Manuscripts of Interest : The Papers of Major Herbert Burrowes

Papers on military and private life – RHSV Manuscripts Collection (MS 000288)

by Alannah Croom

Herbert Octavius Aymas Dean Burrowes was born on 16 of August 1882 in South Melbourne. Despite his official occupation as a librarian, Burrowes served in the Australian military forces for more than forty years, beginning his service in approximately 1902. In early 1916 Burrowes married Violet Muriel Irene Prior and after enlisting for service in the First World War in Perth, he embarked for the front on 27 May 1916 aboard the A11 Ascanius. Burrowes was promoted to Major and consequently became second in command of the 39th Battalion. He served overseas in both France and England from 21 October 1916, until 15 May 1919, and it was during this time the West Australian reported that Burrowes had been severely wounded by gas.

Burrowes also served during the Second World War, although this time his active service was undertaken in Australia, in charge of Western Australia’s District Records Office. Burrowes’ certificate of service states that he spent a total of one thousand six hundred and eighty-seven days in full-time continuous war service, from 5 February 1940 until 17 September 1944. Burrowes retired from this position in 1944. He passed away in St Kilda in 1975 at the age of 93. For his lengthy military service, Major Burrowes received a Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal.

RHSV Image Collection, Mi-73, ‘Head Quarters Staff W.A. 15.11.1915’
RHSV Image Collection, Mi-73, ‘Head Quarters Staff W.A. 15.11.1915’
RHSV Image Collection, Mi-74, ‘Western Command Headquarters Staff 1941’
RHSV Image Collection, Mi-74, ‘Western Command Headquarters Staff 1941’

An extensive collection of Major Burrowes personal military memorabilia is housed in the manuscripts collection of the Royal Historical Society, including ‘certificates, correspondence, documents, memorabilia, newspaper cuttings, telegrams, photographs and miscellaneous notes’. More specifically, found therein are a military pay book, soldiers’ record of service book, cards from the front and souvenir programs, as well as a number of letters of Major Burrowes father, William Odell Burrowes. A memorable inclusion is a photo of Major Burrowes posing with a machine gun in Larkhill, United Kingdom, on 14 September 1916. There is a message on the back of the photo which reads:

How do you like my tin hat? I bought it in London some time ago. Major Best snapped me in a sandbag trench just near 39th H.Q. It looks very business like eh? What do you think of the Lewis machine gun? Rankine gave me this photo today. Quite a long time since I had my photo taken isn’t it, dear?
Love Bert xxxxx

A letter sent out by King George V from Windsor Castle in April 1918 is also present. Although not the original document, this is a wonderful souvenir from the war.

‘Soldiers of the United states, the people of the British Isles welcome you on your way to take your stand beside the armies of many nations now fighting in the Old World the great battle for human freedom.
The allies will gain new heart & spirit in your company.
I wish that I could shake the hand of each of you & bid you God speed on your mission.
George R. I.
April 1918.

Another fantastic example of material held in the collection is a ‘Memorandum to the Officers, Non Commissioned Officers, and men of the 10th Australian Infantry Brigade’, produced on 1 May 1917. The letter reads:

I desire to make all ranks acquainted with the very high opinion I hold of the fighting qualities of the Brigade.
We have not completed 5 months service in close contact with the enemy. During that time the enemy was attempted to carry out carefully-planned raids against us on nine different occasions. On not one occasion has he achieved the least success. The garrison has always stood up to the most severe bombardment and driven the Boche back with considerable losses to himself. On the other hand the Brigade has carried out with irresistible dash eight raids on the enemy’s lines, the results of which has brought congratulations from Divisional, Corps, and Army Commanders, and from the Commander in chief.
The spirit of the Brigade, as shown in the skill, leadership, and personal example of Officers and None Commissioned Officers, and the courage, devotion to duty, and initiative displayed by the men in the ranks, is wholly admirable, and I desire to express the price I feel in having under my command such a fine body of fighting men.

W Ramsay McNicoll
Commanding 10th Australian Infantry Brigade

Further reading:

Photographs from this collection can be found in the RHSV’s image collection under Mi 67-83 inclusive.

The Commonwealth of Australia Gazette mention Major Burrowes in issue No. 64, 17 August 1922 p. 1244.

For information on the 39th Australian Infantry Battalion see the Australian War Memorial website.

‘Western Australian. The Roll of Honour. 315th Casualty List’, West Australian, 26 June 1917, p. 5. Available on TROVE.

‘Major Burrowes. Retirement from the Army’, West Australian, 30 August 1944, p. 4. Available on TROVE.

The National Archives of Australia holds a copy of Major Burrowes military record, which can be accessed online. These documents are a perfect companion to the papers that the RHSV holds in their personal collection.

The Australian War Memorial also has a copy of Major Burrows Embarkation Record.

For more information on Sir Walter Ramsay McNicholl see the Australian Dictionary of Biography