Robert (Bob) BURROWES


Service Number: VX129397
Enlisted: 3 July 1940
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: Royal Australian Engineers
Born: Perth, Western Australia, 17 February 1918
Home Town: Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria
Schooling: Nott Street School, Port Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Machinist
Died: Died at sea (on POW ship 'Montevideo Maru'), South China Sea, 1 July 1942, aged 24 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
South China Sea, Rabaul Memorial, Rabaul, East New Britain, Papua New Guinea
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Ballarat Australian Ex-Prisoners of War Memorial, Rabaul Memorial, Rabaul Montevideo Maru Memorial
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World War 2 Service

3 Jul 1940: Involvement Australian Military Forces (WW2) , Sergeant, VX129397, Royal Australian Engineers
3 Jul 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (WW2) , Sergeant, VX129397

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Biography contributed by Robert Burrowes

The information below was prepared by James Burrowes.

Bob was originally a soldier in the 34th Fortress Engineers Militia based at the Point Nepean Fortress in Victoria. The Engineers were then deployed to Rabaul in mid-1941 as part of Lark Force and Bob was one of the soldiers responsible for the emplacement of two cannons at Praed Point, the entrance to Simpson Harbour, Rabaul. These cannons never fired a shot.

Ironically, after the many months of training after relocation to Rabaul, with its inevitable boredom prior to the outbreak of the Pacific war on 7 December 1941, the whole of the 34th Fortress Engineers (who were disparagingly referred to as 'chocos', that is 'chocolate soldiers') of the pre-war Militia, had at last been allowed to join the AIF with the coveted 'X' added to a new 'dog-tag' service number, and the grey edging round their uniform patches. They had then been organised for repatriation back to Australia, to be retrained for desert conditions before redeployment to the Middle East war-front. Alas, too late! The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and invaded Rabaul six weeks later, which sealed their fate.

Bob, who by this time was a Sergeant and had been recommended for officer training, was captured during the fall of Rabaul on 23 January 1942 and held prisoner and half-starved at the Malaguna Road camp. The POWs were employed as slaves to load and unload shipping and dig tunnels until they were put on the Japanese prisoner-of-war ship 'Montevideo Maru' on 23 June 1942, exactly 5 months after the invasion.

On 1 July 1942, the unmarked and unescorted 'Montevideo Maru' was torpedoed off Luzon, enroute to Japan, by the 'USS Sturgeon'. The ship sank in six minutes, with all 1,053 Australian prisoners of war (of whom 208 were civilians) killed. It was Australia's largest single loss of life in a single maritime incident during the entire war; larger than the loss of 645 men on the 'HMAS Sydney'.

You can see Bob's name on the 'Montevideo Maru' nominal roll ( and read his final letter below.

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 [3]
28 Park Road
Middle Park

[1] Heather was Bob's girlfriend

[2] Having experienced the real horror of war, Bob wanted our family to 'get Jim out'. But I had enlisted and was already up in Queensland when news of Bob’s capture came through in this letter.

[3] Alice was our mother.