24/1949 Lance Corporal Oswald Burnet – NZ Rifle Brigade

Oswald Burnet was born in Woodend, Christchurch on the 17th December 1889, he was the fourth child in the family of Thomas James and Ellen Burnet.[i]

Oswald was raised in Woodend and went to the local school.  Colin worked as a carpenter and ad a strong Methodist
belief. In 1911 the strong beliefs resulted in Oswald Burnet being accepted for work within the church.[ii]

By 1914 Oswald had moved to Porirua and was a Reverend on the Johnsonville Methodist Circuit.[iii]

On the 28th October 1915 the Dominion carried the following:[iv]

'The Rev, Oswald Burnet, of the Johnsonville Methodist Circuit at Porirua, who has
volunteered for active service as a private in the infantry, was the recipient of a
wristlet watch and a lettercase from a large company of friends and the Johnsonville
Boy Scouts, of whom he is the Scoutmaster, at a farewell gathering at the Porirua Hall
last evening. Mr Linniberg spoke On behalf of the Methodist congregation on the good
work doen by the guest of the evening. The Rev C. H. Isaacson,of the Johnsonville
Anglican Church, also spoke of the high esteem in which the Rev. Oswald Burnet was
held by all of the congregation. The Rev. Burnet offered to enlist in the Ambulance
Corps about a month ago, but on Monday last he was told that there were no vacancy
at present, and that he would be obliged to wait some  time for an opening. He then
decided to join the infantry, and so get into the firing line without delay. In passing it
might be stated that Mr Burnet has two brothers in khaki – one returning to-day by the
Tofua who is wounded in both arms, and another brother now in camp.'

24/1949 Private Burnet entered military camp on the 16/11/1915 with the 10th Reinforcements. On On the 4th March
1916, following basic training and prior to leaving for active service Private Burnet was promoted to Lance Corporal
Burnet. While he had enlisted in an infantry unit it is highly likely that he would have been allocated as a stretcher bearer
or a similar role, rather than to carry a rifle.

The 10th Reinforcements arrived in Egypt on the 8th April 1916 and five days later was transported to France.
Military records do not state it but Lance Corporal Burnet returned to the rank of Private. In France, Rifleman Oswald Burnet was attached to B Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade NZ(R)B. Rifleman Oswald was promoted back to Lance Corporal on the 3rd July 1916. One of the officers in B Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd NZ(R)B was 2nd Lieutenant Harold George Carter from Porirua.

On the 15th September 1916 B Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd NZRB was in the front line trenches at the Somme waiting to ‘Go over the Top.’  At zero hour, 6.20 a.m., an intense barrage opened on the German trenches. After six minutes this barrage began to creep forward at a rate of 50 yards per minute towards the Switch Trenches which were the first objective. The 2nd Auckland and 2nd Otago’s were the first to leave the front lines. Ten minutes after zero the C Company and B Company of the 4th Battalion 3rd NZRB moved into the attack.[v]  By 7.50 the objectives had been captured and work was underway in construction strong points and repairing the captured trenches in case of possible counter attacks. In just over an hour the 4th Battalion had advanced 1000 yards during which they had been subject to heavy machine-gun and artillery fire. Casualties had been heavy and 2nd Lieutenant H G Carter had led B Company in the final assault as the Company Commander, Captain A J Powley, had been mortally wounded in the early stages of the advance.
B Company in the five days that it was in action on the Somme lost sixteen men either killed in action or dying from their wounds, the majority of the casualties on the 15th September 1916. On this day twelve of B Company were listed as killed in action.

 Lance Corporal Burnet was severely wounded and evacuated from the battlefield first to the No1 General Hospital, Etretat, France and once his condition was stable enough he was evacuated by ship to England and the No1 NZ General Hospital, Brockenhurst.

On arrival at Brockenhurst, 13th October 1916, Lance Corporal Burnet was listed as seriously wounded and suffering gunshot wounds to the left thigh.  Lance Corporal Burnet had been hit on the lower third of the thigh by one  bullet had passed through but had shattered the femur. Surgery saved the leg and a final medical report noted that there was movement and sensation in the leg but the left femur was now 1.5 inches shorter than the right.[vi]

On the 13th January 1917 Lance Corporal Burnet was loaded on the Hospital Ship Marama for the return to New Zealand.  Following arrival in New Zealand Lance Corporal Burnet was discharged on the 19th April 1917 from the army as ‘no
longer fit for war service on account of wounds received on Active Service.’

Oswald Burnet returned to his father’s house at Windsor Terrace, Christchurch and to the church and also told of his war service[vii].
Last evening the Rev. Oswald Burnet who has seen active service, gave a narrative
of his experience as a soldier at the front, and was listened to with interest by a
fairly large audience gathered in Trinity Hall. The chair was taken by the Rev. W. A. Hay.
The Rev. O. Burnet said he left New Zealand on Good Friday, 1916, and Landed in a
seaport in the north of France, where there is a gigantic camp much larger than
anything of the kind in New Zealand. It was, he said, a great treat, after being two
months on a transport, to see the beautiful country and be able to talk to an English
lady. After 10 days in what was known as the “bull ring,”  marching orders were issued,
and they went to the Somme in a train of certainly not first class carriages, but luggage
vans. The discomfort of occupying trenches knee-deep in mud was described and
descriptions were given of the different German guns and the various effects produced
by their shells. Trench life was bad enough in fine weather but when it was cold and wet
it became a terrible ordeal to go through. On a wild night the men in the front trench got
no sleep. The daily routine of Camp life was pleasantly told. It was the same old things
over and over again – the same night watch, the same broken sleep, the same crash of
bombs, the same feeling of helplessness; but even the men with glaring faults knew that
they were doing their duty, and that their lives were in God’s keeping. Mr Burnet said he
had met some fine men at the front, and when the call came to him to pass to the beyond
he was sure he would meet some of those brave men over there. After spending three
months in Armentieres they went into the Somme district, where he took part in the attack.
When waiting for the signal to go there was no shirking but the mind centered on one thing
– they must do their duty. Mr Burnet said he did not get far over the top before he was
stopped by two shrapnel bullets, and lay on ‘No Man’s Land’ for 26 hours before he was
carried to a dressing station and subsequently to a French Hospital. Here he was well
treated and then he was put on a hospital ship and brought back to New Zealand.

On the 29th  April 1920 Oswald Burnet married Dorothy Mary Brewins. Dorothy and Dorothy Eva Burnet both from Christchurch, had attended teachers training.

Oswald and Dorothy moved around New Zealand as was required to service the needs of the Methodist Church. In 1924 the Reverend Burnet was serving at the Parsonage, Greenvale when he was recommended to be a Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class (Methodist), Reserve List Class 1. Chaplain Burnet was put onto the active list 1926. Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class Burnet resigned his commission as of 27th December 1927.

Oswald Burnet died in Christchurch in 1960.

Three other of Oswald’s four brothers also served with the NZEF
6/1797 Frank Burnet
7/1825 Ralph Freeman Burnet
70811 Harry Burnet
Paperspast Online
Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files: 24/1949 Lance Corporal Oswald Burnet

[i] NZ BDM
[ii] Rangiora Methodist Church, 11th April 1911, Christchurch Press.
[iii] Methodist Church – Annual Synod, 10th November 1914, Wairarapa Daily Times
[iv] Personal, 28th October 1915, Dominion
[v] The Somme – NZ History online
[vi] Archway Archives New Zealand Military Files; 24/1949 Lance Corporal Oswald Burnet
[vii] War Experiences, 8th November 1917, Otago Daily Times

"Over the Top"