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Have you ever wondered where the saying ‘Gone for a Burton’ originates?

January 11, 2021

Have you ever wondered where the saying ‘Gone for a Burton’ originates?

Well, in answering this question, it allows us to introduce you to an incredible young man who gave so much to a cause that he believed in.

When I first saw a photograph of Flight Lieutenant Percy Burton, whilst visiting The Kent Battle of Britain Museum,  I was struck by how young he looked! Despite being 23 years old, he had such a youthful face that it really made me fearful to read on and find out about his story. I suppose I thought that the youthful look may signify inexperience and vulnerability. How wrong I was! This young man was an absolute warrior. 

On the 27th September, whilst flying a Hurricane with 249 Squadron during the Battle of Britain, he and his comrades engaged a formation of Messerschmitt 110s and an intense fight erupted. Burton was separated from the rest of his squadron and found himself in hot pursuit of one of the 110s. A running dogfight developed where both the aircraft twisted and turned, trying to gain the advantage. Burton got onto the tail of the 110 and the two battled it out at tree top height (!) for over forty miles! No matter what Burton tried he just couldn’t deliver the telling blow to his counterpart, Hauptmann Horst Liensberger who was flying the German aircraft masterfully. 

After a while, Burton’s eight machine guns fell silent as he’d expended all of his ammunition in pursuit of the invader and could no longer carry on the fight. Or so you’d think. Despite no longer having any bullets left to fire, he carried on the chase in the hope of forcing a mistake! Just relentless courage!  Flying at such a low level meant that an error of judgement could see you crashing into a tree, house or power lines and that was good enough reason to carry on the fight.  As he careered in, making one of these ‘dummy’ attacks trying to force a mistake, Flight Lieutenant Percy Burton was hit by return fire from the Messerschmitt. 

This brave young warrior, who was born in South Africa, had given everything in pursuit of his foe and was in a critical condition but still, he hadn’t given up the fight. With one last heroic effort, Burton turned his aircraft directly at his enemy and flew straight into it! This whole, epic scene had been witnessed by awestruck onlookers on the ground, as both aircraft went tumbling to earth. It was a sad and tragic loss of young lives but also a truly heroic action from a young man who literally gave his life doing his duty. Just staggering. Thank you Percy. Tragically, he was never recognised with a medal for his actions.

Despite counter claims to the saying ‘gone for a Burton’ not least from a brewery in the 1960s, Percy Burtons fellow squadron mates are adamant that it originates from the death of their friend. Due to the fast paced and intense nature of the Battle of Britain, each squadron found there own unique ways to mark the passing of close friends. There simply was no time to grieve as we would today,  so a glass was raised and, in some cases, a dark yet affectionate humour employed. It was under these circumstances that the term was coined and would go on to be used when another squadron member went missing or had been killed. He had quite simply ‘gone for a Burton’.

 

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