Son of William Burgess and Ada Anne Burgess (nee Starck) of Marton.
The following information has kindly been provided by Michael Ward.
13 February 1911 — 6 November 1942
Sergeant (Air Gunner). Serial: NZ 41140. Royal New Zealand Air Force. XV Squadron, RAF.
James Michael Burgess was born on 13 February 1911 at Hawera, Taranaki, New Zealand, to William Burgess and Ada Anne ‘Annie’ Burgess (née Starck). James was the third of their five children and their third son. He completed Standard 6 (eight years of schooling) and attended Feilding Agricultural High School for six months in 1925. Once he had finished school, James found work as a mill hand at Tihoi Sawmilling Company, Putaruru.
James applied to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force and presented at Hamilton for a medical examination on 14 August 1940. Here he is recorded as being 5 feet, 5¾ inches tall with brown hair and blue eyes; his interests are recorded as football, swimming, and shooting. On 3 January 1941 he was admitted as an aircraft hand at RNZAF Whenuapai, outside Auckland.
On 14 April 1941, he was posted to the Initial Training Wing, Levin, for his ground training.
On 26 May 1941, James embarked for Canada for training under the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Shortly after arriving in Canada, on 16 June 1941, he was posted to No. 3 Wireless Training School, Winnipeg, Manitoba. In December 1941, he proceeded to the Composite Training School, Trenton, for training as an air gunner, and on 4 January 1942, to No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School, Fingal Station, Ontario. In January 1942, James completed Course 24: Air Gunners (placing sixth in his class of 32) and Course 33: Observers. On 2 February, he was awarded his air gunner’s badge and promoted to sergeant. On 11 February, James was posted to No. 1 “Y” Depot, Halifax, Nova Scotia for embarkation overseas.
Sergeant Burgess arrived at No. 3 Personnel Reception Centre, Bournemouth, on 10 March, and on 11 April was posted to No. 1 Air Armament School, RAF Manby, Lincolnshire, for a refresher course. On 26 May he proceeded to No. 11 Operational Training Unit, RAF Bassingbourn, Hertfordshire, where he crewed up and carried out exercises as air gunner on ‘Wellington’ bomber aircraft.
On 25 August he proceeded to No. 1651 Conversion Unit, RAF Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire, for conversion to ‘Stirling’ bomber aircraft. On 25 September 1942 he was posted to No. 15 Squadron at RAF Bourn, a satellite airfield two miles north of the village of Bourn and seven miles west of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. No. 15 Squadron operated Short ‘Stirling’ four-engine heavy bombers from April 1941 until the end of December 1943, when it switched to Avro ‘Lancasters’.
Before the American ‘Flying Fortress,’ the Short ‘Stirling’ was the nearest thing to an air-battleship the world had ever seen. The ‘Stirling’ was designed in 1936 by Short Brothers, Belfast, and first flew in 1939. With moderate speed and manoeuvrability, this aircraft was designed to carry what was for the time an enormous payload to any target in Europe.
The ‘Stirling’ had a relatively brief operational career as a bomber before being relegated to second-line duties from late 1943. This was due to the increasing availability of the more capable Handley Page ‘Halifax’ and Avro ‘Lancaster,’ which took over the strategic bombing of Germany.
James took part in his first engagement, a mine-laying operation, on 27 October 1942.
On 6 November 1942 James and his crew were assigned to Mk I Stirling R.9201 “U” to lay mines in the mouth of the river Gironde, France (a return journey of about 1,250 miles). Conditions on the night of were favourable, with a waxing crescent moon and a new moon due on 8 November 1942. Sadly, the aircraft crashed at St. André des Eaux, 9km west-north-west of St. Nazaire. The eight crew were killed on impact and were buried on 9 November 1942 at Escoublac-la-Baule military cemetery, about 5km to the south-west of the crash site.
Also killed were:
• Flight Sergeant Wilfred James Hannah (Pilot), age 24, NZ 412683
• Flight Sergeant Kenneth Dudley Chapman (Second Pilot), age 24, NZ 411369
• Sergeant Alfred William Jarvis (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner), age 22, NZ 411761
• Sergeant Horace Wigley (Flight Engineer), age 21, RAF VR (Volunteer Reserve) 1147930
• Sergeant Robert Henry Drew (Air Bombardier), age 31, RAF VR 1255407
• Sergeant Sidney John Butcher (Air Gunner), age 20, RAF VR 1318591
• Sergeant Joseph Cecil Brookes (Observer), age 27, RAF VR 1177718
At death, James Michael Burgess was 31 years 9 months old and had 209 hours flight experience.
No. 15 Squadron: Operations Record Book:
6 November 1942:
BOURN. Three aircraft detailed for GARDENING in S. Sector. Two successful. One missing.
R.9193 “S”: Up 1715: Down 0145: Pinpointed PTE. DE LA GOERRE. 3 parachutes seen to open. 1 vegetable believed to explode on impact. 1,600’. 260° (m). Dark. 7/10. 2,000’. Fair.
W.7635 “V”: Up 1740: Down 0030: Pinpointed S. of GIRONDE. 4 chutes seen to open. 1,100’. 333° (m). Dark. Base 3,000’. 3/12. 3 miles. Enemy action: Nil along route.
R.9201 “U”: Aircraft and crew failed to return.
Escoublac-la-Baule Military Cemetery, France, began with the burial of 17 British soldiers killed in the area during 1940, 21 others who died in local hospitals, and a number of British servicemen whose bodies were washed ashore after the sinking of the troopship ‘Lancastria’ in the Bay of Biscay on 17 June 1940. Subsequent burials include men killed in the St. Nazaire commando raid on 28 March 1942, and airmen shot down in the area. The cemetery contains 325 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, of which 74 are unidentified. Three Polish servicemen are also buried here and one man of the Merchant Navy whose death was not due to war service. Throughout the German occupation, Louise Jaouen, a resident of La Baule, dedicated her time and energy to maintaining the graves. With money collected secretly from the local community she provided a cross for every grave and a small monument, had hedges planted, and employed a gardener to tend the cemetery. Her devotion to this work was later honoured by the award of the King’s Medal for Service in the Cause of Freedom.
Attended Feilding Agricultural College (Source: RNZAF Biographies (R17845608)) AWMM