My Cousin and Uncle James Gerard Burns

The latest 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge prompt is “branching out” so I decided to go back in my family tree and along the branches and choose someone at random to see what interesting facts I could find about them.

The person I chose was John Burns who was born in Newmains, Lanarkshire in 1890. John is a fairly recent addition to my tree. He’s on my maternal line and his grandmother, Helen McLauchlan and my great, great grandmother, Sarah McLauchlan were sisters. Helen has also been added fairly recently after a chance discovery in the poor law records for Lanarkshire. That’s a story for another day. John is the son of Helen’s daughter, Sarah Thomas.

Death record of John Burns 1961

I started researching and found that John married Rose Donnachie in 1915 and the couple had seven children. The name and dates for one of the children stood out – James Gerard Burns 1920-2000. He’s already on my family tree!

I know James Gerard Burns as my Uncle Gerry. He married my mum’s sister, Cathy in 1947. I’ve actually written about him before. He was a prisoner of war in World War 2 having been captured in Singapore in 1942.

I’ve found some new information in the newspapers. For a long time John and Rose had no idea what had happened to their son. He was listed as missing along with some other Newmains boys.

It was over a year before the family heard anything further. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. When news finally arrived they would have been so relieved to hear some news but horrified at the thought of what Gerry was going through.

It was possible for Rose and John to write to Gerry but there were strict rules about communication.

The family might have found some comfort in articles such as the one below from 1942 describing the conditions the POWs faced in the camps.

Of course, the information was designed to keep up the morale of the folks back home. The truth was only reported after the prisoners were liberated.

Gerry returned to Newmains after the war. He lost a finger during his time in the camps. That was talked about but I don’t know how that came about. I don’t know if he ever talked about his experiences. While I was aware of him having been a POW I would never have thought to ask.

Gerry was a butcher before the war and it’s a job he returned to. Here’s a wee story that tells you a bit about the kind of man he was.

So I managed to get totally sidetracked and haven’t really told you much about John but finding out that Gerry was a cousin as well as an uncle was a bit of a surprise. I wonder if anyone else in the family knows about this.

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