Case 6: On Active Serice

The University of Melbourne Archives holds the papers of two medical men who served in both World Wars, Clive Disher and A.P. Derham.

(Harold) Clive Disher was born on 15 October 1891, in Rosedale, Victoria. Having spent his early childhood in Gippsland, often visiting the family property, Strathfieldsaye (which he later inherited), he then moved to Melbourne to board at Scotch College. After matriculating in 1912, he enrolled in medicine at the University of Melbourne and resided at Ormond College. His keen interest in rowing, gained during his school years, continued as he became a leading oarsman for both the College and University.

Disher obtained an M.B. B.S. after the outbreak of the First World War. Soon after his graduation in 1916 he enlisted in the A.I.F. Between the years 1917 and 1919 he served in France as a medical officer. Between the wars Disher continued his association with the army. Joining the Reserve, he was elevated to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

In World War II he once again enlisted and was appointed the Assistant Director (and later, Director) of Medical Services for the First Australian Army. This position took him to the Middle East, Greece, Crete and New Guinea.

After the second World War Disher retired from medicine and managed Strathfieldsaye, which he bequeathed to the University of Melbourne when he died, aged 84, in 1976.

  • Disher's identity card.
  • Framed photograph of Disher in World War II uniform.
  • Clive Disher spent Christmas Day 1939 at sea bound for the Middle East and finding things a bit clammy as they approached Colombo.
  • A light-hearted letter to Disher from 'your fat Aunt Ethel' in East St Kilda in which she writes, 'Well I am always thinking of you so far away and dining with the Sheiks and puffing at the pipes..'; she mentions her sadness at seeing another three boatloads of soldiers depart; things have gone wrong, and 'then the War just about puts the Kibosh on'.
  • Disher's Soldier's Pay Books, one showing the cover, the other pages inside, when he had landed in Jerusalem in 1940.
  • Secret and Confidential letter to Colonel Disher (A.D.M.S.) in Gaza from Major-General S. Roy Burston. 15 June, 1941.
  • Photograph of Disher (left) with a fellow officer in the Middle East.
  • Book entitled Keeping Fit in the Tropics.
  • Letter, Disher - General Rupert Downes, 23 October 1942, while on jungle warfare training in North Queensland; discusses training theories and criticizes a proposed reorganisation of Field Ambulances.
  • Disher's miniature dress war medals.
  • Letter to Disher from General Blamey, Commander-in-Chief, Australian Military Forces, commending him for his service to the army. Dated 17 May, 1945.
  • Disher's Certificate of Release from War Service. 22 June, 1945.

One who served in New Guinea and returned there to a distinguished civilian career was John Minogue. He had been active in the Melbourne University Rifles while a law student in the 1930s; he was called to the Bar in 1939, but entered the Army in 1940.

He worked with Intelligence in New Guinea, in 1942 with a lone companion making an epic crossing of the Kokoda Trail.

From 1944 to 1946 he was with the Australian Military Mission to Washington. He returned to New Guinea in 1962 as a Supreme Court Judge, Chief Justice 1970-74, and Pro-Chancellor of the University.

  • Items shown include his officer's map case; two styles of epaulette; miniature dress set of medals; Field Service Post Card addressed to his wife; his passport and itinerary/ticket wallet for the trip to Washington, and his Demobilization Procedure Book, 22 May 1946.

With outbreak of World War II Alfred Plumley Derham left practice as a leading paediatrician in Melbourne to enlist as a Colonel in the Australian Army Medical Corps, and Assistant Director Medical Service 8th Australian Division A.I.F. With the fall of Singapore he was taken prisoner in Malaya by the Japanese. In prison camp he served as medical practitioner to fellow prisoners (his son, Driver T.P. (Tom) Derham, was a prisoner with him and acted as his batman).

