Excerpt from “Recollections of a Regimental Medical Officer” by H.D.Steward ~~Withdrawal~~

picture-RecollectionsofaRMO-StewardAt Alola, in addition to the normal Battalion RAP, there was also a combined RAP to handle casualties from any of the four battalions then in the line – the 39th, 53rd, 2/14th and 2/16th. Captain A. B. Hogan, RMO of 53rd Battalion, and I each had a dual role: to treat our own casualties from Abuari and check the wounded from 2/14th and 39th Battalions staging at Alola, a half-way house between Isurava and Eora Creek. Most of the patients were in a large hut previously used as a quartermaster store. Here I first saw the boys from the 39th Battalion, gaunt spectres with gaping boots and rotting tatters of uniform hanging around them like scarecrows. Their faces had no expression, their eyes sunk back into their sockets. They were drained by malaria, dysentery and near-starvation, but they were still in the firing line, facing a much more powerful enemy equipped with much heavier weaponry.
From Abuari the Japanese overlooked Alola, and their heavy Juki 57 mm machine-guns swept the areas of both Brigade and Battalion HQ, and also the RAPs. This weapon outranged any of ours, and spat its lead with a deeper, repetitive thud than lighter machine-guns; the troops called it the ‘woodpecker’.
We told the wounded men to lie as flat as they could but, although most of the bullets went high, we had five casualties, including one man killed. Captain Hogan was shot through both legs, a flesh wound in one and the other fractured. A recent graduate, he looked little more than a boy as he lay there looking ruefully at his wounds. He touched our hearts as he said how worried his mother would be. In a little while I would be thinking more about my own mother.
It now seemed certain that the wounded would have to be evacuated to Eora Creek, a carry of five or six hours. The RAP boys and I moved through the rows of wounded men, assessing those who would need stretchers and those who would have to walk. It was a silent pilgrimage. I wondered what I should say to the men in greatest need who were to receive an injection of the merciful morphine. I was a stranger to the men from the other battalions, but even with my own men I knew what an anxious moment it is when a doctor approaches with a hypodermic in his hand. I said: ‘I’m giving you an injection to relieve your pain’. To have said ‘to make you more comfortable’ might have raised in their minds the most appalling doubt of all.
. . . Not one of these men complained. Their restraint and dignity lifted them above common humanity. That grim afternoon proved for me the dictum of the great war correspondent Quentin Reynolds: ‘The wounded don’t cry’. Often they don’t even talk. Yet what could be more demoralizing for a wounded man to lie there under machine-gun fire, when he was entitled to believe that he had already done his bit, and that he ought now to be allowed to live?
All was quiet in this communal aid post, where men from four infantry units lay in silence with their thoughts. Their fate lay with us, and not one doubted that we would get them out. It is easy to feel proud that not one man was abandoned at the RAP, but one should not forget that they would not have got that far without the help of their mates in the platoons, and of the gallant stretcher bearers, every one of them a Sir Galahad. The bearers were not caught up by the mad exhilaration of violent action, and they carried no weapons to strike back. But each man for the sake of mercy exposed his life again and again on that long withdrawal to Ioribaiwa.



Filed under Literature, Military, Non-Fiction

2 responses to “Excerpt from “Recollections of a Regimental Medical Officer” by H.D.Steward ~~Withdrawal~~

  1. Doctor Henry Devenish ‘Blue’ Steward was born in Eaglehawk, Victoria on 2 June 1912, and died on 17 September 1991, aged 79 years. He enlisted in the Australian Army on 10 May 1940. The events described in this passage took place on the Kokoda Trail in late August 1942.

  2. Doctor Allan Barry Hogan was born in Mayfield, New South Wales on 5 October 1920, and died on 19 September 2000, aged 79 years. Obviously he survived the evacuation back to Port Moresby and was eventually discharged from the Army on 28 February 1944.

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