EDWARD MAJOR NX70506 Medical Officer
|2/4 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) - Malaya - "A" Force Burma and
Major Walter Edward (Ted) Fisher was born in Sydney 19 December 1901.
He was educated at Newington College and on matriculation entered the
Medical School at the University of Sydney. He graduated in
1925. He then spent time as a resident medical officer at
Sydney Hospital. He also spent time at the Royal Hospital for
Women; Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children and in 1929 travelled to
London and gained his MRCP (Member of the Royal College of
Physicians). He took many positions of responsibility
including honorary physician appointments at hospitals in
Sydney. He also tutored at the Medical School at University
of Sydney, as can be evidenced by the following comments-
A comment about Fisher from the Senior Year Book 1938 of the University
of Sydney Medical School, says-
Dr Fisher met us twice weekly in fifth year to teach us the delicate
art of case-taking. We enjoyed our sessions in the chapel,
firstly because he showed us how case- taking should be done, secondly
because of the convivial atmosphere in which he conducted our meetings,
and thirdly because the meetings were nicely leavened with anecdotes of
people, ranging from Lord Dawson of Penn to shoe-salesmen.
A further comment about Fisher from the 1939 Senior Year Book of the
University of Sydney Medical School, says-
"One grows in every garden."
We first came in contact with "Ted" in Fourth Year when he tried to
make us realise the vast expanse of medical knowledge awaiting
exploration. He was successful in impressing upon us the
first principles of physical examination. His immaculate attire and
swinging stride present an inspiring picture in the wards and
elsewhere, adding to his fancied resemblance to a well-known film star.
In fifth year, many a pleasant hour was spent at his highly instructive
tutorials which were enlightened by a touch of humour and the
disclosure of many interesting sidelights on famous medicos past and
Ted Fisher enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 29
November 1940. Being a physician he was appointed as a Major
Medical Officer and posted to the 2/4 CCS which was formed in
Hobart. The unit, being an 8th Division Unit, moved to
Singapore early 1941. Whilst in Malaya he acquired an insight into
tropical medicine which was to prove invaluable later.
The Commanding Officer of the 2/4 CCS Lt Col T Hamilton has this to say
about Major Fisher in his book "Soldier Surgeon in Malaya";-
Ted Fisher - he hated being called Walter Edward- was the specialist
physician from Sydney. With a patrician bearing and a keen
brain that did not suffer fools gladly, he was the rare type of Medical
Officer who, flung from civil life into the crudities of the AIF,
quickly mastered Army methods and made himself efficient in his new
role……In Malaya he made a special study of
tropical diseases……..When hostilities broke out
he organised the resuscitation of wounded, paying special attention to
the training of intelligent orderlies in blood
During the battle for Singapore and the retreat of the Allies down the
Malayan peninsular there is little that I can find recorded
specifically about Major Fisher. Suffice to note that a Casualty
Clearing Station would have been flat out caring for casualties when
not involved in moving the Dressing Stations (medical facilities) back
towards the Causeway and eventually onto Singapore Island.
In February 1942 he became one of many Prisoners of War captured by the
Japanese at the fall of Singapore. In the three months
between February and May 1942 he is likely to have been one of the
Allied Medical Officers staffing the Allied Hospital which was set up
in the Roberts Barracks.
In May 1942 he became a member the medical personnel who supported the
3,000 POWs of "A" Force which was moved by the Japs to Burma to
commence building the railway. "A" Force was moved
in two old rust buckets (ships) the Celebes Maru and Toyohasi Maru to
Burma. Along the way the ships stopped at Medan in
Sumatra. Here other vessels containing British POWs captured
on Sumatra joined the convoy. The ships then stopped at
Victoria Point, Mergui and finally Tavoy. In each location
parties of around 1,000 POWs were left.
The following basic summary of Major Fisher's movements is taken from
"Medical Middle East and Far East" by A.S.Walker published 1953:-
Major Fisher was with the party in Tavoy until moved to Thanbyuzayat,
where construction of the Railway commenced from the Burma end in
October 1942. A base hospital was established at Thanbyuzayat
and Major Fisher was in charge. (Lt Col Hamilton as Senior Medial
Officer (SMO) of "A" Force would have been free to care medically for
the whole force.)
