John Joseph Bourke, Kerry/New Zealand to be Remembered

John J Bourke, Rememberance Mass on Friday night in Clogher at 7.30pm.
John J Bourke, Remembrance Mass on Friday night in Clogher at 7.30pm.

A Remembrance Mass will be celebrated on the 100th Anniversary of the death of Private John Joseph Bourke (1881-1916) on this Friday evening, September 16th in St. Brendan’s Church, Clogher, Ballymacelligott at 7.30pm.

Private John Joseph Bourke (22759) from Ballymacpierce, Gortatlea, Tralee emigrated to New Zealand as a young man and worked for his uncle.

The family lore was that he joined the New Zealand Army’s Maori Battalion to fight in WW1 thinking that he would get to make a trip home to Ireland once the war was over.

Sailed for England

His military record shows the following: he joined the army in New Zealand on 7-2-1916, sailed for England on 29-5-1916, arriving there almost two months later on 27-7-1916 .

“Oh how he must have thought of his home just across the Irish sea…,” said his researcher and descendent, Catherine Horan – who takes up the story from here:

“He was posted to France on 20-8-1916. He was killed on the second day of the battle of Flers-Courcelette – part of the Battle of the Somme – on September 16th.1916. His body was never recovered.

A field enquiry heard evidence from fellow soldiers who stated that he had been seriously wounded, ‘He seemed to be hit in the abdomen and was bleeding from other wounds as well.’

Unable to Move

The enquiry concluded that : ‘Pte Bourke was hit again after being lifted from the trench, being unable to move, he was either buried or blown to pieces.’

He is remembered on the memorial to New Zealand soldiers at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval near Albert, France.

When my mother was a child she remembers her grandmother crying when his army pension was paid every month.

In 1991 we cried when we visited the area where he had died, thinking of them both and of every other heartbroken mother who lost a son in WW1.

A Wonderful Photo

A photo found its way to us from New Zealand, showing John as a small boy with his sister Kate, brother Michael and their grandfather Mike Bourke – spelled Burke in Kerry.

It is a wonderful photo taken around 1885 or so. It appears the photo was taken specially to be sent to old Mike Bourke’s relations already in New Zealand.

On that special day as his photo was taken, little did John know what the future held for him. Both Michael and Kate also emigrated to New Zealand…poignantly, his sister, then Mrs Kate Flanagan, was listed as next of kin on his army record sheet.

Remained in Kerry

John J. Bourke was the son of Redmond and Mary Burke – nee Mitchell. He had two sisters: Kate Flanagan – mentioned above and Minnie Fitzgerald who remained in Kerry.

He had five brothers: Michael, Redmond and Tom in New Zealand; Flor, my mother’s father who remained in the home place in Ballymacpierce and Paddy in the USA.

As was the case in many Irish families, while John fought on the British side in WW1, his brother Paddy was actively involved in the Republican struggle against British rule in Ireland some years later.

Never Married

We know he was six feet tall, had a fair complexion, dark brown hair, blue-grey eyes and had a scar on his felt shin. John never married. However, he is remembered by present family generations in Kerry, New Zealand and the USA.”

To see more on the Battle of Flers-Courcelette you can click on the link here:

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