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Sir Ernest Edward (Weary) Dunlop (1907–1993)

Prominent Australians yesterday showered tributes on Sir Edward "Weary" Dunlop after the death of the surgeon and soldier who saved the lives of hundreds of fellow inmates in Japanese POW camps in World War II and later forgave his captors.

Sir Edward, who died in Melbourne early yesterday aged 85, won renown as an inspiration to his comrades as he helped ease their suffering with extraordinary feats of surgery in primitive conditions, especially on the infamous Burma railway.

He died in Melbourne's Alfred Hospital early yesterday morning after suffering a stroke.

After the war, he urged closer relationships between Australia and Asia and he was decorated by the King of Thailand this year for his work in forging relations between the two countries.

RSL clubs around the nation flew flags at half mast yesterday as old soldiers praised the man whose meditative demeanour and name Dunlop (tyre, tire, weary) earned him the nickname "Weary".

The Prime Minister, Paul Keating, paid tribute to Sir Edward, saying he had typified many of the qualities Australians prized.

"He was courageous, determined, humble and, above all, ever generous in helping those who needed help," he said.

Sir Edward's War Diaries had been an outstanding success but his stature in the community had stemmed not from his words but his deeds.

"Renowned for his efforts to help his fellow Australians in time of war, Sir Edward will also be remembered for his work for the survivors of war and their families, and for his medical contributions to nations across Asia, most notably Sri Lanka, Malaysia and especially Thailand," he said.

"Sir Edward was admired, even beloved, of many. To have gathered as many friends as Sir Edward did in his life is a tribute beyond any that I can offer.

"I extend, on behalf of a nation grateful for his work and his life, my condolences and sympathy to his family."

The Opposition Leader, John Hewson, said Australia had lost one of its finest citizens and greatest heroes. His contribution had been exceptional and uniquely enriching and had always gone hand-in-hand with self-effacing humility.

"Whether it was in sport, or medical science, or our defence force, or in our regional relations, Sir Edward made a memorable and enduring contribution that gave hope and inspiration to all who came in contact with him," he said.

His compassion and skill on the Burma-Siam railway had saved the lives of many and made the existence of others in the appalling circumstances more bearable.

"In the face of the almost unimaginable cruelty and brutality inflicted during those years, [he] epitomised all that is best in the Australian character. . ." he said.

"[He] was a tower of strength to all whom he led and cared for. He fought not only the enemy, but disease, suffering, starvation, malnutrition and erosion of the human spirit." The Coalition parties extended sympathy to Sir Edward's family and friends.

Sir Edward died at 3.30am in Melbourne's Alfred Hospital, having collapsed at his Toorak home on Thursday night.

His personal doctor and friend, Dr David Kings, said he had developed pneumonia on Tuesday. He had collapsed, of a stroke, on Thursday.

He described Sir Edward as perhaps the most humble man he had met.

The president of the Victorian RSL, Bruce Ruxton, said Sir Edward had been revered by former POWs, the veterans' community and many more Australians.

"He bore no hatred or malice to anyone on earth," he said. "He was a world-famous surgeon and expert in tropical diseases. Sadly . . . today he was to be with me in a meeting with some Japanese lawyers about reparations being claimed by a group of . . . former prisoners of war.

"He will be sadly missed. Surely one of Australia's greatest sons has died."

Despite Sir Edward's impressive list of achievements after the war, it was his work as a surgeon in the prisoner-of-war camps on the Burma-Siam railway which first brought him national attention and respect.

Working with very limited equipment, Sir Edward was believed responsible [for] saving the lives of scores of diggers and maintaining the morale of many more.

Ernest Edward Dunlop was born on July 12, 1907, at Wangaratta, Victoria, and educated at Benalla High School, the Victorian College of Pharmacy, Melbourne University and St Bartholomew's Hospital, London.

He was consultant surgeon at Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, and life governor of Frankston Community Hospital; a Fellow of the College of Surgery, Sri Lanka; patron of the Australian Thailand Association and the Sri Lankan Association of Victoria; and team leader of the Australian Surgical Team in South Vietnam in 1969.

He worked with the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital and the Peter MacCallum cancer clinic in Melbourne; lectured at Melbourne University; was vice-president of the International Society of Surgeons in 1981-82; a member of the advisory committee to the Australian Government inquiry into Agent Orange; president of the Ex-POW Relatives' Association in Victoria; and Commonwealth POW Trust Fund chairman in 1969-77.

Among honours awarded him were the Valiant Freedom Award 1990, the St John Jerusalem Cross Merit 1989 and the World Veterans' Federation Rehabilitation Award 1988. He was mentioned in despatches in World War II, awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1947; made a Commander of St Michael and St George in 1965; knighted in 1969; and became a Companion of the Order of Australia in 1987. He loved farming, travelling, golf and rugby union and belonged to the British Barbarians' Football club.

He is survived by two sons — John, a Perth engineer, and Alexander, a Melbourne doctor. His wife Helen, is dead.

The Minister for Veterans' Affairs, John Faulkner, said yesterday, "Sir Edward was an inspiration to his fellow prisoners working on the notorious Burma-Thailand railway during the Second World War". He had had an enormous influence on the morale of the prisoners and had been deeply loved by them. After the war he had made the welfare of the prisoners his life-long mission.

He had become a member recently of the Australian War Memorial advisory group in Melbourne to assist in Australian commemoration of the 50th anniversary of World War II.

Sir Edward's war experiences were published in 1986 as The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop.

Cyril Gilbert, a Queensland RSL vice-president and a POW on the Burma rail line with Sir Edward, said Sir Edward had been a tower of strength both on the Burma line and after his return. His contribution to war veterans and medical research had been priceless.

"And he was funny old cove too," he said. "He had this drawly voice and it usually took him five minutes to finish a yarn."

The Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, offered to provide a state funeral for Sir Edward.

He "deeply regretted" his death and called him "an individual of international stature and respect".

"Not only was he an inspiration to those whom he served and those he came into contact with during his full and rewarding life but he has been and will be an inspiration to generations of Australians to come," he said.

Sir Edward's doctor and friend, Dr Kings, said Sir Edward had joined the 2nd AIF while he was at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, and had found himself in the Middle East campaign — a Rat of Tobruk.

He had gone to Singapore just before the surrender and, given the chance to return to safety in Australia, had stayed with his hospital and had become a prisoner of the Japanese.

Perhaps his greatest efforts had lain in forging relationships between Australia and Asia. Like the late Lord Casey, a minister in the Menzies Government, he had been a pioneer in recognising that Australia was part of Asia.

"In March this year he was given the highest award in Thailand by the King of Thailand in recognition of his work in forging relations between the two countries and he was deeply proud of this," he said.

"On a couple of occasions in the past 12 months he welcomed visits by people who had technically been his enemies in war."

His comments were echoed by a former federal minister, Tom Uren. Close to tears, he described "Weary" Dunlop as "a very, very special leader". After the war Sir Edward had tried to build bridges of friendship with the Japanese, Thais and Malaysians.

"There was no progress of hate: Weary was a builder looking to the future, not to the past. He will be remembered in the hearts and minds of people and he will be immortalised in the history of Australia, one of the very special people."

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Citation details

'Dunlop, Sir Ernest Edward (Weary) (1907–1993)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 July, 1907
Wangaratta, Victoria, Australia


2 July, 1993 (aged 85)
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death


Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service
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