Ernest (Weary) Dunlop

Full name:
Sir Ernest Edward Dunlop, AC, CMG, OBE


Medical practitioner, Surgeon
College of Pharmacy, Melbourne, Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), University of Melbourne,Master of Science (MS), University of Melbourne

Prisoner of war

Highest rank:
Lieutenant Colonel
13 November 1939 Commissioned in London
Decorations/ commendations:
Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG), Knight Bachelor, Australian of the Year, Companion of the Order of Australia, World Veterans' Federation Rehabilitation Award, St John Jerusalem Cross Merit, Valiant Freedom Award
Australian Army
Service Number:
World War II 1939-1945
Military event:
2/2 Casualty Clearing Station

An Australian hero

...everyone that came in front of Weary - a no-hoper, anybody, was a person. And he was an equal of Weary's in Weary's mind — he was a person to be helped. That made him a great doctor. But it did more than that. It made him a great human being.

[Raymond 'Ray' Parkin, in Surgeon of the Railway interview]

More than 100 Australian doctors were captured by the Japanese in World War II. Despite the horrendous conditions of captivity, these doctors performed countless feats of leadership and life-saving medicine.

One such medical hero was Edward 'Weary' Dunlop. Dunlop's courage, medical skills and leadership saved many lives of fellow prisoners of war in Java and on the Burma-Thailand Railway.

Dunlop routinely stood up to his Japanese captors on behalf of prisoners too ill to work, risking his own life in doing so. He always put his patients first, despite also suffering:

  • beri-beri
  • dysentery
  • malaria
  • tropical ulcers.

Camp rations were also stretched beyond what seemed possible. The sick sometimes received Dunlop's share. Many former POWs credit their survival with Dunlop's leadership and care.

After the war, until his death, Dunlop remained a doctor, surgeon and advocate for veterans.

Early life

Sir Ernest Edward 'Weary' Dunlop was born in Wangaratta, Victoria, in 1907. His parents, James and Alice, were wheat and sheep farmers at Stewarton. Dunlop's birth was difficult. His mother, Alice, suffered puerperal fever, a potentially fatal condition. That, and postpartum depression, kept her away from her new son for a year. In her absence, Dunlop's aunts helped raise him.

Dunlop attended primary school at Stewarton Public School. At the time, primary schooling was the limit of education for many people, particularly for families on the land like Dunlop's. But, his teacher, Vera Hilliear, encouraged Dunlop's family to send him to high school in Benalla. This changed the path of his life.

Dunlop began a pharmacy apprenticeship after he finished high school. He worked with Benalla pharmacist, William McCall Say. Dunlop began his studies by distance education before moving to Melbourne in 1927. He studied at Victorian College of Pharmacy, now part of Monash University's Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Keen to work as a doctor, Dunlop won a scholarship to study at Melbourne University in 1930. He graduated with first-class honours in medicine in 1934.

Edward Dunlop was a talented sportsperson. He played rugby union for Australia against New Zealand in 1932. He was also an amateur boxing champion.

Dunlop joined the Australian Army Medical Corps as a captain in 1935. He sailed for London in 1938, aboard SS Ormonde as ship's doctor. Dunlop continued training at London's Medical School. He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

Edward Dunlop met several influential people in London. Among them was fellow Australian, Sir Thomas Dunhill. Dunhill was the King's surgeon and mentored Dunlop. Dunhill became a brigadier and consulting surgeon with the 2nd Australian Imperial Force.

Wartime experience

Following the formation of the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) and the re-raising of the 6th Division, Dunlop enlisted as a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps (6th Division) in November 1939. He sailed from London on a freezing cold New Years Day in 1940, destination unknown, but landing in Palestine.

Dunlop was posted to the Middle East as a staff doctor at headquarters. This experience helped him develop essential skills in administration and dealing with bureaucracy. What he learned, along with his medical training, would be useful as a commanding officer and surgeon at a prisoner of war camp.

On 1 May 1940, Dunlop received a promotion. He was made Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services at Australian Corps Headquarters and AIF Headquarters in Gaza and Alexandria.

In 1941, he served in Greece and Crete. When offered the role of the commanding officer of 2/2nd Casualty Clearing Station (2/2 CCS), Dunlop declined. He preferred staying the unit's senior surgeon.

Bandung, Java

It would be a war for sanity of mind and body, and who, we asked Weary, could be more fitted to conduct such a war than a doctor and a healer.

[Laurens van der Post in Foreword: The war diaries of Weary Dunlop]

Following Japan's entry into the war, Dunlop's unit was called back to Australia in 1942. Prime Minister, John Curtin, withdrew all troops of 6th and 7th Australian Divisions from the Middle East. Australia needed them to defend against Japan.

