Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop was a veteran of the Second World War. He served as an Army surgeon and gained his reputation treating wounded Australian inmates on the Thai-Burma railway. Born on 12 July 1907 at Majors Plain, Victoria, Dunlop dedicated his intellectual abilities to the study of science.
He won a scholarship in 1930 at Ormond College where he studied medicine at the University of Melbourne. He graduated with first-class honours in 1934 and it was during his initiation ceremonies at the University where he gained his nickname “Weary” (derived from Dunlop tires which apparently never wear out).
In November 1939, Dunlop enlisted in the Australian Army medical Corps. He served with the 2nd Battalion in Greece, Crete and North Africa. Dunlop was one of the 106 Australian doctors captured by the Japanese in February 1942 after the fall of Singapore.
He was sent to Thailand where he endured the tempestuous conditions of the Thai Burma railway. The railway was sought after by the Japanese in order to supply their forces in Burma, facilitate Japanese attacks on the British in India and to block allied supply lines to China.
The railway itself was 450km long and it was built through the utilisation of slave labour. Thousands of Asians and allied soldiers were forced to endure horrendous conditions such as forced marches, beatings, 18 hour days as well as malnutrition and a myriad of tropical diseases such as malaria and dysentery. Tropical ulcers that would “eat through the bone” were also prevalent and often led to the amputation of limbs as the only remedy.
Sir Edward Weary Dunlop’s position at the time included being the commanding officer and surgeon for over 1000 men. His men were known as “Dunlop’s Force” or “Dunlop’s Thousand”. It is here at the Thai Burma railway where Weary showed to his men and to the Japanese his strength of character. He suffered just as much as his men, often putting himself at risk in order to protect those he cared for.
At the Thai Burma Railway, Dunlop and his men concocted makeshift hospitals out of whatever materials they could muster, making needles and spare limbs from bamboo and buffalo hides as well as makeshift surgical theatres out of spare wood and other materials. One particular invention saved many lives and this was the use of the rubber on stethoscopes to serve as drip schemes for wounded diggers.
Dunlop like many diggers at the railway was punished for breaking the rules set by the Japanese administration. At one point Dunlop was caught breaking curfew and his punishment entailed a severe beating which broke his ribs and caused trauma to his head. Additionally he was left out to “dry” in the hot sun for most of the day.
As the years went by, the Axis forces began losing the war. Japan surrendered on 15 August 1945. The news of this surrender must have induced a myriad of feelings among the POW community. In the Australian drama series, “Changi”, the Australians are depicted as celebrating the surrender of Japan. Weary Dunlop after the war facilitated the transportation of Australian POW’s to Australia.
He left Thailand in early October on the last Australian flight out of Thailand. In Australia he married the love of his life, Helen Ferguson and had two children. He established his own private medical practice and was an honorary surgeon at the Royal Melbourne hospital from 1946 until his retirement. He was knighted in 1969 for his contributions to medicine, and named Australian of the Year in 1976.
In 1993 at his state funeral, held at St Patrick’s cathedral, an estimated 10 000 Australians lined the streets to farewell this notable man. As a testament to his actions at the Thai Burma railway, a portion of his ashes were floated down the Kwae Noi in 1994. Statues of Sir Edward Weary Dunlop exist at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the Shrine in Melbourne and in his home town of Benalla.
Sir Edward Weary Dunlop was a famous Australian. His actions and values were crucial to the outstanding service to his country. The legacy of men such as Edward Weary Dunlop encapsulated the essence of Australianism. The expression of brotherly love, compassion and unyielding sense of loyalty to Australia are just some of the values that manifested themselves in places such as Hellfire Pass, Changi, Gallipoli the jungles of Vietnam and the bloody fields of Europe. It is our obligation as Australians to never forget the deeds and sacrifices of all Australians who served their nation.
Lest we forget.