As construction of the railway preceded south, so to did the Medical
Facilities move to be proximate to the POWs. By July 1943
Major Fisher was commanding the hospital (for want of a better word) at
Retpu (30 km down the railway).
Further moves would have been involved and it is not possible to be
precise about the various locations. However, it is fortunate
that Rowley Richards (Medical Officer "A" Force) in his book "A
Doctor's War" published 2005 ISBN 0 7322 85321
notes "Brigadier Varley and Major Ted Fisher (who was then in charge of
the base hospital at Thanbyuzayat) visited our camp on 10 February
(1943) in company with Nagatomo and Lt (Dr) Higuchi, a Japanese
doctor. Ted Fisher inspected the pellagra cases and agreed
with my diagnosis and opinions………"
Construction of the Railway was completed in October 1943 when the line
being built north from Thailand joined the line coming from the north
in Burma. Then from November 1943 the bulk of the surviving
POWs, and the associated Medical personnel, were moved south into
Thailand. Fisher along with others was involved in the
consultation process to move the sick.
The initial camp for the sick/convalescents in Thailand would most
likely have been Tamarkan. Fisher noted on arrival at
Tamarkan (around January 1944) "disappointed, but not surprised, to
find no hospital" just a working camp for 1,500 POWs.
In June 1944 a large hospital camp was established at Nakhon
Pathom. This was a facility to cater for 10,000 patients (it
never had more than 8,000 patients). At the end of the War there were
173 amputees at this hospital. Major Fisher was one of a
large number of Medical Officers (Doctors), all of whom seem to have
been specialists, at the hospital.
It is clear that Major Fisher was in this hospital until the end of the
war in August 1945. It is recorded that at the end of the War
Major Fisher was appointed evacuation officer and for seven weeks
worked there until 2,238 patients had been moved, along with many
others from other camps.
It is fortunate that the late Rueben Boxhall (a Sergeant Clerk in the
2/4 Casualty Clearing Station and a member of "A" Force) recorded
something of the qualities of this doctor in a letter he sent
to me in 2003.
FISHER. MAJOR W.E.
by Rueben Boxhall
I guess you have read the book "Behind Bamboo" by Rohan D. Rivett, War
Correspondent P.O.W. on the Burma/Siam Railway. (Angus
& Robertson Ltd - Sydney & London 1946). I
consider this to be the best book I have read covering the areas where
I was located. Pages 199 et seq deals with Thanbyzayat and
Rivett refers to Ted Fisher "The Chief medical personality at
Thanbyzayat was a brilliant but temperamentally difficult Macquarie St
specialist with a biting tongue and a dictatorial manner which earned
him the title of the "Fuehrer".
Ted was unmarried and an only son. He always dressed as
"regimental" as possible with a limited wardrobe albeit a better one
than most of us had. Although he might have given the
impression of being dictatorial to some (including Rivett who was
himself a patient and perhaps expected to be treated differently
because of his "status") he always had the interests of the patients as
his main concern.
We "jockeyed" the figures required by the Japs in an endeavour to get
quinine and other items. Most patients had multiple ailments
- malaria, dysentery, ulcers, a-vitaminosis etc etc. I guess
Ted was a bit of a loner. I recall that some of us would sit
around at night yarning about experiences at home - we had jockeys,
railmen, cab drivers, farmers, clerks etc. Ted once said to
me that he envied our ability to converse on a wide range of subjects
whereas his life had been fully taken up with medicine and occasional
theatre outings etc. We had occasional games of crib together
with a couple of others.
