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australian rowers profiles and history

James Drummond Burns

Scotch College (VIC)

1914 - APS Head of the River, Scotch College first eight, three seat - Second

The following is an extract from an article written by Kate Legge for The Australian 14 April 2014.

My father's cousin, James Drummond Burns, was 19 years old when he enlisted as a corporal of the 21st Battalion in February 1915. He had distinguished himself at school in almost every field of endeavour: as a poet, a leader, and a rower who a cobber saluted as "unassumingly modest" of his own success and "tremendously enthusiastic" for the achievements of others. 

He penned the poem For England! before setting sail in May and his verses capture the crazy -brave spirit that fired his cohort. "The bugles of England were blowing o'er the sea, As they had called a thousand years, calling now to me; They woke me from dreaming in the dawning of the day, The bugles of England- and how could I stay?"

Ten days after landing at Anzac Cove in September he was shot through the head and never regained consciousness. Recently I discovered a letter of condolence from his chaplain at the front. "I wish I could picture for you the faces of our lads as I told them ... that Corporal J.D. Burns was dead. It made me, in a moment of broken-heartedness, proud to think that he was one of my boys," he wrote. 

"Only the day before he fell I went through to D Company's trenches and had a talk with him while he was standing at his post on duty. I loved Jim, and used to look for his serious face and great beautiful eyes at our communion services ... It is only today that I am discovering ... how much I leaned upon him." 

Such plainly spoken respect and admiration must have provided comfort to the grief of his mother and father. When I look at the photograph of Jim in his knee-high leather boots, his peaked cap and his woollen army jacket, the peach fuzz complexion of youth eclipses all else. 

Andrew Guerin
January 2021

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