Lest We Forget our Medical ANZACS

Friday 23 April 2021

Lest We Forget

This year on ANZAC Day, when the strains of the Last Post echo throughout Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH), the memories stirred will be deep and personal for patients as well as staff.

“RBWH has probably deployed more reservists from within its staff ranks than any other hospital in Australia,” said Associate Professor Cliff Pollard AM, Former Metro North Hospital and Health Service (MNHHS) Board Member and avid RBWH historian.

RBWH staff members and patients have been invited to line the Butterfield Street entrance to the hospital from 7:50am to pay their respects to the courageous men and women who have fought for Australia. The Last Post will then be played at 8am by RBWH Haemotologist Dr Kirk Morris, followed by a minute silence.

Staff and patients who are unable to leave their ward, will hear an address over the hospital PA system at 8am, by Brigadier Professor Michael Reade, followed by the Last Post and a minute silence.  

Joining them in solidarity, will be military personnel who are based in almost every Department of RBWH, including anaesthesia, medical imaging and trauma, intensive care, general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, burns, emergency medicine, pathology, psychiatry, public health and general medicine.

The hospital is honoured to have on staff some extremely senior Australian Defence Force Officers, including:

  • Chair of Military Medicine and Surgery and Director General Health Reserve – Army: Brigadier Prof. Michael Reade (Intensive Care Unit – ICU)
  • Director General Health Reserve – Navy: Commodore Dr Sonya Bennett (Qld Deputy Chief Health Officer)
  • Director Navy Health – Reserve: Captain Dr Anthony Holley (ICU)
  • Director General Health Reserve – Royal Australian Air Force: Former RBWH Executive Director Adjunct Assoc. Prof. Amanda Dines, who is now Redcliffe Hospital Director Medical Services
  • Former Director General Health – Navy: Commodore Dr Elizabeth Rushbrook  (Medical Services)

“Queenslanders should be incredibly proud of the contribution RBWH has made to our military history, not only by contributing serving Defence Force members and caring for returned injured servicemen and women, but also in the training of military health professionals since our earliest years,” said Assoc. Prof. Pollard.

Brisbane Hospital’s connection to the military dates back to the 1960’s, with the Hospital’s very first surgeon, Dr Kearsey Cannan. Dr Cannan was also first Honorary Surgeon of the Queensland Volunteer Force (QVF). The QVF was formed to provide our State’s only military defence after the British Treasury withdrew Imperial Troops from this young self-governed colony.

In 1914, as World War I raged in Europe, seven young Brisbane Hospital nurses put their hands up for early enlistment, as did Dr Alexander Marks who landed at Gallipoli on that ill-fated first ANZAC day of 1915. Many more hospital staff would also enlist.

Brisbane Hospital was also integral in training medical orderlies for WWI’s First Australian General Hospital which served overseas in Egypt, Cairo and subsequently Western Front, said Assoc. Prof. Pollard.

In World War II, RBWH expertise would again be called upon – and in every major conflict since.

“Emeritus Professor Major General John Pearn AO, who was former Professor of Child Health was Surgeon General, served in Vietnam and had multiple deployments including Banda Aceh for the tsunami response.

“John has made an enormous contribution to military health services and is not only passionate about medical research, but also medical and local history.”

Perhaps one of the dearest RBWH military connections lies with Smoky – a small Yorkshire terrier with an enormous heart, who has been immortalised at RBWH with her own statue outside the Education Centre.

Found in an abandoned foxhole in New Guinea in 1944 during World War II, this tiny Yorkshire Terrier would become a decorated war heroine by running telecommunications wires through pipes for the Allied Forces.

While Smoky’s owner, Corporal Bill Wynne, was on leave in Brisbane, the Red Cross asked if she could visit two military hospitals including one on the site of the Royal Women’s Hospital. Smoky’s work as a therapy dog continued for 12 years, during and after World War II.

On ANZAC Day in 2021, as RBWH staff and patients stand to pay tribute, they also pay honour to frontline soldiers who guarded their posts at dawn, a time when attacks were often launched.

After WWI, many returned soldiers missed the comradeship they felt at these times and a dawn ceremony became their preferred form of remembrance.

Lest We Forget.