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Remembrance 2018: Moving letter sent to mum of fallen soldier

Bid to trace family of man who lost pal ‘Barry’ in war

09 November, 2018 — By Emily Finch

William Otway Barrington Burrowes

FOR millions, the First World War proved to be the most brutal episode of their lives: wailing shells cut through troops; rats thrived in the trenches amongst men who faced deadly chlorine gas in ­battle; villages were razed by mortar and tanks.

For one Highbury family the horrors of the trenches was brought home following the death of their son, William Otway Barrington Burrowes, also known as ­Barry, just two months before the end of the war.

Peter Burrowes, 86, is now looking to track down the descendants of a soldier who comforted Barry’s mother through a heartfelt letter. Barry lost his life on the battlefield near Peronne in France on Saturday, September 1, 1918. He was just 19 years old.

A gravestone stands in his memory in Rancourt Military Cemetery, hundreds of miles from where he grew up in Baalbec Road, Highbury. A letter was sent to Barry’s mother from a Pte JE Gower 548122, just 20 days after her son’s death.

Elise Burrowes treasured the letter and it was passed down to Peter, the son of Barry’s older brother who survived the war after fighting for the Royal Flying Corps.

In the letter, Private Gower tells the distraught mother: “I feel I must sit down and write to you to ask you to accept my sincere sympathy on the sad news of the death of poor old Barry. I have only just heard it from someone who saw him killed, instantaneously he said, otherwise I should have written before. I was with Barry all the while we were training in England and I was also with him out here until a month ago when I had to go to hospital as I was gassed. We had both put in for Flying Corps commissions and he was awfully keen on it, and we were both looking forward to going home again.”

He adds: “It was one of the things he and I were always talking about and I am sure nobody could have wished for a better pal than he was to me. “I am not sure where he was buried as I wasn’t there, but doubtless you have already heard. “I don’t think I have anything more to say but thought I would write this as he and I were such great pals ever since I have known him, so [I] will close, once again sincerely sympathising with you on your great loss. J W Gower.”

The letter sent to Barry’s mother

Mr Burrowes, who lives in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, said: “I have tried hard to locate the descendants of Private Gower who I believe survived the war. I’ve almost given up finding them but I aspire to speak to a grandson or granddaughter. I would like to thank them.” He said his father rarely spoke of his lost brother. “I think he found it too painful,” said Mr Burrowes.

Barry joined the London Rifle Brigade, later known as Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles, as a rifleman on the day after his 18th birthday in June 1917.

He was educated at the Dame Alice Owen’s School in Goswell Road where his hobby was “outdoor games”. His name is etched in a memorial at the school which has now moved to Potters Bar.

Mr Burrowes added: “Our family’s thoughts are with him as always at this time of year but particularly now as Billy died just over 100 years ago and the nation remembers all those who died in World War One.”

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