Research & Articles by Lt. Col. Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (Retired), JP
Research, Interviews and Articles about the Prisoners Of War of the Japanese who built the Burma to Thailand railway during world war two. Focusing on the doctors and medical staff among the prisoners. Also organised trips to Thailand twice a year.
    free hit counter

MAJOR EWAN LAWRIE CORLETTE NX 350 2/2 Casualty Clearing Station
Middle East – Java- Thailand

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:

  • 18 February 43 Dunlop’s War Diary (WDWD) notes that at Konyu, Corlette and Arthur Moon were consulted by Dunlop about a night operation for a perforated peptic ulcer. In due course Corlette administered the anaesthetic. The patient survived.
  • 10 to 17 April 43 (WDWD) clear evidence of Corlette standing up to the guards to protect patients.
  • 29 May 43 in Dunlop’s diary he says “Corlette is carrying on with all the work as I am flat out (ill)”.
  • 11 June 43 Corlette went out to the line with stretcher-bearers to retrieve a man with cerebral malaria.
  • May 43 Ray Parkin recounted an incident when Corlette was examining one of the men. He said to the man “ Do you know what’s wrong with you?”………….”You’re totally buggered, not a thing left” (this man SX 8795 who was 39 years, died in Nov 43).
  • 19 July 43 Ray Denney (Medical Orderly) who was at Hintok River Camp says he was caring for cholera patients when Corlette arrived from Hintok Mountain Camp. What a relief it was, for Ray to have a medical Officer on site.
  • Around this time Jim Allpike (2/3 and 2/4 MG Bn), at Corlette’s instigation, started running distilled water from Mountain Camp to River Camp for the dysentery and cholera patients. (there were 2 or 3 men who provided this arduous service, which involved a return journey of 8/9 kilometres carrying 2 or 4 demijohns of distilled water or saline).
  • 28 July 43 Dunlop said that he found his work at Mountain Camp relatively easy to cope with, in contrast with Corlette (at River Camp), who was extremely busy.
  • 8 August 43 Dunlop says he observed Corlette doing sick parade in bare feet, having dermatitis and looking rather fagged and a wild look in his eye.

It is difficult to definitively plot just where Corlette was from around February 1944 until the end of the War.
However, it is clear he was at Tamuang and Bangkok:

  • Ray Parkin mentions the arrival of Corlette at Tarsau from Kinsayok in February 44.
  • Ken Wood (2/3 Machine Gun Battalion) remembers being treated for malaria and dysentery by Corlette at Tamuang in 1944 He also recalls that Corlette always used his patient’s Christian names.
  • Jim Allpike remembers Corlette from Java and Tamuang. He recalls that in Java Corlette had a batman named Frank Xavier. Xavier was born in Hong Kong and was dark skinned. The Japs took Xavier one day and he never returned. He thought he may have been killed, but was relieved to hear that Xavier survived the war. He describes Corlette as very blunt or direct and very much a man’s man.
  • A journalist sited a situation where a patient asked Corlette “Am I going to die?” Corlette muttered through his teeth, “I haven’t made up my mind yet”. Bitter humour was considered more important than bedside manner in POW camps.
  • George Fisher (2/4 Machine Gun Bn) in a letter to Ewan’s wife said “ Those of us who were fortunate enough in meeting and being treated by him, remember him with affection and gratitude”.
  • George Wiseman (FMSVF) remembers at Tamuang attending the Australian RAP. Corlette said to him “You’re a Pommie aren’t you? Why are you here?” George replied, “Because I thought I would get better treatment here, sir”. Corletete said “Admit him”. (George also remembers the care from the Australian Medical Orderly (who was a bank employee pre war) who bathed him over a period of a few days to bring his temperature down.)
  • “Chick” Warden (2/19 Bn ) recorded being at Tamuang in 1944. He had been caught trading with Thais and had been placed in the guard-house and beaten over 5 days. Corlette and a Harry Thorpe (chaplain) carried “Chick” from the guard house to the hospital, where he was treated by Arthur Moon.

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.
Without flair he made a contribution (including Pro Bono work on behalf of veterans) in many areas of Medicine. He retired from practice on 1980 due to ill health and moved to Tamworth. He suffered a severe stroke in 1984 and passed away in 1986, aged 78 years.

After his stroke and up to his death, Weary Dunlop wrote a number of letters to Ewan’s wife. Extracts from the letters follow:

  • real man for tough days, stern faced, but full of kind(sic), generosity of heart and disarming humour.
  • …kindness of heart which I never felt that I could equal.
  • I always thought that he exceeded me in true compassion and rapport with the sick.

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.

Article written by Lt Col Peter Winstanley OAM RFD (Retired) JP

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.


ezFrog Web Design. Copyright 2004.