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JAMES DRUMMOND BURNS

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Joined: 13 Feb 2013
Location: ESSEX
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    Posted: 08 Jan 2016 at 08:53

Salute the Soldier Poets
Among the millions of troops who fought and died on the scattered, sprawling battlefields of the First World War, none were more deserving of their high reputation for courage and daring than the dashing soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Coq known as "ANZACS". In 1914, when the call to arms went out from England to the far-flung corners of her Empire, young men from these two nations, feeling a duty and loyalty to their mother country that today would probably be scoffed at as old-fashioned and out of place, volunteered in their thousands.
This powerful sense of comradeship and the sharing of a common cause with England which so many ordinary men felt was captured by one of these Australians, Corporal Jim Burns of the 21st Battalion, AIF, in a dramatic piece of verse entitled "For England." Burns wrote the poem for his school magazine shortly before joining up, and during 1915, when it was widely pub¬lished in both England and Australia, it played an important part in persuading many other men to enlist.
Tragically, like countless numbers of his contemporaries, young Jim Burns did not live to develop and enjoy his huge potential, either as a man or as a poet. On 18th Sep¬tember 1915, just ten days after landing at Gallipoli in the Dardanelles, and only three months after his twentieth birthday, he was shot in the head and killed. All those who had served with him felt the loss keenly, but perhaps the greatest indication of just how much Jim had meant to his family and friends was conveyed in the pages of a little booklet published soon after his death by his old school, Scotch College in a suburb of Melbourne.
Entitled “In the Dawning of the Day”, the book was a touching tribute to Jim Burns, with words of praise from his headmaster and containing several other poems that Jim had written whilst still a much-loved pupil there. The twenty or so pages also included some interesting biographical details about the boy who, during his all too brief life, had enjoyed such a dazzling career.
James Drummond Burns was born on 18th June, 1895, the elder son of the Reverend H.M. Burns of the Presbyterian Manse at Lilydale, a small country town in the state of Victoria. His grandfather, also named James Drummond Burns, had been a church minister in Hampstead, London, and a talented hymn-writer and poet from whom Jim obviously inherited his literary talent.
Jim was a pupil at Scotch College, the oldest surviving school in Victoria, for four years, during which time he made such an impact that his achievements are still held up as something to which present, day pupils should strive.
Not only was he brilliant academically - winning the school's Shakespeare prize, the exhibition in English, and gaining a first-class honours in History and Latin which won him a scholarship to Ormond College - but he was also an outstanding athlete, rowing for the college eight and representing the school at athletics.
But it was as editor of the school magazine, the Scotch Collegian - a post he held for two years - that Jim really made his mark. The high standards of behaviour that he set himself and the lofty ideals that guided his every action shine from the pages of his editorials. As the fol¬lowing extract from one of these articles illustrates, he was devoted to the college, believing that academic and athletic prowess were only of value if they served to uplift and inspire the school as a whole:
For sixty years, succeeding generations of schoolboys have gone forth as men, with the stamp of the School on their brow, and the love of the School in their hearts. But as these have departed, their places have been filled by eager crowds, to whom all the new and strange experi¬ences present "the glory and the freshness of a dream". And these in their turn become part of the life of that School, which they so soon learn to honour and love, and in their turn, change and pass. But the one remains. Unaffected by time or circumstance, the School stands, a mighty edifice in whose uprearing so many have borne a part. And be• cause some are going who will not return, because the way of many must henceforth lie apart from that of the School, there is nothing to regret and nothing to fear. But there is much to remem¬ber and much to hope. Each has given something, not much, perhaps, but "some fragment from his dream of human life", which has be¬come a part of the School, and which shall share in her glory and stand with her as an everlasting monument. And in return, how much each has gained! How the memories of these happy days, stored in the inner chambers of the mind, will troop forth at some far-distant time, to brighten dark days when the glory of the dream of life seems faded and worthless! It is these memories and this spirit of loyalty and devotion which will remain long after all other lessons have been forgotten, to remind us for ever of that School whose love will never fade from our hearts, whose glory will never be dimmed in our eyes.
As well as fine prose pieces like this, which seemed to promise so much for the future, the magazine also provided a plat¬form on which Jim could display his poetic talents. And his verse suggested that he would one day become a major literary figure.
For England
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?

The banners of England, unfurled across the sea,
Floating out upon the wind, were beckoning to me;
Storm-rent and battle-torn, smoke stained and grey,
The banners of England – and how cold I stay?

O England, I heard the cry of those that died for thee,
Sounding like an organ-voice across the winter sea;
They lived and died for England, and gladly went their way-
England, O England – how could I stay?
Inside the school's Memor¬ial Hall which was completed and dedicated on Anzac Day, 25th April 1922 below the stained•glass windows are the names of all those former pupils and masters who fell in the First World War including that of James Drummond Burns.

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ROBERT PIKE
The Victor Heroes.Saffron Walden in the Great War

For Still We Hear Them Singing - Poems; ISBN-10: 1781489106 - ISBN-13: 978-1781489109

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