Samuel Burston

Samuel Burston

Infobox Military Person
name=Samuel Burston
lived=21 March 1888 - Death date and age|1960|8|21|1888|3|21|df=yes
placeofdeath= South Yarra, Victoria

caption=Major General Samuel Burston
allegiance=flagicon|Australia Australia
branch=Australian Army
rank=Major General
commands=1st Convalescent Depot 3rd General Hospital
battles=World War I:
*Battle of Gallipoli
*Battle of Messines
World War II
*Western Desert campaign
*Greek campaign
*Syria-Lebanon campaign
*Netherlands East Indies campaign
*Kokoda Track campaign
*Salamaua-Lae campaign
*Finisterre Range campaign
*Burma Campaign 1944-1945
awards=Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire Companion of the Order of the Bath Distinguished Service Order Volunteer Decoration Mention in Despatches Royal Humane Society Bronze Medal
relations= son of James Burston
laterwork=Chief Commissioner of St John Ambulance Australia
Chairman of the Moonee Valley Racing Club

Major General Sir Samuel Roy Burston KBE, CB, DSO, VD, FRCP, FRCPE, FRACP (21 March 1888-21 August 1960) was an Australian soldier, general, physician, and horse racing identity in the first half of the 20th century who rose to the rank of Major General during World War II.

Education and early life

Samuel Roy Burston was born in Melbourne on 21 March 1888, the fourth of seven children of James Burston, a businessman who served as Lord Mayor of Melbourne from 1908 to 1910, and his wife Marianne, née McBean. [ [ 'Burston, James (1856 - 1920)', Australian Dictionary of Biography] ] The family lived in Flinders Street, Melbourne and later in Hawthorn, Victoria. James Burston would go on to command the 7th Infantry Brigade in the Gallipoli campaign and rise to the rank of major general. Roy was educated at Melbourne Grammar School, where he acquired the nickname "Ginger" after his red hair, and at the University of Melbourne, graduating with a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1910. [ 'Burston, Sir Samuel Roy (1888 - 1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography] ]

Burston joined the Victorian Military Forces as a bugler, serving with them and the Australian Military Forces until 1905. He considered a full-time military career but this was precluded by the discovery of a heart murmur.harvnb|Johnston, Keogh, Jose & Irving|1961|pp=184-187]

Soon after his graduation Burston became a resident medical officer at Adelaide Children's Hospital. In 1911-12 Burston served in the Northern Territory as a medical inspector of Aborigines with the Aboriginal Protection Board. He returned to Adelaide and married Helen Elizabeth Culross on 16 April 1913 in St Michael's Anglican Church in Mitcham, South Australia. He took up general practice in Mile End, South Australia.

Although unable to pursue a military career, Burston obtained a commission as a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) on 14 October 1912."AMF Army List of Officers", October 1950]

Great War

Burston joined the First Australian Imperial Force as a major in the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance on 26 March 1915. He embarked for Egypt on the transport "Borda" on 23 June 1915. In September, he went to Gallipoli with the 7th Field Ambulance, which supported his father's 7th Infantry Brigade. He served at Gallipoli from September until November when he was evacuated to Alexandria and later England with Typhoid fever.Samuel Roy Burston Personnel File, NAA B883 VX2]

Burston remained in hospital until September 1916, when he was posted to the 11th Field Ambulance, part of the 3rd Division, then training at Larkhill. He moved to France with this unit on 24 November 1916. For his conduct supervising an advanced dressing station the Battle of Messines, he was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Service Order. [LondonGazette|issue=30450|supp=yes|startpage=27|date=1 January 1918|accessdate=2008-07-29]

Later that month Burston became senior medical officer at the Australian General Base Depot at Le Havre with the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel. This rank became substantive on 18 September 1917. He became commander of the 1st Convalescent Depot on 18 April 1918 and of the 3rd General Hospital on 22 November 1918. On 7 April 1919 he became Assistant Director of Medical Services (ADMS), AIF Depots in the United Kingdom with the temporary rank of colonel. For this work, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. [LondonGazette|issue=31684|supp=yes|startpage=15456|date=12 December 1919|accessdate=2008-07-29] He finally returned to Australia on the "Orsova" on 22 November 1919.

Between the wars

Burston was promoted to major in the AAMC on 1 July 1919, lieutenant colonel on 1 July 1920, and colonel on 1 September 1921. He assumed the post of Deputy Director of Medical Services, 4th Military District (ie South Australia) on 1 August 1921, a post he was to hold until 12 October 1939.

