Remembering: Sgt Don Burley

Sergeant Don Burley, who has died aged 94, was awarded a DCM in Italy in September 1944.

On September 20 leading elements of 2nd Armoured Brigade came under heavy fire from high up on the Coriano Ridge, west of Rimini. This vital position, part of the Gothic Line, had been held by infantry, but they had been forced to withdraw by a powerful German counter-attack, leaving their wounded on the ground.
A troop of the Queen’s Bays, of which Burley was troop sergeant, was ordered to assist in driving the enemy from the area. The Bays advanced to the Ridge across open ground, but as soon as the two leading squadrons came over the crest they faced a hail of fire.
Burley’s tank was the only one in his squadron to reach the top of the hill. His troop leaders’ and corporals’ tanks were knocked out and he had to take charge of the operation by himself. Realising that the ground over which he would have to attack was almost entirely covered by enemy anti-tank guns, he dismounted and set off to find out a covered approach up the hill to the enemy position.
He carried out this reconnaissance under constant and accurate fire and, on his return, reported to an infantry company commander and suggested a plan of attack.
The plan was agreed on, and Burley led infantry into the enemy position, using his guns so effectively that they arrived there with few casualties. The German forces were forced to withdraw and, under cover of the tank fire, the casualties from the earlier engagement were evacuated. Later the enemy counter-attacked again. Burley beat them back, inflicting heavy losses; but while he was on foot reconnoitring an alternative fire position for his tank, he was badly wounded. He managed to get back to his tank, and, despite being in great pain and suffering from loss of blood, continued to fight from his tank until the enemy had again been dispersed. For his outstanding gallantry, Burley was awarded a DCM. The citation concluded with these words: “This NCO, throughout, showed resource, initiative, powers of planning, and skill in execution which would be considered outstanding in a commander of much higher rank. “In addition, he showed great personal courage in continuing to command his tank when so severely wounded. The fighting spirit of Sgt Burley undoubtedly inspired all who cooperated with him in this action.” Donald Lloyd Burley was born at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, on January 29 1919. He was educated in Canada, where his family had moved shortly after the First World War, but returned with them to England in 1935. At 16 he joined the Queen’s Bays, accompanying the regiment to France in 1940. The following year saw him in North Africa, and he took part in all the regimental campaigns in the desert. Burley recovered from the Coriano action in time to take part in the advance from the river Montone to beyond the river Lamone. His troop played a notable part in supporting infantry in holding the bridgehead over the Lamone against determined counter-attacks. He was mentioned in despatches. After his discharge from the Army in 1946, he did various jobs before joining Central Mining (later Charter Consolidated) in the City. He retired in 1979 after 30 years’ service, and from 1948 to 1952 served with the City of London Yeomanry (the Rough Riders).
Every year, on the September anniversary of the battle, pupils from Santa Cristina, the local primary school, lay a wreath at the Queen’s Bays’ War Memorial at Coriano. In retirement, Burley lived in London before finally settling at Birchington-on-Sea, Kent. Don Burley married, in 1940, Margaret Brockett, who survives him with their two sons. Sgt Don Burley, born January 29 1919, died February 16 2013
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