Aubrey Burke

Corporal Aubrey Burke died in a tragic accident on the River Bann in his hometown of Portadown, Co. Armagh having served in 2nd Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles.


Aubrey Burke


Corporal Aubrey Burke (7046114) served in 2nd Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles during the Second World War. He was the son of William James Burke and Elizabeth Burke of Portadown, Co. Armagh, and the husband of R.C. Burke of 9 Meadow Lane, Portadown, Co. Armagh.

Before joining the Royal Ulster Rifles, Aubrey found himself in trouble as an 18-year-old recruit to the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Along with George Graham, he illegally entered the office of Richard Keown of Ballyhornan, Co. Down. The pair stole a total of £1, 10s. Burke plead guilty and the British Army dealt with proceedings. Mr. Justice Brown returned Burke and Graham to army life, sparing them prison as it was a first offence. Both the young recruits paid the Crown Solicitor a total of £2 each towards legal costs.

In February 1944, Aubrey married his wife who served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. His brother William Burke also served in the Second World War as a gunner in the Royal Artillery. An older brother Robert Burke was recently discharged and a sister worked in a local N.A.A.F.I.

Corporal Burke returned to the front after the wedding and by June 1944 was in Normandy with 2nd Battalion, Royal Ulster Rifles who landed on D-Day. Under heavy shelling, Burke sustained a back injury. While recovering in hospital, he wrote home to tell the family how he had taken nine prisoners of war the night before the attack.

Tragedy on the River Bann

Corporal Burke died on 16th August 1946 aged 23 years old as a result of a tragic boating accident on the River Bann in Portadown, Co. Armagh. Recently demobilised, Burke had returned to his hometown. On 16th August 1946, he and his 8-year-old nephew Oswald Matchett were on the banks of the river when they spotted two young boys in a small boat. They were 14-year-old Wilson Joyce of Portmore Street and 13-year-old George Ford of Clonavon Avenue. Burke shouted across the river asking for a lift along the river to where his wife awaited in another boat. The four then proceeded down the river in the direction of Seagoe.

Close to the factory of Hamilton and Robb Ltd., the stronger Burke swapped rowing duties with young Joyce. As the two swapped places, the boat overturned. Burke, Joyce, and Ford clung on to the upturned vessel but 8-year-old Matchett disappeared beneath the water. Burke released his hold on the boat, diving under to rescue his nephew. However, the injuries sustained in Normandy left the Corporal a rather weak swimmer.

Aubrey Burke and Oswald Matchett disappeared from sight in an area of thick weeds and concealed mud. Joyce and Ford shouted for help. Factory workers from Hamilton and Robb Ltd. pulled the boys ashore and administered first aid. Employees Herbert Nicholson, William Holland, William Brown, and Evan Jennett dived in the river to begin the search for Burke and Matchett.

By the afternoon, a total of eight boats were partaking in the search coordinated by District Inspector T.P.R. Kenny and Head Constable G. Steele of Portadown R.U.C. Among those involved in the search was Burke’s brother William. Their efforts were to no avail, however, and both Aubrey Burke and young Oswald Matchett were drowned in the river.

Corporal Burke’s grave is in Old Ground, Grave 1167 of Seagoe Cemetery, Portadown, Co. Armagh. In 2018, his name was a new addition to the Portadown War Memorial, Portadown, Co. Armagh. His headstone bears the inscription:

You left aching hearts that loved you most sincere that never can nor ever will forget you, Aubrey dear.

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