Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Robert Gordon (Bob) Ellice-Flint (1919–2009)

by Malcolm Brown

Of all the brutalities inflicted on Australia's prisoners-of-war by the Japanese, the Burma-Thailand railway and the Sandakan camp in Borneo would likely rate as the worst.

Robert Gordon Ellice-Flint, who has died at 90, was in the 8th Division 2nd AIF, which surrendered to the Japanese Imperial Force in February 1942 and was imprisoned at Sandakan. After some soldiers were caught trying to tunnel out, the Japanese removed Australian officers, including Lieutenant Ellice-Flint, to another camp, Kuching, to deny the spirited soldiers their leadership. The treatment at Kuching was no less brutal but the course of history a little kinder.

Realising the war was lost in 1945, the Japanese treated their Sandakan prisoners with unspeakable cruelty, forcing them to march 265 kilometres through the jungle to Ranau. Of 2434 prisoners in Sandakan, only six survived – 1787 Australians and 641 British perished in the camp, along the track or at Ranau. Five hundred prisoners died at Kuching, too. The experience marked Ellice-Flint for life. Last year he went back to help make a television documentary.

Robert Gordon Ellice-Flint, widely known as Bob Flint, was born at Bilbul in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, the son of a farmer, Alwyn Ellice-Flint, and his wife, Melva (Codrington). He was a Scout, athlete and footballer. In 1928 his father relinquished their small soldier's settlement farm and the family moved to Sydney, where Ellice-Flint went to Manly Public School and was a surfer with the Queenscliff Surf Lifesaving Club.

When the Depression forced his parents to take him out of school in his early teens, Ellice-Flint and his elder brother, Russell, went droving in NSW and Queensland. He later resumed his studies through night school before becoming a salesman with an engineering firm, which took him to regional centres. In Dubbo he met Joan "Bids" Christie, who was competing in a tennis tournament, but war interrupted the courtship. Christie joined the Australian Army Medical Women's Service. Flint, already in the NSW Scottish Regiment, joined the 8th Division, which was posted to Malaya in 1941.

With the rapid and all-conquering Japanese advance, Australian and Allied troops took rearguard actions at Mersing, then a defensive position on Singapore Island. At the surrender, Ellice-Flint went into captivity. After a short time in Changi, 8th Division "Force B" PoWs were put into the holds of ships that sailed to what had been British North Borneo, and entered Sandakan.

Ellice-Flint and his fellow officers endured beatings, torture and starvation at the hands of Japanese guards, as well as jungle ulcers, malaria and sundry tropical diseases.

Ellice-Flint was renowned as a fighter who repeatedly broke out of camp at night, returning before dawn with vegetables and chickens pilfered from neighbouring villages for his mates who most needed nutrition.

The 9th Division liberated Kuching prisoners in June 1945. Taken to the hospital ship Wanganella, they sailed to Labuan, then to Australia.

Back home, Ellice-Flint resumed his courtship with Christie, who had become aide-de-camp to Lady Gowrie, the wife of the governor-general. She was then appointed officer commanding medical women's service in New Guinea and represented Australian servicewomen in the London victory march in June 1946.

She married Ellice-Flint in Dubbo in January 1947. He became general secretary of the Dubbo Pastures Protection Board, where he spent the rest of his career.

He was intensely spiritual, a quality developed during the violence of war. He trained himself so as not to feel pain. He would rub stinging nettles into his soft tissue and laugh it off. He would scoff at a bee sting.

He endured personal tragedies. His son Kenneth died at three years from leukaemia; another son, David, died at 24; and he cared devotedly for Joan, who suffered for 12 years with a debilitating neural disease before dying in 2001.

Ellice-Flint was active in Legacy, a member of the RSL and Rotary. He joined the Dubbo Amateur Theatrical Society, helped found the Dubbo City Choristers and was a member of the Dubbo Field Naturalist and Conservation Society.

His solo singing was in demand, particularly his rendition of Dvorak's Goin' Home. In his old age he sang to audiences in the eastern states, and on his return to Borneo.

On separate occasions in 2008 he was honoured by Paul Keating and Alexander Downer for his contributions to recognising the sacrifices of servicemen and women.

Ellice-Flint's tribute service will be held at St Andrew's Uniting Church, Dubbo, on Saturday. He is survived by his sons, Gordon and Wilfred, grandchildren, Jessika and Daniel, and his brothers Russell and John.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Ellice-Flint, Robert Gordon (Bob) (1919–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 March, 1919
Bilbul, New South Wales, Australia


15 May, 2009 (aged 90)
Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
Key Organisations