Posted by: michaeldaybath | May 31, 2017

Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, 3rd Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment

Trench Map of Arras (1917)

Detail from Trench Map of Arras. Source:  Battle of Arras. Map showing British advance on the Arras front. Scale, 1: 40,000 (1917), British Library, Digital Store Maps C.14.f.32. accessed May 22, 2017, ark:/81055/vdc_100022522682.0x000002

Today we mark the anniversary of the death-in-action of Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. Captain Burnett died in a night attack east of the village of Monchy-le-Preux, near Arras. Before the First World War, Burnett had worked in the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum, and had contributed to compiling one of the standard reference texts still used in book provenance research.

The List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676-1900

Historical book sale catalogues are one of the key sources used in provenance research, helping scholars, for example, to reconstruct long-lost libraries or to discover more about the ownership of manuscripts and early printed books [1].

List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676-1900

List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676-1900

The British Library’s collection of English book sale catalogues is one of the most important in the world [2]. One of the standard reference texts in provenance research is the List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900, now in the British Museum, which was published by the Trustees of the British Museum in 1915 [3]. The List is a chronological list of book sale catalogues, including the names of owners (where known), the names of the auction firms, and the dates of sales. While supplemented now by other works, the List remains a key reference text for book historians.

The List was prepared for publication by the eminent bibliographer Alfred W. Pollard, at that time Assistant Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum. However, as his preface makes clear, the bulk of the work of compilation had been undertaken — “in the intervals between more pressing work” — by two of Pollard’s colleagues, both of whom were on war service at the time of publication. Work on the List was initiated by Harold Mattingly but, after his transfer to the Department of Coins and Medals in 1912, the task of compilation was taken over by I. A. K. Burnett, who had joined the museum as a Second Class Assistant in the Department of Printed Books a couple of years earlier.

Pollard and Mattingly became reasonably well-known in their respective fields — bibliography and numismatics — and have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. However, due to the war, I. A. K. Burnett never got the opportunity to build on his early professional achievements [4].

Burnett’s Early life and career

Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett Burnett was born at Aberdeen on the 20 June 1885, the only son of William Kendall Burnett and Margretta Burnett. His father was the son of the 6th Laird of Kemnay and a prominent figure in Aberdeen civic life, serving as both magistrate and city treasurer before his death in 1912. I. A. K. Burnett was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, where he evidently did very well. His university obituary [5] stated that “he had a brilliant career, being first in every class, usually in every subject; he was editor of the school magazine and president of the debating society, and he became Dux of the school in 1903.” Burnett then entered the University of Aberdeen, from where he graduated M.A. with First Class Honours in Foreign Languages in 1908. While at Aberdeen, Burnett was also involved in many extra-curricular activities, including significant roles in the university’s literary and debating societies. In his final year, he was the editor of the university’s student magazine Alma Mater. He also somehow found time to serve as a volunteer with the Gordon Highlanders between 1903 and 1904.

In 1909, Burnett was appointed Assistant Librarian at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. In February 1910, as we have already noted, he joined the Department of Printed Books of the British Museum. In the 1911 Census, he is listed as boarding at Steele’s Road, Hampstead, with the family of Paul de Braux, a French optician and scientific instrument maker. Burnett’s service records indicate that he moved afterwards to Golders Green.

Burnett’s Service Career

Burnett’s service records make for interesting reading. Burnett joined the Inns of Court Officers’ Training Corps in 1913, serving with its cavalry squadron before being appointed to a commission after the declaration of war [6]. From then on, he seems to have remained a member of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, while being attached to several different battalions on active service. A posthumous application to the War Office from the British Museum for an official statement on Captain Burnett’s death stated that he had been described in the Army List as “2nd Lieutenant 2692b — Special List — acting as Interpreter,” suggesting that the army did try to make some use of his linguistic skills. Burnett’s service records, however, show that he spent a substantial amount of time in fighting battalions.

Captain I. A. K. Burnett (from the University of Aberdeen Roll of Service)

Captain I. A. K. Burnett, from the University of Aberdeen Roll of Service in the Great War, 1914-1919 (1921)

From April to June 1915, Second Lieutenant Burnett was attached to the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, then based in the Ypres sector. In May, he suffered from gas poisoning and spent some time in hospital in Boulogne and then on sick leave in England, before returning to the battalion in June.

