Final Letters

The first two documents below are the final letters written by my Uncle Bob and my Uncle Tom before they were killed in World War II. The third document is the final letter written by my father, Jim, to his brother Bob before Bob’s fate was known.

‘There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover…’


This letter was written while Bob was held prisoner in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in Rabaul. It has been written to meet strict guidelines issued by the Japanese and it has been censored. The letter was in a bag of mail that was air-dropped over Darwin by the Japanese several months after the Montevideo Maru was sunk. The sinking was not confirmed until after the war ended. The family received no news about Bob after his capture, apart from this letter, for nearly four years.

Received 22 September 1942 [noted by Pat, the elder of Bob’s two older sisters]

R. Burrowes

Dear Folks

Just a short note to let you know I’m alright. I am a prisoner under the care of the Japanese.

I can only write one letter so will you let Heather [1] know. Also Sgt. Ellis Queenscliff and anyone else.

I hope you are all O.K. and haven’t been worrying too much. Get Jim out if you possibly can. [2]

Keep the old bike in good nick as I will need it again. I’ll sign off now.

Don’t worry. Cheerio.

Keep collecting allotment.


Robert Burrowes

Mrs A Burrowes [Alice was Bob’s mother]
28 Park Road
Middle Park

[1] Heather was Bob’s girlfriend

[2] Having experienced the real horror of war, Bob wanted his family to ‘get Jim out’. Jim is Bob’s younger brother and my father. Jim served as a coastwatcher in Papua New Guinea as part of ‘M Special Unit’, a Commando unit that did intelligence gathering such as observing and reporting Japanese troop movements. Jim was particularly expert at high-speed Morse Code communication. Unlike his two brothers, Jim survived the war and married an ex-WAAF (Women’s Australian Air Force) servicewoman, Beryl Sexton, who became my mother.

. . . . .


This letter was written the night before Tom flew his first – and final – mission. The final paragraph and postscripts were written on the morning of the day he was killed.


409504 F/Sgt Burrowes T.


Dear Helen [the younger of Tom’s two older sisters]

Received your very welcome letter yesterday – I received about 7 in two days but none at all for the four previous days. By the way, your letter was censored, not that it matters any, as you did not have anything in it bar personal news.

No Helen this little boy has not yet been in combat but most of my cobbers have. So far we have missed out on the fun but I guess it won’t be for long. By the way Bob is quite handy to our camp and I have been going to go across and see him a few times now, each time I’ve been going to, something unforeseen crops up, and I have to put it off. However, will be seeing him before very long. I saw him in the distance last week but I could not go over and talk to him as I was on a job at the time. He seemed to be happy enough. [1]

I have now visited all the groups of islands that Jim visited but of course I didn’t take so long over it. Perhaps I’ll be seeing Jim shortly. Does he know my address. I won’t be changing it for a long time now. Hope he gets his two stripes. It was tough luck Ces getting Malaria.

This Southport seems to be a popular sort of place to spend a weekend. Jim, you and a few of our boys have all spent some time there and enjoyed it.

We received a comforts fund issue of 2 cakes of soap, a few sheets of writing paper and a few envelopes. Not nearly a sufficient quantity. I wish they would have some on sale in the canteen. I now have envelopes to see me through for a while.

Tuesday. No more news Helen, no time to write any more. Will remember you to Bob tonight after tea. I will be seeing him. [Pat note: Indicates they were going to bomb Rabaul.] Till next time.

Lots of love
Tom XX

P.S. Don’t say anything to Mum about me seeing Bob tonight Helen as you know what she thinks of him [Pat note: Mum adored Bob, perhaps the most.][Tom didn’t want his mother to know, and worry, about the fact that he would be in combat.]

P.P.S. We have experienced an air raid but can’t tell you when.

P.P.S. Buy Pat a Xmas present – something you can decide on yourself – about one pound.


[1] Tom was obviously not allowed to reveal military plans in case his letter fell into Japanese hands. However, he and the family knew that Bob had been posted to Rabaul, so when he mentions that ‘Bob is quite handy to our camp’, he is telling the family that he is not far from Rabaul. Thus, all references to Bob in this paragraph are really telling the family things in relation to Rabaul.

. . . . .


This letter was written after Jim returned from the war but no word of Bob’s fate had yet reached Australia.

To V50814
Sgt. Burrowes Robert
34th Fortress Coy R.A.E.
Last heard of at Rabaul

J. Burrowes
28 Park Rd
Middle Park S.C.6
Victoria Aust

No word received Bob. All well here and thinking of you constantly and praying for the day when it will all be over.


Published on May 1, 2012 at 11:58 am  Comments Off on Final Letters  
%d bloggers like this: