The British Guards – Corporal John Burns

Alan Roberts will be sharing his research about some of the British staff who worked at Raikeswood Camp. His first article features Corporal John Burns of the Royal Defence Corps:

The Craven Herald of 8 August 1919 gives a report on the victory celebrations that took place in Skipton the previous Saturday. It tells us nearly a hundred soldiers from Raikeswood Camp were entertained to a high tea at the Khaki Club in Skipton. After the meal boxes of cigarettes were handed out. The men had manifestly appreciated being included amongst the guests that day. The doors of the club were thrown open for the evening, and many of the men returned for supper. The 36 men on guard at the camp were not forgotten: teas had been sent up to the camp for them to eat.

This newspaper report tells us that in late summer 1919 the number of men guarding the prisoners in the camp was around 130, but who were they?

It is intended to write at greater length about the British troops who were guarding the German prisoners. One story seemed particularly poignant when searching through the back numbers of the local newspapers in Skipton Library.

John Burns was from Barrow-in-Furness, having been born in Millom to Irish parents. In summer 1918 he was serving as corporal in the 153rd Protection Company of the Royal Defence Corps. The Royal Defence Corps had been formed in 1916, and consisted of men who were either too old for active front line service abroad, or else were not medically fit to carry out these duties. It was however a branch of the regular army, itself, and not a World War One version of the Home Guard.

He had previously served on the front line in France with the West Yorkshire Regiment and had been sent back to England suffering from shell shock and the effects of gas.

According to the Craven Herald he died of pneumonia at Raikeswood Camp after a short illness. He was described as a ‘very smart soldier’ and had been held in high esteem by his officers. His funeral took place at St Stephen’s Church in Skipton and was attended with full military honours. The same article also reported that a large number of beautiful wreaths was sent including tokens from a Major Kelly, and the other officers and men at the camp. John is buried in St Stephen’s Cemetery with several other British soldiers.

He was about 41 years old. His gravestone records the date of his passing as 1st July 1918.