D is for Dicky Doyle

I am again focusing on the famous, the forgotten and the misbegotten for Round 25 of the popular ABC Wednesday meme. But finding suitable characters is getting harder, so apologies in advance if there are repeats of previous posts.

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 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 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.

5 comments… Add yours
  • Roger O Green 2nd August 2019

    EEK! How heroic in a gruesome setting!

  • ABC Wednesday 2nd August 2019

    A gifted person … to bad he had to live in one of the most horrific times of all

    Have a heartwarming en splendid ABC-Wednes-day / -week
    M e l o d y (team ABC-W)

  • Jackie McGuinness 2nd August 2019

    Caught my eye as I had a grand-aunt who married a Doyle.

    I’ve been to the Changi prison in Singapore.

  • Yorkshire Pudding 4th August 2019

    As Dr Doyle was an inter-varsity boxing champion, I wonder why he didn’t simply just biff those damned Japs and get everybody out of Changi.

  • Trevor Rowley 6th August 2019

    Some years ago, I worked in a local factory. On my shift, one of the two foremen had seen active service in World War Two, although I never knew in what capacity. He was a pleasant enough chap and competent at his job but there were often times when he had “black” days. On these days he could be seen in his office (through the glass sides) either with his head in his hands or down on his desktop. Us younger chaps were warned not to go near him on these occasions. The explanation given was that he had been a prisoner of the Japanese and had been incarcerated in Changi jail. Seemingly, he had developed some sort of condition or wound in, or on, his head which required urgent medical attention. Without the correct tools for the job he was operated on with a USED razor blade. Clearly, he survived the experience and eventually returned to “Civvy Street.”

    Occasionally, those who knew his story would whistle or hum the tune “Once I built a Railroad” (always out of his earshot) and clearly with reference to the infamous Burma Railway which was built by enslaved Allied prisoners of war.

    I always found him to be a kindly and fatherly man for whom I always had the utmost respect.

    PS I wonder if Mr Doyle was the medic on duty on the day of his operation.


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