• James Drummond Burns

Army / Flying Corps
  • 21st Australian Infantry Battalion
  • 6th Brigade
  • Corporal

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  • 1914–1915 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Victory Medal
  • Birth

    Geelong, Victoria, Australia

  • Enlistment - WW1

    Lilydale, VIC, Australia

Stories and comments
    • James Drummond BURNS
    • Posted by FrevFord, Wednesday, 24 September 2014

    Born on the 18th of June 1895 at Geelong, Vic – the son of Rev. Hugh MacLeod and Mary Edith Lyall BURNS [of Lilydale / Malvern / Caulfield] Religion: Presbyterian. Aged 19, he was an ex-Student of Scotch College and about to enter Melbourne University, when he enlisted on the 2/2/1915. James had been Editor of ‘The Collegian’ (College Magazine) 1913-4; and is the author of a known poem ‘For England’. Corporal 805, D Coy, 21st Battalion – a survivor of the ill-fated Southland, he was killed in action just over 2 weeks later at Gallipoli on the 18/9/15, and is buried in Shrapnel Valley Cemetery. James is listed on the Lilydale War Memorial. ‘FOR ENGLAND’ The bugles of England were blowing o’er the sea, As they had called a thousand years, calling now to me; They wake me from dreaming in the dawning of the day, The bugles of England – and how could I stay? The banners of England, unfurled across the sea, Floating out upon the wind, were beckoning to me; Storm-rent and battle-torn, smoke-stained and grey, The banners of England, and how could I stay? O England, I heard the cry of those that died for thee, Sounding like an organ voice across the winter sea; They lived and died for England, and gladly went their way England, O England, how could I stay. J.D. Burns, May 1915. The Argus, Tue Nov 23, 1915: GUARDS SEE TORPEDO. The torpedoing of the Southland is referred to in the last letter written to his parents by Corporal J.D. Burns, who was recently reported killed in action. Corporal Burns was the son of the Rev. Hugh Burns, of Lilydale. The letter reads:- “Mudros Bay, Lemnos island, Sept 4, 1915 – I wonder if you have heard yet of the torpedoing of our transport. If the news has reached Australia I do hope that they have added that the number of casualties is very small. At a quarter to 10 on the morning of September 2 we were on guard on the poop deck aft. I was just preparing to take round a relief, when I heard a thundering crash, and saw a dense cloud of black smoke rise up from forward. At the same time there was a quivering shock, and the engines stopped. None of the guards, I think, saw anything of the submarine, although some of them saw the torpedo coming. We had a 4.7 gun at the stern, and she fired once but without hitting the submarine, and I doubt even whether the gunner really saw her, although he said he only missed her by a yard. “Most of our fellows were quite cool, and when I tried to get them to fall in they did so quite readily. Unfortunately, however, there was no officer present to take charge, and they were soon piling into the boats, although in a fairly orderly way. The ship had sunk a bit, and had a list to starboard, but she seemed fairly steady, and I was inclined to think that she would not sink. I took off my putties, and loosened my boots. On the starboard side, and some miles distant, there was a high, rocky island, and it seemed to me that it might be possible to reach this by swimming, although half an hour later, in the boat, I had quite altered my opinion on that point. At this time I had lost sight of all my friends; most of them, I think, had gone in the lifeboats, except Mr Whitehead. The two of us climbed to the deck above, where there were eight collapsible boats, and worked at the launching of these. They were frightfully unwieldy things. “I had helped to launch a couple of boats, working under the direction of others, as I had very little notion of what it was best to do, and we were getting a third away under the direction of Lieut-Colonel Hutchinson and Lieutenant McNeil, who were working themselves as hard as any. I, with three or four others, was pulling on one of the davit ropes from below, and as it was getting jammed in the pulley block an old sailor – one of the crew – went over to put it right. He was warned, and I think he knew the danger, but was willing to risk it. All at once the boat was raised clear, and swung heavily and strongly outwards, crushing his ribs against the davit. He fell unconscious, and I could see that he was terribly injured. I helped to lift him aboard the boat, and then half a dozen of us got in and raised the canvas sides. Another man, who had been badly injured in the explosion was lifted in too, and then she was lowered down to the water, and the others came down by the ropes. Lieutenant McNeil, who was in charge of the boat, called to Colonel Hutchinson to come down first, and as he slid down, I caught him. He seemed very exhausted, and said to me, ‘We are all right now, old fellow,’ or something to that effect. It wasn’t long before we had enough on the boat, and we began to push off. One of the last to come was Whitehead. He dropped into the water, swam a few strokes to the boat, and was pulled in. We took one on board after him. This was one of the ship’s boys, who got halfway down the rope, the end of which was still in the boat when we were already a little way out. He thought that we were going without him, and began to weep, but it wasn’t long before we had him on board. After that we pushed off, and cruised about the ship for a while, taking two or three men out of the water. There were still a few left on board, but only a couple more boats put off after us, and the remainder, excepting a few officers and men who stayed to work the ship, were taken off by a hospital ship which came to the scene an hour or two after. At that time the ship did not look to me at all like sinking, as a matter of fact she steamed into this harbour that evening, and has been aground here ever since. However, concerning ourselves. It was a fine afternoon, and the sea had not appeared rough from the deck of the steamer. From our little boat, however, the aspect differed considerably. We pitched and tossed most frightfully, and all we could do was to keep her head on to the wind. I took an oar as long as I could, but it wasn’t long before I got miserably seasick, and I am afraid I was helpless from then on until we were picked up.