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John Seymour Handley Commins

Photograph of Bombardier John Seymour Handley Commins, taken on enlistment and contained in his paybook. Australian War Memorial, P02467.953. Image may be subject to copyright restrictions.

Photograph of Bombardier John Seymour Handley Commins, taken on enlistment and contained in his payb …


  • Title
  • Forenames
    John Seymour Handley AWMM
  • Surname
    Commins AWMM
  • Ingoa
  • Also known as
  • Service number
    WWII QX5989 AWMM
  • Gender
    Male AWMM
  • Iwi
  • Hapū
  • Waka
  • Rohe
  • Religion

Civilian life

About birth

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  • Birth
  • Date of birth
  • Place of birth
  • Birth notes
  • Address before enlistment
  • Post war occupation
  • Next of kin on embarkation
  • Relationship status


Wars and conflicts

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  • War
  • Campaign
  • Armed force / branch
    Army AWMM
  • Service number
    WWII QX5989 AWMM
  • Military service
  • Promotions/ Postings/ Transfers

Military decorations

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  • Medals and Awards

Training and Enlistment

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  • Military training
  • Branch Trade Proficiency
  • Enlistment
  • Occupation before enlistment
  • Age on enlistment


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Prisoner of war

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  • Capture details
  • Days interned
  • Liberation date
  • Liberation Repatriation
  • POW liberation details
  • POW serial number

Medical history

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  • Medical notes

Last known rank

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Biographical information

Biographical information

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    • Son of Alfred and Flora Mary Commins, of Whangarei, Auckland, New Zealand. Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

      Reported as having died around January 1945 while a prisoner of war at Sandakan Camp, Borneo.

      Brother of Charles Lilburn Handley Commins 6834 and Benjamin Alfred Handley Commins 455549, Second World War. AWMM
    • John Commins was born in Essendon, Melbourne, Australia on 16 February 1912, to Alfred and Flora Mary Commins (nee Handley). Flora, who was born in New Zealand in 1883, was 18 years younger than her husband when they married in Melbourne in 1910. They had four sons – John, Charles, Phillip and Benjamin, and two daughters – Marion and Deborah.
      When John was quite young, the couple moved to New Zealand, where his father took up farming. However, his parents’ marriage was not a success, and after separating for some time they finally divorced in 1938.
      John, who returned to Australia, worked as a station hand on a property near Dalby. On 8 June 1940 he quit his job, travelled to the Toowoomba Recruiting Centre and joined the AIF. His brothers Charles and Benjamin also enlisted - in the New Zealand Forces.
      John was posted to X Battery, later renamed 60 Battery, of the recently formed 2/10 Field Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, which was raised in Queensland. His battery commander was Major R. Barraclough, aged 29.
      The bulk of the Regiment left Australia on Queen Mary in February 1941. Reinforcements followed in August. The first arrivals were transferred to Malaya, where they were billeted at Malacca in the local high school while they undertook further training. In October they moved to Johore’s east coast to begin work on defences. On 6 December, they were placed on a battle footing. Two days later the Japanese invaded northern Malaya.
      In January 1942, John’s battery provided support for the 2/18th Battalion at the battle of Nithsdale Estate at Jemaluang. The Japanese retreated to Mersing, but the Allies themselves were soon forced to retreat to Singapore Island. From its battle station near Mandai Road, 60 Battery joined with 20 Battery to sink 30 sampans attempting to cross the Straits of Johore with enemy troops. But it was not enough, and before long the Allies were once more in retreat. When Singapore was surrendered on 15 February 1942, John and the surviving members of his Regiment became prisoners of the Japanese.
      In July 1942 John was transferred from Changi Camp in Singapore to British North Borneo on Yubi Maru with the 1500-strong B Force, to construct an airfield at Sandakan. In early 1943, B Force was joined by 500 Australians from E Force and several hundred British. Conditions were reasonable at first, but as the war progressed Borneo became isolated and food became scarce. By January 1945, the Australian ration was reduced to just 70 grams of rice per man per day. Malaria was rife. With no medical supplies to help combat recurring attacks, the men, in their weakened state, died like flies.
      On 2 April John became very ill with malaria. He died on 8 May, aged 33. Wrapped in banana leaves, he was buried in a shallow grave a short distance from the camp. By this time the burial parties were no longer segregating the two nationalities, or individually marking the graves.
      In late 1945, the remains of those buried in the combined section of the cemetery were exhumed for reburial in Labuan War Cemetery in graves 15 E 3-16; 20 D 4-16; 25 A 1-6; 25 C 13-16; 25 D 1-16; A E 1; V C 1-16; V D 2-16; V E 1-8. All are marked with headstones inscribed ‘Known unto God’. His name is commemorated at the cemetery on Panel 2.
      John’s brother Charles, killed in action on 27 November 1941 in Libya, has no known grave. Their father, who died in New Zealand in January 1943, knew only that John was missing, as the news that he was a POW was not received until April that year. The family finally learned of his death in December 1945. Public - Daryl - Direct descendant - 19 December 2022 - Family research
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About death

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  • Death
    Jan 1945 AWMM
    Age 33 AWMM
    LabuanMalaysia AWMM
  • Date of death
  • Age at death
  • Place of death
  • Cause of death
  • Death notes
  • Cemetery
  • Cemetery name
  • Grave reference
  • Obituary
  • Memorial name
  • Memorial reference



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  • Memorial name
    Panel 2, Labuan Memorial, Malaysia AWMM

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DateFirst namesLocationRelationshipContact
19 December 2022DarylAucklandDirect descendant

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