He was probably born on
March 1890 and his birth was registered in the June quarter of that
year at Lewes. The 1891 census records
him as a one year old infant living at South Street with his family. The household comprised George Burnett (head,
married, aged 61 and working as a roadman), his wife Emily Burnett, aged 37,
and their five children: Elizabeth Burnett (aged 12, a scholar), Alice Burnett
(aged nine, a scholar), Edith Mary Burnett (aged seven, a scholar), George
William Burnett (aged four) and Albert James.
The children’s mother had been born in Barcombe but they and their
father were all Chailey-born.
By the time the 1901 census was taken, Albert’s father had died and his mother was working as a laundress. Albert is recorded as an eleven year old.
In April 1914, Albert left his home at 6 Andros Close, South Common, Chailey and emigrated to
. On Canada 9th January 1916 he attested with the 111th ( South Waterloo) Overseas Battalion Canadian Expeditionary
Force (CEF) at , giving his adress as “R R No 7,
Galt”. He gave his trade or calling as
“Farmer” and it was noted that he was five feet six and a half inches tall, had
fair hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion.
He gave his next of kin as his mother in Chailey and date of birth as Galt, Ontario 31st March 1886. Why he added an extra four years to his age
is unclear. He was given the rank of
private and the army number 730340.
His service with the 111th CEF was short-lived however and on 8th
March 1916 he
was discharged due to sickness. His last
pay sheet lists 28 days’ pay at $1 per day plus a field allowance of 10 cents
per day and a clothing allowance of $10.00.
On 21st August 1916 he tried again, this time enlisting with the 42nd Regiment (240th Overseas Bn) CEF. He gave his address this time as Tillsonburg and his trade or calling as “Farm labourer”. Whereas on his previous enlistment his hair and complexion had been noted as fair, this time it was noted as dark. His eyes were also noted as dark rather than hazel. Two faint vaccination scars were noted on his left arm.
This time, Albert Burnett gave his date of birth as
31st March 1891 which is probably
one year out. Again, why he should
falsify his age so marginally is unclear.
In any event he was enlisted as a private soldier and given the number
Friday September 8th
1916 the East Sussex News reported that Albert Burnett had enlisted
and on 14th September he was inoculated against typhoid. Four days later he supplied the additional
information that he had been born at Hope Cottage, South Street, Charley
[sic], that his mother’s name was Emily Burnett; that she was a widow and that
James was not her sole support.
He arrived in
aboard SS Lapland on 6th England
October 1916 and was sent on strength to the 12th
Battalion at West Sandling. Eighteen days later he was admitted to and on 9th
November he was diagnosed with epilepsy. Moore Barracks
His medical history notes reveal that he had suffered fits since birth but that these had become more severe in the last seven years after he had had a bicycle accident in which his bike had run over an embankment. There was also a history of epilepsy in the family with his grandfather noted as having suffered from fits.
The doctor’s notes continue: “Present illness: had fits after enlisting in
. Discharged from 111th Bn. Rejoined and came over with 130th. Fits became average one a day. Admitted.
I saw patient in fit today… no biting tongue or frothing at mouth.” Canada
He was discharged from
on 2nd Moore
Barracks Hospital December
1916 and by the end of the month had been discharged from the army
altogether. Many years later, on 4th February 1937,
he was issued with a discharge certificate giving his date of discharge as 30th December 1916
due to medical unfitness.