Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop (1907 – 1993) doctor and prisoner of war
Much gets written nowadays about Dunlop, in books, magazines and newspapers. It is not uncommon for such reports to mention his Presbyterian upbringing. Yet in virtually all instances it is clear that “Presbyterian” here is a synonym for “thrifty, hard-working, conservative”, rather than for “God-worshipping, prayerful and Bible-loving”. Little is written at all about his faith.
Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop’s death, in July 1993, produced a flood of eulogies, along with a state funeral. A statue of him has been erected in a public park, and his face has appeared on a fifty-cent coin. Yet in another age many Australian families would possess a copy of the diaries. Parents would read aloud from the book to their children, discussing Dunlop’s character and his actions, and trying to draw the appropriate moral lessons.
Would they have held him up as an example of faith? Despite a traditional Christian upbringing – his family were members of the Presbyterian church – he sometimes expressed doubts about the strength of his faith. In the prison camps he worried that he was a poor example of Christianity because of his inability to meet the command of Jesus to love his enemy.
Yet this is typical. Those with the deepest faith often feel themselves quite unworthy of God’s blessings.
In any case, what is faith? It is one of the three traditional spiritual virtues – faith, hope and love. These virtues require a spiritual relationship with God for their fullest expression. American philosophy professor Peter Kreeft, in his book Back to Virtue, described it thus:
It is not mere belief, or mere trust, though it includes both. Belief is an intellectual matter….(I believe the textbooks). Trust is an emotional matter (I trust my psychiatrist)….Faith is more. It flows from the heart….The object of faith is God, not ideas about God. It is essential to know things about God, but it is more essential to know God….Faith is more active than reason. Faith runs ahead of all reason. Reason reports, like a camera. Faith takes a stand, like an army. Faith is saying Yes to God’s marriage proposal. Faith is extremely simple. Saying anything more would probably confuse it. Most of what is written about faith is needlessly complex. The word yes is the simplest word there is.
Weary Dunlop clearly said yes. And yet, once again in our public discourse we have an example of Australian spirituality being concealed.
Much gets written nowadays about Dunlop, in books, magazines and newspapers. It is not uncommon for such reports to mention his Presbyterian upbringing. Yet in virtually all instances it is clear that “Presbyterian” here is a synonym for “thrifty, hard-working, conservative and perhaps a little old-fashioned”, rather than for “God-worshipping, prayerful and Bible-loving”. Little is written at all about his faith.
In her major biography of Dunlop, published in 1994 (and largely read and approved by him before his death), Sue Ebury noted that in the prison camps he would rip pages from his Bible in order to make cigarettes. In post-modern fashion, he memorised any verses that seemed useful, before incinerating the pages around his tobacco ration. He retained to the end only those pages that seemed especially relevant.
Last to go were the pages in which Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount. Ebury said that Dunlop decided: “This was the only part worth anything,”
And according to Ebury, it was in the dreadful prison camps that he felt closer to God’s kingdom of heaven than at any other time. She quoted him as believing that the kingdom “was at hand, not a promise for the future, not dependent on life or death, but here immediately for those who could shed the awful shell of self and start loving their neighbour as thyself”.
He began to see God reflected in the goodness of all humans and all of nature. He regarded religious faith as coming in many forms.
After the war, Dunlop’s fellow doctors could not understand his driven nature, his passion to help others, his continual trips to Asia to seek rebuilding and reconciliation.
But Ebury says there is no secret about this. “Hintok [Thailand] 1943 is the key, when he read the Sermon on the Mount in the midst of ‘all the misery, the squalor, the grey rain and slush and sick and dying people’ [Dunlop’s words]. He had never felt more useful.”
‘Weary’ Dunlop received many honours and awards throughout his life, including; the Order of the British Empire (1947); Companion of the Order of Australia (1987), Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (1992), Knight Grand Cross (1st Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Royal Crown of Thailand (1993); Honorary Fellow of the Imperial College London; Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh; Honourary Life Member of the Returned and Services League of Australia; and Life Governor of the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. ‘Weary’ Dunlop has also received the honour of having the Canberra suburb of Dunlop named after him in 1993. In 1976 he was named Australian of the Year and in 1988 he was named one of ‘200 Great Australians’. His image is on the 1995 issue Australian fifty cent piece with the words “They Served Their Country in World War II, 1939 – 1945”. The fifty cent piece is part of a set including the one dollar coin and the twenty cent piece. ‘Weary’ Dunlop also has a platoon named after him in the Army Recruit Training Centre, Blamey Barracks, Kapooka. Weary Dunlop Platoon is a holding platoon to recruits that want to leave recruit training.
Influential Australian Christians depicted on Australian notes and coins
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