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Frederick Alexander Burrows (1897–1973)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published:

Frederick Alexander Burrows (1897-1973), by E. C. Johnston

Frederick Alexander Burrows (1897-1973), by E. C. Johnston

Australian War Memorial, 066017

Frederick Alexander Burrows (1897-1973), army officer and businessman, was born on 10 November 1897 at Wahgunyah, Victoria, second child of Frederick Burrows, labourer, and his wife Hester, née Nugent, both Victorian born. Educated at Cobar and Corowa public schools, New South Wales, young Burrows added one year to his age and described himself as a 'grocer's assistant' when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 28 April 1915. He embarked for Egypt in July and served briefly on Gallipoli with the 7th Battalion.

In March 1916 Burrows reached France where he was wounded at Pozières in July and promoted sergeant in October. At Lihons on 11 August 1918 he led a bombing party which cleared an enemy trench; for his action he was awarded the Military Medal. That month he was again wounded, evacuated to England and commissioned. He returned to Australia in May 1919 as a lieutenant and his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 6 July. Employed by Cooper Engineering Co. Pty Ltd in Melbourne, Burrows joined the Militia in 1921 and was posted to the 14th Battalion. On 23 March 1922 at St George's Presbyterian Church, East St Kilda, he married Isabel Christina Mathieson (d.1963). After his firm sent him to Sydney in 1934 as sales-manager, he transferred to the 36th Battalion; he was promoted lieutenant colonel and made commanding officer in August 1938.

Appointed to the A.I.F. on 26 April 1940, Burrows was given command of the 2nd/13th Battalion and arrived in the Middle East in November. Thickset, with 'rather pugilistic features', tall, erect and alert, he exuded 'a powerful air of authority and confidence'. His resonant voice earned him the nickname, 'the Bull'. At Er Regima, Libya, in April 1941 he checked the advance of a superior German force and extricated his battered battalion. In the withdrawal to Tobruk and throughout its defence he was an aggressive commander. During the Sidi Rezegh battles his night-attack on Ed Duda on 30 November was an outstanding success. A serious head-wound next day caused him to be invalided home. Mentioned in dispatches, Burrows was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the Polish Krzyz Walecznych (Cross of Valour). He had made an indelible impression on his troops. Their admiration was epitomized by one soldier who composed a song, Bull Burrows' Bomb-Happy Boys, and later wrote of him:

For we all know a man when we see one,
And we know that you've well earned your rest.

Promoted temporary brigadier in May 1942, Burrows commanded the 1st Infantry Brigade in New South Wales. His wound prevented him from returning to the field and he was placed on the Retired List on 28 July 1945. He resumed his civilian job and in 1946 opened an Adelaide branch of Cooper's (subsequently Sunbeam Corporation Ltd) which prospered under his management. Burrows was a member (1952-55) of the Repatriation Board for South Australia. He retired in 1959, devoted himself to the interests of ex-servicemen, and enjoyed golf, bowls, gardening and philately. On 27 November 1964 at the Methodist Church, Tusmore, he married a widow Thelma Villis, née Matthew, late Cox. He died on 23 May 1973 in the Repatriation General Hospital, Daw Park, and was cremated; his wife survived him, as did the son and daughter of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Fearnside (ed), Bayonets Abroad (Syd, 1953)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Burrows, Frederick Alexander (1897–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 25 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Frederick Alexander Burrows (1897-1973), by E. C. Johnston

Frederick Alexander Burrows (1897-1973), by E. C. Johnston

Australian War Memorial, 066017