McBurney, James Wilson

McBurney, James Wilson (Jim)

Second Lieutenant

14th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles

Killed in action on Thursday 16 August 1917 (aged 19)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium (Panel 138 to 140 & 162 to 162 A & 163 A)

Comber and District War Memorial

First Comber Presbyterian Church

Family headstone in Comber Cemetery

Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) War Memorial

Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) Book of Remembrance

Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI)

Brother of Engineer Lieutenant Edward Wilson McBurney


James Wilson McBurney was born on 9 August 1898 in the townland of Ballyrickard and he was the youngest son of Thomas and Anna McBurney (nee Wilson) who were married on 14 November 1890 in First Newtownards Presbyterian Church.  Thomas McBurney from Ballyhenny was a son of Thomas McBurney, a farmer.  Anna Wilson (aged 20) from Newtownards was a daughter of Edward Wilson, a farmer.

The McBurney family lived at Moatville, 17 Ballyrickard, Comber.

Thomas McBurney was a farmer and he and Anna had ten children:

Edward Wilson (Teddy, born 29 December 1890 in Ballymagreehan)

Rose Mary (May, born 13 February 1892 in Ballyrickard)

Thomas (born 12 February 1893 in Ballyrickard)

Anna Wilson (Nan, born 4 October 1894 in Ballyrickard)

Elizabeth Wilson (Bessie, born 24 September 1895 in Ballyrickard)

Jeannie (born 7 April 1897 in Ballyrickard)

James Wilson (Jim, born 9 August 1898 in Ballyrickard)

Harriet (born 7 November 1900 in Ballyrickard)

Margaret Turner McCartney (Maggie, born 6 January 1903 in Ballyrickard; died of enteritis 7 September 1903)

Margaret Turner (born 9 October 1905 in Ballyrickard)

The McBurney family built Moatville in 1903.

Jeannie McBurney was engaged to be married to Lieutenant Sam Geddis who died on active service on 19 September 1918.  Jeannie never married.

On 15 April 1919 Nan McBurney married Lieutenant Robin Wilson by special licence.  The ceremony was conducted by the Rev J.K.L. McKean and took place at Moatville.

James Wilson McBurney was educated at RBAI and on 1 October 1914 he joined the Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) Officers’ Training Corps (OTC).  In June 1915, at the age of 16 years 10 months, he joined the 17th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles.  He was posted to Drogheda during the Easter Rising in 1916 and then spent some time at the Curragh.  He finished his training at Fermoy in the 7th Cadet Battalion.  He obtained his commission in September 1916 and was posted to the 20th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles at Newtownards.  He went to France as a Platoon Commander with the 14th Battalion in December 1916.  Jim fought at the Battle of Messines in June 1917 and survived.

Second Lieutenant James McBurney was 19 when he was killed in action on 16 August 1917, the first day of the Battle of Langemarck.  In a letter to Jim’s parents Second Lieutenant J. Riddy wrote ‘He was a brave and good comrade and most cheerful under all circumstances.  Since I joined the regiment we were the closest friends and a truer friend I never wish to have.  Jim and I slept in the same tent before the attack and he seemed to know something would happen to him for he asked me to write and, if I could, to bring him back to a dressing station in case he was hurt but I thought he was joking.  He was in good form before the attack.  I was on his right flank.  He went forward at the head of his men and did splendid work and showed a fine example of Irish pluck, leading and cheering his men on against fearful odds and machine gun fire.  He was first at the enemy strongpoint but got shot in the chest before getting in.  Although dying fast he urged the men on and his last words were, ‘Tell my father and mother I died at the head of my men fighting for my country.’  After the attack his body was not recovered.

Lieutenant McGhie wrote to Jim’s parents and said that Jim was one of the finest boys he had ever known.  He sought to give them reassurance by telling them that Jim was shot through the heart ‘dying almost without pain.’

The Rev John Knowles, Presbyterian Chaplain said that just as Jim had given the order for his men to rush the enemy position he was shot.  In spite of the loss of their leader his men carried out his last command.  They captured the position and took ten prisoners.

Second Lieutenant James Wilson McBurney has no known grave and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Belgium; on Comber and District War Memorial; in First Comber Presbyterian Church; on the McBurney Family Headstone in Comber Cemetery; on the Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) War Memorial; in the Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) Book of Remembrance and in the Royal Belfast Academical Institution (RBAI).