“Weary” Dunlop

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Anzac Day reminds us of our humble heroes, such as Sir Ernest Edward “Weary” Dunlop. He is honoured for his leadership and the lives that he saved while imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War Two.

One honour paid to him was a statue erected in Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens, with bowed head and shoulders and a bright red poppy in his lapel.

Weary was born on the 12th of July in 1907, the second child of James and Alice Dunlop. He attended Benalla High School, then began a pharmacy apprenticeship. He moved on to Melbourne where he studied at the Victorian College of Pharmacy.

He then moved to Melbourne University where he won a scholarship in medicine and graduated with first class honours in pharmacy and medicine. He also acquired a reputation as a good sportsman, having taken up Rugby Union at Melbourne University. Many years later, after his death, he was taken into the Rugby Hall of Fame (figuratively, not literally.)

Even before the war Weary was connected to the army, having been a school cadet, then on part time army service till 1929 when he had to devote more time to his studies. He enlisted in 1935 and was commissioned as a Captain in the Medical Corps. In 1938 he left Australia for London, acting as the ship’s Medical Officer on the boat over. He was then attached to London’s Bartholomew Medical School and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

On his war service in the Middle East, Weary developed the mobile services’ unit, liaised with the forward medical units in Greece and worked as a surgeon in Tobruk until the Australians were withdrawn for their own home defence. On the way home Weary was diverted to Java in an ill planned attempt at defence. Here he was captured by the Japanese and sent to a prisoner of war camp, he was then sent on to Changi and eventually to the infamous Burma-Thailand railway. On the railway prisoners of war were ill fed, overworked, beaten up and prone to disease.

With other Australian officers, Weary became a legend for courage and compassion. He defied his captors and made medical equipment and supplies from practically nothing. It is thought that the greater survival rate of Australian prisoners was due to the traditions of mateship and innovation.

After the war he worked to help the returned soldiers and their families and also to promote good relations between Australia and Asian countries. He has received many honours from many countries – Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and his own home ground, Australia. His face was on a 50c piece and a 45c stamp.

Incidentally, his nickname is based on a complicated pun on his surname. Dunlop (the company) made tyres, Dunlop (the man) was tyred – no, tired – no, weary.

By Mary McConville


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