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Smith, Malcolm Chennell (1922–2017)

by Malcolm Allbrook

Malcolm Smith, c.1990s

Malcolm Smith, c.1990s

photo provided by his family

Malcolm Chennell Smith, soldier and doctor, was born on 1 June 1922 in West Perth, Western Australia, second of three children of Donald Ian Robertson Smith, radiologist, and his wife Frances Margery ‘Ginger’, née Chennell, who had served with the Australian Army Nursing Service in World War I. He was educated at Thomas St Primary School and Hale School, where he was a good cricketer and footballer. Malcolm entered medical training in 1940 at the University of Sydney and took up rugby union and sailing, his studies being interrupted by the outbreak of World War II.

On 18 September 1942 Malcolm was mobilised as a cadet (ordinary seaman) in the Naval Auxiliary Patrol, a component of the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve. For nearly two years he crewed requisitioned small craft protecting the ports of Sydney, Port Moresby, Brisbane, and Townsville.  Promoted to able seaman in March 1943, he progressed to leading seaman in November 1944. He had transferred in July that year to the Services Reconnaissance Department, a secret organisation that conducted covert operations, often behind enemy lines, against the Japanese. Later known as ‘Z-Force’, it was the precursor of today’s Special Air Service Regiment. 

Thus Malcolm had moved from one of the least risky occupations in the navy to probably the most dangerous. In his role as a commando, he served from February to August 1945 in HMAS River Snake, a motor vessel masquerading as a Chinese junk, which transported SRD operatives into Japanese-occupied territory. The ship sailed from Fremantle, and travelling via Geraldton, Carnarvon, Broome and Ashmore Reef, twice went to the island of Roti, where, in the words of the commander’s report, they ‘carried out instructions.’ Conditions on the ship were described as bad, the crew having to sleep on deck, but morale was excellent. Regularly challenged by the Australian air force and navy, the ship reached Darwin and prepared for a second mission to Moratai, a voyage which never took place because of engine trouble. Malcolm was discharged from the RANVR in Perth on 11 January 1946; his service record says that he was medically unfit due to depression, but he told his family that he was also desperately concerned for the health of his father, who died in Perth in 1947.

Having resumed his studies in Sydney, Malcolm married Ailsa Marion Brockman, whom he had met in Perth, on 29 August 1949 at Anne Street Presbyterian Church, Brisbane. He graduated MBBS in 1951 and soon after the couple returned to Perth and established homes at Darlington and on a two-acre property at Mt Yokine. After residencies at Royal Perth Hospital and the tuberculosis hospital at Wooroloo, he joined a general practice in Fitzgerald St, North Perth, serving the working class and multicultural populations of the area. Over a fifty-year career he served as an anaesthetist, and established a reputation as a dedicated doctor and a careful diagnostician; he epitomised the family GP, looking after generations of the same family, aware of and interested in their histories and progress. Through St Anne’s Hospital, Mt Lawley, and St John of God’s, Subiaco, he delivered many babies, some of whom were given the name ‘Malcolm’ by grateful parents.

Malcolm had a love of physical activity and sport, particularly water-related. He was a keen fisherman prepared to walk for hours to find the perfect spot (often trailed by his tired but excited children), and enjoyed sailing, body surfing and swimming. A member of the WA Cricket Association for over fifty years, he attended Test matches and Sheffield Shield fixtures at the WACA Ground whenever he could. He was a long-term member of the WA Turf Club and rarely missed the Saturday races at Belmont or Ascot; he was a member of a syndicate which owned a number of successful racehorses. In 2009 the club honoured his 50-year membership by running the Malcolm Smith Stakes. A keen social golfer, he was a long-term member of the Royal Perth Golf Club. Bridge was another passion; he was a foundation member of the WA Bridge Association (later BAWA), a State representative (1966–68), and won numerous State championships. He retained an enjoyment of the game well into his nineties.

With a quick wit and ready humour, Malcolm was an intensely energetic and sociable man who had a wide circle of friends. He was a great raconteur, and loved partying and dancing. His children remember his curiosity about physics and the natural world. Discussions about subjects as diverse as acceleration, centrifugal forces, and astronomy, gave them a head start when they started school. While he had a strong sense of decency and manners, he abhorred dishonesty or cheating, and was prepared to call out those who he saw as infringing what he saw as universal codes of behaviour. Although a talkative man, his quiet and contemplative side was reflected in a love of music instilled by his parents, and shared by his brother Brian and sister Robin. Content to listen to the subtle tones of a Beethoven sonata or the uplifting voices of Bizet’s Carmen, he told his children he had dreamed of becoming a conductor when he was young. After Ailsa’s death in 2014, he remained in his home at Claremont, where he died on July 10 2017. Predeceased by his younger son, he is survived by three daughters and a son, seven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Allbrook, 'Smith, Malcolm Chennell (1922–2017)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/smith-malcolm-chennell-27527/text34928, accessed 16 June 2019.

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