I received this email from Ray Payne, an A Coy 1RAR soldier;
I visited Jim in the Holy Spirit (North) Hospital at Chermside, Brisbane today. (1st Floor, South Wing, room 10) He is in a very serious condition with lung cancer and on top of that pneumonia. They cannot treat the cancer until the pneumonia subsides and that isn’t happening as quickly as needed. Jim now talks about “When” rather than “If” and wants desperately to fly home to Melbourne while he has the strength. Trouble is the commercial airlines will not take responsibility for him in his present condition. I am trying to identify what medical air services (Royal Flying Doctor?) would be willing to charter an aircraft and appropriate crew. I will then be asking people at the highest levels of Government and the RSL to come up with the where with all. After the effort, and personal financial contribution, Jim made in repatriating the personal remains of MIA from SVN he deserves support himself.
Jim was OC A Coy 7RAR for a while after we returned from South Vietnam although he didn’t serve with us overseas. His tours were with 1RAR in 1965 and the Training Team in 1968 . I knew him in A Coy 1RAR some years before Vietnam and it was during that subsequent tour where A Coy 1RAR had to leave two of their mates behind in the battle field. LCpl Tiny Parker and Pte Peter Gilson’s bodies lay in the paddy fields for years while the members of A Coy grieved over the fact that they were forced to leave them there. Although I was too young to serve on that tour with 1RAR I had been in Tiny Parker’s section and I to felt the loss. Jim Bourke was one of the driving forces along with the Section Commander Trevor Hagen and others.
The bodies were recovered after an incredible amount of work and then Jim went on to repatriate the other Australian MIAs left on the battle field; being the two Canberra bomber pilots, Flying Officer Mike Herbert and Pilot Officer Bob Carver; LCpl John Gillespie, a medic who died in a chopper crash and SAS Trooper David Fisher who fell from a rope during a hot extraction.
His work in this endeavour was legendary and we all owe him our thanks and respect.
I last saw Jim at the Victorian reunion where we had a smoke out the back and reminisced about the days in A Coy 1 RAR before the Vietnam war brought tragedies such as the MIAs to the Regiment.
His self-diagnosed imminent demise will be a severe loss to the Regiment.
UPDATE: Just spoke to Ray Payne. He says Jim’s pneumonia is stopping him flying back to be with his family. When Doctors clear him of that problem DVA will look after him and get him home