Lake Macquarie History

Colonel Granville John Burnage, CB VD.

"Gamest Old Man" won life-long respect from his troops in the 13th Battalion at Gallipoli in 1915

Research by Dulcie Hartley

Granville John Burnage was born in Dungog, NSW on 14 December 1858.

His parents, Thomas and Kezia had arrived from England in 1853, having been encouraged to migrate by Thomas' old friend Bishop Tyrrell. The Burnages initially stayed at Bishopscourt, Morpeth, later moving to Dungog where Thomas was in charge of the Anglican School, under Bishop Tyrrell's direction. This is where Granville was born.

photo: colonel granville burnage

About 1870 the Burnage family moved to Newcastle, where Thomas established himself as a wine merchant. Later Granville assisted in the business which became known as T. Burnage & Son, of 3 Market Street, Newcastle.

In 1878 Burnage was one of the first recruits to join the Newcastle Infantry Company, New South Wales militia. He was commissioned lieutenant in 1883, promoted captain in 1885, and honorary major in 1896.

During 1901-2 Burnage saw action in the Boer War commanding IT Squadron, 3rd NSW Mounted Rifles Regiment. After the war Burnage resumed working in the family business and continued in the Militia. He was confirmed major and second-in-command of the 4th Australian Infantry Regiment. He became officer in charge of Newcastle port defences from 1909-13. He was promoted Lieutenant Colonel in 1909.

World War One

Although now 56 years of age, Burnage joined the Australian Imperial Force on 28 September 1914. He was in charge of Rosehill A.I.F. depot until 6th October 1914 when he was appointed to raise and command the 13th Battalion. Burnage was a strict disciplinarian, and in choosing his officers and other ranks he set an exceptionally high standard. During the training period of the battalion he made himself unpopular by the strictness of his command.

The battalion reached Egypt in February 1915 and soon became known as "Bill Burnage's Circus", because its transport always carried streamers in battalion colours, the two blues, for identification during manoeuvres. They landed on Gallipoli during the night of 25 April 1915 and made their way to Monash Valley. Burnage had orders to reinforce Quinn's Post and Pope's Hill, and to help clear the enemy from Russell's Top.

In the first week of fighting his troops suffered heavy casualties and the battalion became known as "The Fighting Thirteenth". Burnage was continuously in the front line moving from post to post across the open ground. His fearlessness in action, and his concern for his men rapidly won him extraordinary esteem and affection.

During the 2nd May attack on Baby 700, a key enemy position, the men of the 13th reached their objective and held their ground, but were cut off without support. Burnage made his way back alone across an area swept by Turkish fire to report to brigade headquarters. He was ordered to withdraw his men under the cover of darkness. "The Colonel" wrote his 2nd in command, "was the last man out of that deadly fight in which we lost 300 men".

Such leadership from a man of 57 years won the highest regard from his men who now referred to him as "The Gamest Old Man". On 29th May 1915 his left elbow was shattered during a fierce Turkish attack on Quinn's Post. The following is an excerpt from an article in 'Reveille', September 1 1939,

As the reserves rushed up from Monash Valley they found Burnage and his adjutant (young Douglas Marks), standing at the junction of the two main communication trenches. Above them the skyline was "hazy with the dust of bursting bombs". While he was explaining to a company commander of the 15th Battalion where the enemy were, a bomb shattered his left elbow and also wounded Marks. "He tried to carry on (says T.A. White), but staggered from shock and loss of blood. Recovering, he stood upright as if nothing had happened. Bearers came along, but he sent them away. "Prop me up against the side here, Durrant; I don't want the boys to know I'm hit", he said. Loss of blood however made him swoon. He recovered, but was so weak he could not stand, and the bearers would take no denial, although he protested that he could remain. As they moved off with him he called out: "Keep them together, Durrant, and they'll fight". An officer at 4th Brigade H.Q. wrote: "Quite vivid in my mind is the picture of his being carried down Monash Valley... and one can never forget the resounding cheers of the troops as he passed along".

Burnage was invalided home, but first went to London where, on 25th November 1915, he married Helen Haslewood at St Peter's Anglican Church.

Although still suffering from his wounds, Lt Col Burnage arrived in Newcastle by rail on 28th March 1916, and was welcomed by the Mayor of Newcastle M J Moroney, aldermen, military officers and citizens. On a dais outside the Newcastle Railway Station speeches were made before a crowd of several thousand citizens, with a guard of honour formed by 100 trainees and about 400 troops from Broadmeadow Military Camp. Military Bands were in attendance and the crowd wildly applauded Burnage for his outstanding courage at Gallipoli.

