigade, Light Trench Mortar Battery, were attached to the Battalion to deal with enemy strong points.

The attack was carried out without a creeping barrage, and at Zero 0900 hours the artillery bombarded the enemy’s position. At Zero plus 10 minutes the Battalion advanced with ‘B’ Company on the right, and ‘C’ Company on the left, ‘A’ and ‘D’ Company’s being in support.  Shortly after Zero hour the enemy put down a heavy barrage on our men as they advanced, and the Battalion was met by very heavy machine-gun fire. In spite of heavy enemy resistance the Battalion pushed forward to a line running through D16, where they came under enfilade machine-gun fire, and they were unable to go any further.

Our casualties up to this point were very heavy, and the front company’s had to be re-enforced by ‘A’ and ‘D’ from support.  By 1100 hours the Battalions on our flanks were unable to come up and as our flanks were in the air, the Battalion had to dig in along the railway in D16.  The sections of the Machine Gun Corps and T.M. Balty were put out of action early in the advance and were of no assistance to the Battalion.

Cap Badge of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders, similar to the one which would have been worn by William Burgess.

At 1400 hours, orders were received that as the attack was temporarily held up the Battalion was to act on the defensive, and take up positions along road in D15, D21 and D22a.  By 1600 hours, the Battalion were in their new positions, our casualties in coming back to the new positions were very heavy.  About 20 Other Ranks under 2nd Lieutenant HENNESY remained out in front till dusk, when they were forced to withdraw by the enemy’s heavy machine-gun fire.

Between 1300 and 1500 hours, the enemy put down a heavy barrage on our position.  The remainder of the night there was intermittent shelling of our area.

Casualties – Officers Killed, 2/Lt R. Tolnie and 2/Lt Leggate. Wounded Captain R.M. Taylor, Captain H.Gerry, Lt. A.A. McEwen, 2/Lt Bayley, 2/Lt Cowie, 2/Lt Hill Murray, 2/Lt Menzies, 2/Lt J. Morrison M.C.

Casualties – Officers Killed 2. Wounded 8.

Other Ranks Killed 36, Wounded 170, Missing 6, Died of Wounds 5

War Diary of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders by D. Sutherland

On 6th October a move was made by motor-lorry to the Queant area, and on the 10th the 43rd Canadian Highlanders were relieved in Bourlon Wood near Cambrai. By this date the Canadians, with great gallantry and determination, had captured Cambrai, and driven the enemy beyond it, and were now being relieved, the 51st Division taking over part of their front.

On the 12th the British Advance was renewed, the 152nd Brigade participating, the objective being a line east of Avesnes-le-Sec. The 5th Seaforths were on the right with the 6/7th Gordons on their left, the 6th Seaforths being in support. At midday the barrage opened and ten minutes later the infantry advanced and in two hours gained all their objectives.

The advance was resumed at 9 a.m. of the 13th, the objective being the eastern edges of Le Grand Bois and Bois de Lentre and thence to eastern outskirts of Noyelles. Immediately prior to our advance, the enemy put a heavy artillery and machine-gun barrage down on our line, but in spite of that and heavy enemy resistance, and also in spite of the fact that there was no British barrage, the battalion advanced a considerable distance until held up by enfilade fire, from which it suffered heavily. As the battalions on the right and left found it impossible to come up and get in touch, at 2 p.m. a slight retiral took place, and here again the casualties were severe. During this retiral, 2nd Lieutenant T.S. Hennessy with about 20 men remained out in front, and successfully withstood all enemy counter-attacks. He thus gave time for the remainder of the battalion to withdraw, and to be reorganised in its new position. He held stubbornly on until dusk when he safely withdrew his men. For his gallant work he was awarded the Military Cross. Many brave deeds were done in this open warfare against the Hun, who, in spite of all that has been said to the contrary, was fighting as he had never fought before, in trying to stem the successful allied advance, which, however, would not gainsaid.

The line remained fast during the 14th, 15th and 16th, and on the 17th the battalion was relieved, and went into reserve at Thun-St. Martin.

Further Military and Civilian Research

  • William Burgess initially appear to have joined the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders as Private number S/23466.
  • He was later transferred to the 5th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders as Private S/41832 where it can be credibly assumed that he was killed in action when the 5th Battalion attacked the German forces on the 13th October 1918 at Avesnes-Le-Sec, Nord France. The Battalion suffered heavy casualties.
  • He is buried at the Avenues-le-Sec Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France.
  • In the Register of Soldiers Effects, the sole Legate to his belongings went to his aunt, Jessie.
Seaforth Highlanders Tartan, similar to the pattern which would have been worn by William Burgess.


William Burgess was born at Bellie, Banffshire, on 10 July 1899. The following family information is taken from the 1901 Census. At the time of the 1901 Census, the family were residing at Bellie, Banffshire.

His family is shown as follows :-

  • Father – William Burgess, born c.1861 at Bellie, Banffshire – Salmon Fisher.
  • Mother – Elizabeth Struan Robertson or Burgess, born c.1876 at Garmouth, Morayshire.
  • Brother – James, born c.1900 at Bellie, Banffshire.
  • Step-Brother – Alexander Gray Ross Robertson, born c.1894 at Garmouth, Morayshire.


  • The 1901 Census gives the family address as Bellie, Banffshire, the exact location of the house is unspecified.


William Burgess was awarded the, Victory and the British War Medals for his service in the Great War.


William Burgess is honoured and remembered on the Fochabers and Bellie War Memorial, Fochabers, Morayshire although he is shown as being in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders at the time of his death when it should have been the Seaforth Highlanders.

Links to Additional Information


  •  Morayshire Roll of Honour.
  • 1901 Census.
  •  Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  • Medal Index Card.
  • Medal Roll – Seaforth Highlanders – Victory and British War Medal.
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War.
  • Register of Soldiers Effects.
  • The National Archive – 5th Seaforth Highlanders War Diary.



  • Vincent Stuart
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