Burt George ‘Bertie’ McArthur came to Chelmsford when aged about two and lost his father before he was five. He worked as a whitesmith and then a coppersmith. After his mother’s death he left for Australia before the war, joined the army there and arrived in France in 1917. At then end of the war he contracted bronco-pneumonia from which he succumbed in March 1919. His sister lived in Coval Road (later ‘Lane’).
Bertie was born in Horsham, Sussex in 1883, the son of the painter Isaac Neil McArthur and Susannah McArthur (nee Pearce). His father had been born in Brighton, Sussex in 1849; his mother had also been born, in Brighton, in 1850. The couple had married in Brighton on 11th January 1873, and in 1881 had been resident in Brighton.
Bertie’s siblings included Neil McArthur (born in 1875), Mark McArthur (born c1876), Florence Phoebe McArthur (born in 1876), Percy McArthur (1878-1940), Harry Albert McArthur (1880-1938), William Frank McArthur (1882-1941), and Sidney Philip Walter McArthur (1885-1958). All were Brighton-born except the youngest one who was born in Chelmsford.
The 1881 census had shown Bertie’s family living in Brighton, where his father was a housepainter employing two men. In late 1884 the family moved to Chelmsford.
Bertie’s father died on 8th May 1887 aged 37 from lockjaw (tetanus) at Chelmsford Infirmary. He contracted the disease after he and his brother were thrown from their trap after their horse was startled by another horse near Wickham Bishops. Bertie’s father suffered a broken leg as a result of the accident and that led to his death eight days later.
The 1891 census recorded seven year-old Bertie, living at 1 Embankment Row, off Victoria Road, Chelmsford with his widowed mother, five brothers and a lodger. His brother Mark was a printer’s apprentice. A decade later 17 year-old Bertie remained with his mother and two brothers at the same property, now known as 1 Embankment Terrace. He was an apprentice whitesmith; his brother William was a painter at an engineer’s works and his brother Sidney was a telegraph messenger.
Bertie’s mother died in 1911, aged 61. That year the census found 27 year-old Bertie boarding at 5 Napoleon Road in St. Marylebone, London. He was a coppersmith. Meanwhile his brothers William and Walter were living with their brother-in-law (married to their sister Phoebe) Joseph Oliver at 18 Coval Road in Chelmsford. Joseph was a self-employed coal merchant; William worked at Hoffmann’s ball-bearings factory; and Walter was a painter at an electrical engineer’s.
Bertie then appears to have emigrated to Australia before the war.
He went to join the Australian Imperial Force on 3rd November 1915 at Longreach in Queensland, Australia when aged 32 and one month. His attestation papers dated 12th November 1915 recorded that he was a tinsmith and had served a five-year apprenticeship with the Chelmsford firm of Joseph Gripper. He was unmarried and his next of kin was his brother Percy who lived at 72 Halton Road, Cannonbury Road in London (and later lived at 53 Compton Road, Highbury, London N1). His physical description at the time revealed that he was five feet eight inches tall and weighed nine stone two pounds and had ‘good development’. His chest was 31.5 inches, his complexion fair, his eyes grey and his hair brown. He was a member of the Church of England.
He joined the army as Sapper 9105 McArthur and initially served with the 6th Field Company Engineers, moved to the Engineer Depot at Moore Park. On 25th April 1916 he was posted as part of the 7th Reinforcements of the 8th Field Company Engineers. On 2nd May 1916 he embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on board ‘Hororata’.
MCARTHUR, BURT GEORGE,
Sapper, 9th Field Company Engineers, Australian Imperial Force
In July 1916 he was at the Divisional Troops Depot at Tel-el-Kebir in Egypt. In August 1916 he was in Alexandria, Egypt , and in January 1917 travelled to France via Folkestone on board SS Princess Victoria and went to an Australian General Base Depot at Etaples. In February 1918 he transferred to the 9th Field Company Engineers, Australian Imperial Force at Etaples, part of the 3rd Division. In March and April 1918 he was on leave in England. In June 1918 he was detached for duty at the Royal Engineer Workshops at Jurmont.
On 1st February 1919 he was due to rejoin his unit after a further period of leave including time in Brussels. Two weeks later he was admitted to hospital ill, spending time at an Australian Casualty Clearing Station and on 23rd February 1919 he was reported to be seriously ill with bronco-pneumonia when he arrived at No 4 British General Hospital at Camiers in France. He finally succumbed to the disease there on 1st March 1919. He was subsequently buried at Etaples Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais in France (grave reference XXXII. D. 22).
His personal effects were forwarded to his brother Percy at 53 Compton Road in Highbury. A few private papers were sent to his sister, Mrs Florence Phoebe Oliver of 18 Coval Road in Chelmsford (later re-numbered as 49), while the army was later in contact with another brother, Neil McArthur at 112 Bordon Road, Tonbridge, Kent. Bertie was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
Bertie is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford.