Kiernan Dorney

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CBE, DSO, AM, MID, MBBS, BSc, MS, FRACS, FAMA
General surgeon
9 January 1912-30 August 2007

Kiernan "Skipper" Dorney passed away on 30 August 2007 and was buried on 3 September 2007 after a Requiem Mass at St Joseph's Catholic Church, Corinda, Brisbane. His wife Joan is deceased but he is survived by his six children, their children and grandchildren.

Born on the 9 January 1912 he attended St Kevin's CBC, Melbourne, for his secondary education. He passed the Leaving Certificate with several honours in his examinations. Initially starting a degree in engineering at Melbourne University, he later transferred to medicine completing the MB BS in 1937. While attending university he won a Blue for Australian Rules and as the Intervarsity Diving Champion a Half Blue in swimming.

The young Dr Dorney did his residency at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne.

World War II was now to play a big part in "Skipper's" life. He enlisted on 4 December 1939. His enlistment number, VX327, shows that he wasted no time in indicating his sense of duty to King and Country.

Captain Dorney was posted to 2/2 Field Ambulance. This unit was involved in the first Liberian campaign and then campaigns in Greece and Crete. In Crete he remained behind with the wounded Australian troops and was captured by the Germans when they invaded. After he was satisfied that the 600 or so POWs had enough medical care he and Major Arnold Gourovitch (British doctor) escaped. They lived with the local Cretans until able to leave the island on a fishing boat that was crewed by the Royal Navy. He was ferried back to Egypt. This ordeal took its toll and he became ill requiring hospitalisation for the treatment of skin problems and malnutrition. ("Skip" gave me a letter of introduction to Arnold when I went to the UK to study. I sat the final fellowship for the FRCS in 1973 and Dr Gourevitch, who was now an eminent hepato-biliary surgeon in Birmingham, was one of my examiners.)

He was transferred to the 9th Australian Division in Syria and was involved in the Battle of El Alamein assigned to the 2/2 Machine Gun Battalion. The Division was deployed to PNG because of the escalation of the Japanese invasion and its threat to Australia. En route to the next theatre of the war, "Skip" had 10 days in Melbourne were he married Joan and received a promotion to the rank of Major. He went north with the 9th and saw action in Lae, Finchhafen and Pabu.

This soldier had committed great acts of bravery in Crete and in the Middle East. It is recorded that on one sortie with his Sergeant in Africa he came across a contingent of Italians who were sick of the Middle Eastern campaign. They surrendered to the irascible Captain armed only with a pistol. He was actually lost but the Italians knew where to go and showed him the way back to his Headquarters to become POWs of the Australians.

His greatest act of bravery was about to unfold in PNG.

"Skipper" was about to perform "gallant and outstanding service" for which he was awarded the high honour of a DSO. The citation reads: "Despite the most trying conditions including shortage of medical supplies and water, Maj Dorney, although his post was under direct shelling from an enemy gun firing at point blank range, fearlessly and with entire disregard for his own personal safety, and whilst all other personnel had sought cover, continued to treat the wounded, without any doubt saving many lives. Major Dorney by the magnificent example he set his men was largely responsible for the outstanding work done by his section. Lt-Col Scott, Comd 2/32 Australian Infantry Battalion made a 12-mile trip to personally bring the outstanding work of Major Dorney to my notice. I definitely state that I have never known a Medical Officer do a more devoted, gallant and tireless job over a campaign 6th January, 1944."

Towards the end of the war in the Pacific, "Skip" was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and commanded 2/3 Field Ambulance in Labuan and Borneo. The DSO was presented to him by the Governor-General in Melbourne on 13November 1946. He was also mentioned in dispatches on three occasions, twice with 2/2 Field Ambulance in the Middle East and once for "exceptional services in the field in New Guinea".

Drney's surgical training had been interrupted by the war. He was "disadvantaged" by war service so the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons allowed him to do his training in one year instead of the normal two years. He worked extremely hard with Mr Charles Osborne and Mr Leo Doyle in

Melbourne during this period and passed the FRACS in 1946. He took the MS in 1947 by examination rather than by research with a thesis. This was not an unusual option at that time.

He became the Medical Superintendent of the Latrobe Hospital in Northern Tasmania from 1947 to 1949. The Director General of Health in Queensland, Dr A. Fryberg, recruited him to fill the position as Medical Superintendent of the Townsville General Hospital. He occupied this post from 1950 to 1952 and only left because he volunteered to serve in Korea as a surgeon with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force. For some six weeks in Korea he served with the Americans in the 43rd MASH.

