On 12 July 1993 there was a State funeral in St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne for Sir Edward Dunlop, AC, CMG, OBE, Knight Grand Cross (First Class) of the Crown of Thailand and too many other titles, honorary degrees and fellowships to mention.

The congregation included the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, former governors general and foreign dignitaries including the Japanese Ambassador. But former prisoners of war, the men Weary Dunlop called his “old lags”, were given pride of place in the front pew.

Among them was Bill Griffiths, the former British Army transport driver who had flown out from England with his wife Alice. Bill had lost his hands and eyes when the Japanese made him defuse a booby trap on Java 51 years before. Weary had stood between him and a Japanese bayonet and encouraged him to hang on when life seemed hopeless. Weary thought of Bill as a “legend of British pluck” who had become, like Sir Douglas Bader, an inspiration to others.

In his eulogy former Governor General Sir Ninian Stephen said:

‘Weary had attained a lone Australian eminence, perhaps shared only by Douglas Mawson, of sustained heroism and superb achievement; that he was a hero when Australia had a dearth of heroes and a saint who would have been surprised to have heard himself described as one.’

Weary as a child (left) with his brother Alan

The man born 86 years earlier as Ernest Edward Dunlop to a couple share-farming in north-eastern Victoria had come a long way.

Weary was born into a world that at its fastest moved at the pace of a horse or bicycle. People didn’t learn much but they learned well.  They read good books with greater profit than those who watch television today, The spirit of Australia Felix shone in the quality of the country people.

Weary’s older brother, Alan, had been born at home while his father was out on horseback

Young Edward (Ernie) with his Mum, Alice
Young Edward (Ernie) with his Mum, Alice

bringing back a midwife.

For Weary things were to have been different.  Alice Dunlop was booked into a Wangaratta private hospital.  Alas, the nurse in charge was little aware of Listerian antisepsis.  Alice was infected with puerperal fever, the great childbirth killer until Lister’s discovery.  Even after recovering physically the associated depression kept her away from her young family for more than a year.

As a toddler Weary had begun to practise the stoicism which later became a way of life.  Heroes are those who, by example, teach us how to live.  Weary’s first hero was a fictional Indian brave, Deerfoot, who made light of pain, hunger and thirst.  Weary practised walking barefoot over burning sands in summer and frozen ground in winter.   James Dunlop was a competent farmer and soon the family moved down the road to a farm of their own.   Alice Dunlop had been a governess and taught the boys well before it was time for them to ride their ponies to the one-teacher school.

Here they were taught by Vera May Cecilia Hilliear, an imaginative and innovative young teacher. She taught them the

Weary with his brother, Alan, playing Warriors
Weary with his brother, Alan, playing Warriors

poetry of Tennyson, Coleridge, Fizgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam as well as Banjo Patterson. At the start of World War 1 she played on the small school organ and taught them to sing the Marseillaise in English, the Russian ‘God the all Terrible”, and the martial “Scots Wha Hae’, as well as the gentler ballads.

Australian geography involved building a map of Australia in the schoolyard, piling up the dirt for the mountains and scratching out the rivers with a stick. Weary, as the second son, was to finish primary school and then join his father on the farm. Miss Hilliear had other ideas. She rode her bicycle over to persuade his parents to send him on to Benalla High School — and a career which was to become an Australian legend.

Weary, gifted with what they called a good mind and memory, breezed through his studies but was more interested in sport, particularly football. When he finished high school, a year early, his father apprenticed him to a local chemist and paid £52 for the privilege. Studying pharmacy by correspondence, Weary topped the exams to win gold medals. For the final year he went to the Melbourne again topping his exams.

Now he had a new hero.  Another Australian country boy, Sir Thomas Dunhill, had worked as a pharmacist during university holidays to put himself through medical school. His brilliant career included an appointment as consulting surgeon to four reigning British monarchs.

The young apprentice to local pharmacist Mr W.M. McCall Say.
The young apprentice to local pharmacist Mr W.M. McCall Say.

Weary worked as a pharmacist during the holidays to follow suit. Life at Melbourne university and a scholarship to Ormond College introduced him to the charmed circle of the scholar-athlete. His strength and natural sporting ability saw him playing rugby union for Australia after only 16 first class games. As universities’ heavyweight boxing champion he sparred with a visiting American world title contender, Young Stribling.

After some medical experience in Melbourne, he worked his passage to England as an assistant ship’s surgeon to become a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons just before the start of World War II.  When the war started, he headed an emergency service surgical team which, during the ‘phoney war’ stage, dealt with people injured in accidents in the blackout rather than from enemy action.

