Ewan Corlette was born in Sydney 10 February 1908. He was a student at Cranbrook School from 1920 to 1925 and attended Medical School at Sydney University 1926 to 1931. From 1931 to 1933 he undertook his residency training at Sydney Hospital. He travelled to England to complete his post graduate training which culminated with membership of the Royal College of Physicians in 1937. Following his return to Australia he took up practice in Orange.
Following the outbreak of War he enlisted as a Captain AAMC (as a specialist he was then promoted to the rank of Major) and was allocated to the 2/2 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). This unit served in the Middle East. On 18 February 1942 an element of 2/2 CCS, along with 2/3 Machine Gun Battalion and 2/2 Pioneer Battalion, moved to the Netherlands East Indies and landed at Batavia, Java. This was to honour a British undertaking to assist the Dutch to resist the Japanese. The Dutch stopped fighting on 8 March and the remaining allied forces surrendered on 12 March 1942.
The 2/2 CCS element, on arrival on Java, was under command of Lt Col Norm Eadie. Eadie was then appointed Assistant Director Medical Services (ADMS) for the Java force known as “BlackForce”. As a consequence Major EE (Weary) Dunlop was made CO of the CCS and promoted to Lt Col (Temp). These CCS personnel became POWs and it seems that apart from Lt Col Eadie only 3 of their Medical Officers were in Java. They were Lt Col Dunlop and Majors Moon and Corlette. Major Jock Clarke, a dentist from 2/2 CCS, was also present and a 4th Australian Medical Officer, Captain McNamara from the 5th AGH, was attached. Subsequently, a hospital facility was established and it is assumed that the CCS ceased to operate. The former CCS officers, plus RAF and RAMC personnel, who had also been captured, staffed the hospital.
During the period 18 February to 12 March the medical services would have been kept busy dealing with many casualties. Ray Denney, who was a medical orderly, recalls Corlette doing a blood transfusion with shrapnel falling out of the ceiling and glass tumbling out of windows. This was done without any loss of focus on the patient.
In January 1943, 875 POWs from Java moved to Thailand as part of a force known as “Dunlop” Force. They transited through Singapore and endured the dreadful 4-night 5-day train journey to Banpong in Thailand. They were then trucked in a northerly direction to Konyu. Corlette then worked at Hintok Mountain Camp, Hintok River Camp, Kinsayok, Tarsau and Tamuang.
Amongst the men Corlette was affectionately called “The Gangster”. Ray Parkin in his book “Into The Smother” attributes this to a twisted smile. Another suggested source is an apparent likeness to Humphrey Bogart.
Following are references to work done by Corlette:
It is difficult to definitively
plot just where Corlette was from around February 1944 until the end of
Ray Denney (mentioned above), who was a Medical Orderly with Corlette, named his first son Ewan, after Ewan Corlette. Corlette was discharged from the Army 7 January 1946 with the rank of Major. He was mentioned in dispatches and received the MBE at Government House Sydney in 1949.
Post war he commenced practice as a specialist
physician in Macquarie Street, Sydney.
After his stroke and up to his death, Weary Dunlop wrote a number of letters to Ewan’s wife. Extracts from the letters follow:
In 1983 he prepared a speech to be given after the Anzac Day march and service. The following is an extract from that speech-
“Today, we particularly remember those of them who gave their lives that we might enjoy our present freedom. I suppose each one of us during the two minutes silence was recalling some particular moment. For me, it was on an occasion sitting in a leaky tent in Siam in teeming monsoonal rains and surrounded by mud, holding the hand of a nineteen year old soldier, whilst he died from the effects of haemorrhage complicating severe dysentery, knowing that given the tools I could have saved his life. My heart was filled with hatred and I was cursing our captors – those little yellow bastards who by starvation, brutality and neglect had murdered this boy and many others of his companions just assuredly as they had murdered our nurses with their machine guns on the beach at ….”.
Ewan Corlette never displayed outward hate for his captors, but it appears that he felt it inwardly.
The assistance is acknowledged of Jane Miller (Daughter
of Ewan Corlette), Andrew Corlette (son of Ewan Corlette), Alyson Dalby
(Librarian Royal Australian College of Physicians), Ray Denny, Ken Wood,
Jim Allpike, George Wiseman and “Blue” Butterworth. The following
books were consulted Weary Dunlop’s War Dairies, The Long Way Home
by Ray Denny and Into the Smother by Ray Parkin.