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Jan McLeod – “‘Dead, mangled bodies, blood, guts and mud*’: The Medical War in Papua 1942”

July 18, 2019 @ 4:30 am - 6:30 am

(*quoted from the diary of Private L.N. Kennedy of 2/4th Australian Field Ambulance)

Among the many military histories written about World War II, the experiences of the men of the Australian Army’s field ambulance units have seldom been considered. This is certainly the case with the Papuan Campaign of 1942 – 1943: Kokoda – Milne Bay – The Beachhead Battles. At no time during this campaign were the Australian soldiers accompanied by fully equipped, fully supported, full-strength field ambulance units. The ability to render optimum treatment was compromised by many factors including logistics, priorities, leadership and the nature of the campaign itself.

Although geographically close to mainland Australia, these unarmed medical men and the casualties in their care were effectively isolated in Papua, yet the challenges they faced were not insurmountable and did not occur in isolation. This presentation considers key themes, issues and events which impacted on the field ambulance units. Controversial issues such as euthanasia, self-inflicted wounds, ‘malingering’, casualty evacuation (or lack thereof), not to mention the wear-and-tear on the medical teams themselves will be discussed. The Japanese bombing of the 2/4th Field Ambulance Main Dressing Station at Soputa in November 1942 will also be covered.

The presentation draws on Dr McLeod’s new book “Shadows on the Track: Australia’s Medical War in Papua 1942-1943” covering Kokoda, Milne Bay and the Beachhead Battles.
Copies of the book will be available for sale.

Date: 17 July 2019
Time: Doors open 6:30 PM. Speaker 7:00 PM-8:00 PM. Refreshments to 8.30 PM.
Where: Pompey Elliott Memorial Hall, 403 Camberwell Road, Camberwell 3124
MHHV Members $5, General Public $10.

About the presenter
Dr Jan McLeod
Jan is a historian, course coordinator, tutor and researcher at the University of Newcastle. Jan’s first book, Shadows on the track: Australia’s medical war in Papua 1942 – 1943 was published earlier this year by Big Sky Publishing in conjunction with the Australian Army History Unit. She has also published journal articles and reviews – and presented her research at various conferences. Her Honours thesis contrasted popular representations of medical aspects of the Papuan Campaign with experiences recorded in the personal diary kept one of two great-uncles who served in the 2/4th Australian Field Ambulance during World War Two. Jan’s PhD thesis ‘Within Reach, Beyond Care’ expanded on this research by critically examining broader aspects of the medical care of Australian soldiers during the Papuan Campaign, with a focus on the field ambulance units.
Jan has a Diploma in Secondary Education (History and English), a Bachelor of Arts (Honours), and a PhD in History. Her lifelong interest in history, health and education is reflected in her varied working life – as a student nurse, adult education tutor, secondary school teacher of History and English, road safety education trainer and area co-ordinator, and research assistant on various university projects.


July 18, 2019
4:30 am - 6:30 am


Pompey Elliott Memorial Hall
Camberwell RSL, 403 Camberwell Road
Camberwell, Victoria 3124 Australia
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