D is for Dr Dicky Doyle

This is my contribution to ABC Wednesday and for Round Ten I am focusing on people from the past, some famous, others less so.

Dicky Doyle was a doctor who successfully treated a man who had been partially decapitated at the notorious Changi jail in Singapore during World Wat Two.

Born in Liverpool in 1906, Richard Webster ‘Dicky’ Doyle studied medicine at the city’s university and qualified as a surgeon in 1929. During the war, he volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps and served in the Far East.

He was captured during the fall of Singapore and spent three years in Changi jail where he provided medical care for his fellow prisoners in the most difficult circumstances.

The incident he is remembered for involved three prisoners who had been sentenced to death by public decapitation. After the third stroke of the sword, Doyle was summoned to dispose of the bodies, but to his amazement, he realised that one man was still alive.

He was surreptitiously moved to the makeshift operating theatre and Doyle successfully repaired the neck muscles with wire taken from the camp piano.

Lord Mountbatten singled him out for praise in a personal citation for this and other acts of humanity.

Doyle returned to Liverpool and became the co-founder of the Travelling Surgical Club, a group created to pass on the surgical skills they had learned during the war.

Above is the only photo I was able to find of Doyle which is a shame as he was known for his sartorial elegance.

He was an avid fisherman and also owned a collection of vintage motorcycles, one of which he rode to the Rome Olympics in 1960.

He received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1977 and was awarded a papal knighthood by the Roman Catholic Church.

Doyle died in 1990 aged 84 and you can read his obituary from the BMJ here.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

10 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 8th February 2012

    I HEARD of this guy – very impressive.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Robert Falcon Pudding 8th February 2012

    If you search for Dicky Doyle on Google, the third listing you get is – already – the Shooting Parrots blog! How did you manage that? Have you bribed somebody? I must say that I had never heard of Dicky Doyle until today. Quite a fellow.

  • Cinny 8th February 2012

    I heard many criticism regarding with Dicky Doyle, But never be forget that he is a man of all. A great man.

  • Elizabeth 8th February 2012

    Wow! What an incredible story. Thanks for that, Ian. x

  • Helen Mac 8th February 2012

    Did the man live? Even if not, what a courageous attempt to save him, which could have cost Doyle his life.
    ABC Team

    • Craig Griffies 16th February 2017

      • Finally, and further to the ingenuity of British surgeons in Japanese PoW camps, Dr Jack Douglas describes a memorable meeting of the Liverpool Medical Institution after the war, where a visiting surgeon presented the case of a man who, with two comrades, had been sentenced to death by decapitation in front of the camp for attempting to escape. “After the third sword stroke descended, the PoW doctors rushed forward to dispose of the bodies but, to their astonishment, realised that one was still alive.
      “They moved him surreptitiously to the ‘operating theatre’ where the neck muscles and overlying skin were successfully repaired with wire from the camp piano. The person sitting alongside the speaker was then introduced as the very man and appeared in very good shape (much enthusiastic applause from the audience),” writes Dr Douglas. “At this, a member of the audience stood up to say that the surgeon who had performed the ‘recapitation’ operation was also present – Dickie Doyle, consultant to the Royal Liverpool Hospitals (even wilder applause).”

  • Reader Wil 8th February 2012

    Amazing what this man did! I think you wrote an impressive tribute to Dr Dicky Doyle! What a man! I had never heard of him before today! Thank you for this post.
    Thanks for your visit! To answer your questions: are there any ugly modern buildings in Dordrecht? I am sure there are, but I didn’t see them on our walk. Is it forbidden to build them? Sadly enough the authorities have sometimes strange ideas about what’s beautiful or what’s ugly.Fact is that they never listen to the citizens so nothing is forbidden.Grrr .. swearwords are forbidden or else…
    I wish you a great rest of the week.
    Wil, ABC Wednesday Team.

  • Andy Charnley 2nd November 2012

    Sir Richard Doyle used to stay at our farm B&B salmon fishing. Orange mg midget. Wonderful fishing gear smell out of the back of it, awesome gent, I’ll never forget him, true heroe rip

  • michael g bamber 18th March 2019

    A fantastic senior colleague who contributed to my medical education

  • Ian Chadwick 12th May 2020

    As has been mentioned before, Sir Richard Doyle (Dicky to everyone) was an absolute gentleman. No one was beneath him, acknowledged everyone who spoke to him. I worked for 28 years with St Helens & Knowsley Hospitals, where he also worked. He operated on my father, and was such a caring person that he even visited our house to check how my father was. A sad day for all when he finally retired. One of life’s REAL gentlemen.


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