Updated: Nov 4, 2021

It is our intention to include articles here relating to Bourton village.

At present we are researching the WW1 soldiers who gave their lives and appear on local memorials.

In May 2021 we completed the stories of WW1 soldiers featured on Gillingham and Milton-on-Stour memorials. Please contact the Museum if you have any story to tell about Bourton life.

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Those Who Gave Their Lives in WW1

BURFITT James Charles

145283 Chief Petty Officer James Charles Burfitt was killed in action in the South Atlantic on 14 September 1914 whilst serving aboard HMS Carmania.

Left: photo of James published in the Western Gazette 16 October 1914

James Charles Burfitt was born on 12 September 1872 at Bourton, Dorset, the son of James and Sarah Burfitt. He was baptised at Bourton on 3 November 1872. In 1881 James was living with his parents, younger sisters Lily and Annie and aunt Elizabeth in High Street, Bourton and his father was a labourer.

James joined the Royal Navy on his 18th birthday, 12 September 1890, initially signing up for 12 years. He served on many different ships, gradually gaining promotion until he achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer in 1910. His naval record shows that he was 5ft 8 ins tall with dark hair and blue eyes.

The 1901 census shows him serving on HMS Trafalgar moored at Portland, Dorset. In 1911 he was serving on HMS Melpomene, a 2nd class cruiser, at Port Royal, Jamaica.

On 29 April 1902 at Portsmouth James married Edith Mary Chater. James was almost 30 and Edith was 26. Edith had been born in London but in 1901 was living with her parents at The Radnor Arms, St James Road, Portsmouth where her father was the publican. James and Edith had four children, three born in Portsmouth - Edith born 1904, Charles born 1907, Annie born 1909 and Hilda the youngest was born in 1910 at Silton. In 1911 Edith and her four children were living at Tan Lane, Bourton.

By 1914 James Burfitt had recently transferred to the Royal Navy Reserve but was re-called to serve on HMS Carmania, a Cunard line ocean liner which had been commissioned and armed at the outbreak of WWI. On 14th August 1914 HMS Carmania sailed for Bermuda from Sandon Dock, Liverpool. The ship was then directed from Bermuda to Trinidad for coaling. On 4th September Carmania set sail for the island of Trinidade 500 miles east of the coast of Brazil, with the objective of preventing German ships refueling there.

On 14th September they were engaged in a battle with Cap Trafalgar, a large, new, luxurious liner brought into service by the Hamburg-Sud America line in April of that year to sail between Germany and the River Plate.

Carmania and Cap Trafalgar were of similar size, about 19,000 tons, but the British ship had a much bigger armament: eight 4.7inch guns. The German ships set sail once they saw Carmania approaching and seemed initially to be fleeing, but Cap Trafalgar then turned towards the British ship.

Neither ship had the fire control systems or ammunition hoists of a modern warship, so the action was fought in the style of Nelson’s day, with ammunition being brought to the guns by hand and the guns firing as the target bore.

Carmania’s captain ordered a warning shot to be fired at 12:10 pm at 8,500 yards range. Carmania began to fire her port guns at 7,500 yards, with Cap Trafalgar replying. At 4,500 yards the British switched to firing salvoes, the second and third of which hit the German ship on her waterline. The Germans scored a significant number of hits, but most of them were high, hitting Carmania’s masts, funnels, ventilators and bridge.

At 3,500 yards the German one pounders were in range and the barrels of the elderly British guns were red hot. Captain Grant turned his ship in order to fire with the starboard guns.

Both ships were now on fire and Cap Trafalgar was listing. The German captain tried to use his ship’s superior speed to escape and succeeded in getting outside Carmania’s 9,000 yard gun range. However, Cap Trafalgar was too badly damaged to escape and quickly sank.

Carmania had been hit 79 times and was on fire, leaving her in no position to rescue Cap Trafalgar’s survivors. That evening the remains of five men on HMS Carmania who had been killed in action, including those of CPO James Burfitt, were buried at sea. Four more crew members died on the following days.

James’ widow Edith received a pension for herself and their four children. James and Edith’s son Charles joined the Royal Navy in 1925 but was invalided out due to tuberculosis in 1934. He died in 1940. Edith died in Lincolnshire aged 91 in 1968.

James Burfitt is remembered on Portsmouth Naval Memorial; Bourton war memorial and the memorial plaque in Silton Church.


Entry posted 4 November 2021


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