ANZAC Legends: Weary Dunlop

Mon, Apr 24, 2023, 10:45 PM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
The Rebels host the Brumbies to close off Round Nine of Super Rugby AU.

Ahead of ANZAC Day, along with Honorary Statistician Matthew Alvarez has taken a look back at the incredible efforts by Wallabies who served. Today, we look at Weary Dunlop.

‘Weary’ Dunlop is arguably Australia's most renowned World War II veteran.

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Acclaimed for his medical work with Australian POWs and his subsequent welfare work on their behalf after the war, Dunlop was the first Victorian-born rugby player to be selected for Australia in a Test match.

Fellow prisoner of war L.O.S. Poidevin wrote in Dunlop’s obituary, ‘nowhere in the medical history of warfare has there been a medical warrior such as ‘Weary’ Dunlop’.

Ernest Edward "Weary" Dunlop was a renowned athlete growing up at Benalla High School before moving to Melbourne Uni to study Medicine.

He initially played Australian Rules football but broke his ankle. He was also a highly-acclaimed boxer, beaten in the final of the 1931 Australian Universities' heavyweight championships.

It was fourth-year medical student and Wallaby Gordon Sturtridge who eventually persuaded Dunlop to try his hand at rugby.

He quickly established himself as a back-row / second-rower with an exceptionally tough constitution and excellent line-out skills, always making his presence felt in tight forward exchanges.

In the space of a year, he progressed from fourth grade to first grade and in 1931, represented Victoria.

Club team photograph Melbourne University - Inter-Varsity Champions
Club team photograph Melbourne University - Inter-Varsity Champions

A year later, and after just 16 first grade matches, he made his Test debut against New Zealand in Sydney at number eight, a 21-13 loss to New Zealand at the S.C.G.

In 1934, Dunlop played in the first Test win over New Zealand where his performance saw The Truth describe him as an ‘All Black in physique, All Black in mode of play!’

Many years later New Zealand captain and half-back, Frank Kilby revealed to Dunlop how he had arranged for Australia’s dangerous line-out forward to be nullified. Two All Black forwards were involved - Don Max pinned him and ‘Bubbs’ Knight let fly with an elbow that smashed his nose.

In a true sign of his character, he refused to leave the ground, choosing to treat it after the game with two bottles of beer as an anaesthetic as he proceeded to insert a toothbrush up each nostril in order to set the nose.

He was undertaking post-graduate work at St. Bartholomew's Hospital when war was declared. Dunlop resigned and immediately enlisted with the Royal Australian Military Corps where he was appointed specialist surgeon with the Emergency Medical Services at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington.

He rose through the ranks to become Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services on the staff of Australian Corps Headquarters and AIF Headquarters in Gaza and Alexandria.

Dunlop later served in Tobruk, Java, Singapore and was among thousands of POWs shipped to Thailand for work on the Burma-Siam railway. Poidevin’s obituary continued: ‘Dunlop's unit was captured, and he spent more than three years in prison camps.

Dunlop was sent to Burma and Malaya by the Japanese where he saved the lives of hundreds of fellow prisoners, operating day and night by lamplight with crude instruments while often suffering from malaria and dysentery.

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There were many doctors in camps up and down that infamous railway project, many of them more senior and more experienced clinically than Weary, yet he became the stuff of legends among his peers.

There was one overriding quality which Weary displayed - his care and compassion for every soldier never faltered. He wasn't without his own illnesses and his own extreme worries, which all the more emphasises this extraordinary quality of endless caring.

During the course of his life, Dunlop received a plethora of honours and awards in recognition of his civic, sporting, educational, military and medical achievements.

These included the Order of the British Empire (1947), Knight Bachelor (1969), Companion of the Order of Australia (1987), Knight Grand Cross, Order of St John of Jerusalem (1992), Knight Grand Cross (1st Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Royal Crown of Thailand (1993).

He was an Honorary Fellow of the Imperial College of London, an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Honorary Life Member of the RSL and Life Governor of the Royal Women's Hospital and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.

In 1977, he was named Australian of the Year and in 1988, he was formally honoured as one of the 200 Great Australians.

His services have been honoured throughout Australian Rugby, inducted into the ARU Hall of Fame in 2008.

This will fittingly continue on Saturday, hours before ANZAC Day, as the Rebels and Waratahs battling it out for a shield in his honour.


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The NSW Waratahs host the Melbourne Rebels for the Weary Dunlop Shield on Saturday Night, ad-free, live and on demand on Stan Sport as well as simulcast live on 9Gem,click here to purchase tickets.

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