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Charles James Burke

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Lieutenant-Colonel Charles James Burke DSO (1881 or 82 – 9 April 1917) was an officer in the Royal Irish Regiment and the Royal Flying Corps and a military aviation pioneer.

Charles Burke was born in 1881 or 1882 and he was the youngest son of the Mr M. C. C. Burke of Ballinhone House, Armagh, Ireland.

Burke's military service began as a soldier in the British Army and he served in the Boer War during which time he received the Queen's medal with two clasps.

In 1902, at the end of the War, he was commissioned into the Royal Irish Regiment and after several years of regimental service, including three years with the West African Frontier Force, he was promoted to captain in September 1909.

The following year Burke travelled to France where he learned to fly in a Farman biplane, gaining his French Aero Club certificate in the process.

After his return to England, Burke was employed at the Army's Balloon School. In early 1911, Burke was involved in conducting heavier-than-air aircraft tests at the Balloon Factory.

On 7 January 1911 Burke flew a Farman aircraft for two miles over Loaffan's Plain at 50 to 80 feet and landed near the Balloon Factory. A few minutes later, Burke attempted a second flight. However, after only 50 yards he stalled and the aircraft came to earth on its right wing, cart-wheeled and disintegrated. Burke received injuries in the crash. Despite this experience, Burke was not deterred from flying. In July of the same year, he flew from Salisbury Plain to Aldershot and back and later on he made a return flight to Oxford.

Burke was also one of the earliest British Army officers to consider air power in depth. In 1911, whilst serving as a captain in the Air Battalion, Burke wrote the first air power article to be published in the Royal United Services Institute Journal. In his article Burke compared the reconnaissance activities of cavalry to those of aircraft and observed that just as opposing cavalry might be drawn into battle, so could aircraft.

Burke (as a brevet major) was mentioned in Sir John French’s despatch on 8 October 1914. The following month, on 29 November 1914, Burke was appointed the first commanding officer of No. 2 Wing of the Royal Flying Corps and he set up his headquarters at Saint-Omer. His wing comprised Nos 5 and 6 Squadrons.

In 1915 Burke was involved in recruiting for the Royal Flying Corps in Canada. As well as directly recruiting personnel, Burke suggested that training aerodromes might be established in Canada under British control. For some months during 1916, Burke served as the Commandant of the Central Flying School.

In the summer of 1916 Burke rejoined his old regiment, the Royal Irish Regiment, which was suffering a severe shortage of officers. He was killed in action on the 9 April 1917, the first day of the Battle of Arras. He had been commanding a battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment.

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