When he returned home he became Federal President of the 8th Division
and Service Associates Assn which worked hard for reparations and other
matters for the welfare of returned P.O.W.'s. He did this
until he died. We corresponded fairly regularly until his
death. I believe he had a good regard for the work I did and
that he regarded me as a friend. He ranks very high in my
estimation as an outstanding member of the 2/4 CCS. The unit
became split up after we became P.O.W.'s and members served in
different camps. Obviously, my opinions regarding outstanding
people have to be limited to those I worked with but, in general, I
think we all adapted to the jobs we were called upon to perform and did
Lt. Col. Albert Coates was probably the "Weary Dunlop" of Burma, (Refer
the book "The Albert Coates Story - The Will that Found the Way" -
Albert Coates & Newman Rosenthal, Hyland House,
Melbourne). Coates born 1895 died 8 Oct
1977. Knighted in 1955. It is
understandable but rather a pity that Weary Dunlop has been the focal
point for recognition of medical services to P.O.W.'s. As a
result the work of Alan Hobbs, Sid Krantz, other surgeons and
physicians and medical orderlies is mainly remembered by those who
benefitted from their services and escaped recognition by the media.
Walter Edward (Ted) Fisher passed away 5 November 1965 aged
The following obituaries (reproduced with permission, from the Medical
Journal of Australia) are from the people who knew him best as a
Medical Officer, doing what he could for his fellow POWs.
OBITUARY From Dr. C.E.
"No man knoweth this man."
In the shadowed last hours of Friday, November 5, 1965, in the hospital
which he loved beyond measure. Walter (Ted) Fisher passed to
the Great Unknown. I have found it difficult to encompass his
brilliant career, because he was shy, reticent, retiring, and kept so
much to himself his joys and sorrows.
He was born on December 19, 1901; he was an only child, his father was
a citizen of the U.S.A. and his mother was a New Zealander.
Ted was born in Sydney…….
….Then came the Second World War, and he spent from 1940 to
1946 with the ill-fated 8th Division. Of the part he played,
both in combat and later as a prisoner of war on the Burma-Thailand
railway, there are others more fitted to pen the saga. On his
return from service he was awarded the Carnegie Overseas Travelling
Fellowship (1946), and spent a very busy time in the U.S.A., further
equipping himself with newer trends in medicine.
On his return, his first loves were his public hospital work and his
presidency of the 8th Division Council, which he held from its
inception until his death; his private practice was largely sacrificed
because of his public-spirited zeal in these two time-consuming
activities. This is evident when one recalls that he was
Honorary Physician and Clinical Lecturer at Sydney Hospital, Honorary
Physician at Eastern Suburbs Hospital, Honorary Consulting Physician at
Manly Hospital and Visiting Physician to the Repatriation General
Hospital, Concord, and at Grace Building. From 1955 to 1958
he was chairman of the honorary medical staff of Sydney Hospital and a
member of its Board of Directors.
One wonders how he found adequate time for leisure with all these
activities; in this he made his mother, who survives him, his real and
only love. They were both avid readers and had similar tastes
in music and the arts……..
…..In conclusion, may I be permitted to quote a short
section of a eulogy of his character written by a fellow member of the
8th Division Council:
"To the casual observer he was an aloof man who always gave of his best
and demanded the best from everyone with whom he came in contact; he
could not tolerate sham or hypocrisy.
To those who knew him better he was a staunch friend and a delightful
companion, with a keen sense of humour and it was a revelation to know
Although deeply religious, he was tolerant towards human frailties and
would overlook many faults. He spared neither working time,
leisure time, nor money in his single-minded endeavour to see that all
ex-servicemen were justly treated, and it can fairly be said that this
interest, absorbing so much of his time, caused damage to his health,
and finally contributed to his death.
SIR ALBERT COATES writes: "Sick and in prison he visited
me." For two years, constant companions, we slept and ate
alongside each other in the same hut. His conversation, when
he was inclined to talk, was of a lofty order, always of interest, with
penetrating observation and shrewd assessment. I admired and
trusted him. At Nakompaton P.O.W. Camp, I called on him to
run a committee, together with a British officer, Captain
Vardy, and the Dutch Lieutenant-Colonel Larsen, to advise on the
distribution of the few precious drugs supplied to us. This
onerous task was to decide who, among the thousands of sick (8,000 at
the camp) were to receive the life-saving medicines - since only 30%
could do so.
I was his patient at one period "in durance vile". Beneath a
stern exterior, a heart of gold and a brilliant mind resided.
My appreciation of Ted increased with the years. At times, he
and his mother stayed at my home in Melbourne.
Servicemen, especially the ex-P.O.W., have lost a great friend, a rock
on whom many could lean. At our last meeting, when his
physical deterioration was obvious, he made no complaint.
