Sometimes, researching war graves can throw a bit of a curve ball, and the things you uncover can make you stop in your tracks. Such is the story surrounding Lance Corporal Albert Burke, and a media report surrounding his death in March 1921.
SCHEME OF VENGEANCE
Taunton Suicide’s Amazing Last Letter
Toll On Young Women
A sensational affair has occurred at Taunton Barracks. On Sunday morning, Albert (or Alfred James) Burke, aged 23, a Lance Corporal in the Somerset Light Infantry, was found to have taken his life by inhaling chloroform, his dead body being found on a bed at the military hospital, where he was employed as an orderly.
On Saturday night, according to the evidence, deceased appeared to be in his usual health and spirits. The next morning, a comrade found his dead body with a chloroform bottle by its side and near his face a large piece of cotton wool which he had evidently used for the purpose of inhaling the poison.
Some light was thrown on the tragedy by a letter addressed to a Taunton young woman, found on his clothing, and which was read at the inquest yesterday.
It was of an extraordinary character, and began “You wish to know what my intentions are in regard to you. Well, in the first place let me tell you I am not, as the coroner who holds the inquest will adjudge me, insane. In fact I don’t think I was ever so rational or level-minded as at the present moment, although I have had a glass or two.
“Well, Beatrice, mine is a rather long and interesting story. I married Louisa Wills some time in 1917, and I think the least said about her the better, but I wish to say this, that I have never knocked across a beast to equal her for violence. I am afraid the people around Brentford, Middlesex, could give you a far better account of her than I can.”
The writer went on to make certain allegations against the woman, and then referred to other towns where, he said, he had ruined girls before coming to Taunton and joining the Somerset Light Infantry. He added that he spent Friday night, when he was supposed to go out with Beatrice, with another girl in the barracks.
He said his father committed suicide owing to a “thing” who called herself a woman, and he (deceased) got a feeling with him that he would like to pay it back on a few girls. In conclusion, Burke expressed his satisfaction at knowing the condition Beatrice was in, and that he had been able to add another to the list of those on whom he wished to have his revenge.
Evidence was given by Alec Treeby, civilian orderly at the Barracks, who found deceased. In reply to the coroner, witness said that he knew the man was keeping company with a girl, but was not aware that there was any trouble about her.
PC Carter stated that the police had made enquiries, and a telephone message had been received that nothing was known of the man or of a wife and family of the name at Brentford…
[The] medical officer at Taunton Barracks said deceased was a steady, hard working man, and, so far as he knew, perfectly sane.
The jury returned a verdict of “suicide while of unsound mind”.Western Times: Wednesday 16th March 1921
The newspaper report confirms the Lance Corporal’s name as either Albert or Alfred James Burke; the coroner also went on to say that he had also used the aliases of Povery and Pavey. Sadly, research around these names – and that of Louisa Wills – have either led to frustrating dead ends, or to results too vague to concretely connect them to Lance Corporal Burke.
The life and loves of Lance Corporal Burke are destined to remain a mystery. All that can be confirmed is that he took his own life on 13th March 1921; he was 23 years old.
Albert Burke lies at peace in St Mary’s Cemetery in Taunton, Somerset. He was accepted for commemoration as war dead on 27th May 2016 and was afforded a gravestone by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.