Leonard Burton

Family life

Trying to establish exactly who Leonard was and what his connection to Ashby was, has been made less than straight forward. The details of how and why this was so will begin to emerge as his story unfolds.

By going back to the 1901 census we can see that he was 5 years old and living at 88 Ashby High Street with his parents James and Elizabeth and his older brother Frank. James was born in Scawby in 1864 and was working as a fitter/labourer in 1901. Elizabeth was born Elizabeth Needham in Spilsby, also in 1864. They were married in the Ashby/Scunthorpe area in 1884. Frank was their third child born in Ashby in 1890. His two older siblings were likely to have already left home by this point.

In 1911 we see Leonard working as a waggoner on a farm in Grayingham. His parents were living at 6 North Parade in Ashby and had a total of 6 children, all of whom survived infancy.

After 1911 it became much more difficult to trace Leonard. But, eventually it became apparent that he emigrated to Canada. His name appears on the passenger manifest of the R.M.S.Tunisian which set sail from Liverpool on the 16th May 1914.

His service record from his time in the army survives and shows that he left behind a child. Leonard is described on the record as single but had an arrangement where $5 per month of his pay was sent to a Miss Lily Andrews in Gainsborough. A little more research in the birth, marriage and death index found Leonard B Andrews born in Gainsborough in 1914 to a mother of the name Andrews. It is possible that Leonard moved to Canada as one of many who emigrated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to try and build a more prosperous life. Perhaps he intended to bring Lily and young Leonard with him at some point. But the First World War intervened and in 1915 he joined the 51st Battalion of the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force at Edmonton.

We get an amazing in depth view of him from his attestation paper where he is described as 5ft 4in tall, weighing by modern standards a slender 129lbs (9st 3), of medium fair complexion with brown hair and blue eyes. His religious denomination is given as Church of England!


The 51st Battalion was authorised on 7th November 1914. Leonard Burton joined voluntarily in January 1915 when the battalion first started recruiting, and sailed for Great Britain in June 1915, among the first of his battalion to make the journey. Was it possible that he saw military service as a way to return to Britain? Perhaps he was homesick or not as successful as he had hoped in Canada. Or equally likely he saw it as his duty to sign up as soon as possible. The initial wave of men from the 51st were sent to Shorncliffe Garrison near Folkestone to train for trench warfare and quickly absorbed into other units. Leonard was transferred to the 4th battalion of the Canadian infantry in August 1915 and sent to France. His service record shows that he suffered a couple of minor illnesses during his time in France but was quickly back to service. He returned to England briefly in February 1916 after being granted leave for a week. We do not know what he did or where he went during that week. 

The Canadians saw active service at Ypres and by June 1916, the 4th battalion were dug into an underground structure known as “the tunnel” at Mount Sorrel. As one of the highest points for miles, the occupiers of Mount Sorrel had the advantage of excellent observation over the Ypres salient. The battle of Mount Sorrel took place between 2nd and 13th June 1916. Initially it seemed that the increase in activity from German troops was nothing to be alarmed about. But soon an attack was launched against the British and Canadians and it took 11 days to finally re-establish control, at a cost of over 5000 lives and many more wounded. The attack served a dual purpose of trying to take Mount Sorrel and also providing a distraction from the growing German presence at the Somme. However, Leonard was not among the casualties at that point. It seems he survived the battle and remained at Mount Sorrel until the commencement of the battle of the Somme.  

He died at some point between the 8th and 9th July 1916 and is buried at the Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) near to Ypres. It seems likely that he never got as far as the Somme and something happened to him in the interim period between his unit being at Ypres and at the Somme. His fate is listed simply as “killed in action”.

Shortly after Leonard’s death, Lily Andrews married William Cottam in Gainsborough. She did not qualify for a gratuity from the Canadian government and would no doubt have experienced both stigma and financial hardship as a lone mother.  It was a different age and marriage was the obvious solution to both of these difficulties, though it would be nice to think she and their little boy also found happiness.

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