A tall man at 6'2" (189 cm), Burston was awarded the Royal Humane Society of Australasia's Bronze Medal for saving the lives of two youths at Victor Harbor, South Australia in 1927. A member of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and a fellow from 1937, he became a foundation Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1938. He was an honorary physician at Royal Adelaide Hospital from 1933, becoming honorary consultant physician in 1947, and was honorary physician to the Governor General from 1 July 1939 to 11 February 1943.

econd World War

In October 1939, the Director General of Medical Services (DGMS), Major General Rupert Downes tapped Burston for the post of Assistant Director of Medical Services (ADMS) of the 6th Division. Burston officially joined the Second AIF on 13 October 1939 with the rank of colonel, and received the serial number VX2 (VX1 being Major General Sir Thomas Blamey). When I Corps was formed in April 1940, Burston was appointed to its staff as Deputy Director of Medical Services (DDMS). [harvnb|Long|1952|pp=84-85] As such, he was promoted to Brigadier on 1 July 1940.

Burston departed for the Middle East by Qantas flying boat, along with Blamey and Brigadier Sydney Rowell, on 12 June 1940, the party wearing civilian clothes as they were travelling through neutral countries. [harvnb|Hetherington|1973|pp=102-103] In November Blamey organised a Headquarters, AIF in the Middle East and appointed Burston as its Director of Medical Services (DMS). The Australian government had appointed Major General Rupert Downes to this post; but it deferred to Blamey. [harvnb|Walker|1953|pp=339, 419-420] Burston was promoted to Major General on 16 February 1941.

Burston believed in personal reconnaissance and leading from the front. He was at the forefront of providing the medical arrangements for the Operation Compass. He attempted, in the face of equipment shortages, to anticipate medical problems and so far as possible to prevent or avoid them. He dispatched Major Ian Murray Mackerras to investigate fly breeding in order to prevent an outbreak of diarrhoea. Burston gave Mackerras a free hand to tackle hygiene problems. [harvnb|Walker|1953|pp=143]

Burston's participation in the Battle of Greece was of brief duration; he embarked on 10 April 1941 and was back less than two weeks later. While there, he visited the front and was caught up in an air raid at Elassona. The disaster in Greece greatly exacerbated the ongoing problem of medical equipment, as losses included the complete equipment of three field ambulances two casualty clearing stations, a 600-bed hospital and one 1200-bed general hospital. [harvnb|Walker|1953|pp=337-338] Blamey did not know Burston well before the war but soon came to rely on Burston's judgement and advice. cquote|One day he had to lay before the Old Man details of two complex medical schemes. Blamey gave the papers a cursory glance, and initialled each set without asking a question. Burston exclaimed in spontaneous surprise at this unhesitating acceptance of important proposals."How long have you known me now, Ginger?" Blamey asked.Burston told him."Well, surely you have formed a better estimate of me than that!" Blamey said. "You are my technical advisor on medical problems. You don't think that I'd be stupid enough to join issue with you on your own ground, do you? I assume before you come to me with things like these that you have given them every thought." [harvnb|Hetherington|1973|p=105]

In July 1941, Burston reported that Australians on leave in Cairo from the Siege of Tobruk were underweight, and expressed doubts that the 9th Division might have the physical stamina to resist an attack. [harvnb|Hetherington|1973|pp=177-178] Burston and Colonel Neil Hamilton Fairley met with the 9th Division's commander, Major General Leslie Morshead, as did Blamey, [harvnb|Maughan|1966|p=309] with the result that Blamey sought its relief. This led to showdowns first between Blamey and General Sir Claude Auchinleck, and then between the British and Australian governments. [harvnb|Hetherington|1973|pp=180-184]

Burston was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath on 14 April 1942. [LondonGazette|issue=35526|startpage=1691|date=14 April 1942|accessdate=2008-07-29] His citation, written by Blamey, read:quote|Since the inception of the AIF in October 1939, Major General Burston has held the senior medical appointment in the AIF. He has been responsible for the organisation, training and administration of the medical services of the AIF in their entirety. The efficient medical arrangements at present existing in the AIF in the Middle East are due to his enthusiasm, tireless energy, far-sightedness, and administrative ability.

