Major Burke

Lieutenant Colonel

Charles James BURKE   DSO

Soldier, Pilot, Commanding Officer, Military Aviation Visionary and Pioneer

Lieutenant Colonel Burke DSO was a visionary when it came to the military use of aircraft.  He could foresee their immense potential  when many military leaders were dismissing aircraft as a waste of time.

In 'War In The War', the official story of the RFC/RAF during WWI Burke is mentioned numerous times. In particular:

"Major Burke rendered enormous service to the cause of military flying. He took it up because he fully realized the importance of the part it was destined to play in war.He impressed those who knew him by his character. He was not a good pilot, and was almost famous for his crashes. He was not a popular officer. He was not what would be called a clever man. But he was single-minded, and utterly brave and determined, careless alike of danger and of ridicule. There is often granted to singleness of purpose a kind of second sight which is denied to mere intelligence. Major Burke (to give him his earlier title) knew many things about military aviation and the handling of a squadron which it was left for the war to prove, and which, even with the experience of war to teach them, some commanding officers were slow to learn."

In 1916 Lieutenant-Colonel Burke, D.S.O. rejoined his old regiment, the Royal Irish Regiment, as there was a severe shortage of officers. He was killed in action on 9 April 1917, whilst commanding a battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment on first day of the Battle of Arras.

Launch Presentation
Launch Presentation

Simon Burke talks about his Grandfather

No.2 Sqn arrive at West Hartlepool in May 1914

The story behind the film

This amazing film clip from May 1914 shows No.2 Squadron arriving at West Hartlepool in their B.E.2a aircraft. At 3 minutes 13 seconds into the film you will see Major Burke arriving and being greeted by the local dignitaries.

The second person you see Major Burke talking to is Mr William Ropner a local ship owner and father of Miss Winsome Ropner. The Ropner family had been close friends of the late Lt. Desmond Arthur who had lived nearby for around 10 years. He was killed in a flying accident close to Lunan Bay near Montrose in May 1913. To learn more about Lt. Arthur click HERE or on 'The Ghost' in the History Menu.

On Monday 11th May No.2 Squadron under the command of Major C.J. Burke took off from Montrose to attend the RFC Military Wing Concentration Camp at Netheravon, Wiltshire, 400 miles to the South. The term Concentration Camp had a different meaning then and referred to the gathering of all the RFC squadrons at one camp to take part in training exercises.

Commanding Officer of the RFC Military Wing, Colonel Sykes, decided to hold an exercise to examine the readiness of the Corps should a war take place. The Camp would not only examine the aviation aspects of the Corps such as bombing, reconnaissance and aerial photography but trial mobilisations were also conducted with planned convoys for stores and equipment. Tests of the organisation's supply, maintenance, wireless communication and meteorology capabilities were all conducted under realistic conditions.

On Thursday 14th May No.2 Sqn landed on the beach at West Hartlepool to be greeted by thousands of spectators.
Major Burke wrote in his diary:

“Owing to question of tides we could not leave early consequently the first machine left at the prearranged time and the last (my own) landed at West Hartlepool at noon. When leaving Blythe there was a tremendous crowd and on arrival West Hartlepool there was a tremendous number of people; The crowd made landing extremely difficult and the police were of little or no use - The roped in enclosure was the only means of keeping the machines safe.

The point to be noticed is that the public must have a line to fall in behind or else they will scatter all over the place. For this reason sands should be avoided for a Squadron landing place useful though they may for single machines.

In the evening the men were entertained to dinner by the Mayor and Corporation of West Hartlepool who very kindly made it a very quiet affair owing to the recent accident at Farnborough.“

The recent accident he referred to the collision which had killed Captain E. V. Anderson, flight commander of No. 5 Squadron Military wing, R.F.C., and Air-Mechanic H. W. Carter two days earlier. Their inquest was being held that day. You can see Major Burke is wearing a black armband on his left arm which was then a common sign of mourning.

The next day on Friday 15th May No.2 Squadron had their own tragedy when during the flight from West Hartlepool to York, the machines ran into a thick bank of fog. Three were wrecked and one was damaged.  Lt Empson and Air-Mechanic Cudmore flying B.E.2a No.331 were killed instantly in one of the crashes.

On Saturday Major Burke gave evidence about the crash to an inquest at Northallerton.

Seven months later on 16th December, 1914 Hartlepool was attack by the German Navy. Three ships, the Seydlitz, Blücher and Moltke bombarded the town killing 86 civilians and injured 424. Seven soldiers were killed and 14 injured. 1,150 shells were fired at the town, striking targets including the steelworks, gasworks, railways, seven churches and 300 houses.

At Winsome Ropners home, 'Ambleside', the cook was killed by one of the German shells.