Cyril Sidney Burgess









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Cyril Sidney Burgess was the youngest of my father’s siblings, born on 19 October 1909. I always looked forward to a visit from my Uncle Cyril; with his bristling moustache and lively sense of humour he seemed an unusually exotic relative for our family.

Cyril Sidney Burgess

Cyril with his son Stephen in about 1950

My father used to describe how, as youngsters, the two of them would save up their pennies until they could buy extra pieces for their shared Meccano set. It is still in the family, albeit somewhat rusty after several generations have made thorough use of it. Now it is stored in a rather nice polished writing slope, complete with drawers for nuts and bolts, etc. By my generation there were sufficient pieces to create a couple of large working cranes with plenty left over.

The two brothers would sometimes leave their home in Peckham for a few days rough camping in the countryside. I suspect the threadbare tent I played with in the 1950s was the one they used three decades before. It certainly looked like it. Cyril must have taken to the outdoor life because he relished returning to it many years later.

My father told me of an incident concerning Cyril that perhaps revealed another side to him. They were on the top deck of a tram on a route which Cyril followed frequently. Their conversation was interrupted by Cyril for a few minutes as they passed a particular building. Cyril explained to Dad that every time he passed it he would try to memorise a particular feature of the architecture and then reproduce it on paper when he reached home. It had been suggested at Scouts as a way of improving one’s memory and powers of observation.

Harold Harry and Cyril

On the right is Cyril aged 17 with my father, Harold, on the left and my uncle Harry Loveday between them

The occasion was my mother's 21st birthday in 1926 at 335 Green Lanes, Harringay

As the youngest son, Cyril was unsurprisingly the last to leave home at 61 Sunray Avenue, Camberwell. He was still there when his sister, Lucy Elizabeth, died of TB in 1927 and when his mother, Elizabeth Lucy, died in 1934. He then moved in with Albert, his eldest brother, and Albert's wife Ethel, at 7 Elmhurst Villas, Peckham Rye.

Cyril and NancyIn the 1939 Register Cyril was recorded as living at 5 Hale End Road, Wanstead and Woodford, Essex and his occupation was commercial traveller. There were seven people listed at the address: a family of three in one household and Cyril with three young ladies in the other.

It isn't clear whether Cyril was a resident or a visitor, staying there while travelling for his job. However, one of the young ladies, named Annie E F Kirk, subsequently had her surname crossed out and altered to Burgess on the Register.

Sure enough, Cyril and Annie were to marry in 1940. Annie was a pharmaceutical chemist born in 1909 according to the Register, but her birth was actually registered in Belfast in 1906. Perhaps she didn't want to reveal that she was a little older than her future husband. Her full name was Annie Frances Elizabeth Kirk but she was known in the family as Nancy.

This photograph of Cyril and Nancy looks very much as if it could have been taken on their wedding day registered in Kensington.

Cyril Burgess and Nancy Kirk


When war was declared and conscription began in 1939, Cyril chose to try for the RAF rather than the army or navy. This was a bit of a long shot as he had little going for him apart from a few years’ experience and confidence gained working as a commercial traveller and a huge amount of cheek. When asked where he was educated he answered “Dulwich” and chose not to disabuse them when they assumed he meant Dulwich College rather than the local Dulwich school. He was accepted.

In the absence of Cyril’s full service record I have only found records of his promotions beginning with an entry in the London Gazette for his promotion to sergeant in May 1942. Fortunately his full name is given, along with his service number 125861, so providing confirmation of his identity in subsequent entries. In another Supplement to the London Gazette dated 9 Oct 1942 C S Burgess (125861) was listed under the heading "Acting Pilot Officers (prob.) to be Pilot Officers (prob.)", then in January 1943 he was promoted again to "Flying Officer on prob. (war subs.)".

There is one other reference to Cyril's wartime service and it appears in the saddest of circumstances. After the wedding Nancy returned to Northern Ireland and was living with her mother in Belfast. She wrote to my mother on 24 June 1945 saying that she had been very unwell and had to have an oesophagoscopy but she didn't know why Cyril had been advised to return home "for just an observation test". Then on 31st July 1945 she died at the Musgrave Nursing Home in Belfast. Cyril had to register her death after just five years of marriage and of course limited time together owing to the war. He stated that he was a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF.

