Born in Cape Province, South Africa, William was the elder son of the Rt. Hon. Henry Burton, P.C., K.C., LL.B. (a South African lawyer and sometime Minister of Finance who died in 1935), and his wife Helen Marie Kannemeyer, of Retreat, Cape Province, South Africa.

[He was named after a famous forbear who died in 1888. Born in Daventry, Northants in 1794, he served the British Empire in South Africa and Australia.]

He was educated at Diocesan College, Rondebosch, Cape Town and matriculated in 1934. He read English and graduated with a 4th in 1938.

He was gazetted Pilot Officer on 19 January 1941. On the night of 20 August 1941, when, flying a Vickers Wellington bomber of No 104 Squadron, operating out of RAF Driffield, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, and forming part of No 4 Bomber Group, he was killed during a bombing raid on Cologne. He was, initially, reported missing.

He is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 29.

See also the record for his brother, Flying Officer Percival Ross-Frames Burton