Sapper Jim Dempsey Burrowes
Regt. No. 44457
72nd Field Company, The Royal Engineers
Jim Dempsey Burrowes was born on the 10th of August
1895 in the village of Clara, Kings County, now
Co. Offaly. He was one of the twelve children born
to John Burrowes and Julia Dempsey. His father was
a builder. The twelve children born to John and Julia
were, Jack, Tom, Frank, Bill, Luke, George, Jim, Poly,
Josephine, Agnes, Anne and Lizzie. Jim was the youngest
in the family, his mother died tragically giving birth
to him. Three months after the death of his mother, his
father died. Most of the girls in the Burrowes family
emigrated to America. Lizzie became a nun in Argentina.
Agnes wanted to follow in her footsteps and wrote to the
convent in Argentina. They rejected her application on
the grounds there was no room in the convent for her.
Later they did send for Agnes, however in the interim
she had joined the Presentation order of nuns in Madras,
India. She remained in India as a nun for ten years.
George, Frank and Luke joined the Army. George saw action
in the Boer War while serving with the 1st Battalion of
the Linclonshire Regiment and was awarded the Queen and
King's Medal for service in South Africa.
Jim was brought up in River Street, Clara, by his aunt
and uncle. His uncle Tom worked in Goodbodies who were
Jute manufacturers in Clara. He attended school at the
local Christian Brothers in Clara, however, he left
school at an early age. At the age of fifteen he went
to Dublin and served his apprenticeship as a carpenter
in the building company Mc Loughlin and Harvey. His
brother Tom was a foreman carpenter with T & C Martins.
Interestingly, some years ago a wooden ladder was found
in T & C Martins which had the name Tom Burrowes printed
on it. The Irish actor Noel Purcell also served his
apprenticeship as a carpenter in T & C Martins. Tom
maintained Purcell was no bloody good as a carpenter,
he was all fingers. Carpentry's loss was the foot-
On the 31st of August 1914, at the age of twenty, Jim
joined the army. He was one of the thousands of young
men influenced by John Redmond, who told them they
were joining the army to free Ireland. Jim, being
a carpenter, was posted to the Royal Engineers. His
good friend Brock enlisted and was awarded a commission
into the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. They promised each other
they would meet up after the war. The enlistment of these
two young men was a classic example in the recruiting
psychology used by the recruiting authorities. The idea
on enlistment was for you to 'bring a pal', hence the
concept of the pals battalions. Jim went to Newark in
Nottinghamshire and Sailsbury for training. On the 17th
of September 1915, Jim left Plymouth for the Dardanelles.
On the 13th of October Jim entered the trenches at Suvla
Bay. His note book recalls that he came under fire for the
first time. As a member of the Royal Engineers, his tasks
were mainly the construction of trench systems. For the
next couple of months he applied his trade in some of the
most dangerous battle zones of the Dardanelles which were
Lala Baba, Suvla Bay and Cape Helles. On January the 1st,
he moved down the coast from Suvla Bay to Cape Helles. This
was the site where the Dublin and Munster fusiliers suffered
terrible losses back in April 1915. During his time at Suvla,
Jim came across a young Australian Officer who was dying from
a bullet wound. The young Ausie officer asked Jim to write
home to his wife and tell her what happened to him.
Regrettably Jim never fulfilled the dying Ausie's request.
An 'awful time' is the entry into Jim's Soldier Book to
describe the happenings at Cape Helles. On the 9th of January
1916. Jim, along with the rest of the Allies, left the
Dardanelles peninsula. The myth was that the Allies left
in silence and unawares to the Turks. According to Jim's
notes on January the 9th, the Turks 'shelled us leaving,
[?] lucky to get away'.
