Killed in action
Alexander Stewart Burton VC was one of 7 Australians awarded a Victoria Cross during the Battle of Lone Pine at Gallipoli.
Alexander was born at Kyneton, in Victoria's Macedon Ranges, in 1893. His parents were Isabella and Alfred Burton. The family later moved to Euroa, where Alexander attended school.
Alexander's father, Alfred, worked at Miller & Co. This was a popular department store opposite Euroa's post office. Alfred Burton became a partner in the business. He purchased it from the Miller family for £3,500 in 1925. The business became Burton Stores. The Burton family continued to run it for many years.
Alexander worked at Miller & Co after he left school. He worked in the ironmongery (hardware) department. He also spent 4 years as a cadet in the Universal Service Scheme between 1911 and 1914.
War between Germany and Britain began on 4 August 1914. Burton enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force 2 weeks later, on 18 August 1914 at Seymour, Victoria. Aged 21, his enlistment papers described him as fair-haired and 175 cm tall, with a slight build at 66 kg.
Alexander was assigned to the 7th Infantry Battalion. The unit embarked on HMAT Hororata from Port Melbourne to Lemnos on 19 October 1914. Australian and New Zealand forces used this Greek island as a base to mount the Dardanelles and Gallipoli assault. The Australians prepared by practising beach landings in the island's Mudros Harbour.
On April 20 1915, 200 Allied ships gathered in Mudros Harbour, readying themselves for the attack on
The Gallipoli landing began 5 days later, starting in the early hours of the morning. Burton was unable to join others from the 7th Battalion that day as he was sick with a virus. He watched the landing from the hospital boat HMT Galeka and joined them a week later.
In May 1915, Burton's battalion attacked Turkish forces at Krithia, 6 km north of Cape Helles. His service records show that he was wounded in action on 18 May but returned to fighting soon afterwards. Burton was promoted to lance corporal in July after volunteering to take part in the 'forcing of Saphead D21 in the face of the enemy'.
Battle of Lone Pine
Howitzer shells are are dropping about 30 yards from us, digging great holes where they land. The fumes are suffocating, the shrapnel is pouring all round us getting chaps everywhere. This is hell waiting here.
[Cecil Anthony McAnulty, personal diary, Friday 6 August 1915]
Not even a louse could live under such fire this is by far the biggest bombardment ever known on the peninsular in fact the whole World for such a small space. But Jacko is not by any means beaten he replied with countless guns thousands of shells landing into about 200 square yds reminds one of war.
[John Kingsley Gammage, personal diary, Friday 6 August 1915]
The Battle of Lone Pine began late afternoon on 6 August 1915. Australians took the Turkish front line, clambering through heavy fire into Turkish trenches covered with wire and timber. Four days of counter-attacks followed. There was little break from the heavy bombardment and savage, hand-to-hand fighting. In the battle, nearly 2,300 Australians were killed or wounded, and there were between 6,000 and 7,000 Turkish casualties.
Burton's battalion joined the action at Lone Pine on the evening of the second day's fighting. There were many casualties.
Turkish soldiers launched another attack in the early hours of 9 August.
At 4 o'clock on the morning of August 9th there burst from the enemy’s positions around the Pine and also from Johnston’s Jolly intense machine-gun and rifle fire. All the periscopes of the watching sentries were quickly shattered. Bayonets were broken. Sandbags, torn and ripped, emptied themselves and then slipped into the trenches, and every spare man had to be engaged in replacing them. Under cover of this there fell upon Lone Pine a most violent general attack, extending, upon this occasion, as far north as Sasse’s Sap.
[Charles Bean, First World War Official Histories, Vol. II, Ch XIX: p 558]
As heavy fighting claimed more casualties, Burton's newly-Captained friend from Euroa, Frederic Tubb, was put in charge of defending Goldenstedt's Trench at Symons's Post. Burton was one of 10 men who joined Tubb there. The small group faced intense bombing, and 7 were killed or maimed.
Burton was one of the remaining 3, along with Tubb and another Victorian, Corporal William Dunstan. They continued to hold off Turkish soldiers until a bomb exploded nearby. Burton was killed.
Burton, Dunstan and Tubb were awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) for their courage on 9 August 1915.
Seven VCs were awarded to Australians during the Battle of Lone Pine:
- Captain Alfred Shout
- Lieutenant John Patrick Hamilton
- Lieutenant Leonard Keyser
- Lieutenant William Symons
- Lieutenant (later Major) Frederick Tubb
- Corporal Alexander Burton
- Corporal William Dunstan
At first, Alexander Burton's father, Alfred, believed his son had only been wounded. But confirmation of Alexander's death came through in November 1915. Alexander's personal effects were returned to his father the following year.
Alexander Burton has no known grave. He is commemorated at the Lone Pine Memorial, Gallipoli.
- Anzac Portal, n.d, Timeline of Australians and the Gallipoli Campaign, accessed 23 February 2022, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/ww1/where-australians-served/gallipoli/timeline
- Australian War Memorial, n.d., Victoria Cross: Corporal Alexander Stewart Burton 7 Battalion AIF, accessed 15 January 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RELAWM16499.00
- Bean, C.E.W., First World War Official Histories, Vol. II, Ch XIX: p.558.
- Benalla Standard, 20 January 1925, Euroa, p.3, accessed 14 January 2022, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/214234847?searchTerm=A%20Miller%20%26%20Co%20Euroa%20burton
- Burton, Alexander Stewart. NAA B2455:1935340
- Celik, Kenan, 2000, Gallipoli: The August Offensive. A Turkish View, Australian War Memorial https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/events/conference/gallipolisymposium/celik
- Euroa Gazette, 4 April 1916, The Late Corporal Burton, V.C., p.3, accessed 15 January 2022, https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/153576492?searchTerm=alexander%20stewart%20burton
- Gammage, John Kingsley, personal diary, accessed 18 February 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1304839
- McAnulty, Cecil Anthony, personal diary, accessed 18 February 2022, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2072734
- Walsh, G. P., 2002, Burton, Alexander Stewart (1893–1915), Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed 14 January 2022, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/burton-alexander-stewart-5437