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Edmund Victor Burgoyne (1917–1978)

by James Cotton

Edmund Burgoyne, 1940

Edmund Burgoyne, 1940

Edmund Victor Burgoyne was born 2 June 1917 in Shanghai. His father Aubrey had been born in Moruya, New South Wales, and was an accountant in business in China. His mother, Nanny (Nance) Klyhn, was of Danish and Chinese parentage.[1] His parents married in Mukden (Shenyang) in 1910, where Aubrey subsequently became a prosperous trader until his business was disrupted by the Japanese invasion of 1931. According to Keith Waller, Second Secretary at the Australian Chungking (Chongqing) Legation in 1941, Burgoyne had been ‘part educated in Australia’, though there is no other evidence confirming this statement.[2] It is established, however, that Edmund attended ‘Pyengyang Foreign School’, an American Presbyterian establishment in Pyongyang (in Japanese ruled Korea). He is recorded as having completed the ‘Grammar School Course’ in June 1931.[3] In the 1930s his family lived at 750/3 Yu Yuen Road in Shanghai (a building since demolished), his father working in import-export business.

According to his Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) file, he had also been a student 1931—1933 at St. John’s University in Shanghai. St John’s—with its large faculty, many of them Americans or American trained—was among the most prestigious of such institutions in China. Part of its former campus is now occupied by the East China University of Political Science and Law. However, a school photograph exists, dated December 1933, which lists a number of classmates, suggesting that he remained at Pyengyang until that year, when he would have been 16 years of age. His ASIO file also includes the information that he attended the Shanghai American and Shanghai Public Schools, 1929—1931, gaining the ‘Senior Certificate Cambridge’, though whether this information came from Burgoyne directly cannot be verified.[4]

He apparently worked for the Far East Aviation Company in Shanghai in 1934—35 (when he might also have been taking courses at St. John’s), and then for the British Embassy in China, first with its personnel in Shanghai and then in Chungking where he eventually acted as private secretary to Ambassador Sir Archibald Clark Kerr. A reference from Clark Kerr of 1938 exists—describing Burgoyne as showing ‘great ability, marked initiative and an uncanny anticipation’—which suggests that, earlier, Burgoyne may have sought to work in the office of Australian Trade Commissioner in Shanghai, Vivian Bowden.[5]

In Chungking in June 1941, Burgoyne was caught in a particularly devastating Japanese air-raid, being injured when the British diplomatic mission was largely demolished.[6] When the decision was announced in the same month that Australia would establish a Legation in China (to be located in Chungking) Burgoyne sought the approval of Clark Kerr to work to help his fellow nationals. Clerk Kerr stated that he had been ‘born in China of Australian parents and … [was] very anxious to join the Australian Legation.’ Though ‘very sorry’ to lose his services, the Ambassador suggested this arrangement to the Australians, noting Burgoyne’s linguistic accomplishments and describing him as ‘resourceful and a good typist with local experience’.[7] An accompanying letter on likely operating conditions for the Legation was drafted by Burgoyne, as the original in his own hand marked ‘how about this? AVB.’ indicates.[8] Clark Kerr followed up this letter with a cable reiterating this offer.[9]

(Sir Frederic) Eggleston took on Burgoyne as his private secretary, aware that Acting First Secretary Keith Waller could hardly function without his skills. As Eggleston pointed out to Canberra, ‘Mr Waller informs me that unless he was accompanied by someone speaking Chinese, he found it extremely difficult to get about even in Chungking.’[10] Eggleston went on to observe of Burgoyne’s advantages:

Not only does Mr. Burgoyne know his way about Chungking but he is personally known to many members of the Foreign Office and has had extensive dealings with them on matters connected with the British Embassy. He has travelled extensively through China and Manchuria and on his last local leave, travelled up the Yangtse by sampan, living entirely with the Chinese, so as to visit the more remote villages in the west.

Burgoyne proved, as Eggleston was subsequently to write, ‘invaluable.’[11] Burgoyne thus became a member (albeit locally engaged) of Australia’s fledgling diplomatic service. The cable sent to External Affairs indicating that Eggleston had officially presented his credentials in Chungking was drafted by Burgoyne and sent by him.[12]

Though secondary accounts credit Waller with identifying and leasing the initial premises occupied by the Legation, it is clear (from a memorandum from Eggleston to Evatt) that Burgoyne found the house in question and then, acting on Eggleston’s instructions, arranged its lease[13]. Waller’s statement in a letter to Hood: ‘I believe I have secured a house that will be in every way suitable for the Legation and am only now awaiting the Minister’s approval’[14] expressed a false claim, and was surely an example of the egoism of which Burgoyne (and others on the Chungking staff) later complained.