  • His personal diary 'Commenced 15 September 1939' records that when he went to Victoria Barracks, St. Kilda Road, Melbourne to see about enlistment General Rupert Downes (also a University of Melbourne Medical Graduate) said to him 'We have decided to keep you in Australia for the present at least - we are treating this war as if it were a Sunday school treat and giving the easy jobs as far as possible to men who did not have so much of the treat in the last war' (as, it was assessed, Alfred had).
  • Shorts made by Alfred while prisoner of war on Formosa (Taiwan). The note by his wife Frances ('Frankie') states 'He had never sewed previously'.
  • Confidential Medical Record cards. Paper being in short supply in prison camp, Alfred used the inside of Japanese cigarette packets to record medical histories of inmates - often harsh: note the record of weight loss. The outside of the covers showed Mount Fujiyama, flight of great white herons, and other scenes.
  • Photograph of group packing books and games for Prisoners-of-War in Japan, 1944. Mrs. A.P. Derham, is seated at the table.
  • Frances Derham's diaries (that for 1945 shown): her diary entry for 9 February 1942 notes 'cable from Alfred - 'Tom Self well Love Derham''; for 15 February it reads 'During meeting c.9 p.m. I was rung with news of surrender', and on 16th 'Surrender of Singapore I received is announced in paper'. Her work with the A.I.F. Women's Association now became focused variously on the North Pacific P.O.W. Committee (Vice President), and the Auxiliary for P.O.W. Japan (Vice Chairman) as her husband and son's further places of confinement became known (eventually, it seems they were held at Hoten, in Manchukuo [Manchuria].) Frankie Derham's diary for August 1945 records the usual busy round of POW, AMC Welfare, Executive A.I.F. W.A.-V meetings as well as K.T.C. (Kindergarten Training College) and other teaching commitments. There is no note about the Japanese surrender, but on 20 August 'News in Herald 44 Amb. P.O.W. located in Hoten', and not until 14 September 'Cable from Alfred in Calcutta'. Finally, on 25 September 'Rang Gen. Burston 11.30 and was told A.P. & Tom would arrive 7.25 - staff car would take us home..'
  • Newscutting from The Argus, 24 September, 1945 concerning the repatriation of father and son.

University staff members to enlist included the Professor of Dental Science since 1934, Arthur Amies, who joined the 2nd A.I.F in June 1940, having been a member of the Army Medical Corps Reserve since 1935. He served as a major in the dental services with the 4th Australian General Hospital at Tobruk and the 2nd A.G.H. in Egypt. Returning to University duties in 1942 until his retirement in 1967, he also became Patron of the Victorian branch of the Rats of Tobruk Association.

  • Prospectus for 'Beach Hydro' proprietors B.J. Doran and Arthur Amies, a satirical description of the hospital at Tobruk ('opposite Côte d'Azur').
  • Perspective sketch of 2nd Australian General Hospital, A.I.F. El Quantara 1941 (centre), with snapshots (clockwise from top left); Amies with mobile dental unit; 6,256 1/4 miles to Griffiths Bros. Tea; Abbots' Lager hoarding - 'bloody hard to get'; 'Is this any better sartorially?'; Dental Centre and Eye Clinic - ' My dental caravan is between the two'; 'Me and the Barber from "Pentridge" but he's a good barber!'; 'some of my jaw cases'; 'Amies Bey (very sore) on Camel'.
  • Melbourne University Rifles Commanding Officer's cap, Lt.-Col. Francis Norman Balfe.

Balfe (born 1900) studied science subjects at the university, 1920-22, when he joined M.U.R. Again in 1937-38 he was back studying Commerce subjects. By then, he had risen from Lieutenant to Major (1934), and in April 1938 to Lt.-Col., when he took command of the regiment, succeeding Lt.-Col. W.S. J.P. Heslop. He is mentioned in the Committee of Melbourne University Women's minute book in August 1940 as being C.O. of an Officer Training School at the University, whose trainees were entertained by the women at a dance at the Conservatorium.

Balfe transferred out of M.U.R., and joined the A.I.F. in 1942, serving in New Guinea in 1943. The badge on the cap was a style introduced in 1930, used until replaced by a slightly modified version in 1948

Andrew J Ray Collection (with loose badges from Minogue Collection)

A company of Volunteer Rifles was formed at the University in 1884, of whom two Privates (John Monash and John William Purnell) later became Generals. This was disbanded and succeeded in the 1890s by the University Corps of Officers, and in turn it gave way to the Melbourne University Rifles, two of whose companies were based around leading Melbourne and Geelong schools.

Though the unit itself has no battle honours, it has made its contribution to the Australian Army, providing 23 officers and 771 other ranks to the 1st AIF (of whom a further 180 gained commissions on active service). During World War Two, 1162 officers and many other ranks from M.U.R. joined the AIF. After that war, the unit was reformed as Melbourne University Regiment.

Letters from here and there

The letters and diaries of William ('Scotty') Scott Heywood (whose final letter-diary entries prior to his death in a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan are shown in another case) reveal a fairly typical soldier's odyssey. Born in 1911 in Daylesford, he joined the Australian Instructional Corps in 1938, was seconded to the A.I.F. in 1940 and sailed for Malaya in July 1941, leaving a wife and two young 'bairns'.

Heywood's frequent letters - nearly all of them love letters to his wife - came from camps and other army establishments as diverse as Seymour, Caulfield Hospital, Ballarat, Ocean Grove, Bathurst (one shown here), Stawell; somewhere in South Australia as his train headed for the Nullarbor Plain, Broadmeadows, Bonegilla, the Small Arms School at Randwick, and from his point of embarkation (one shown here with a lock of his 'curls' from their final haircut), 'at sea' (one shown here), and from Malaya prior to its fall (one shown here). The cartoon shown was popular with Heywood and other Warrant Officers (W.O.s).