Jim was sent to Alexandria in Egypt and then on to Mesopotamia
(Iraq). On the 17th of February 1916, Jim "sighted the Shat el
Arab lighthouse." In April, while constructing redoubts, Jim
and his crew came under Turkish shell fire. His close officer
friend named Chapman was killed in that attack. During the
fighting, Jim was wounded in the leg and shoulder. The heat
in Iraq was unbearable. In the morning Jim and his comrades
would curse the sun coming up over the horizon. On marches
the men would place a small stone in their mouth to keep
their mouth wet. A popular marching song was 'wash me in the
water that I washed my dirty daughter in and I shall be
whiter than the whitewash on the wall'. The people were
terribly poor. Jim described the people washing horse
droppings from cavalry horses in order to wash out the oats
in the droppings for food.
In May 1918, Jim travelled to Madras to visit his sister
Agnes who was a Presentation nun. They did not meet up as
Agnes had left the order and gone to America. The Great War
ended in 1918. On the 19th of April 1919, Jim was demobbed.
In 1920 Jim went to America. He first worked in a Piano
Company and later obtained work in Boston with the
Western Electric Company. While working in Boston he met
a young Irish girl named Mary Hanrahan from near the village
of Corofin in Co. Clare. Mary came from a family of eleven
children. She had emigrated to America some years earlier
as a young girl from Queenstown (Cobh). In 1923 Jim and
Mary married and in 1928, Mary gave birth to their only
child, a baby girl they named Marie, whom is now seventy
years of age and in the finest of health. Due to a
worsening heart condition, Jim and his family returned
to Ireland in 1934. They sailed from America on the
Britannic which docked in Galway Bay. Regrettably Jim
suffered from a heart complaint, along with a recurring
dose of malaria he picked up during his war years. He was
now thirty nine years of age.
For a year or so they lived on Mary's family farm in Co.
Clare. Later they moved to Mountmellick Co. Laois. As
a business venture, Jim built a ballroom or dance hall
called the Geraldine Hall in Lord Edward Street. When
there were no folks dancing in the hall, Jim used it
as a boxing arena and attracted some big names such
as Dublin boxer Jimmy Ingles. The years working for
Western Electric in America gave Jim some insight
into the wonders of electricity. As a hobby, Jim worked
on developing a form of magnetic mine. He sent some of
his designs on to the British Admiralty during the
Second World War.
In August 1946, at the age of fifty one, the heart
condition that Jim had suffered from eventually took
its toll. Many who knew him said he looked older
than he was when he died. Four years of digging trenches
in Asia no doubt added to his shortened life. He was
buried in Mountmellick. In 1975, his wife Mary died
and was buried alongside Jim. Agnes, who became a nun
in India and later went to America where she died.
Lizzie, the nun in Argentina, died and was buried in
Argentina. His good friend Brock, the officer in the
Dublin Fusiliers, never did meet up with Jim in America.
He emigrated to South Africa after the war and was killed
flying with the South African Air Force.
Like many other Irish families, the Great War of 1914-1918
left a terrible misery on the Burrowes family from Clara
in County Offaly. At the outbreak of the war in August 1914,
Jim had three brothers in the regular Army. George, his
oldest brother was a sergeant in the 1st Batallion of the
Lincolnshire Regiment. In 1901 George fought in the Boer
War. In the Great War he was wounded at Baillual near
Ypres. He died from his wounds on the 4th February 1915.
George was thirty seven years of age when he died. Next
came Frank who was corporal in the 2nd Batallion of the
Connaught Rangers. Frank was killed in the first few weeks
of the war at Mons on the 22nd of August 1914. Frank was
thirty one years of age when he died. Finally there was Luke,
a gunner with the Royal Garrison Artillery. Luke was killed
near Ypres on the 21st April 1917. He was twenty nine years
of age when he too was killed.
In the later years of his life Jim never spoke about the loss
of his three brothers. Perhaps after the passing of a
generation and eighty years they should be spoken of now.
My thanks must go to Mrs. Marie (Burrowes) Dunne, the only
daughter of Jim and Mary Burrowes, who sat in her home in
Dublin and told me the memories she had of her late father,
Jim Burrowes, Regimental number 44457, 72nd Field Company,
The Royal Engineers, who came from Clara County Offaly.
Tom Burke, August 1998.