It has been said that the feeling of dispair, which follows the death of a loved one – may be compared to a stone which is thrown into a pond. As the stone hits the water, it sends out a ripple in every direction. With time, the ripples subside and the water is eventually calm again. However, hidden beneath the calm surface – that rock is still there…. and it never goes away. Such can be attributable to the sense of loss, experienced by a mother.
And for a cousin of the deceased, now in her 90’s – the memory of a relative that she has held so dear for many years – is being dimmed by time.
It was typical of that era for “cousins” to become “close friends” in that period between the two World Wars. This is a likely result of the mutual support offered by family and relatives to eachother, during those Depression Years.
Elsie Moses remembers her cousin, Kenneth Eric BURT with great fondness. Like so many other men from the Riverina District who enlisted in those early days of the Second World War, he was assigned to the ill fated 8th Australian Division and shipped off to Singapore. And like so many Riverina men, he never came home.
Image Right: Studio portrait of NX56118 Corporal Kenneth Eric BURT, believed to have been taken in Wagga – New South Wales (whilst on final leave). The original style colour patch of the 2/19th Battalion is discernable on his left sleeve, prior to the change over of designs (see below images).
Kenneth Eric BURT was born on the 24th of June, 1917 at Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. The son of George and Florence BURT, he was one of seven children and spent most of his life in and around Lower Tarcutta (the national highway from Sydney to Melbourne now runs through this general area). In his younger days, Ken and his family would visit the small locality of Corinbob where Elsie lived with her side of the clan. And he was still living in this locality of Tarcutta when he enlisted into the new army, that was being formed to support Britain against German aggression. Christmas of 1940 would prove to be a sad one, as this occasion was to mark their “good-bye” for Ken at the property of their “Aunty Maude & Uncle Pete”, about 9 miles out from Wagga.
The 2/19th Infantry Battalion was made up of volunteers from The Riverina and Monaro Districts. After training in Walgrove, Ingleburn and Bathurst – this battalion was sent to Singapore as part of the 22nd Brigade and arrived there on the 18th of February, 1941. It immediately took up posts on the Malayan Peninsula and in just under twelve months, all of it’s ranks would be either dead or held prisoner of the Japanese. In fact, this battalion would suffer the highest casualty rate of any unit within the Australian Army (commonly known as the Second AIF) during World War Two.
Image Left: The original Colour Patch of the 2/19th Infantry Battalion, AIF (showing the purple over green oval on a grey background). In December of 1940 (around the time that Kenneth’s photo was taken and prior to embarkation) the design and colours of the 2/19th Battalion was altered to a diamond shape incorporating the colours ‘brown over green’ on a grey oval background.
When the Japanese landed on the north-east coast of Malaya on the 8th of December, 1941 (7th December in Pearl Harbour due to the international date line) the brunt of the fighting fell upon the British and Indian troops stationed further to the north. Detached elements of the 2/19th Infantry Battalion first made contact with the Japanese on the 14th of January as part of special force, however their first major action against the advancing Japanese came at Bakri on the 19th of January, 1942. The battalion had been rushed forward to reinforce and support the 2/29th Battalion in the battle of Bakri. And it was on this day, that Kenneth would lose his life. The ordeal experienced by the 2/19th battalion after this day; including the fight through and breaking of Japanese blockades on the road towards Parit Sulong is legendary. This was followed by the tragic and brutal murder of Australian wounded on the bridge at Parit Sulong. It is unfortunuate that the heroic actions of the Australian 8th Division during the fighting for Malaya in 1942, is often overlooked.
Image Left: Wedding portrait of Kenneth’s parents; George Josiah and Florence May (Flo) BURT. They would be blessed with seven children as a result of the marriage (3 boys and 4 girls), however Kenneth was the only son to enlist into the Second AIF. When you consider the facial resemblance, there is no doubt that Ken’s features are similar to that of his mother, who was very close to him.
(SEE FOOTNOTE) It is clear that news of Kenneth’s death was recorded by his unit and relayed back to Australia prior to – or soon after the capitulation of Singapore. Elsie recalls that when Ken’s mother received the news of his death, ‘Aunty Flo was beside herself with grief’ and was in desperate need of support. As a result, Florence came to stay with Elsie’s mother in Wagga (they had moved in town from Corinbob many years previously) and she was taken into their care for many months. Like so many other mothers who had lost their son during the war, Flo never got over his death.
Kenneth also had a girlfriend (some say ‘fiance’) named Daphne, but little else is known about her. Clearly – another heart lay broken in 1942.
The medals of NX56118 Corporal Kenneth Eric BURT went “missing” during the 1970’s and his descendant’s would dearly love to have them returned to the family. As the older generation who actually knew Kenneth, fades away….all tangible reminders of a lost family member go with them. It is hoped that the medals will one day be found, so that Kenneth will be reminded to the new generation within the BURT family. Apart from a few photographs, very little else remains of one man’s life. Can you help?
FOOTNOTE: Page 187 of H. Gordon BENNETT’s account “Why Singapore Fell” indicates that an evacuation of selected AIF personnel took place on the 13th of February (two days before the island fell to the Japanese). Lieutenant-General Bennett goes on to say that this group included one officer and five ‘other ranks’ of both the Pay Corps and the Records Section. Despite the fact that only thirty nine of this select group actually managed to board the ship, it is possible that records relating to Kenneth’s death and other men of the AIF were on board. Hence the early notification of the unfortunate news. Failing this, the Japanese did allow some information to be released via the Red Cross, however this release of news was very limited.
Image Left: The headstone of Corporal Kenneth Eric BURT at Kranji War Cemetary, Singapore Island. (in Malay: Tanah Perkuburan Perang Kranji) This photograph was taken in May, 2005 during a family visit to Kenneth’s last resting place.
WISH TO READ MORE ABOUT THE 2/19TH BATTALION AT BAKRI & PARIT SULONG? Pages 130 to 147 (inclusive) and page 163 of H. Gordon BENNETT’s account “Why Singapore Fell” detail their participation in these engagements. It should also be noted that as a result of his involvment and leadership in these actions, the Commanding Officer of the 2/19th Infantry Battalion; Lieutenant Colonel C.G.W. ANDERSON was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Wish to view Kenneth’s details as recorded on the World War Two Nominal Roll? Please Click Here
To view the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (CWGC) – Please Click Here
Whilst it is not appropriate for me to become involved in historical debate, I believe that Lieutenant General BENNETT has been unfairly denigrated in history and recommend his account for study. Please feel free to post a comment in this respect, should you have an opinion in this matter…….the Administrator (Medals Gone Missing)
Medals Gone Missing would like to thank Elsie Moses and the BURT family descendants for the images supplied in this story to commemorate their ancestor.