Legendary Wallaby: Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop

The men would do anything for him and are proud to be with him. I am sure it is his presence which holds this body of men from moral decay in bitter circumstances which they can only meet with emotion rather than reason. […] This selflessness, this smile, command more from the men than an army of officers each waving a Manual of Military Law.

– Ray Parkin, Into the Smother, London, Hogarth Press, 1963, page 51.

One of the greatest Australians to ever live also happened to represent his nation playing Rugby Union.

Indeed, the fact that his inclusion in the first ever Australian side to lift the much vaunted Bledisloe Cup has been largely treated as a mere afterthought, is perhaps an indication as to how much of an effect this man had on those around him; especially in times of the greatest trial and anguish.

From the playing field of the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1934 to the steaming jungles of Burma as a Japanese Prisoner of War, Sir Edward ?Weary? Dunlop truly encapsulated the values of integrity; determination; an untiring work ethic; and undaunted courage and selflessness for the sake of others.

Sir Edward Dunlop was born in Major Plains, Victoria, on the 12th of July 1907, as the second of two children to parents James and Alice.

At some uncertain stage in his formative years, he was donned with the nickname of ?Weary? in connection with a well-known advertisement of the time for Dunlop tyres which made a claim that this product would never wear out.

He started an apprenticeship in pharmacy studies after finishing school and soon afterwards moved to Melbourne where he enrolled in and graduated from University with a first class honours degree in pharmacy and medicine.

During his years at college he began playing Rugby Union; a game he preferred to the more popular Australian Rules due to his preference for tackling and running with the ball.

His aptitude and prowess as a fourth-grade player quickly piqued the interest of the national selectors who called him into the 1932 Australian side to play the touring All Blacks.

This 1932 Wallaby side won their first match against the men in black in Sydney, however, they lost the remaining two games in the series.

The All Blacks were to return home with a new trophy. It had been presented the previous year by the ageing Governor-General of New Zealand Charles Bathurst, as a prize to be vied for between the two nations. It was called the Bledisloe Cup.

The All Blacks would tour Australia again in 1934.

In spite of a broken nose, ?Weary? would play in the first game of this series and do much to help his team towards a 25 points to 11 win. His nose would get broken again in the first five minutes but he continued to play.

Two weeks later, at the same ground, both teams would contest in a dour and hard fought 3 all draw. ?Weary? did not play in this game, however, due to being bed-ridden with Influenza.

This was to be the first time the Wallabies would lift the Bledisloe Cup. They would not win it again until 1949 and then not for another thirty years.

When war broke out in 1939, ?Weary? was already in the Australian Army as he had re-enlisted in 1935. He had been a school cadet in previous years but had forgone this service due to pressures regarding his studies.

As a Captain, he was to initially serve in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern theatres of war, before being sent to South East Asia after the Japanese entered into hostilities.

In 1942 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant- Colonel and included as a medical officer in the ill-fated Allied landing of Java. It was here that he was captured by the Japanese when he refused to abandon the men he had been caring for in the hospital at Bandung.

Bill Griffiths, a severely wounded Australian soldier who was being cared for in Bandung would write years later, in an obituary for Sir Edward: Quote.

As it happened, Dunlop committed himself to my survival and supported me through the trauma that followed awareness of my condition. He saved my life a second time when a Japanese officer, Captain Nakazawa, ordered the hospital to be cleared in 10 minutes. An attempt to illustrate the serious condition of many patients prompted a signal that Nakazawa’s escort should run their bayonets through myself and another blind patient. Dunlop stepped in front of me, pre-empting the proposed lunge. The hospital still had to be cleared, but in a more sedate fashion.End quote

Over the following several years in Japanese captivity, ?Weary? would continue to courageously advocate and care for the men under his charge, with the limited resources which were made available to him. Quote.

We had no bedpans, no facilities for bathing patients, no soap or disinfectants, and no special diets. The only medicine we had was Condy’s crystals and ground charcoal. Yet the Japanese had the gall to call it a hospital.

– Tom Morris in Gavan McCormack and Hank Nelson, The Burma?Thailand Railway, Sydney, Allen & Uwin, 1993, page 30. End quote.

One of the most poignant and moving quotes I found during my research into the works of this man, I was unfortunately unable to find a source for Quote.

?[…] a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering.End quote.

Perhaps the greatest measure of character, however, was to be found in ?Weary?s? ability to forgive his former captors in his post-war activities and public stances.

He would not only dedicate much time and energy towards the advocacy of former Australian prisoners of war but also renounce his previously held hatred of the Japanese and publicly endorse measures aimed at increasing engagement with his nation?s former enemy.

In his post-war activities, ?Weary? would continue with his unceasing works of altruism within Australia and also overseas.

Apart from his official Knighting in 1969, the numerous other marks of formal recognition would herald from as far afield as Thailand, where in 1993 he was to be awarded the ?Most Noble Order of the Royal Crown?.

Dunlop would eventually pass away in his home in the same year and be accorded a state funeral where over ten thousand people would attend.

Portions of his ashes were scattered in the Kwae Noi River the following year.