On his return to Townsville, the position of Medical Superintendent at TGH was occupied by Dr Norman Scott-Young FRACS. There was no staff position available as a surgeon. "Skip" decided to move into private practice and he continued in that role until his retirement in 1982. The Mater Hospital in Townsville was very grateful for Dr Dorney's loyalty and enduring support during these long years. He did a short stint as Medical Superintendent back at TGH in 1971 when Dr Scott-Young retired. I worked as his registrar during this period.

Never far from any military role Lt-Col Dorney was requested to raise 9th Field Ambulance as a CMF unit in1952 by Major-General Norris. Dorney became Commanding Officer of the unit that had been off the order of battle since WW 11 when it served as the 2/9th Field Ambulance and was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. I was privileged to serve as the CO from 1984 to 1986 and I realised the great debt we owed our original CO for re-establishing the 9th.

More military honours were to come as Lt Col Dorney DSO was invited to be the Commanding Officer of the 31st Battalion, Kennedy Regiment, in Townsville after his work in 9 Field Ambulance. Granted that he had extensive military experience he accepted the position as he felt he could lend "a different perspective" to the task. This is indeed an unusual honour for a medical officer to be placed in command of an infantry battalion.

Dr Dorney went to Vietnam as part of a civilian team, lead by Dr Ian Chenoweth of Mackay, in 1971. He was in Bien-hoa for three months as the team surgeon. Always, as was so typical of him, ready to serve anywhere there was a need.

Service to the people of Townsville and the surrounding areas was the subject of legend in those days of Dr Dorney. He also served the medical profession in different ways. He was a member of the BMA, later the AMA, and served as the Chairman of the North Queensland Conference Committee of the AMA from 1960-1982. In 1971 he was awarded the FAMA for his outstanding service. The Mater Hospital Medical Advisory Committee was grateful for his contribution over many years. He became involved in the teaching of nurses when he was at TGH and this was carried into the private sector to train nurses at the Mater. He was justly proud of the excellent results his students received in the State nursing examinations. Instrumental in setting up a local Red Cross Blood Bank in Townsville he was at one stage the Vice-President of the local Red Cross Branch.

He set up the North Queensland Branch of what was later was to be known as the Endeavour Foundation for intellectually handicapped children. He served from 1959-82 remarking at the end of his time that "now they are accepted as part of the community". He later became Vice-President of this organization for the whole of Queensland.

He was Chairman of the Women's Catholic Residential College of St Raphael's at James Cook University from 1974-82. From 1971-82 he was a member of James Cook University Council. "Skip" was a member of the Catholic Advisory Committee for Education and an advisor to the Marriage Guidance Counselling Service in Townsville. He was actively involved in the RSL and Legacy in Townsville.

Dr Dorney was a Patron of the University Rugby League Club for which his sons Kiernan, Sean and Stuart played while students at James Cook. For many years he offered his expertise to act as a diving judge at the North Queensland Swimming Championships.

When "Skipper" retired he and Joan moved to Buderim. I was privileged to see him there at one time to take an oral history for an article that I was preparing about his war experiences. He joined the Sunshine Coast Committee of the Ageing and served on the Management Committee and several sub-committees looking after respite care and meals on wheels. The local organization honoured him by naming one of their buildings "Dorney House". "In recognition of service to the welfare of the aged and disabled" he was awarded an AM in 1992.

On the29th of May 2005, the Greek Government, in a special ceremony at the Greek Community Centre in Brisbane, awarded "Skip" the Tribute Medal for the Battle of Crete. He accepted this recognition on his own behalf and on behalf of the many Australians who were killed in this campaign. He recounted that his best friend was killed in Crete when they were proceeding along a road when attacked by German bombers.

Dr Dorney had strong political beliefs and became an ardent supporter of the DLP. He aligned with core party political views but also had strong views for a social agenda that promised to respect the lives of those worse off than he was. He stood in the Federal Electorate of Herbert and despite a strong personal vote he was not elected. One might feel that this was a good thing as his greater contribution was to be in medicine generally and surgery in particular and not in the field of politics.

A great man is dead. Even though he was small in stature he stood above most of his peers. He was a good man who put his family and his patients ahead of his own needs. A devoted Christian he lead an exemplary life. He was a soldier/surgeon in the very best tradition. The College of Surgeons has lost a famous fellow and our nation has lost one of her famous sons. It is impossible to imagine that his service can ever be equalled.

May he rest in peace.

Professor E.J.Maguire AM, RFD, FRACS

(I am indebted to Kiernan Dorney, "Skipper's" eldest son, for the information in this obituary.)

 

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