Shortly after that, Burnett transferred to the 1st Battalion of his own regiment, where on the 6th July 1915 and still as a 2nd Lieutenant, he commanded one of the front-line companies in an operation on the Yser Canal that the regimental history described as “the greatest test of endurance that most of the officers and men had yet undergone.” During this action, Burnett suffered a wound to the head, and was later evacuated to the UK and admitted to the Hospital for Officers at 24 Park Street, London. He re-joined the 1st East Lancashires on the 24th August.  Little is then heard about Burnett until he was once again evacuated to the UK in May 1916, this time with bursitis of the knee, an injury apparently suffered while on parade. Burnett was again passed fit-for-duty on the 17th June, when he re-joined the 3rd Battalion at their base at Plymouth.

The next we hear of Lieutenant Burnett, he was attached to the 8th (Service) Battalion of the East Lancashires. This was a New Army unit, formed at Preston in September 1914. Burnett definitely served with the 8th East Lancashires on the Somme front, because in August 1916, he briefly features in the battalion war diary, which records that he had organised bombing parties in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the occupied part of a shared trench near Bazentin-le-Petit.

“Two bombing parties were organised under Lieut BURNETT – one to proceed along either side of the hostile trench and bomb the enemy out. The enterprise was timed to start at 2 a.m. on the 8th instant. As soon as the first party tried to reach the hostile position, the enemy opened heavy machine gun fire and threw bombs vigorously. The enterprise was unsuccessful.”

By early 1917, Lieutenant Burnett had become a company commander with the temporary rank of Captain.  The 8th East Lancashires were by then preparing for the Battle of Arras, where the 37th Division was to take part in an attack on the village of Monchy-le-Preux. The battle got underway on the 9th April, and Monchy finally fell to the division three days later. After some days out of the line, the battalion moved to a different part of the front and took part in attacks on Greenland Hill between the 23 and 28 April. After that, they rested for a few weeks in the area west of Arras. On the 20th May, the battalion returned to the front line just south-east of Monchy. On the night of the 31 May, the 8th East Lancashires were involved in a night attack on Hook Trench on Infantry Hill, the high ground east of Monchy, which it was hoped could be used as a base for a further attack on the higher-ground around the Bois du Vert. The attack was initially a success, but the battalion was forced to withdraw after a successful German counter-attack. The battalion war diary records that at 12:25 AM, a report was received that Captain Burnett had been wounded. The evidence in his service records suggests that he died very soon afterwards. Burnett’s body was never recovered.

The battalion’s losses were quite high; the already depleted battalion lost three officers and 70 other ranks killed or wounded in that action.

Aftermath: Certifying Captain Burnett’s death

On the 5th June 1917, the War Office sent a telegram to Kathleen Burnett, Captain Burnett’s sister and next-of-kin:

To: Miss Burnet, 27 Woodlands, Golders Green, London

Regret to inform you Capt. T. A. K. Burnett 3rd attached 8th East Lancs Regt is reported wounded and missing May thirty first Presume this refers to Capt. I. A. K. Burnett 3rd attached 8th East Lancs Regt. Further news will be sent immediately on receipt

Without a body, the military authorities were keen to ascertain Captain Burnett’s fate. His service records show the extent to which the War Office would routinely go in trying to discover what happened to missing soldiers (or at least officers). Several accounts of Burnett’s death were tracked down from fellow members of his battalion:

“I knew him he was our Captain, B. Co. He went on a bombing raid and was killed by shrapnel. All the boys were talking about it afterwards, and Segt. Major. Ray [sic]knows all about him if you care to write. Inf. Pte R. Farebrother, 17650, 1 Con. Camp, Boulogne.”

Followed by:

“Statement by CSM W. Wray (17226) I was with Capt. I. A. K. Burnett in action on the 30/31 May 1917. To the best of my belief I was the last man to see him. He was so badly wounded that we were unable to move him. He was unconscious and I consider mortally wounded.”

Those testimonies were sufficient for a new telegram to be sent to Kathleen Burnett. Dated 27 June 1917, it read:

To: Miss Burnett, 27 Woodlands, Golders Green, London

Deeply regret to inform you Capt. I. A. K. Burnett East Lancs Regt previously reported wounded and missing is now reported missing believed killed May thirty first. The Army Council express their sympathy.

