The History of Sport Played in China's Treaty Ports

‘The Marine’s Speedster 1’​
Alford Russel Burk (1905 – 1988)

  After things had settled down in Tientsin, the Marines were no longer required there and so Burk was one of the Marines transferred to Shanghai from Tientsin, arriving there on 21 October 1928.  He went on to play a major role in the US Fourth Marines’s first two rugby seasons, earning many mentions in numerous published match reports. One example can be found in a short history written by the official chronicler of the rugby team in those early years, Marine’s Captain G. E. Monson. Summing up the Marines first season in Shanghai, 1928 – 1929, 
he wrote;

THE big match of the 1929 - 30 season was against the Welch Regiment who had taught the Marines the game of rugby when they were based in Tientsin. Now undefeated in Shanghai, the Marines would face the mighty Welch Regiment who had traveled from Singapore to play their former students with the hopes of teaching them a lesson in how to lose - The Marines turned the tables winning a very hard fought match by 15:6 in front of crowd estimated at 10,000. There team was:

 F A Smith, Ivor J Williby, Alford Russell Burk,Clifford E Maris, Cyril O Lawless, Alfred Travres, Barney A Cogsdell, Joseph Lewandowski, Arthur P Fiese, Jurgens, Horace A Smith, Clark, Glen F Felt, John Stokes, James Maulding

Previous Persons of the Month

Person of the Month 1 - George Michael Billings (with club 1902 to 1927)
Person of the Month 2 - Commandent Louis Guillaume Fabre (with club 1936 to 1941)
Person of the Month 3 - Victor Vause Winser Fretwell (with club 1927 to 1934)

Person of the Month 4 - Eric Byron Cumine (with club 1930 to 1934)

Person of the Month 5 - Francis Kingdon Ward (with  club 1907 to 1909)
Person of the Month 6 - Percy Martin Lancaster (with  club 1903 to 1913)

Person of the Month 7 - The Schlee family (with  club 1886 to 1950)

Person of the Month 8 - Henry Bluett Liversedge (with Tientsin and Shanghai rugby 1927 to 1929)

Person of the Month 9 - John William Henry Burgoyne ( with club 1881 to 1885)

Person of the Month 10 - Lawrence "Lolly" Goldman (with club 1921 to 1930)

Person of the Month 11 - Alford Russell Burk (with Tientsin and Shanghai Rugby 1927 - 1930 and 1933 - 1936)

  Burk  was born on 11 April 1905,  in Beltrami, Minnesota to Albert and Anna Burk, nee Grosz. His parents were first generation immigrants born in Iowa and Illinois whose own parents came from western Europe.  Alford completed High School to the third year, later joining the Marines on 26 June 1926. After his basic training in San Diego, he found himself China bound, heading to Tientsin, as part of a 25,000 strong military force sent to protect western interests in China as the Nationalist party and Warlords fought for control of China. 

  Prior to joining the Marines, Burk had not been recognised for his athletic ability, this changed as soon as Captain Liversedge, an ex-Olympian, star rugby and American football player and now the Tientsin Marine’s rugby coach, saw him in action. He was asked to join the both the Tientsin track and field team and the rugger squad. On the track he won the Tientsin Amateur Challenge Cup by coming first in the 800-meter race and was part of the rugby squad that visited Shanghai in the spring of 1928. Burk was a speedster on the wing, he could run the 200 meters in 22.8 seconds and the 400 in 53.4 seconds.  By way of comparison, the times run for these races in the finals of the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics were 21.8 seconds and 47.8 seconds. 

With the huge success of the 1929 - 1930 Marines on the rugby field, a celebratory dinner was held for the rugby squad at the Marines NCO Club. The celebration was bitter sweet, with many of the team including Burk schedule to return home within the next few weeks

Burk's wife and daughter traveled from the USA to Shanghai in the summer of 1935 to visit him while he was posted there

Player for United States Sixth Marines in Tientsin (1927 - 1928)
Player for United States Fourth Marines in Shanghai (1928 – 1930 and 1933 - 1936)
Player for All Marines American Football team in the U.S. (1931)

   While serving the Marines in America, Burk was married on 10 June 1931 to Josephine Mary Frances Aicinena (born 11 May 1914). He was discharged from the Marines in June 1932 with the rank of Corporal, listed as having an excellent character, but by February 1933 he had re-joined and in July 193,3 was posted back to Shanghai where he resumed his rugby career playing from that October. 

