Even though Bertie’s name is on the Grange Hill Memorial, it is not on the Hoylake Parish Memorial because, by the time he died, his parents were living in Seaforth – the district from which they originated. He was born in Bootle to Arthur Burns (born in Toxteth Park in about 1857) and his wife Mary (also born in about 1857 in Bootle). The couple married in about 1884. In 1901 the family was living on Market Street in Hoylake and in 1911 on Manor Road. Bertie was one of seven children, only four of whom survived infancy. His father was a gas and water fitter working for Hoylake and West Kirby Urban District Council. Two of Bertie’s brothers, Walter and Arthur, followed their father into the same trade. Bertie himself became an electrician.
Eventually, Bertie worked for the White Star Line on board the SS Arabic as second electrician.
SS Arabic set sail for the USA from liverpool on 19th August 1915 and was torpedoed by U24, commanded by Captain Rudolph Schneider. She sank in less than ten minutes. Schneider claimed that the ship was zig-zagging and had tried to ram him.
Forty-four passengers and crew (including four Americans) died and 390 were rescued. Another Hoylake sailor, Fred F. Steele of Hoyle Road, was on board and survived the disaster. He was second officer and had worked for the company for 10 years. His story was published by the Birkenhead News on 25th August 1915. He said that there was “not the slightest panic when the boat was struck” and that it was “really marvellous … how they managed to get the people into the boats in the time. He knew for a fact that some of the crew struck to their posts to the very last … He saw two women blown to pieces by the explosion, and also saw one boat capsize in loop-the-loop fashion, going down perpendicularly.” Sadly, Bertie must have been one of the crew who put other people’s safety ahead of his own because his body was never recovered.
It is very hard to imagine how the heroic crew of the Arabic must have felt when they decided to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. They were not military men, trained in warfare and expecting conflict, but civilian tradesmen who were trying to earn an honest living. The youthful Bertie Burns was one of them. The people of Hoylake, Bootle and Seaforth can be proud of him – nobody could demand that he should have done any more than he did.
Birth: c.1894 in Bootle
Death: 19th August 1915, aged 19, lost at sea
Addresses: 30 Market Street, Hoylake (01), 18 Manor Road, Hoylake (11), 19 Gordon Road, Seaforth (15)
Unit: White Star Line SS Arabic
Rank: Second Electrician
Commemorated and Buried: GH, Tower Hill Memorial
Sources: BR, CWGC, BN, Census: 01, 11 http://uboat.net/