Survivor of Burma railway departs

AT 102, George Burtenshaw was a marvel of survival, but even marvels cannot last forever.

The former pineapple farmer and long-standing Widgee Shire councillor died last Saturday.

Strong of body and fit of mind, he had lived independently until earlier this year when he moved into a nursing home after a couple of falls.

His life could easily have been cut much shorter.

During the Second World War, he spent three-and-half years as a prisoner of war on the Burma railway, a harsh existence where death was a regular visitor.

He was 33 when released, but it was six years before he was well enough to return to ordinary civilian life.

Of his time as a POW, Mr Burtenshaw once said: "It's not something I talk about and it's not something you want to hear about."

DECEMBER 2010: George Burtenshaw on his 99th birthday.
DECEMBER 2010: George Burtenshaw on his 99th birthday. Darryn Smith

Tewantin RSL chairman Steve Drake described him as a "living treasure" last year, saying it was an amazing feat to reach 102 after what he had been through.

From England, Mr Burtenshaw immigrated to Australia when he was 16 under the Church of England Settlement Scheme. After the war, he bought a pineapple farm in the Amamoor area and worked it for seven years before selling to buy another at Brooloo.

At the urging of locals, he ran for the local council and was elected at age 60. After 21 years and seven elections, he retired from Widgee Shire Council aged 81.

On old age, Mr Burtenshaw joked last year that he felt older than his 102 years, but was content to be around for a while yet.

"I think it's wonderful - I'll die unhurried," he quipped.

Mr Burtenshaw had already clocked up his centenary when artist Frances McLeod painted his portrait for the Archibald Prize.

Gary Roper, of the Tewantin RSL, said Mr Burtenshaw was a man of dignity, generosity, spirituality "and whatever you want to say, he had it in spades".


Whatever anyone tells you about George Burtenshaw, they'd be understating how good he is," he said.

Mr Burtenshaw is predeceased by his wife, Eva, and their son, John, but is survived by their three daughters, Dorothy, Gwen and Grace, and their families.

His funeral will be held at Drysdale Funerals, Noosa-Cooroy Rd, Tewantin, tomorrow from 10am.

Topics:  obituary survivor tribute

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