Burrus James Hales.

He was born on 18 November 1897 at Wistow, Huntingdonshire, the son of James Samuel Hales and Mary Elizabeth Hales (nee Favell).  His father was the village Miller and Baker - he was one of 12 children who lived in Mill Lane, Wistow.  Burrus was named after the brother of his mother Mary Elizabeth Favell.

He originally joined the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion - enlisting in Huntingdon H.Q., at St. Mary's Street, on the 2nd November 1914 [2/1st Battalion] - he was given the number of 909 - he served in both the 2/1st and 1/1st  Battalions of the H. C. B..  Upon enlistment he gave his address as Mill Road, Wistow.

Upon leaving for France he was posted to the 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment  with the Regimental number of 39422.  Army records also show that he served in the Machine Gun Corps. with the new Army number of 32759.  One reference indicates that he was demobilized under section a/z/r - dated 6-5-1917.  This would have been when he was in France.

From a local paper = Pte. B. J. Hales, Royal Berks, of Wistow, has been missing since May 3rd - He enlisted in the Cyclist Battalion a year ago.

He was killed in action on May 3 1917 whilst serving as Private, 39422, in the 1st Bn. , The Royal Berkshire Regiment.  He was only 19 years of age when he was killed in France an Flanders. Family tradition indicates that he was killed by a sniper.

He was posted to the base depot B. E. F. France on 26th July 1916, he was rationed up to and for that day. Order was part 2 No. 171 issued by W. L. Stephenson, 2/Lieut. & acting Adjutant, 2/1st Hunts. Cyclist Battalion. The order was issued at Well Camp, Alford, Lincs. at 8-00 p.m., 28th July 1916. At this time he was a private in C. company of the 2/1st H.C.B.


Burrus Hales had an elder brother, Frederick Hales.  Fred, the eldest child of the family, also served in WW1, but we can't prove if he was a Cyclist or not.  We do know that Fred survived the war, returned to Wistow after the war until 1957 and may have been awarded the ‘Decoration Militaireat Vimy Ridge in 1917 or 1918.

Updated information from Janice Smith (niece of BJ Hales) - copied in its entirety:- Corporal Frederick Hales – 249647

Promoted to the Royal Artillery.  The War Diary says that the Battalion which was formed for the battle (of Arras) April 9th to May 15th 1917 was a combined battalion consisting of 1 Royal Berkshires & 23rd Royal Fusiliers.

Fred received the DECORATION MILITAIRE – mentioned in the London Gazette of 5.4.19

This states: ‘Decoration Militaire’ (Belgian) ‘249647 Corporal Frederick Hales Signal Subsection, Royal Engineers attached to 49th Brigade, Royal Garrison Artillery, Huntingdon.’

This medal was established by King Leopold II on 15 September 1902 for long service and special merit (gallantry) in two classes distinguished by the ribbon. (Black, Orange and Gold).

Fred was admitted to Hospital on 6/2/19.  He was in hospital according to his records for 20 days from 19.2.19 to 11.3.19.  I think in Carlisle Hospital.  He was recommended by the Dispersal Board to be sent home.

Fred died at home in Wistow on 19th November 1957 aged 63 years, and was buried in Wistow Church Yard on 22nd November 1957.

Burrus name is also on a plaque on the wall in Wistow Church.  His name is also recorded on Bay 7 of the Arras Memorial - Faubourg D' Amiens Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.

I visited this cemetery in 2005 and laid a wreath at panel 7 in memory of all the H.C.B men that were commemorated in that cemetery.

Updated information from Janice Smith (niece of BJ Hales) - copied in its entirety:-

BURRUS JAMES HALES 39422, of WISTOW, serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, who died on 3 May 1917 age 19.  No known grave, but he is commemorated by name on Bay 7 of Arras Memorial, France.

We have now investigated the War Diary  1st Berkshire (Vol 31 sheet No. 312) Public Record Office Ref WO95/1371 and learnt that Burrus apparently was killed at the Battle of OPPY WOOD. On different occasions, Janice Smith and also Stephen Howes (niece and great-nephew of BJ Hales) have visited the site and ‘walked’ it.

The objective of the battalion was the position in front of Oppy Wood which is situate on Vimy Ridge and a position which had been won and lost by battalions of other regiments.

The distance which they had to cover to reach the German positions was, about 300 yards.  They had to go over open country and had to fight their way in shell holes.  The Germans were in strong force. The wood was full of snipers, machine guns and in fact all classes of arms and there is no question that the Germans were very strongly entrenched.

Above taken from Interlude II – 1st Bn (Nov 1916 to Apl 1917 ‘The Biscuit Boys’). (See also ‘The Biscuit Boys’ Arras – Section 251 April/May 1917)

From what I understand, Burrus was trapped in a shell crater with others, and killed whilst trying to make a run for it.  We know that the weather was hot and the moon was full, so they would have been fully visible.

Extract from War Diary: 3rd May 1917. 5-5.30am  ‘After a sharp fight some little distance to the right men were seen to be getting out behind and running along apparently looking for room in the trench but finding it congested they dropped into shell craters.  The congestion increased and more men on the right got out and back to shell craters.  The companies were all at this time without bombs of any sort and only 3 Lewis guns when a hostile counter attack commenced from the front over the top and along communication trenches.  The hostile bombing attach from the right had reached the right of the Companies.

6.10 am Considerable causalities were caused to the enemies frontal attack which however came on and the companies were driven out, but mainly from the bombing attack from the right.  The men remained in the shell craters all day and were withdrawn at dark.

The majority of the casualties occurred whilst getting back from the German front line and were caused chiefly by machine gun snipers near OPPY.

8 Officers and 210 NCOs and men went into action of which 2 officers (both slightly wounded) and 94 ORs are now with the Battalion.’

GP Hunt Lt Col Commanding 1st R. Berks Regt.  Written up and dated 5/5/17

Thanks to his relations, Stephen Howes, Elizabeth Cunningham and Janice Smith, for helping with some information on this page and also the page of John Hales - Burrus was the brother of Stephen's grandmother.

If you can help with any data on this Huntingdonshire Cyclist please contact me at huntscycles@btinternet.com

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. . Martyn Smith ©