Dunlop sailed on the HMT Orcades. It was the only ship of those that left on 30 January 1942 that failed to reach Australia. It arrived in Java in February 1942. With limited weapons or ammunition, and overdressed in winter uniforms, the troops' mission was to help the Dutch defend against the Japanese. Dunlop's job was to set up No. 1 Allied General Hospital at Bandoeng (Bandung) to care for casualties.

Allied troops surrendered on 11 March when Java fell to the Japanese. The Japanese captured Edward Dunlop and 2700 Allied soldiers.

Dunlop was made senior Allied officer the Bandung prisoner-of-war camp. His diary entries record the mundane, the practicalities, the violence and the human resilience of surviving captivity.

With fellow army doctor, Major Arthur Moon, Dunlop set up proper hygiene, sanitation and facilities for the sick.

Dunlop risked his own life on many occasions to protect his patients. He also spent his own money on extra food for sick POWs and negotiated with Japanese and Netherlanders for better rations for his men.

Burma-Thailand Railway

A drawing depicting men standing and sitting in a line in front of a thatched hut
Prisoners of war wait for medical care by Edward Dunlop. Print by fellow POW, Ray Parkin. AWM ART91031.

Obviously the Ns have a great reserve of manpower here and at Singapore and they are showing every intention of just breaking men on this job, with not the faintest consideration for either life or health. This can only be regarded as a cold-blooded, merciless crime against mankind, obviously premeditated.

[Edward Dunlop in The war diaries of Weary Dunlop]

In January 1943, Edward Dunlop and the Australian prisoners of war under his command were transported to Singapore. Changi Prison was the main Japanese camp for prisoners of war in Southeast Asia. From there, prisoners were transported to work as labourers across the Japanese empire. On 20 January, Dunlop, along with some 1000 POWs was sent to start work on the Burma-Thailand Railway.

Some 60,000 Allied POWs and 200,000 Asian labourers (Rǒmusha) worked under harsh conditions to build a railway linking Burma and Thailand. The railway's purpose was to allow the transport of reinforcements and material to Burma in preparation for a Japanese attack on British India. A railway was necessary because Allied aircraft, ships and submarines made transport by sea too dangerous.

Prisoners worked hard with limited tools, no boots and limited rations, which were often rotten or maggot-ridden. Diseases such as malaria, dysentery, beri-beri and cholera were rife. Beatings by Japanese guards and other forms of torture were common. The death rate was high. Almost 3,000 Australians, more than 11,000 other Allied prisoners and 75,000 Rǒmusha died.

The men under Dunlop's care and command were known as 'Dunlop Force'. Dunlop was unselfish in his care of his fellow POWs, enduring torture, beatings and illness along with them. Through it all, his leadership helped them survive.

After the war

2 men looking at drawings at a table
Former prisoners of war and doctors, Edward Dunlop and Albert Coates. Recovered Allied Prisoners of War and Internees Unit, Bangkok, September 1945. AWM 117361.

Edward Dunlop remained in Thailand helping with the repatriation of liberated prisoners of war. He returned to Australia in October 1945 and married his long-time fiancée, Helen Ferguson, one month later. The bride wore a gown made of silk that Dunlop brought home from Bangkok. A brief article in Melbourne's The Age marked the occasion.

Dunlop continued to practise medicine after the war. He was attached to the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps until 1946 and worked in Tobruk, Palestine and Asia. On his return to Australia, Dunlop was a surgeon and cancer specialist in Melbourne, holding roles at:

  • Royal Melbourne Hospital
  • Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital
  • Peter MacCallum Clinic.

Dunlop cared for the welfare of former prisoners of war and their families. Many were his patients and none were ever charged a fee.

Dunlop used his public profile to raise awareness of the needs of veterans and their families. For the rest of his life, he:

  • advised governments on veteran health and welfare, lobbying successfully for full medical and dental cover
  • attended and addressed various events with other former prisoners of war
  • helped POWs make war pension claims
  • lobbied for reparations from the Japanese for former POWs.

In 1986, Dunlop's autobiography The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop was published. Artwork by POWs, which had been hidden from the Japanese during the war, was used to illustrate the book.

Dunlop also worked tirelessly to restore relations between Australia and Asia.

The death of 'Weary' Dunlop

Mourners at the funeral of Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, 12 July 1993. AWM P02949.002

What can you say about a man like that? Without him my uncles and so many others wouldn't be alive today.

[Joyce Foster in 'Thousands of touching tributes at Dunlop farewell', The Canberra Times, 13 July 1993]

Five years after the death of his wife, Helen, 85-year-old Dunlop was taken to Melbourne's Alfred Hospital after suffering a stroke at his Toorak home. He died on 2 July 1993.

