Victoria Cross : Corporal Alexander Stewart Burton, 7 Battalion, AIF

Place Middle East: Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Dardanelles, Gallipoli, Anzac Area (Gallipoli), Lone Pine Area, Lone Pine
Accession Number RELAWM16499.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Physical description Bronze
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: Gallipoli
Maker Hancocks
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London, London
Date made c 1915
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Victoria Cross. Engraved reverse suspender with recipient's details; reverse cross with date of action.

History / Summary

Alexander Stewart Burton was born to Alfred Edward and Isabella (nee Briggs) Burton at Kyneton, Victoria on 20 January 1893. By 1903 the family had moved to Euroa where Alexander attended the local state school before joining his father at the firm of A Miller and Co, working as an ironmonger. Burton was active in the community, singing in the church choir and playing in the town band. From 1911 he underwent compulsory military service in the militia.

Following the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted almost immediately, joining C Company of 7 Battalion AIF on 18 August 1914 as a private with the service number 384. He embarked from Melbourne with his company on 19 October aboard HMAT ‘Hororata’ bound for Egypt and the training camp at Mena. Their routine was interrupted in early February 1915 when the battalion was moved up to Ismailia to resist a Turkish attempt to capture the Suez Canal. The battalion returned to Mena on 12 February to resume training.

Owing to illness, Burton was forced to witness his battalion’s landing on Gallipoli on 25 April from the deck of the hospital ship ‘Galeka’. He landed some days later and was wounded shortly afterwards, although the details are unknown. He rejoined his battalion on 18 May. For volunteering for hazardous work in the face of the enemy he was promoted to lance corporal on 10 July and soon afterwards to corporal.

In August the battalion was temporarily attached to the 1st Brigade and took part in the assault on the enemy trenches at Lone Pine. The assault was a diversionary tactic designed to occupy the enemy forces of Turkish Commander Essad Pasha from reinforcing his troops at Sari Bair, site of the main Anzac push. The offensive soon overwhelmed many of the enemy trenches but at great cost. 7 Battalion, originally directed to take Johnson's Jolly at dawn on 7 August in the event of a successful assault on Lone Pine, was gradually depleted of men as it met requests for reinforcements from other units.

At 4am that morning the battalion was given the order to stand to arms for their attack on Johnson's Jolly but as no order to proceed eventuated it waited in close reserve. At 6pm, the battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Henry ‘Pompey’ Elliott, sent 32 bomb (grenade) throwers to Lone Pine in response to an urgent request from 1 Brigade Headquarters. By mid-afternoon the following day, the remaining men of 7 Battalion moved to Lone Pine to relieve the exhausted troops of 1 and 2 Battalions.

In the early hours of 9 August the Turks made a determined counter-attack against the captured trenches. The historian CEW Bean wrote that the intensity of the fire was such that ‘[a]ll the periscopes of the watching sentries were quickly shattered. Bayonets were broken. Sandbags, torn and ripped, emptied themselves and then slipped into the trenches...’ At Goldenstedt’s Post in the southern sector, a heavy attack was repulsed by Lieutenant Symons who was redeployed to retake Jacob’s Trench which had been overrun by the Turks. Symons was replaced at Goldenstedt’s with Lieutenant Frederick Tubb, together with 10 men, including Burton.

After Symon’s departure the Turks again attacked in force, using bombs to great effect. Tubb ordered two men, Corporals Webb and Wright, to remain on the trench floor to return the bombs before they could explode or to smother them with sandbags or Turkish overcoats left behind by the enemy. The other men manned the parapet, shooting any Turks that made their way up the trench or who attempted to rush the post across the open ground between the opposing trenches. The bomb catchers in the trench were soon killed as fierce fighting on the parapet continued unabated.

The bombs continued to wreak havoc on Tubb’s company. Soon only Tubb and Corporals Dunstan and Burton remained. The barricade protecting the post was then hit with a violent explosion that blew down the sandbags and threw the three men down. They managed to drive off the attackers and were attempting to rebuild the barricade when a bomb exploded between them, killing Burton and severely injuring Dunstan in the face and eyes. Tubb managed to obtain more men from an adjoining trench but by that time the Turkish assault had subsided and the post was secured.

For their actions all three men were awarded the Victoria Cross, though only Dunstan would survive the war. Corporal Webb was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal though, much to the disappointment of the battalion’s commander, Wright’s actions were not recognised.
The recommendation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Corporals Burton and Dunstan reads:

'I have the honor to recommend that the names of No. 2130, Corporal W. Dunston, [sic] and No. 384, Corporal A.S. Burton (killed) both of 7th Battalion, A.I. Force, be submitted to the G.O.C.-in-Command for consideration for the Victoria Cross in recognition of conspicuous gallantry in action. On the morning of August 9th at Lone Pine, the enemy made an attack on the centre of the line in great force at a point held by Lieut. F.A. Tubb with a party of men and acting Corporals Burton and Dunston. The enemy advanced up the sap in the dark and placed a charge of guncotton or other explosive against the parapet of sandbags, which hurled the parapet and the party guarding it back with great violence. About 1 foot of the parapet still remained. This Officer and NCO's rushed to the remains of the parapet to defend it against the enemy, whom they repulsed with loss and built up the parapet again. The enemy advanced, and under a hail of bombs placed another charge, which again demolished the parapet, and inflicted a painful wound on Lieut. Tubb's head, which dazed him for the moment. The two NCO's however, again pushed back and restored the parapet, Corporal Burton being killed by a bomb, which struck him in the face, and the parapet was again destroyed. Corporal Dunston and Lieut. Tubb again restored it with the assistance of another man. Corporal Dunston was severely wounded and Lieut. Tubb received a painful wound in the arm.'

Burton has no known grave and is commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial located at the eastern end of the Lone Pine Cemetery. In 1934 the governor of Victoria, Lord Huntingfield, dedicated three oak trees in Euroa as memorials to the three Victoria Cross winners of the district; Burton, Tubb, who was killed in action in 1917, and Leslie Maygar who was awarded his Victoria Cross during the Boer War. Burton was further honoured in 1941 when a newly constructed bridge at Euroa was named in his memory.