A mother pleads with son to lead a good life

Name: Gordon Burden
Date: 1918
Unit: 10th Battalion AIF
Location: Europe

Religion played an important part in the lives of many families whose sons enlisted to serve in World War I. Many a young soldier went off with the pleas of mothers and fathers to lead pure lives ringing in their ears.

How many were able to maintain these lofty ideals it is hard to say, but there is no doubt that under the pressures of war and the need to forget the horrors they had witnessed during the fighting, not everyone was able to do so.

Corporal Gordon Burden received a letter from his mother in which she pleaded with him to treat women as he would wish others to treat her or his sister, to avoid the demon drink and to leave smoking alone.

His parents were both Missionaries who had spent many years in China and were deeply committed to Christian values.

Henley Beach
Dec 10th 1917

My darling boy,

Your happiness and goodness are what father & I most crave for you in this life, and we have ever sought as far as it lay in our power, and by our prayers and secure these for you. We cannot deny your request to be allowed to enlist on this your 18th birthday though we wish you had been older and more experienced in the ways of the world before going into camps where you will be in contact with men & women of a very different type to your mother and father. You will receive many a staggering shock - as I have done - by seeing those who make a profession of Christianity and of being good, leading lives of sin secretly, that were it not for what we know of the power of God in our own lives, which makes sin of any description so utterly abhorrent, we would wonder if there were any who were real and good through and through.

Who ever else fails you in life dear, cling on to your faith in God. I can trust your father in any condition implicitly. I know he would always be true and would shield the weak and ignorant, while the wiles of the wicked would not lure him.

I want more than anything else to have the same confidence in my only boy - treat every woman as you would wish to see your mother & sister treated, & never say a word to one you would not like to be said by any man to either of us. You were made as pure as ever it is possible for parents to have pure children & now it rests with you to keep pure & to hand on to the world, if God spares you, pure children of your own - live the life you would like your children to live.

I want you to promise never to let the first drop of intoxicating liquor over your lips, then I know you will never become a drunken sot. Drink in a man makes him prey to every passion & weakens him in the fight of life. I would like, too, that you would leave smoking alone, a man needs this no more than a woman, it is a habit not a need.

Keep yourself fit in every way to be a good soldier & God make you a blessing to the boys who will be around you, it will strengthen you to try & help them. Take your stand as an out & out Christian from the very beginning, you will be upheld by the love and prayers of the wee band at home. God bless you.

Your loving Mother.

Corporal Burden was lucky. He arrived in England by boat just as the war was ending so did not have to face the worst horrors of war.

On his return to Australia in 1919, he received a Soldier's Settlement Block near Berri in South Australia where he grew wine grapes. He was always a moderate drinker and although he ignored his mother's wishes with regard to smoking, he eventually gave that up.

The material for this article was supplied by Mr Frank Burden of the Australian Capital Territory

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), A mother pleads with son to lead a good life, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 25 June 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/australians-wartime/mother-pleads-son-lead-good-life
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