Burgoyne was a competent and devoted member of the Legation staff, and clearly thought very highly of Eggleston. As Burgoyne confided to a British friend, his work for Eggleston was not motivated by personal ambition:

a sudden flood of patriotism surged over me, and I threw a perfectly good job to come and work for the Australian Legation, for I thought that I might just be able to assist them in establishing a Legation in a country that none of them had ever been to and had no conception of the hardship and difficulties that they were to serve under. This I did. And though I am not in the habit of blowing my own horn I am forced to say, (and the Legation is the first to admit it) that without the help rendered by me, the Australian Legation in China might not have been.[15]

However, his letter continued, he had tired of clerical work and mindful of the uncertain fate of his family members, all in Japanese captivity, he had resolved to fight in the war. Fewster’s claim that Burgoyne ‘was a physical and emotional wreck and had to be withdrawn’ seems incorrect.[16] Although Burgoyne does not say so in the personal letter quoted, other factors might have been at play.

In an episode in 1943, during which former Legation employee William Westwood complained to Canberra of Waller’s conduct, one of the items he employed was a letter to Eggleston drafted—but not sent—by Burgoyne immediately following his resignation.[17] While in his correspondence Waller repeatedly praised Burgoyne’s skills and application,[18] Burgoyne himself apparently found Waller insufferable. As he explained:

I have the highest regard for the ability of Mr. Waller, but his attitude of superiority which at times reaches the borders of contempt for his juniors and “inferiors” has made it impossible for me, (whom I am certain you will agree, am easy to get along with) to remain in this Legation.[19]

Burgoyne complained explicitly that while depending upon Burgoyne’s gleanings of intelligence, Waller always ascribed its discovery to his own efforts. What he did not mention was any racial slights. However, in a contemporaneous personal letter, Waller described himself as aghast to discover (after some time) that Burgoyne was Eurasian, and clearly regretted writing the letters of introduction he had prepared for Burgoyne’s use in Australia.[20] Whatever the accuracy of this claim, Burgoyne as Waller’s translator would have become very well acquainted with his attitude towards the many Chinese with whom they engaged in the temporary capital. Waller’s colleague, Charles Lee, was also the subject of Waller’s racially based adverse commentary.

Arriving in Sydney on 11 June 1942 after the difficult journey by way of India, Burgoyne was clearly moved to make such efforts as he was capable to publicise the desperate struggles of the Chinese against Japan. He published a number of articles in the press[21] and was responsible, jointly with veteran Australian journalist Harold J. Timperley,[22] for the production of a Movietone film on this theme, shown in September 1942.[23] On 10 September 1942 Burgoyne broadcast on the ABC, recounting the experience of living in the Chinese capital in wartime.[24]

Eventually Burgoyne’s plan to join the military bore fruit. In his November 1942 application to join the Australian military he reduced his age by a year, noting that he had served in the Volunteer Defence Corps in Shanghai.[25] On 23 December 1942 Burgoyne was appointed Lieutenant in the AMF and was posted to the Advanced Land Headquarters in St Lucia, Brisbane (which included a Chinese Military Mission). In September 1943 he moved to the Allied Translation and Interpreters Section of the Intelligence Corps. In July Burgoyne transferred to the AIF; in March 1945 he arranged to be released from the AIF, to be able to join the British Army, evidently at their request. There was some urgency to his transfer, the AMF Movement Order noting, ‘GHQ India has requested that Lt. BURGOYNE be despatched as soon as possible and it is therefore requested that this matter be treated as urgent.’[26]

Burgoyne was commissioned in the British Army in India, ultimately attaining the rank of Captain (temporary). He was also given the substantive position of British Military Attaché, Kunming, perhaps to provide him with diplomatic cover if he experienced difficulties with the local Chinese authorities.

Documentation indicates that he was active in a number of capacities including serving in Force 136 which was deployed behind the lines in Burma and China. In connection with this service he was Mentioned In Despatches.[27] He was among the first British military personnel to enter Shanghai at the end of World War 2,[28] and was the only Australian—in the company of a single British officer, Major-General Eric Hayes—present at the official surrender of the Japanese military in Nanking (Nanjing) on 9 September 1945.[29] A member of Allied Land Forces, Southeast Asia [ALFSEA] in early 1946, Burgoyne was placed in charge of the personal office of Lord Killearn, who became Special Commissioner in Southeast Asia in early 1946 in Singapore. During this time, Burgoyne travelled in the region including visiting Java. Upon his requesting his release from military service, Burgoyne was the subject of a glowing reference, describing his work as being characterised by ‘outstanding efficiency, thoroughness and patience.’[30] Interestingly, when he sought permission in December 1946 to remain in Australia upon discharge from the British Army, he stated he had been born in Australia and that he proposed to become a journalist.[31] He was discharged 22 March 1947, and returned to Australia.

In Sydney he sought to establish a business, Asian Airlines, taking ownership of surplus wartime aircraft in order to transport goods to and from Southeast Asia. He had been an original partner, but following what appears to have been the embezzlement of much of the original capital by his ostensible partner Clarence Campbell, the enterprise was—according to the files of ASIO—in effect taken over by communist nominees the manoeuvers of whom caused Burgoyne to sever his relations with the enterprise.[32] At this time and until 1951 he was believed by ASIO to have been a member of ‘The Association’ (an anti-communist organisation of former military personnel), acting in the role of ‘Intelligence Officer’.[33]

Having previously retired from the military, on 3 August 1951 his status as a Lieutenant was re-established and he began temporary service in the Intelligence Corps (interpreter) in Eastern Command. He was then promoted to (provisional) Captain on 22 August 1951.[34] Burgoyne married Pamela Quinton Richards in Sydney in 1952. He formally retired as Captain (honorary) 17 June 1963.[35]

Meanwhile, probably with the support of an old China comrade, Reg Watson, who was an executive with the company, he obtained a position with Rothmans International, moving to Perth from Sydney to become State Manager in 1959. He died in Dalkeith, 3 August 1978, survived by his wife, Pamela Quinton, son Alistair, and daughters Jennifer and Robin.

