Wartime Musical Companion
Contributed by Assistant Curator Chris Rapley
The faithful musical companion of a remarkable New Zealand soldier recently found a new home at the National Army Museum. The Italian-made piano accordion was the treasured possession of Frank Burns and accompanied him to its place of origin when Burns fought in World War II.
He brought the accordion as a young man and quickly became a highly skilled player and won the New Zealand Accordion Championship. Burns also formed a band with some friends and played on 1ZB radio station.
Around the end of 1941, after serving as a territorial, he joined the army permanent force and underwent training at Trentham Camp. On the many train trips between Trentham and his home in Auckland Burns played his accordion almost non-stop, and other soldiers used to pack into his carriage, some lying on the luggage racks, just to hear his tunes.
Eventually Burns headed overseas to train in Maadi Camp, Egypt, and his accordion joined him on his journey, and while in Egypt he joined the New Zealand concert party on a number of occasions to entertain the troops.
When his training was over Burns joined the New Zealand Division in the hard fought Italian Campaign. When there were breaks in the fighting his accordion would come out to entertain the troops, but tragically Burns’ war came to an abrupt end when he was seriously wounded by artillery and had to have his right leg amputated above the knee.
The accordion went missing for a short time during this episode but thankfully it was found in time again for Burns to entertian other wounded soldiers on their ship back home.
However, Burns’ return home did not end his service or his commitment to his fellow soldiers; he became a very active member of the New Zealand War Amputees Association and was the editor of the national magazine War Amp until his untimely death in 1993.