Scott Heywood Collection

The Melbourne Teachers' College (later incorporated into the University) set up a War Effort Committee in May 1940; its activities included a War Effort Fund, registered under Victorian Patriotic Fund legislation, to provide comforts for ex-students on war service, and a large file of correspondence and cards built up as a result. It established a register of war service, in which was also entered the date and summary of contents of items of correspondence received.

  • Letter from Flight-Sgt. Geoffrey Raymond Emmett on the beauty of New Guinea, 16 June 1943.
  • Register of War Service, open at Emmett's record; it includes newscuttings about Emmett's tragic death a month after he wrote the letter, when his Beaufort was accidentally shot down by a U.S. plane, and details the circumstances which hampered rescue attempts, even though the life raft was sighted at different times as late as 6 August 400 miles away, before a severe storm is thought to have sunk it.
  • Letter from Air-Vice-Marshall Frank McNamara, who had won a Victoria Cross as an airman in 1917, describing his present 'parish', which covers Ethiopia, British Somaliland, Socotra and much more, plus a vast area of sea to patrol, 25 December, 1944.
  • Card from Lieut. A.G. Austin, later a Professor of Education at the University, Christmas 1942.
  • Letter - Arthur Hayes, RAAF, India, 13 October, 1944, recounting pleasure in reading the College magazine The Griffin; trip from England to India via 'a lonely desert station in Iraq...met Jack Devine. We 'nattered' like two of the local 'wogs'...'

Melbourne Teachers' College Collection

Ormond College also kept a war service record on cards, arranged in the following groups: Dead; P.O.W. or missing (including E.E. Dunlop); Army; Navy; Navy Chaplains; Army Chaplains; A.A.M.C.; R.A.A.F.; R.A.A.F. Medical; Released; British Forces; and Home Service.

The Vice-Master, H.W. ('Barney') Allen acted as conduit for correspondence with former students and a clearing-house of college news.

  • Card index, Ormond College service record 1939-.
  • Postcard of Alexandria, Egypt from Col. Clive Disher, 24 March, 1941.
  • Letter, Capt. E.E. Dunlop, Jerusalem - Allen, 2 February 1940, recounting a discussion with Col. Clive Disher; Dunlop had arrived at Port Said from England ten days earlier.
  • Lletter, H.J. Tippett (a principal of Ballarat engineering firm Ronaldson & Tippett, shown in another case in the exhibition) - D.K. Picken (Master), 2 March 1943, enclosing copy of a letter concerning the disappearance of his son Arthur on a costal air operation with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
  • Letter, David Derham, New Guinea - Allen, 16 August, 1943; recounting meetings with other Ormond people; recently had his first beer for 5 months (David P. Derham was another son of A.P. and Frances Derham, and would later be Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, 1968-1982).
  • Letter, Lex Rentoul, London - Allen, 29 March, 1941, describing life in bomb-ridden London.

As well as letters to and from family, the Archives has several other sources of letters from enlisted personnel in diverse locations.

For instance, the remaining staff in the University Registrar's Office in June 1941 established a contributory scheme to enable them to purchase canteen orders or vouchers to send to colleagues in the field. Office staff took turns to write a periodical letter with news and anecdotes, and those in the field sent letters of reply and cards, often printed for their particular units. The first such letter, 27 June 1941, went from Registrar John Foster to only four names, but in time there were a dozen or more on the list.

Of staff shown in the photograph (from c.1937), communications are on file from seven men, and there are others from personnel who joined the staff after this photograph was taken. The cards shown are from the Middle East, HMAS 'Bingera', Malaya, HMAS 'Shepparton', Darwin, HMAS 'Manoora', R.A.A.F. locations unnamed, Naval Beach Commando unit somewhere in the Pacific, and, closer to home, Flinders Naval Depot.

They include a card from Bill Berry (from Accounts, 2nd from left in back row of photograph), at that time a L/Cpl with the HQ 23 Australian Infantry Brigade based at Larrakeyah, Northern Territory. Rejected by the R.A.N. in 1940 because of colour blindness, he enlisted in the AIF, becoming Intelligence Sgt and serving also in New Guinea.

After the War he was a long-serving head of the Graduate Union. Bill Berry died in July this year, aged 78.

  • Letter John Foster (Registrar) - Ted Finn et al., 27 June 1941.
  • Selection of cards and letters from office staff in the services.
  • Photograph of administrative, library and other general staff associated with the Registrar's office c.1937.
  • D. Lewis, circular letter, 7 October 1942 with news from the office and the University generally, including air raid drill and a strike by medical students.