Wanting to “go at full stretch”, Weary joined the Second AIF by cable, leaving London on New Year’s Day 1940 for the Middle East. After helping to set up hospitals and medical facilities for

Weary ... the soldier
Weary ... the soldier

the Sixth and Seven Divisions, Weary took part in the Greek campaign, travelling as medical liaision officer between British headquarters in Athens and the hard-pressed ANZACs at the front. When his car went over the Pass, near Thermopylae, he continued on by motor cycle.

Evacuated to Crete, Weary arrived suffering from a throbbing middle-ear infection and with his clothes sticking to the boils and carbuncles that were the aftermath of hepatitis. He was given command of 250 stragglers and then ordered back to Egypt with the other staff officers.
In hospital because of carbuncles on his bottom he wangled his way out to join a night run by destroyer into besieged Tobruk to join the 2/2nd Casualty Clearing Station as a surgeon.
With the Japanese entry into the war, the 2/2nd were on the Orcades, with the only contingent not to make it back to Australia after Prime Minister Curtin recalled the Sixth and Seventh divisions to meet the threat of Japanese invasion. The contingent landed in Java only three weeks before the Dutch capitulation. In that time Weary and his crew turned a Bandung school into No 1 Allied General Hospital to treat 1300 sick and wounded.

After the hospital was broken up by the Japanese he took command of the Bandung prison camp over higher ranking combat officers. There he overcame opposition to his scheme to tax officers’ pay to buy vitamin-rich beans and medicines for men already starting to go down with beriberi and pellagra.  His stand led to a common fund to look after the sick on the Burma-Thailand railway where he became a legend. His story has been duly reported by Donald Stuart, Ray Parkin and others.

But perhaps the greatest work of an illustrious career dedicated to duty came after the war.

With his friend, R.G. (later Lord) Casey, as a new hero, he went out under the Colombo Plan to work in Sri Lanka, India and Thailand; to lead an Australian civilian surgical team in Vietnam and to co-found the Australian-Asian Association in Victoria.

He was the greatest ambassador, albeit unofficial, that Australia ever had.

Highlights of his career:
Career Highlights

1929 Bachelor of Pharmacy completed at the Victorian College of Pharmacy
1934 Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Bachelor of Surgery (BS) completed at the University of Melbourne
c. 1935 Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS)
c. 1935 Ship’s Surgeon on vessel sailing for London
1938 – 1942 Postgraduate studies at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London
1939 Specialist Surgeon of Emergency Medical Services at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, New South Wales
1942 – 1946 War service with the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps in Tobruk, Palestine and Asia
1942 – 1946 Prisoner of War
1969 Knight Bachelor (Kt cr)
1972 – Honorary Fellow of the Indian Association of of Surgeons
1972 – 1973 President of the Ex-POW Association
1976 Australian of the Year award received
1980 – Foundation member of the International Society of Diseases of the Oesophagus
1980 – 1981 President of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria
1981 – Foundation Fellow of the International Medical Sciences Acadamy
1982 – Patron of the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria
1985 – Sir Edward Dunlop Medical Research Foundation founded
1985 – Honorary Fellow of the College of Surgery, Sri Lanka
1986 – 1987 President of the Ex-POW Association
1987 Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)
1988 St John Jerusalem Cross Merit received
1990 Valiant Freedom Award received
1991 – 1993 Fellow of the Imperial College, London
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7 Comments

  1. I have always admired Mr Dunlop. Both as a decent human being and a genius out of necessity. He really was a clever man. These conclusions are derived mostly from what I’ve seen in the media.
    However, my grandmother met him a couple of times and told me he was a gentleman and charming.

  2. I really like Your page, I have added it to favourites. Hope that You will keep up with good job, your article was very informative. I hope you have a good day!

  3. Casualty Clearing Station as a surgeon…
    With the Japanese entry into the war, the 2/2nd were on the Orcades, with the only contingent not to make it back to Australia after Prime Minister Curtin recalled the Sixth and Seventh divisions to meet the threat of Japanese invasion. The contingent landed in Java only three weeks before the Dutch capitulation. In that time Weary and his crew turned a Bandung school into a hospital.

  4. My father Harold Bremwell Street (the Judge) was a former Changi P.O.W. treated for Malaria & a shrapnel wound by Sir Weary Dunlop. I owe my existence & 3 siblings & even my mothers (20 years younger than Dad) 2 the Colonel!
    My fathers mate & he acquired food 4 the Dr 2 treat his patients from them acquiring it from the enemy. The many times caught led 2 torture & eventually the death of his mate by the Samurai sword. Dad had 2 bury his head. It left a permanent scar in his memory. Dad used 2 say!
    ” i’m a poet & I know it!”
    Many kept their spirits up writing & playing cricket & even singing.
    The enemy found it hard 2 break the Aussie loyal proud spirit.

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