Wayne Hawthorne is a kind man from Staffordshire in the U.K. He lived in a town called Cannock, in the West Midlands of England. His home was close to the Cannock Chase Cemetery, and it was a place where he often took his walks to visit his grandparent’s graves. On a walk one day, he noticed the grave of an Australian airman that was unattended. The grass was overgrown around the headstone, and there were no flowers planted. Being the nice, caring guy that he is, Wayne decided to pay his respects by cleaning up the grave. This is something that he did for many years.
Warrant Officer JB Burrows- Royal Australian Air Force- 5/4/43
The grave that Wayne started caring for was the grave of a member of the Royal Australian Air Force, John Benjamin Burrows. He decided to take care of the grave because John Burrows was from Australia, which meant that he was buried far from home. This likely meant that his family never had a chance to visit his grave. This was likely why it was in such poor shape. He says that he cared for the grave out of respect.
Wayne says that the fact that John Burrows was so far from home resonated with him because of the fact that he was buried in England. The man was from Australia and traveled to England to fight in the war, and his body was never returned home. The 21-year-old was buried in a strange city, around strangers. Wayne says that it broke his heart that the man never had a chance to go home.
Looking After the Grave
For over 25-years, Wayne took care of the fallen soldier’s grave. He was a great person for the job because he worked as a greenskeeper for a local golf course. He had excellent skills, and he used them to make the fallen soldier’s grave look great. First, he stripped the area to make it level. Next, he planted bulbs to match the season. Twice a month, depending on how fast the grass grows, he visits
After over two decades of keeping this fallen soldier’s grave neat, Wayne started to wonder about the man. All he knew was that he had served in the RAAF and that he died on April 5, 1943. He couldn’t help but wonder why the man was buried in Cannock, which was many miles away from his home. Wayne wanted to get some answers to his questions.
Unfortunately, Wayne’s search for information wasn’t going as well as he hoped. He searched the local news and the internet, and he could only find basic information. When he spoke to someone from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they could only give him the barest details about John Burrow’s life and death. The lack of information available was very frustrating for Wayne.
Richard Pursehouse and Lee Dent
Local military researchers, Richard Pursehouse and Lee Dent decided to look into John Burrows for him. After doing some research, the pair managed to get some information about the young airman that was laid to rest in 1943. When the two men showed Wayne a picture of John Burrows, he became very emotional.
John was born in July 1921 in Melbourne, Victora. He grew up with his parents and his two sisters. Not much was known about his early life, except for the fact that his home was in a well-to-do seaside suburb in Brighton. John agreed to fight in Brighton, but ended up in the U.K. It was there that he met Marjorie Preece and fell in love. The couple married and moved to Dartmouth Road in Cannock. It is believed that John was laid to rest in Cannock so that he could be close to his wife.
John’s Last Day
John was serving with the 297 Squadron of the British Royal Air Force. He was stationed a few miles from Andover in Hampshire, which was both an RAF and US Air Force Base. It was there that John set off to his final mission. The night he died, John was involved in a mission over France. He was in an aircraft that was one of six that dropped pamphlets in cities and towns. From the first day of World War II, spreading propaganda this way was common. During his mission, John’s plane took on a lot of fire from anti-aircraft batteries, and he started leaking fuel. He had to land the aircraft but struggled due to the fog. He was confused by the fog, but sadly, it made him confused, and he crashed the plane.
Finally, Wayne had the answers that he was looking for. After over 25 years tending to this mystery vet’s grave, a stranger has finally dug up his story. Now, when he tends to the grave, he feels like he knows who he is doing it for.