Robert Francis George Burchell was head cook and was killed in 1941 on the HMAS Nizam

December 22, 2008


My name is Carol Haynes; I am searching for a photo of my Mothers first husband, Robert Francis George Burchell. I would dearly love to have a photograph to give to my older sister. I know he was head cook and was killed in 1941 on the HMAS Nizam, but know very little else. I have tried to find living relatives to no avail. I am waiting for a Desperately Seeking letter I sent to the Herald Sun. I would appreciate any information, or knowledge of where I could find a photograph.

Cheers Carol.
Carol Haynes

Hello Carol,

I am unable to unearth any photo of your RGF Burchell, in fact he does not appear on either the Commonwealth War Graves Site or on the Australian WW2 roll.gov.au which is most unusual. If he served in WW2 in HMAS Nizam and was killed, I would expect to find a record on the CWGS, and for him to be recorded most likely on the Naval War Memorial at Plymouth, not there!! 

Likewise, I expected to find his Certificate of War Service on the Australian WW2 roll, no record at all. 

That leaves me up a gum tree, and sorry I am unable to help, are you positive of the spelling of his surname as Burchell?



My friend Martin has found some details about Robert Burchill, and here they are for you.
Best wishes,

Hi Mac.

I'm afraid I have been browsing your (and Terry's) excellent site again. I was interested in the letter from Carol Haynes re Robert Burchell, casualty on HMAS Nizam in 1941, so I did a little digging. I found his RAN service record on the NAA site:

Robert Francis George BURCHELL, ON 14758, b. Bristol, England, 18 February 1906

Here's a brief summary:
- Joined RAN 1.8.24
- Discharge purchased at Sydney 24.3.28
- Enrolled R.A.F.R. 20 Oct 37 for 5 years as Ldg. Cook, ON M689.
- Approval for re-entry in R.A.N. as Cook 2 Aug 38.
- Joined Nizam 20.12.40
- Death by drowning 21 Oct 41. Washed overboard, died on (in?) ?????? (convoy?) / dead on recovery? (writing is a little hard to read)

For N.O.K. (again, some letters hard to read):

Wife:- Mrs Margaret Millicent Burchell, 8 Temuka Ave, East Brunswick, Vic.
Remarried 9/1/42 Now Mrs. P. (R?) F.? Robertson
?? Sussex St, Coburg North

So his wife remarried. I wonder if this might be why Carol has found relatives difficult to trace.

From the RAN ships' histories:
"During October and November 1941 Nizam took her place as part of a screening force for Malta convoys, and during this period took part in the bombardments of Sollum and Bardia."

Here is Robert Burchell's entry on the CWGC site (you may have pasted his surname with a space on the end which causes the search to fail - I've done this before):


His Additional Info is: Son of Charles and Bessie Burchell; husband of Margaret Millicent Burchell, of East Brunswick. Victoria, Australia.

His grave or memorial is in Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery (Egypt).

AWM Roll of Honour - Robert Francis George Burchell

A search of Google Books turned up trumps. In 'Man Overboard!', by Andrew Rose, Sandra Rose, Red Rose Books, pub. 2006, pp. 82-83:

"On 21 October 1941 Nizam encountered a further mishap
whilst engaged in the relief from Tobruk of 2/24th Australian
Infantry Battalion soldiers of the 9th Australian Division in the so-
called 'Tobruk Ferry Service':

      At 9.40 a.m. a tragedy suddenly occurred. The troops were
      sitting on the gear around the decks while the destroyer
      ploughed on at top speed. Suddenly, and without warning, a
      large wave came aboard and washed twenty of our men
      overboard. Against the navy's standing orders, the destroyer
      stopped to rescue the men, who were swimming fully-clothed
      and without lifebelts. Six men were lost, believed drowned ...
      2[Five drowned and one died of injuries - Appendix 3(c)].

Another soldier lost a leg after severely injuring it on a
guardrail, and other soldiers reported lesser injuries.

A Nizam sailor, Leading Cook Robert F.G. Burchell,
was swept overboard at the same time. He was rescued but
received serious head injuries from a deck fitting and never
recovered consciousness. He was recorded in RAN records
as 'drowned.' This event fortunately occurred during
day light hours, or the loss of life may well have been greater.
Lieutenant Commander Max J. Clark commanded Nizam during the
whole of 1941.

Nizam recorded a total of fifteen RAN deaths (apart from the
six soliders lost overboard) between 1941-45, including the ten lost
at Cape Leeuwin and three to accident or illness, but none was lost
to enemy action."

With the N.O.K. details above, it may be possible to locate living relatives via genealogical resources, i.e. BD&M's, newspapers, electoral rolls, etc. If Carol needs any help with this, I'd be happy to try to find out more.

Kind regards,

Martin Elliget

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