[1] On the Klyhn family, see: The present article is partly based on family information, and access to the Burgoyne family archive [Burgoyne Papers], courtesy of Alistair Burgoyne.

[2] Waller to Eggleston, 17 September 1941, NLA: MS423/9/39.

[3] School certificate, Burgoyne Papers.

[4] NAA: A6126, 468.

[5] Clark Kerr reference, 23 September 1938, Burgoyne Papers.

[6] Shanghai Evening Post and Mercury, 30 June 1941, p.1.

[7] Clark Kerr to Bowden, copy to Hodgson, 29 June 1941, NAA: A981, AUS 162 PART 2.

[8] Burgoyne Papers.

[9] Clark Kerr to Hodgson, 16 July 1941, Burgoyne Papers.

[10] Eggleston to Stewart, 5 October 1941, NAA: A4144, 400/1942.

[11] Eggleston to Evatt, 13 Dec 1941, NAA: A981, AUS 162 PART 2.

[12] Checked draft from Austleg to External, marked and annotated 1635/28/10, Burgoyne Papers.

[13] Eggleston to Evatt 3 November 1941, NAA: A4144, 400/1942; see also Eggleston diary, Eggleston papers, NLA: MS 423/9/434; Kate Bagnall, The Chungking Legation: Australia’s diplomatic mission in wartime China (Melbourne: Chinese Museul Victoria, 2015). According to Waller’s later autobiographical account: I … arrived in Chungking, but I only stayed there for about ten days, having, as I thought, found a house. We did, I think, settle on that house and then I went back to Rangoon’; Transcript of interview with Professor Bruce Miller for NLA, NAA: M4324, 16.

[14] Waller to Hood, 18 September 1941, NAA; M4323, 2.

[15] Burgoyne to ‘Dick’ [R. A. Walker?], 17 February 1942, Burgoyne Papers.

[16] Alan Fewster, Keith Waller. Portrait of a Working Diplomat. Three Duties and Talleyrand’s Dictum (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly, 2018), p. 31.

[17] Fewster, Keith Waller. Portrait of a Working Diplomat, pp. 41—51.

[18] Eg, Waller to Hodgson, 18 September 1941; Waller to Hood, 12 March 1942, NAA: M4323, 2.

[19] Burgoyne draft, nd, [April? 1942], Eggleston papers, NLA: MS423/9/115.

[20] Waller to McLachlan, 19 March 1942, NAA: M4323, 2.

[21] See, eg, ‘China’s heroic fight for democracy,’ Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 23 July 1942, p. 4; ‘Will Japs strike at Siberia,’ Sun (Sydney), 23 October 1942, p. 4.

[22] Writing for the Manchester Guardian, Timperley was the first to document the full horrors of the rape of Nanjing: H. J. Timperley, What War Means: The Japanese Terror in China (London: Gollancz, 1938).

[23] See: Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 12 September 1942, p. 27.

[24] ‘The City of Chungking,’ NAA: SP300/1, 1942/BURGOYNE E/1.

[25] See, NAA: B883, NX193439.

[26] AMF Movement Order, 17 March 1945, Burgoyne Papers.

[27] London Gazette, no 37730, 17 September 1946, Third Supplement, 19 September 1946, p. 4706.

[28] See Sunday Times (Perth), 26 January 1947, p. 4; Greg Leck, Captives of Empire. The Japanese Internment of Allied Civilians in China 1941—1945 (Bangor, Penn: Shandy Press, 2006), p. 403.

[29] Official invitation, Burgoyne Papers. See also Rana Mitter, Forgotten Ally. China’s World War II, 1937—1945 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2013), photograph after p. 306. Burgoyne is the figure seated at the cross table, 6th from right, Hayes is to his right.

[30] Killearn to Stopford, 29 November 1946, Burgoyne Papers.

[31] NAA: A12288, 7/222.

[32] See ‘Transcript of shorthand record made by Mr. Gamble of his interview with E. Burgoyne 11/6/48’, NAA: A432, 1948/676; ‘This is the Strange Story of Asian Airlines Ltd,’ Sydney Morning Herald, 14 September 1948, p. 2.

[33] NAA: A6122, 2 VOLUME 2.

[34] Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 18 October 1951 (No.78), p. 2687.

[35] Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 12 September 1963 (No.75), p. 32.

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Citation details

James Cotton, 'Burgoyne, Edmund Victor (1917–1978)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 13 April 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Edmund Burgoyne, 1940

Edmund Burgoyne, 1940

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Life Summary [details]


2 June, 1917
Shanghai, China


3 August, 1978 (aged 61)
Dalkeith, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Military Service