A state funeral at St Paul's Cathedral farewelled Dunlop. It was attended by family, friends and former POWs, as well as many important people from both sides of parliament. Some 20,000 mourners lined the nearby streets and stood outside the cathedral. They joined in the hymns and prayers, sharing stories of their families' connections to Dunlop.

In his eulogy former Governor-General, Sir Ninian Stephen described Dunlop as a hero:

He was virtuous, kind and immensely brave, utterly steadfast in the path of duty and invincible in his courage. We remember him not simply as the doer of some single deed of great bravery but as an immensely valiant human being who for years on end was consistently courageous under terrible stress, his sense of duty unshakable and his compassion for his fellow men unfailing.

[Sir Ninian Stephen, 13 July 1993, Quiet Lion]

After his cremation, some of Dunlop's ashes were returned to the Dunlop family farm at Smith's Gully, Victoria. The rest, as he had asked, were scattered at Thailand's Hellfire Pass and Kwae Noi.

Commemorating Edward 'Weary'Dunlop

Dunlop is commemorated for his work with prisoners of war and improving relations between Australia and Asia in the post-war period.

Dunlop's legacy is commemorated by memorials at:

In 1995, the Australian Mint released a commemorative coin featuring Weary Dunlop. It was one of a set of 6, issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The Canberra suburb of Dunlop is named after Edward Dunlop.

Melbourne University commemorates Edward Dunlop with its Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop Asia Awards program, as well as through fellowships and lectures.

The Weary Dunlop Foundation began in 1985. It was founded by Dunlop and continues to raise money to research veteran's health.

Dunlop is also remembered through his wartime diaries autobiography and the biography, Weary: the life of Sir Edward Dunlop, by Sue Ebury.


  • 1932 'Dunlop For Sydney', Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 - 1954), 20 July, p. 10. (Edition1), accessed 23 January 2020,
  • 1945 'WEDDINGS', The Age (Melbourne, Vic.: 1854 - 1954), 9 November, p 5, accessed 23 January 2020,
  • 1947 'WANTS £1000 FOR EVERY P.O.W.', Smith's Weekly (Sydney, NSW: 1919 - 1950), 4 January, p 4, accessed 23 January 2020,
  • 1993 'Thousands of touching tributes at Dunlop farewell', The Canberra Times (ACT: 1926 - 1995), 13 July, p 1, accessed 23 January 2020,
  • 1995 ''Weary' Dunlop on commemorative 50c', The Canberra Times (ACT: 1926 - 1995), 16 February, p 2, accessed 31 January 2020,
  • Biographical note: Sir (Ernest) Edward "Weary" Dunlop, Australian War Memorial, last updated 11 August 2021, accessed 23 January 2020,
  • Dunlop, Ernest Edward (1907 - 1993), Encyclopedia of Australian Science, published 22 May 2006, last modified 7 February 2011, accessed 23 January 2020,
  • DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2020), Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 13 November 2019, /wars-and-missions/burma-thailand-railway-and-hellfire-pass-1942-1943/events/surviving/sir-edward-weary-dunlop
  • E.E. Dunlop, The War Diaries of Weary Dunlop: Java and the Burma-Thailand Railway, 1942-1945. Viking Books, Ringwood, Vic, 1986:x, print,
  • Eulogy by Rt. Hon. Sir Ninian Stephen, The State Funeral Service for Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, St Paul's Anglican Cathedral, Melbourne, 12 July 1993, accessed 23 January 2020,
  • Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, Australian War Memorial, accessed 23 January 2020,
  • Michele C. Horne and Katie Anne Mills, 'Dunlop, Sir Ernest Edward (Weary) (1907–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published online 2019, accessed 23 January 2020,
  • National Archives of Australia: CA 2002, 2 Echelon, Army Headquarters, Second Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1939-1947; VX259, DUNLOP ERNEST EDWARD: Service Number - VX259: Date of Birth - 12 Jul 1907: Place of Birth - WANGARATTA VIC: Place of Enlistment - LONDON ENGLAND: Next of Kin - DUNLOP JAMES, 1939-1948.
  • Raymond "Ray" Edward Parkin: Interviews for the Channel 10 program, "Surgeon of the Railway", 1987, Australian War Memorial Accession Number F09396, accessed 31 January 2020,
  • Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop AC CMG OBE - In Memoriam: Surgeon and Prisoner of War, Australian of the Year 1976, Australian of the Year Awards, viewed 20 January 2020,'weary'-dunlop/77/77/

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Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Ernest Edward Dunlop, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 17 May 2024,
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