Enquiries continued, and in August 1917, a more detailed eyewitness account was obtained from 21770 Sergeant Frederick McBride, originally collected from a hospital in Manchester. Burnett’s service records contain his statement:

“I state that “Capt. Burnett died of wounds on May 31st during the battle of Arras near Monchy. The attack took place in the evening. When the officer was wounded I lifted him into the trench, he was wounded in the back and died about 5 mins. after being hit. We retired about two hours afterwards leaving the body, but the position has since been retaken.”

This was definitive enough for the War Office to declare that Captain Burnett should now be considered to have died. By means of identification, McBride noted that Captain Burnett “wore an elastic bandage round his right knee, which he removed before he died.” This rather poignant detail perhaps shows the effects of Captain Burnett’s bursitis, suffered the year before.

More detail on Captain Burnett’s death from Sergeant McBride was provided in a letter dated 15 October 1917, from J. Dixon of the Auxiliary Military Hospital at Nantwich:

On May 31st 1917 – about 10.20 or 10.25 PM, the 8th S. Lancs [sic] was attached to the 29th Division and was on the right of Monchy. Capt Burnett with his C. S-Major, Sergt. McBride, and about 12 men, was on the right of the attack. Just as they were going over the parapet, Capt Burnett was hit on his left side and dropped back into the open. Sergt. McBride climbed out of the trench and carried the Captain in and bandaged him up, but he died in about 10 mins. His last words to Sergt. McBride were “I am dying. I am bleeding internally.” They were compelled to evacuate the trench about ten minutes after he died, as the enemy counter-attacked, and bombed the trench.

Sergt. McBride says that there is no doubt whatever about the identity of the officer. He had been with him about twelve months, also that there is no doubt about his death, as he (the Sergt.) shook Capt. Burnett again before they evacuated the trench to make sure.

I consider that this evidence is pretty reliable. I have always found Sergt. McBride very truthful and reliable.

In November, following even further enquires, the commanding officer of the 8th East Lancashire Regiment fully concurred with McBride’s statement:

“I have no remarks to offer. I am personally convinced he is dead and I consider Captain Burnett should be reported as ‘Killed in Action’.”

Sadly, 21770 Sergeant Frederick McBride would himself die on the 22nd March 1918, during the German spring offensive. By then, the 8th East Lancashire Regiment had ceased to exist, and he was serving with the 15th Entrenching Battalion. Sergeant McBride is commemorated on the Pozières Memorial, on the Somme.


At the time of his death, Captain Burnett was 31 years old. His name is recorded on the Arras Memorial to the Missing in the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras. It also features on several war memorials and rolls of honour in the UK. In Scotland, this includes the main City of Aberdeen war memorial, the University of Aberdeen’s memorial in King’s College Chapel, and the village memorial at Kemnay. In London, Captain Burnett’s name appears on the British Museum’s war memorials at Bloomsbury and Kensington, as well as on the British Librarians memorial in the British Library.

Arras Memorial to the Missing: East Lancashire Regiment panel

Captain Burnett’s name on the Arras Memorial to the Missing

A man of contradictions

The touching entry for Captain Burnett published in the University of Aberdeen Roll of Service in the Great War [7] talks about “the humours and contradictions of his wayward spirit,” speculating that he probably did not fully understand them himself.

“In that final synthesis strange and alien elements coalesced, the tender and mocking irony of the Abbé Coignard did not disdain communion with the austerity of Calvin, the freshness of the child met the experience of the sage, and the scoffer embraced the votary. And, like a radiant vestment to his inward riches, none could fail to be struck by his unique courtesy. This quality alone, were but all its implications apprehended, might be truly said to symbolize and epitomize his whole nature. ”O anima cortese!” is epitaph enough.”

