CBE, DSO, AM, MID, MBBS, BSc, MS, FRACS, FAMA
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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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