   On his return to Shanghai, Burk once again made the Marines rugby first team and starred again in many famous victories. In 1935 his wife and three-year-old daughter, born 9 June 1932, traveled to Shanghai to visit him. The trip was a time consuming undertaking, their return trip from Shanghai to Los Angeles lasted from 17 August to 7 September. Burk’s last game of rugby in Shanghai was January 1936, finally leaving Shanghai four months later to return to the USA.. 

A source referenced copy of the text below is available on request

Barney A Cogsdell and Alford R Burk (in the middle) are jointly awarded the outstanding Marine Athlete for 1929 - 1930, an award that considered all sports played by the Marines. Both men were huge talents in the rugby squad and would go onto play together in the United States 'All-Marine' American Football Team in 1931.

The US Sixth Marines from Tientsin visited Shanghai in the Spring of 1928 to play a series of 5 games, three against the Shanghai interport team. This is a photo of both teams in one of those matches, eithr 18 March 1928 or 6 April 1928. Captain Liversedge can be seen in the suit on the far right of the front row. I am not sure where Burk is on this picture.

The players in the teams were:

​Marines Team: Wendell Thomas Zimmerman, John Kirby, Alford Russell Burk, Everett W Standley, Paul E Brodbeck, Barney A Cogsdell,

Syril W Long, Frank N Woody, Theodore R Griggs, James F Hudson, PJoseph Costello, Adolph P Wingo, Edgar C Hughes, Jospeh A Wurzer, Vincent L Millins, Edgar C Hughes, Ivor J Williby, Walter Campbell, Horace A Smith

Shanghai Team (white): G S Dunkley, L Goldman, E C Hubbard, A J W Evans, G S McGill, V S Stanion, W D Neil, J C Stewart, E R Rodgers, A J Kane, P A Watkinson, D W B Murray, K G Stephenson, W R Meathrel, C E Fleury, L W Walkinshaw, W Webster, J G B Dewar

  In the 1940 census we find Alford R Burke living in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. By now he had left the Marines and was working as a Traffic Man. At some point the family moved south to Florida.

 Alford  Burk died on 5 August 1988 aged 83 years at Citrus County, Florida. His daughter died almost 10 years later in April 1998, aged only 65, by then known as Mrs Dolores J Harrison. Burk's wife Josephine lived until the age of 92, also dying in Citrus County, Florida in January 2007.

The Fourth Marines Rugby Squad 1933 - 34 which features Burk, in the third row from the front with the red marker on his chest, . By this time, as can be seen by the two playing strips in the team photo, the Marines were running two squads, a Blue and a White team in the Shanghai Rugby League.They shared the league title between themselves both teams being undefeated in the season and having drawn against each other when they met.

  The second season in Shanghai was even more successful than the first on both track and field and rugby pitch. In the year his team won all but one of the rugby games played and were nicknamed The Thundering Herd, for the nature of many of their large victories. On 3 March, just before the season ended, Burk left Shanghai on the USS Chaumont headed to America with the ambition of playing [American] football for the All-Marine football team based in Quantico, near Washington DC.  However, four weeks later he landed on the West Coast at San Francisco, and found he was posted to San Diego rather than Quantico.

   While there, he played for the San Diego football team during the 1930 season.  In 1931, the All-Marine sports teams were transferred to San Diego and Burk was able to achieve his ambition playing for the All-Marines football team in 1931. In that team was his old China teammate Barney Cogsdell, and China rugby coach Liversedge, who was one of the assistant coaches.  

   Due to home-going details and other transfers, the team underwent several radical changes during this season of play. However, as fast as a key player would turn in his suit, there seemed to be an ambitious substitute able to take over the position, and in some cases the new players made even better records than did their predecessors. In addition to the new material previously mentioned, the work of Lombard, Stokes, Newman, Anderson, Lawless, Morgan, Petrosky, and Fiese stood out. Of the "old" players, Cogsdell showed the most improvement over the previous season, Burk was almost unstoppable when carrying the ball, and Smith, Hudson, Townsley, Costello, Campbell, Littlejohn and Woody, all starred. Bilins showed much improvement, and Williby had flashes of top form which were somewhat marred by an inclination to hold the ball himself. 

In this photo from end of September 1929 eight Marines stand before silverware from the Shanghai Open Track and Field Meet.

Back:     John H Slusser                                                                                John W Hay

Front Clarence E Swank, James H Haseltine,  Alford R Burk               Claude E Goen,  Russell J Menard,     Horace A Smith

Held just before the start of the Marines second season in Shanghai, this must have been an ominous sight for Shanghai Rugby fans. Four of the men had been or would be rugby players. Slusser was a current player, Swank would start playing November 1930, Burk, was 1st in the 200 and 400m and 2nd in the 100m, discuss and javelin, and Smith a Tientsin veteran.