EDWARD DUNLOP was a man who inspired humanity in the midst of an incredibly inhuman sitaution. As a prisoner of war in Java and on the Thai-Burma border during the Second World War he saved many lives by his ingenuity as a surgeon, and provided a focus for morale and for many the will to survive.
Born in Wangaratta, Victoria, in 1907, 'Weary' Dunlop qualified as a pharmacist in 1928 and as a doctor six years later. He honed his medical skills at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, where he performed with distinction. He was a specialist surgeon in the Emergency Medical Services at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, when the Second World War broke out.
Rugby union was a passion and Dunlop gained a Blue and was capped by Australia while at Melbourne University in 1932-34. Along with Tom Kemp, who also played for the St Mary's team, he received invitations to play for the Barbarians, though Sir Charles Moran, then Dean of St Mary's, was reluctant to let him go.
As an officer in the Royal Australian Medical Corps, Dunlop went during the war to Jerusalem, Greece, Crete, Tobruk and Java. Promoted to command of No 1 Allied General Hospital in Java, in 1942, Dunlop elected to stay with his patients and was taken prisoner of war by the advancing Japanese forces. This noble action was to my advantage since shortly before our first meeting I had lost both eyes and hands in an explosion. My leg was in a questionable condition and conventional wisdom would have been to accept my pleas to 'put me out' and hasten my demise as painlessly as possible.
As it happened, Dunlop committed himself to my survival and supported me through the trauma that followed awareness of my condition. He saved my life a second time when a Japanese officer, Captain Nakazawa, ordered the hospital to be cleared in 10 minutes. An attempt to illustrate the serious condition of many patients prompted a signal that Nakazawa's escort should run their bayonets through myself and another blind patient. Dunlop stepped in front of me, pre-empting the proposed lunge. The hospital still had to be cleared, but in a more sedate fashion.
While necessity is the mother of invention Dunlop could be described as the father, and many PoWs owe their lives to his ability to improvise scalpels and other surgical equipment from available materials. He was reluctant to assume command of English-speaking units held prisoner at Bandoeng, in west Java, but was convinced by Wing Commander WTH Nichols, the senior officer present, and Laurens van der Post that he would be suited to the task. Their faith in him was vindicated during that time and afterwards when many prisoners were directed to work on the construction of the railway on the Thai-Burma border. I was not his only blind patient and often meet other ex-PoWs who share my gratitude to him.
Dunlop's post-war career was no less distinctive as he strove to foster Australian links with Asia through the Colombo Plan aid projects, through medical teams and other initiatives such as the Weary Dunlop- Boon Pong Exchange Fellowship set up to honour those who worked on the Thai-Burma Railway. He continued to encourage ex-Far East prisoners of war both personally and officially as president of the Australian Ex-PoW Association. A reunion in Singapore last November following a pilgrimage to the River Kwai resurrected many poignant memories for Dunlop and those of us who were also present.
He was, for me, a source of strength. Our friendship continued beyond the war through correspondence and regular meetings. He encouraged me to write a book, Blind to Misfortune, as a permanent record of my wartime experience and how I rebuilt my life afterwards. Those pages are a small tribute to the foundation he laid for me.
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