By August of 1916 Burnage had recovered sufficiently from his wounds to take command of Australian reinforcements on a transport. He was given a farewell dinner in Newcastle. For the remainder of the war, Burnage was commanding officer on various troopships between Australia and England. He won commendation for his leadership when the 'Barunga' carrying over 800 troops, was torpedoed in July 1918. The article in 'Reveille' 1st September 1939 mentioned:

photo: burnage

On 14 July 1918 Burnage left Plymouth in the 'Barunga', in charge of 800 invalids. Four nurses and 27 Australian naval ratings were also aboard. All went well until 4.20pm next day, when a torpedo crashed through the Barunga's starboard bow. The escorting destroyers, which had been some miles away, were quickly on the scene and, after dropping depth charges over the spot where the submarine had disappeared, stood by to pick up the troops and the Barunga's crew from the lifeboats and rafts. "Many of the soldiers (says A.W. Jose, Australian Official History, Vol 1X p.423), gave up their places in the boat-line to mates who could not swim, and themselves dived overboard and swam to rafts; Lieutenant Colonel Burnage.....did the same when two-thirds of the men had been removed. By these means all hands were saved". The rescued men and women, all of whom behaved magnificently, were taken back to Plymouth in the destroyers. At the end of the month Burnage embarked in the Malta, this time however, without any responsibility, as the authorities no doubt rightly considered that he should have a complete rest after his trying experiences in the Barunga. At the end of September, 1918 Colonel Burnage officially severed his connection with the A.I.F., and resumed business at Newcastle. He was, however, at once appointed to a militia command there - 2/13th Infantry - which he retained for a year or two. His interest in 'the boys' of the 13th A.I.F. has never waned, nor has their affection for him. He is still their 'Gamest Old Man'.

Post war years

In 1916 Burnage had purchased land on the waterfront at Excelsior Parade, Carey Bay, and built his home "Worilla" (extant), where he resided with his wife. There were no children from the marriage. Burnage's sister, Mrs Squirrell, lived nearby on the waterfront. Burnage commanded the 2nd Battalion, 13th Regiment, Australian Military Forces until March 1921, when he retired with the honorary rank of Colonel. Toronto was justly proud of Col. Burnage and for formal occasions in Toronto, particularly with visiting dignitaries, Colonel Burnage always officiated. Mrs Burnage also played a prominent role in the social events of the district.

The Toronto 86 District Soldiers' Memorial was unveiled by Col. Burnage CB* VD*, on 30th September, 1922. War medals for the returned soldiers were distributed at the ceremony, when Col. Burnage was assisted by Colonel Fewtrell DSO. At this time the Memorial was situated in Victory Parade. It was later moved to another site in Victory Parade, before its present location in Goffet Park. A staunch churchman, Burnage donated a block of land in Excelsior Parade on which St Saviour's Church of England was erected. He predeceased his wife, dying at Carey Bay on 12th July 1945. A service at Christ Church Cathedral was followed by a private cremation at Beresfield.

Colonel Granville Burnage is commemorated locally by Burnage Reserve, situated adjacent to Excelsior Parade and Skye Point Road.

Flag

On 22nd October 1914, Burnage had been presented with a Union Jack flag for the 13th Battalion AIF. This was used to mark the position of the battalion headquarters at Liverpool, Broadmeadows (Vic), on HMAS Ulysses, at Giza near Cairo, and at Gallipoli, from landing to the evacuation. At the request of senior battalion officers, this flag was returned to Australia by Burnage, and eventually found its way to Newcastle.

The Union Jack flag of the "Fighting Thirteenth" has been displayed at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle since being presented to the then Dean of Newcastle, the Very Rev H.K. Archdall MA in 1916. The flag, which had greatly deteriorated over the years, has recently been restored, due to the efforts of a fund raising committee interested in preserving military history. The prime movers were members of the Pelican Flat RSL Sub Branch who sent over 300 letters to local companies and clubs etc., seeking finance for the restoration which cost $26,000. Substantial federal funding was provided under "Their Sacrifice - Our Heritage' scheme. The flag is once again back in Newcastle's Christ Church Cathedral in an air-tight, insect proof, glass container and located away from direct sunlight. The Gallipoli flag, with its flagpole and plaques, takes up a complete wall in the cathedral.

*CB - Companion of the Order of Bath; VD - Voluntary Decoration

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Reference

Hartley, Dulcie 2002, Colonel Granville John Burnage CB VD - 1858 - 1945, [The Author], Fennell Bay, NSW