The remarkable career of Dr Douglas Jolly


Forget Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H, the first pioneering spirit of abdominal wounds on the battlefield was a humble Kiwi from the South Island.

Douglas Waddell Jolly was born in Cromwell, Otago on the 19th of December, 1904 and would eventually go on to be described by US medical historian David Adams as being one of the most influential surgeons of the twentieth century.

Jolly started his career as a house surgeon in public hospitals after graduating from Otago Medical School in 1929.

In 1932 he moved to London in order to study for a specialist qualification in surgery but when war broke out in Spain in mid-1936 he joined up with the British Volunteer Battalion which was thrown into the desperate fight on the southern outskirts of the Siege of Madrid.

Jolly?s first significant experience of treating battle wounds occurred during the battle of the Jarama Valley, where on February the 12th 1937 the British Battalion took the full brunt of the Nationalist advance at a place that would become known as Suicide Hill.

By the days end, only 225 of the original 600 members would still be standing. One of the companies was captured after a ruse by the advancing Nationalists who, singing the ?Internationale? managed to convince their adversaries that they were in fact allied reinforcements.

During this time, Jolly was given the rank of Captain and allocated a team of 12 men which he formed into the world?s first ever mobile field hospital, developing new methods and processes of battlefield surgery that would become standard operating procedures both in war and peace-time. No bias was given to either side with wounded men being treated by order of need as opposed to political allegiance.

During the disastrous Republican offensive along the Ebro River in 1938, Jolly set up his hospital in a large cave. In his journal, he wrote: Quote.

For weeks and months flights of 50 to 80 heavy bombers bombarded the Republican communication lines almost daily; yet?even the most serious abdominal wounds rarely failed to reach the operating table and?almost half survived, whereas in the First World War only one third lived.?End quote.

After the collapse of the Republican war effort, Jolly was to return to New Zealand where he engaged in a nationwide speaking circuit bringing attention to the plight of Spanish refugees and prisoners of war. He then returned to London where he recorded his experiences in a medical manual titled ?Field Surgery in Total War?. This book went on to become required reading in the U.S. Army Medical Service during World War Two and would form the foundational basis for American Field Hospitals in both the Korean and Vietnamese theatres of war.

At the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, Jolly joined up with the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Lieutenant Colonel and was transferred to the fighting around Tobruk in North Africa.

Later on in the war, he was assigned command of the New Zealand Hospital in Naples, Italy.

For his service in World War Two, he was awarded an O.B.E with the citation referring to his: ?untiring zeal and quiet but thorough methods.?

After the cessation of hostilities, Jolly moved back to England where he married Jessica Kain and joined the staff at Queen Mary?s Hospital at Roehampton near London, eventually becoming its Chief Medical Officer.

He would go on to treat an untold number of people throughout the remainder of his career with the same passion, dedication to service, and humble spirit which came to encapsulate his character and standing in the field of medicine.

Dr Douglas Jolly passed away three days after his birthday in 1983 after a long illness. He was 79 years old.