Private James William Burke

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Massachusetts.

The grave of James William Burke

James William Burke is one of the earliest casualties commemorated by the project and one of the youngest. He was born at Southborough, Massachusetts on 13 February 1897, the fourth of the five children of James and Mary Burke.[1] His father was a naturalised citizen from Ireland who had settled in Massachusetts after immigrating in 1882; he worked as a gardener and his son became an ostler.

James Burke enlisted early in the war, on 22 November 1914 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, aged only 17. He lied about his age, giving his year of birth as 1893. He joined the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) and was allocated the number 575. Recruiting had begun for the Battalion in early November with the Battalion destined to be part of the Second Division of Canadians sent to Europe. As an American he was not alone in joining the 25th Battalion—a number of small groups of men had made their way north from New England to enlist in Halifax.[2]

Men of the 25th Battalion in Halifax

Burke barely had time to get used to his new uniform and equipment before he fell ill at the turn of the year. He was admitted to the Station Hospital, where he died of acute nephritis on 15 January 1915, aged 17. His remains were returned to the United States and he is buried in Southborough Rural Cemetery, Worcester County, Massachusetts. His grave is in the north-eastern part of the cemetery in Section 12, Row 2, Plot 9, Grave 1. His mother and father were buried beside him. The grave is marked with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone and a larger family memorial.

The Canadian Book of Remembrance showing the entry for Private James Burke

Private Burke is commemorated on page 7 of the Canadian First World War Book of Remembrance; that page is displayed on 16 January. Having served only in Canada he was not entitled to any war medals. His memorial scroll and plaque were sent to his father.

His older brother John (known as Barney) served with the United States Navy in both World Wars, retiring in 1946 as a Lieutenant Commander.


1. (Back) James Joseph Burke (February 1861-22 December 1935) married Mary E. Donohue (May 1868-6 April 1916) on 23 November 1887: John Henry (20 September 1889-23 January 1962); Mary Agnes (later Howes) (17 February 1892-1 February 1982); Catherine Francis (later Tobin) (14 June 1894-19 August 1971); William Patrick (9 December 1902-24 June 1974).
2. (Back) For a contemporary study of the Battalion see: Clements, R N & Tennyson, B D (Ed). (2013). The Story of the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Regiment), Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. An extract, covering the early period of the Battalion’s life while it was in Halifax was published by Canadian Military History here.

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