Leading Stoker William Charles Burrows, R.N.
By Robert W. Green
Memorial card photograph of William Charles Burrows.
Crewmen of HMS Venerable, William C. Burrows is seen back row on right.
Memorial to William C. Burrows.
A period of approximately 9 years separates the service posting of my Granddad "AB William Thomas Clegg, R.N."and that of "William Charles Burrows Leading Stoker RN", both of whom served on HMS Irresistible. But they are inseparable in one aspect of both their duty tours. That of "Ordinary Seacat Togo" the ships pet cat
Whether or not Togo remained known by his rank, to crews of HMS Irresistible subsequent to my Granddads
service, is an unknown? However Togo, is certainly to be found in any number of photographs of the crew, in
particular with the Officers, demonstrating that he was held in high esteem. Photos of Togo can be seen on
this page. For these reasons alone, my personal curiosity as to the destiny of Togo, led me on a journey of
discovery, that has reconnected the bond of Togo, in now having made contact with William Burrows family
93 years later and half a world away!
This is the e-mail request, found on the Internet, that started the research;
MESSAGES; "WILLIAM BURROWS.. I had an (great) uncle of who was a stoker (I think) on the above battle
cruiser HMS Irresistible). He was one William Burrows. He died when the ship was torpedoed - he apparently
had gone back to save the cat!! I do have a photo of this young man. Can you advise if you have crew lists for
this ship and if so check and see if his name is on it. His parents were Emma (nee crebeau) and William
Burrows. If you do have his name perhaps we could exchange a copy of the photo for his crew information.
Look forward to hearing from you.
William was born in the East end of London, his life was anything but easy, he was a barrow boy, but
obviously this served as a mold for the caring nature of what both he and his mother Emily (Emma) demonstrated to the world in later life. Diane quotes from stories handed down from her Grandmother and family folklore.
"They were extremely poor and had spent some time in a Workhouse in London somewhere. They lived in
Shadwell so I guess it would have been in that parish. I still have not found them registered there (meaning
registered in a workhouse in their parish). Going by the age of my grandmother it would have been about
1900-1901. Nana used to tell me how they slept in doorways, how the jewish families would give them food,
or shelter for the odd night. My Aunty has a paper cutting re the drowning of William and again she is on the
search - which box of 'stuff' would it be in?. I have asked her to make this a priority. You have made me
think, and I agree our William was a hero - not many would have done that. Often folk would think - just a
cat. So when all sorted with photo, cutting and right information yes our family will share all re William. His
mum my great grandmother came to NZ in 1913 departing from Liverpool - with my grandmother and her
sister. The oldest sister was already in NZ ".
Diane`s account continues with this revelation;
"Interesting re the cat and its name. I have a different version of events for our William. My Aunty who is the
niece of this chap though never meet him reports the following. Yes the ship was hit and yes there was a cat
and it would appear that the cat went back down in the ship but from where we are not too sure. William
then went to get the cat to bring him back up and it was while he was down there collecting the furry critter, it was announced batten the hatches everyone one off. Therefore our William drowned. That's our version on
events. Mind you it would be most interesting to see just what the paper says way then. This was in 18 March
1915, apparently another person also drowned".
Subsequent to Williams drowning, Diane adds this of his Mother Emma;
"PS by the way, William's mum, Mrs. Emma Burrows (nee Crebeau) after her son died, she sunk her life into
helping sailors and moved to Devonport in Auckland to be near the naval base. She used to sew for them, cook for them, write letters for them, make candy for them and was there when every ship docked or sailed.
She did receive some medals from the navy and when she died she received a gun salute and her casket was
carried on a gun carriage."
I am honoured to convey this account for William Thomas Burrows Family. In particular thanks goes to Diane
Pitcaithly (and her aunties for sharing the information with her) who has patiently provided the information.
Our respects to you Diane and your family,
Robert William Green (2009)
Text © 2009 Robert W. Green all rights reserved
Photos courtesy of Diane Pitcaithly
Aug. 31, 2013
William (Bill) was my great uncle, my grandmother's brother -my grandmother's story of Bill's demise echoes Diane's story. I live in the UK, but Diane and I have worked together to uncover more information about the family. They were split between poor schools in surrey (the children) and the workhouse in Shadwell (the mother) when the family split. My grandmother went to NZ in 1910 and sponsored the rest of the family to join her, which may account for Bill being under the ANZAC banner. So lovely to see him being written about here -so brave, so young....
Sept. 3, 2013
I am so pleased after all these years, that as a result of this website, it has been possible to re connect you
with your ancestors. With the centenary of the First World War fast approaching, the story of William Burrows RN and his selfless act to save O/S Togo is one we should all recall. I would add, that a book is being written in Turkey, by one of the divers who has been permitted to descend to the Dardanelles wrecks, in particular HMS Irresistible, which is now classified as War Grave. I am led to believe, that the manner of William`s passing, in attempting to rescue Togo the ships Cat will takes it's rightful place in the annals of history as part of the book, as one of the human stories associated with the tragic losses during the Naval attacks that took place in March 1915.
Robert William Green
Page published Feb. 26, 2009