Burston departed the Middle East for Batavia on 22 January 1942. He narrowly avoided capture when it fell, departing on the "Orcades" on 21 February 1942.

On 8 May 1942, Burston became DGMS at GHQ (Australia), which soon became Land Headquarters (LHQ). As such he found himself in charge of officers like Downes who were senior to him militarily, and like Fairley and Mackerras who were superior in professional status.

Burston made numerous visits to the front in Papua-New Guinea, in September, November and December 1942, July 1943, and June 1944. On his visit to Papua in September 1942, Blamey asked Burston to intercede with Rowell, the relationship between Blamey and Rowell having broken down as a result of the Rowell's supersession by Blamey on the orders of General Douglas MacArthur and Prime Minister John Curtin. Burston failed to placate Rowell, and Rowell was relieved. [harvnb|Hetherington|1973|pp=246-247] In April 1945 Burston visited South East Asia Command. The next month, he moved on to the United Kingdom. He was returning to Australia when the war ended.

Later Life

On 21 August 1945 Burston became honorary physician to King George VI. He retired as DGMS in January 1948, returning to Melbourne rather than resuming his medical practice. He served as honorary colonel of the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps from 1952 to 1957. In 1950 he delivered the Rupert Downes Memorial Lecture based on his book on "Medical Aspects of Atomic Warfare". He was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (military division) in 1952. [LondonGazette|issue=39422|supp=yes|startpage=37|date=28 December 1951|accessdate=2008-07-29]

Burston became fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1945. He was appointed a Knight of Grace of the Venerable Order of Saint John in 1944, [LondonGazette|issue=36315|startpage=114|date=4 January 1944|accessdate=2008-08-03] and he served as Chief Commissioner of St John Ambulance Australia from 1945 to 1957 and receiver-general of the Priory in Australia from 1957.

Burston served as director of several companies, including David Syme & Co., which published the Melbourne "The Age" newspaper, Western Mining Corporation, Great Western Consolidated, New Coolgardie, and Koolgardie Southern. He was a medical advisor to the Australian Red Cross and National Mutual Life Association.

Burston was involved in horse racing both as a punter and owner, and was Chairman of the Moonee Valley Racing Club from 1952 to 1960. Today the Burston Grandstand and Burston Lawn at the Moonee Valley racecourse are named in his honour.

Burston died on 21 August 1960 in South Yarra, Victoria. Survived by his daughter Elizabeth and sons Samuel, a pastoralist, and Robin, a physician, he was cremated after a military funeral at Christ Church, South Yarra. A portrait by Sir William Dargie was purchased by a fund subscribed to by a large number of medical officers and presented to him at The Australasian Medical Congress in Perth, Western Australia in 1948. Today, it is in his family's possession. Another portrait, by Sir Ivor Hele, is held by the Australian War Memorial.

Dates and age of rank

*Captain - 14 October 1912 - 24 years
*Major - 26 March 1915 - 27 years
*Lieutenant Colonel - 18 September 1917 - 29 years
*Colonel - 7 April 1919 - 31 years
*Brigadier - 1 July 1940 - 52 years
*Major General - 16 February 1941 - 52 years

Awards and decorations



* cite book
last = Hetherington
first = John
authorlink =
title = Blamey, Controversial Soldier : a biography of Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey
year = 1973
publisher = Australian War Memorial
location = Canberra
isbn = 095920430X

* citation
last = Johnston
first = Sir William
authorlink =
last2 = Keogh
first2 = E. V.
authorlink2 =
last3 = Jose
first3 = J. B.
authorlink3 =
last4 = Irving
first4 = R. G. H.
authorlink4 =
title = Obituary - Samuel Roy Burston
journal = The Medical Journal of Australia
pages = pp. 184-187
date = 4 February 1961

* citation
last = Long
first = Gavin
authorlink = Gavin Long
title = To Benghazi
url =
work = Australia in the War of 1939–1945 Series 1 – Army
format = PDF
year = 1952
publisher = Australian War Memorial
location = Canberra

* citation
url =
title = Tobruk and El Alamein
last = Maughan
first = Barton
year = 1966
format = PDF
work = Australia in the War of 1939–1945
publisher = Australian War Memorial
location = Canberra

* citation
url =
title = Middle East and Far East
last = Walker
first = Allan S.
year = 1953
format = PDF
work = Australia in the War of 1939–1945 Series 5 – Medical
publisher = Australian War Memorial
location = Canberra

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