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Burnage, Granville John (1858–1945)

by D. V. Goldsmith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Granville John Burnage (1858-1945), soldier and merchant, was born on 14 December 1858 at Dungog, New South Wales, son of Thomas Burnage, watchmaker, and his wife Kezia Agatha, née Hodges, both English-born. The family moved to Newcastle where Thomas established himself as a wine and spirits merchant; after schooling, Granville became a salesman and later a partner in the family business. In 1878 he was one of the first recruits to join the Newcastle Infantry Company, New South Wales militia. He was commissioned lieutenant in 1883, promoted captain in 1885 and made honorary major in 1896.

In 1901-02 Burnage saw action in the South African War as major commanding 'B' squadron, 3rd New South Wales Mounted Rifles Regiment; he served in operations in eastern Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. Invalided home in 1902, he resumed work as a wine and spirits merchant and continued to serve in the militia. In September he was confirmed as major and made second-in-command of the 4th Australian Infantry Regiment. He commanded the regiment in 1907-13 and in 1908-13 was also officer in charge of the Newcastle port defences; he was promoted lieutenant-colonel in 1909.

Burnage joined the Australian Imperial Force on 28 September 1914 but, because of his age, did not expect a field command. He was placed in charge of the Rosehill A.I.F. depot, then on 6 October was appointed to raise and command the 13th Battalion. In choosing his officers and other ranks he set an exceptionally high standard and, during the battalion's training period, made himself unpopular by the strictness of his discipline. The battalion reached Egypt in February 1915 and, because its transport always carried streamers in battalion colours to distinguish it from other units during manoeuvres, it became known as 'Bill Burnage's circus'. It landed at Gallipoli on the night of 25 April and went into Monash Valley. Burnage had orders to reinforce Quinn's Post and Pope's Hill and to help clear the enemy from Russell's Top; in the first week of fighting his troops suffered heavy casualties but earned the name of 'the fighting Thirteenth'. He was 'continually in the front line … moving from post to post across the open'; his fearlessness in action and his concern for his men rapidly won him extraordinary esteem and affection.

On 2 May the battalion took part in an attack on Baby 700, a key enemy position. The men of the 13th reached their objective and held their ground but were cut off without support. Burnage went back alone across an area swept by Turkish fire to report to brigade headquarters; he was ordered to withdraw his men under cover of darkness. 'The Colonel', wrote his second-in-command, 'was the last man out of that deadly fight, in which we lost 300 men … The men were thrilled by such leadership and ever afterwards referred to Colonel Burnage as “The Gamest Old Man”'. On 29 May, during a fierce Turkish attack on Quinn's Post, Burnage's left elbow was shattered in a bomb blast. He was invalided home, mentioned in dispatches in August and appointed C.B. in December. For the rest of the war he was officer commanding on various troopships between Australia and England; he won commendation for his leadership when the Barunga, carrying over 800 troops, was torpedoed in July 1918.

Burnage was demobilized in September and resumed business in Newcastle. He commanded the 2nd Battalion, 13th Regiment, Australian Military Forces, until March 1921 when he retired with the honorary rank of colonel. Burnage was a staunch churchman. On 25 November 1915 he had married Helen Haslewood at St Peter's Anglican Church, London. Survived by his wife, he died at Toronto on 12 July 1945 and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £28,490.

Select Bibliography

  • Aust Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • T. A. White, The Fighting Thirteenth (Syd, 1924)
  • A. W. Jose, The Royal Australian Navy (Syd, 1928)
  • London Gazette, 5 Aug, 15 Dec 1915
  • Reveille (Sydney), July, Sept 1939, Aug 1940, Aug 1945
  • records (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

D. V. Goldsmith, 'Burnage, Granville John (1858–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/burnage-granville-john-5433/text9215, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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