Friday, April 24, 2009

VIC Greats 2 - Weary Dunlop and Albert Coates

Today being Anzac Day (ignore the publication date above - here in Australia it is currently 25th April)  it is only proper that the next of our installments of our "greats" concerns persons whose greatness was forged or perhaps recognised in times of conflict. 

Weary was a giant of a man. Both in spirit and in body.  He stood 6'4".  He was one of those people who excels in so many areas of life. In addition to extraordinary academic success he played rubgy for the Wallabies (the national team) and was Melbourne University's  champion boxer.  Professionally, he was a surgeon with qualifications in Pharmacy and of course surgery.

According to his biography, Weary got his nickname at uni.  Following a tradition of initiation.. , newbies at Uni were made a sort of slave to the older students and as part of this the young men were given nicknames.  Well, with Dunlop for a surname the obvious connection is Dunlop tyres... tyres is a synonym for tires and then it's not much of a leap to get to "weary".  Obviously the name stuck and while most Aussies know Weary Dunlop as a hero, I wonder how many could tell you his proper name.

Weary Dunlop became a household name as a consequence of his war service and his leadership after the war.  Weary was in charge of "Dunlop Force" on the Thai-Burma railway as a prisoner of the Japanese where, like a number of other medical officers, he was noted for displaying the courage to stand up to their Japanese captors risking their lives fighting to improve conditions for the prisoners.  Weary however became a household name, apparently because he featured in Ray Parkin's books about his experiences as a prisoner.  

As a member of a younger generation I remember Weary from his interviews.  The media would seek him out for his opinion when some controversial matter was in the news, maybe the government was forging closer ties with Japan or whatever. Weary stood out for his leadership in encouraging Australians to forgive the horrifying events and atrocities of the war and to move forward as friends with nations who had been bitter enemies.  As a society I am sure many of us felt "well, Weary was there, Weary saw it first hand as he cared for the sick and dying and if he can forgive surely we can too. He's right, how can we maintain peace for the future if we do not forgive."

There is a memorial to weary in Benalla Victoria.  It is very moving and I will here repeat the picture I published on an earlier post.    

Just in case you can't read it, the words around the plinth are Friendship, Courage, Forgiveness. By the way, if you haven't noticed, you can click on the photo to open it in full size for a better look. Weary is the big bloke at the back supporting the emaciated POW.
Weary also had a very successful professional career, active internationally including leading humanitarian efforts in Asia.

I simply cannot do Weary justice here please read his biography on the Australian War Memorial website.

If you're really keen you can also read Weary's war diaries which were published. His biography is also worth a read.

As a young man Albert Coates enlisted as a medical orderly and served on Gallopoli.  Subsequently he transferred to the intelligence staff. After the war he completed his medical degree and established his medical career, simultaneously serving in the Army Medical Corps.   A primary means for Australia to maintain its defences has always been to have some sort of citizens militia.  Similar to todays military reserve system. 
It can be hard to appreciate today with our social welfare system and considerably greater prosperity, what was involved in achieving this sort of success in those times.  The biography linked to the title above, gives an idea of the aptitude and dedication and sheer hard work that was required.
Anyway, Albert Coates, like Weary Dunlop, served in a senior position as a prisoner of the Japanese. ITurning down a number of opportunities to avoid capture in order to stay with his patients and care for them.  Indeed he was such a person that Weary Dunlop looked upon him as an inspiration. Albert Coates has not received the widespread fame in the community that Weary knew, but he was an amazing man and I think should be better known.

1 comment:

Ian and Carolyn said...

Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop was certainly an extraordinary man. He used his gifts and abilities in helping and protecting others. An example for us all.