|Major Donald Henry 'Bob' Burns, MC.
The origins of Major D.H. 'Bob' Burns, MC, were a point of uncertainty to many islanders. He was, in almost equally strong terms, distinctly Bermudian, Scottish-proud and of uncertain linkage to both the Isle of Man, where his father farmed, and Liverpool, where he began his military career. He was born in Cheshire, as near as this writer can recall, though he never mentioned it. At 17, at the start of the Second World War, he joined the Liverpool Scottish, a Territorial Army unit affiliatted to the Regular Army's Cameron Highlanders. In 1940, he went with a draft to the Cameron Highlanders, and was dispatched, with one of their battalions to North Africa. After seeing his first front line service in Egypt, his battalion was posted to Bermuda in 1941 as the Regular Army unit on garrison. By then, he had been comissioned as a Second Lieutenant (2/LT).
Posted at Prospect Camp, in Devonshire ( where the above photograph was taken,) he experienced the pleasures of service at the leisurely, but still vital, naval and military station that the colony then was. Not that the island's relative peace and balminess could comfort all hearts. One of the men of his battalion, Cameron Highlander Patrick Kennedy succumbed to his melancholy, and was buried in the Calvary Cemetry which once lay within the boundaries of the Camp, as are a number of Canadian soldiers who succumbed to misfortunes or misadventures while also stationed on the island during the war.
Taking the fancy of a local girl, 2 LT Burns married her, at that point committing his heart and blood to the colony, before his battalion was again sent to the Mediterranean theatre of the war.
Taking part in the invasion of Italy, 'Bob' Burns fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino, with John McKim, another Cameron Highlander who returned to Bermuda on the War's end. Overhead, Bermudian Royal Artillery AOP pilot Francis Gorham was directing gunfire, including that which would finally seal the battle in Britain's favour and the action which would earn him the Distinguished Flying Cross. On the ground, 'Bob' Burns took part in bloody fighting that would see him earn the Military Cross. He was the first British Officer to enter San Marino ( the Bermuda-sized, independant state which lies within the Italian peninsula, and completely surrounded by the Italy).
He saw the cruel face of war from street level. Clearing an Italian urban centre, he and his men deliberately bpassed a dog which they had found, tied into a barrel which had been filled with water to the poor animal's neck. Following troops were less cautious and, on attempting to free the dog, were killed by the explosive booby-trap the retreating Axis troops had fited.
On another occasion, his unit had come under mortar fire, still not having sited the enemy. The more experienced troops took cover in the open ground, but another officer, a friend of Bob's, raced for the shelter of a derelict farmhouse. This, Bob knew, was likely what the mortar was being sited upon, and moments later a bomb landed within it. He found his friend's body, torn and strewn about the building's interior.
The War's end found him a Captain in Austria. The area his troops were occupying was to be handed over to the Soviets under an inter-Allied agreement on the allotment of occupation zones. Captain Burns was given the task of removing a collection of rare horses--an Austrian national treasure--to a British zone first, in which he was successful.
When he was able to leave the Regular Army, he took temporary employment with a broadcaster in England, raising the money to return home to his wife in Bermuda, and to give then a start in civil life ( the Services were obliged to return de-mobbed personnel to the point of recruitment. For Bob, this would have been Liverpool, not his current home.)
In Bermuda, he entered civil life, working in a number of occupations, primarily concerned with the visitor industry.
His military career did not end, however. He entered the Bermuda Militia Artillery, which converted to the Infantry role in 1953 ( a period photograph of BMA members shows him still resplendent in his Cameron Highlanders kilt and Tam-O-Shanter). By 1965, when the BMA was amalgamated with the Bermuda Rifles (formerly, the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps,) he was a Major. He became the Second-in-Comand of the amalgamated unit, finally leaving the military in the ealy 'Seventies.
Although his marriage did not last so long, it still produced several healthy children. After leaving the Army, Major Burns still felt a need to serve--and in uniform. He was appointed Town Crier of Saint George's--the oldest English Town in the Western Hemisphere, founded in 1612. Although this was a voluntary, and unpayed, position under the Town Corporation, he was imediately popular, and the Colonial Government's Department of Tourism were soon calling upon him for frequent engagements within and without the Island. This soon became a problem for his regular employer, a local hotel, and he was hired by the Department as Curator of their printing museum on Featherbed Alley, Saint George's. His superior at the DOT, at the time, was Lt. Col. 'Tony' Marsh, who had served in the SAS, 1942-45, and come to Bermuda with the DCLI in the 'Fifties (and who died shortly before retirement in 1982). Competing in many Town Crier meets, internationally, Bob entered the Guiness Book of Records for the loudest human voice (113 decibels) for a performance in Halifax, NS.
Major Burns died in 1993, and was buried in the Cemetry shared by all of the denominations of Saint George's with full Military Honours.