The British Librarians' war memorial (detail)

The British Librarians’ war memorial (detail)


[1] British Library, Guide to Sale Catalogues, accessed May 22, 2017,

[2] Peter Kidd, Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900. In: Medieval manuscripts provenance, 23 August 2014, accessed May 22, 2017,

[3] List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900, now in the British Museum (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1915), accessed May 22, 2017,

[4] Burnett’s colleagues on the List also didn’t survive the war completely unscathed. Harold Mattingly attested in September 1914 and joined the 28th Battalion, County of London Regiment (the Artists’ Rifles). He was, however, discharged in January 1916, being judged to be “no longer fit physically for war service.” His medical board report is remarkably sympathetic, recording that Mattingly had previously suffered from nervous conditions (e.g. while studying at Cambridge and again in May 1914, largely due to overwork). It was the opinion of the board that the physical manifestations of illness were so severe that Mattingly was considered to be “absolutely unfit for military duty.” He later joined the Postal Censorship Bureau. Alfred W. Pollard was too old to join-up, but both of his sons were killed during the war. Lieutenant Geoffrey Blemell Pollard of the 119th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, was killed-in-action, aged 26, on the 24 October 1914 near La Bassée in France, “while crossing an open space on observation duty for his battery.” He was 26 years old. He is buried at Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery at La Gorgue, his grave concentrated there from the churchyard at La Couture after the war. While at St Paul’s School, Hammersmith, Geoffrey had won the school scholarship for the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich; he had been gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in 1908. His brother, Lieutenant Roger Thompson Pollard of the 5th (Service) Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, was killed on 13 October 1915 while leading a raid near Hulluch. His name is recorded on the Loos Memorial and the war memorial at Merton College, Oxford. The two brothers are also commemorated on the memorials at St Alban’s Church, Hindhead and in St Mary’s Church, Wimbledon. Sources: ODNB; Alfred W. Pollard, Two Brothers. Accounts rendered (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1917); Lieutenant Geoffrey Blemell Pollard, accessed May 22, 2017,; “Lieutenant Roger Thompson Pollard (1910),” Merton@750: An Anniversary Collection, accessed May 22, 2017,

[5] Aberdeen University Review, Vol. 5, 1917-18, pp. 74, 189.

[6] Two of the people that supported Burnett’s application to join the Inns of Court OTC also died in the war. Burnett’s proposer was Thomas Martin Garrod, the son of Colonel Sir Archibald Garrod, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. Lieutenant Garrod died on the 10th May 1915, aged 20, while serving with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, but attached to its 1st Battalion. He had been severely wounded the previous day, “in a charge at the Rue du Bois, near Richebourg St. Vaast,” and died at Béthune, where he is buried in the town cemetery. He and his elder brother, Lieutenant Alfred Noel Garrod, are also commemorated on a memorial at Melton Parish Church, Suffolk. The person responsible for selecting Burnett for the Inns of Court OTC was Charles Reginald Chenevix Trench, a graduate of Merton College, Oxford who was working as a lawyer while also serving as an officer in the OTC. After the outbreak of war, Chenevix Trench joined the 2nd/5th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), was promoted to Major, and was killed-in-action, aged 30, during the German Spring Offensive. Like Captain Burnett, Major Chenevix Trench’s name is also recorded on the Arras Memorial. Sources: Lieutenant Thomas Martin Garrod, accessed May 22, 2017,; “Major Charles Reginald Chenevix Trench (1906),” Merton@750: An Anniversary Collection, accessed May 22, 2017,

[7] Mabel Desborough Allardyce (ed.), University of Aberdeen Roll of Service in the Great War, 1914-1919 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1921), pp. 61-62; accessed May 22, 2017,; online version, accessed May 22, 2017,

Further Reading:

L. Nicholson, H. T. MacMullen, History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Liverpool: Littlebury, 1936).

Stephen Barker, Christopher Boardman, Lancashire’s Forgotten Heroes: 8th (Service) Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War (Stroud: History Press, 2008).

Colin Fox, Battleground Europe: Monchy-le-Preux (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2000)


WO 339/27462, Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, the East Lancashire Regiment (long service papers), The National Archives, Kew

WO 95/1498/1, 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew

WO 95/2537/4, 8th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew

WO WO 95/1506/1 1st Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew


Transcripts from archives and records are my own and may contain errors.

This is a longer-version of an account of Captain Burnett prepared for the British Library’s Untold Lives blog:



  1. […] of Monchy-le-Preux, supporting attacks on trenches around Infantry Hill to the east (where the 8th East Lancashires had been fighting back in May) . The 62nd Brigade war diary [5] does not always contain daily […]

  2. […] on the British Librarians memorial now at the British Library. In May, this blog remembered Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett (8th East Lancashire Regiment). The British Library’s Untold Lives blog has also covered […]

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