Self-pity was alien to Ted. To have been his friend was a
privilege. My wife and I join with his mother and his Sydney
colleagues in mourning his departure……..
DR. ALAN F. HOBBS writes: I was closely associated with Ted
Fisher from the time when the 2/4 Casualty Clearing Station arrived in
Melbourne from Tasmania in January, 1941. Our association, he
as a physician and I as a surgeon, with this unit, continued during the
training period before the war with Japan commenced, then during the
brief period of action and the subsequent three and a half years of
Ted was endowed with a strict and dignified personality; his
outstanding intellectual talent was of the greatest value in the type
of work which was forced upon him. Although he detested the
conditions under which we were forced to work, and his depression at
times was extreme, he looked after the sick as well as was possible,
with the greatest devotion both to his patients and to the nurses and
orderlies who worked with him. Although his strictness led to
some antipathy towards him, he always had the welfare of his orderlies
and patients at heart, and this endeared him especially to the
former. He did a great deal to help them in their often
thankless and unsuccessful efforts. Although patients at
times thought he was unduly strict, he was always fair, and woe betide
the malingerer who tried to "put if over" him!
Ted did not make close friends readily, but from my own experience I
can say that, once made, the friendship was characterized by the
deepest loyalty, and the rather aloof, dignified personality could,
under the appropriate circumstances, become one possessed of the
His work during the period of captivity, under hopeless and shocking
conditions, was of the highest standard and deserving of the highest
recognition. In addition to his medical work, he had a gift
for administration, in which he played an important part. His
dignified and even overbearing attitude to Japanese doctors, who were
vastly inferior to him in all respects, is indeed something to remember.
DR. THOMAS HAMILTON writes: Walter Edward Fisher, a talented
physician, a good soldier and a fine citizen, died on November 5,
1965. I first met him at Brighton Camp, Tasmania, in December
1940, when he was assigned as a specialist physician with the rank of
Major to my A.I.F. unit, the 2/4 Casualty Clearing
Station. When I saw him rise at dawn, attend the
early morning roll call and generally join with the N.C.O.'s and men in
the serious business of training for war, I began to like
him. We shared Cabin 25 in the Queen Mary and, later, the
same huts in many camps in Malaya, during which period his sardonic
comments on army life were an endless source of delight. He
hated inefficiency, and he was not slow to criticize the poseur or
fool, irrespective of rank.
At Kuala Lumpur in 1941, he made friends with Dr. John Field and his
congenial associates in the Institute of Medical Research.
From them he gained an insight into tropical medicine which proved of
great benefit during our subsequent tribulations in the Japanese prison
camps along the Burma-Thailand railroad. There he propounded
a scheme of morale-building lectures to the sick and starving men in
his overcrowded hospital wards, not so much on their piteous plight,
but on what the future held for them when they returned to civil
life. He talked many of them into the will to
survive. He followed this up on his return to Sydney, apart
from a short refresher course in the U.S.A., by forming the 8th
Division Council, of which he became president. He then
embarked on a campaign to gain for the survivors of the prisoners of
war camps the 3s a day mess allowance of which they had been deprived
by an obscure army regulation. He pursued this as a matter of
principle, and his perseverance and sincerity won him friends in the
Federal Government, even unto the Prime Minister. Some three
years later, we all received a small but welcome cheque, representing
not only the mess allowance, but our individual share of a part payment
by the Japanese for the notorious railroad. For this
successful tilt at a windmill Fisher will be remembered. His
private practice and his health suffered grievously during his
time-consuming work for the 8th Division, but he was happy in the
knowledge that, of all the Australian wartime divisions, it had about
the best rehabilitation rate in human material. He knew this
intimately, for, through the Repatriation Department, he inaugurated a
five-year survey of the health of surviving ex-prisoners of
war. They have lost a friend whose dedicated work for his
fellow-men went far beyond the usual calls of duty.
Article prepared by Lt
Col Peter Winstanley OAM RFD JP by referring to
a wide range of publications.
The assistance of the late Rueben Boxhall (Clerk in the 2/4 Casualty
Clearing Station) is