In her letter Nancy commented on the poor weather and observed that Cyril was lucky to be "basking in glorious sunshine all day and every day. Spends his week-ends at the Isle of Capri." So he was apparently based in Greece at this time. She went on to write that "He was in Malta for several days - in fact I never know where he is going to pop up next. He seems to do a lot of flying and has a car at his disposal." (In a letter to my sister in 1989 Cyril wrote that he'd had a holiday in Egypt earlier that year. He had always wanted to see more of the country since the RAF had taken him to Cairo and Alexandria during the war.)

After the war Cyril returned to commercial travelling and, as well as representing a soft furnishing company called Charles Halliday, he bought into it and became a director. He chose as part of his “area” to travel to Northern Ireland and took the opportunity to visit his first wife’s family each time he went. In July 1946 he took my sister with him to stay with Mrs Kirk and her son and daughter while he drummed up business for his soft furnishings company. It was the year after my birth and my sister remembers that she missed my first birthday.

Then in December 1948 Cyril married Joyce Isabelle Fondini by licence at Wandsworth Register Office. One of the witnesses was her brother-in-law Stanley R West who had married Joan Fondini in 1938, two years after he had represented Great Britain in the high jump at the Berlin Olympics. Joyce had been a bridesmaid at their wedding.

Cyril and Joyce

Cyril and Joyce

In 1949 Joyce entered the Hillingdon Hospital for the birth of their first child but there were serious complications and on 25th September she died and Cyril was widowed for a second time. Their son survived and was named Stephen Robert Nicholas Hely Burgess. Joyce’s widowed mother, Isabelle, moved into the home and cared for Stephen and Cyril for many years. She was always Mrs Fondini to me. A very quiet and gentle lady.

Cyril continued to visit Northern Ireland during its more troubled period, both for business and to see Nancy's family, and would take his car across with him on the ferry. It was a rather distinctive car: a white Jaguar. One morning he had to report to the police that it had been stolen. This was at a time when stolen vehicles might be used for delivering car bombs. It was later reported found abandoned by joyriders but fortunately was undamaged, and Cyril was able to recover it himself.

That was not the end of the matter however. Cyril had arranged to take some of his in-laws across the border to Eire for a touring holiday. A few days later they arrived back at the border and tried to return home to Northern Ireland. The car was immediately surrounded by gun-toting security forces who ordered the occupants out and lined them up as possible terrorists. It was some time before the army personel accepted that Cyril was driving his own car and hadn’t stolen it. The police had no such doubts and had managed to convince the security forces it was quite safe to allow an elderly grandmother to have a chair but for the rest it must have been an unsettling experience.

Stephen Burgess entry to Australia 1970

When he turned 21 in 1970, Cyril’s son Stephen emigrated to Australia. Naturally Cyril wanted to visit his son from time to time but he chose an unusual mode of transport. Rather than fly direct he would travel overland with a party of similarly minded adventurers and drive as far as he could until he ran out of land and then take to the air for the last leg.

For his first visit I believe he merely broke his journey: there is no documentation apart from his Incoming Passenger Card dated 11 April 1972 showing that he flew into Perth airport from Mauritius.

Subsequent visits always involved a much longer journey, each one exploring a different part of the world on the way to or from Australia and sometimes managing to be in Australia for Christmas.

Cyril, even after he arrived in Australia, preferred to be active, sometimes spending a couple of weeks on a ranch belonging to a friend he had met in South America and once contriving to join a group of Australians on an official trip to China. (That RAF and Dulwich cheekiness coming through again?)

I have compiled a timeline for Cyril’s travels on a separate page, using his lengthy letters and postcards which describe in some detail the journey so far and, sometimes, the remaining itinerary. He appears to have visited Stephen every couple of years, allowing him to return to work for a short period between his several months-long winter holidays.

Cyril died in March 1993, back in England.

Alongside is Stephen's Incoming Passenger Card completed when first he entered Australia in December 1970.


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Timeline for Cyril's travels

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