Act of kindness to tend Second War World airman’s grave - PICTURES and VIDEO
For more than a quarter of a century, he has been tending the grave of a stranger.
Now Wayne Hartshorne has been recognised for his quiet act of homage to an Australian airman killed in action 23 years before he was born.
Although he never knew the Second World War navigator, Wayne noticed his grave needed tending when making regular trips to his grandparents’ place of rest at Cannock Chase Cemetery and took on the task of keeping it pristine.
He said: “I noticed he was from Australia, thousands of miles away, and thought it was a shame that he was buried so far from home. I did it out of respect.”
A greenkeeper at Beau Desert Golf Club in Hazelslade, Cannock, he was ideally qualified for the task of trimming the grass and foliage.
And over the years, Wayne grew curious about Warrant Officer John Benjamin Burrows, of the Royal Australian Air Force, who was killed on April 5, 1943.
Inquiries on the internet and to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission uncovered only basic information.
However, his friends Richard Pursehouse and Lee Dent, of the Chase Project, carried out their own research and were able to unearth the human story behind the facts.
Father-of-three Wayne learned that John Burrows, from an affluent suburb of Melbourne, had wed local girl Marjorie Preece, of Dartmouth Road, Cannock, in her home town on August 29, 1942, just six months before he was killed.
They married at St Luke’s Church and held a reception at nearby Stantons cafe before honeymooning in Scotland.
He was a Flight Sergeant while Marjorie worked in the A.T.S at Salisbury in a clerical role.
It is understood that he was returning from a ‘nickel’ raid – dropping propaganda leaflets – in Germany when their aircraft, an Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, nicknamed the Flying Coffin, came under intense anti-aircraft fire over France and was losing fuel as it returned to home shores.
The pilot had been advised to land but thought he could make it make to base. Instead he crashed in thick fog, killing himself and Warrant Officer Burrows. Three others on board survived.
John Burrows’ coffin, draped in the Union Jack, was carried shoulder-high into the church where he had been married the summer before by airmen, including three colleagues from his squadron. He was buried at the civilian cemetery where there are 37 other military graves.
On his headstone are the words, chosen by his parents, Alexander and Ada Burrows, ‘Still living, Still ours, Father and Mother’.
Marjorie remarried in 1946, becoming Mrs Bungam, and went to live in New Jersey, America, where she died around 2007.
Knowing the background story of Warrant Officer Burrows has brought renewed meaning to Wayne’s trips to the cemetery. He visits twice a month in winter and every week once the grass starts growing again.
He said: “What happened was a tragedy. He was only 21 and had been married for just six months. I was 26 when I started looking after his grave and I’d like to think I will carry on doing so.”
On Sunday he will be recognised at the 100th anniversary of the Anzac ceremony at Cannock Chase.
Wayne, aged 52, of Woodside Place, Cannock, called the experience ‘very humbling’.