The forgotten legacy of a third-generation Cromwell man and battlefield surgeon is on the path to restoration.
A commemorative ceremony and memorial plaque unveiling was held in Cromwell’s historic precinct on Friday, honouring Douglas Waddell Jolly’s war surgery and humanitarian contributions.
The event, co-ordinated by the Central Otago Heritage Trust, was attended by guests including Jolly’s decedents, mayor Tim Cadogan, Spanish ambassador to New Zealand, Vicente Mas Taladriz, of Wellington and author and historian, Mark Derby, who is currently writing Jolly’s biography.
Derby, who spoke at the ceremony, said the plaque unveiling was an important occasion for permanently honouring a third-generation Cromwell man who made contributions of international significance in the field of military medicine, and later in trauma care.
“[He] did so in a spirit of humanitarian care and selfless good-humour which makes me admire him even more, and want more people to know of his outstanding example.”
Jolly, born in 1904, was studying in London at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He joined a British volunteer medical team and in December 1936 was placed in charge of a mobile medical unit of Spain’s Republican Army.
For the following two years he took part in every major battle of the war, operating as close as possible to the front line. In that time he made significant contributions to trauma surgery, especially for abdominal injuries, and developed a ‘three-points-forward’ triage system. He described these medical innovations in a handbook which became highly influential among Allied medical services in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
Jolly served with the RAMC in the Middle East during World War II, and was awarded a military OBE. After the war he became Chief Medical Officer of Queen Mary’s Orthopaedic Hospital, Roehampton. He has been described as “a pioneer in the field of surgical treatment for trauma and one of the most notable war surgeons of the 20th century”.
Derby read an article from the Cromwell Argus published almost 80 years ago from an Auckland nurse, Isobel Dodds, who was one of a group of New Zealand nurses serving with Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War.
“We met a New Zealand doctor the other day. Dr Jolly. He is quite a ‘big noise’ out here, and what is- more important, a thoroughly good surgeon. He specialises in abdominal surgery and has had unbelievable success repeatedly,” Dodds wrote.
“So – in his early 30s, not quite fully qualified as a surgeon, but already had a distinguished reputation as an outstanding surgeon and pioneer of new methods of emergency treatment,” Derby said.
Jolly returned to Cromwell after he and all other foreign volunteers to the Republican side in the civil war were ordered to leave Spain in late 1938.
He left after World War II broke out.
“His knowledge of new military tactics and equipment, such as the aerial bombing of heavily populated urban areas, and the types of injuries inflicted and how to treat them, was suddenly of great importance. He didn’t hesitate to re-engage in another war.”
He continued to make major medical advances and to greatly impress those who knew him, Derby said. In a letter from superior, Brigadier Howard, in 1945, he wrote: Jolly “developed the two-stage concept of wound treatment to a truly astonishing level of success; Perfected the use of penicillin and established its role in the treatment of war wounds; Reduced mortality and morbidity for most types of war wounds to a level rarely equalled and never surpassed in any campaign in history.
“It will of course be for the historian to assess the worth of your contributions in relation to advances in all theatres of war but I am confident . . . that the record of your fine work will find a prominent and permanent place in the archives of war surgery”.
“That last bit is interesting, because Jolly’s legacy was to some extent forgotten in later life. It’s very satisfying to see it now being honoured after his death,” Derby said.
“This event marks the end of one stage of restoring Jolly’s place, and the start of a new one.”
The second stage will be the biography, he is writing with assistance from New Zealand-born surgeon, Dr David Lowe who is an intensive care specialist at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia.
Jolly’s niece Barbara Jolly, of Auckland, said her uncle was a very “impressionable and technicolour” man. He had influenced her path having trained as a nurse, then working in operating theatres for 53 years.
“He was a very colourful character who I loved dearly. I’m very happy this amount of attention – albeit somewhat delayed – has not being bestowed upon him.”
Mayor Tim Cadogan said it “beggared belief” Jolly’s contributions had been forgotten. The Jolly name was “synonymous” with Cromwell, he said.
Jolly was the grandson of a working-class Scots family which migrated to New Zealand in 1874 and settled in the small goldmining settlement of Cromwell in Central Otago. The Jolly family had no tradition of medical practice but a strong ethic of public service in both peace and wartime. Jolly’s father William David Jolly ran the town’s general store, and twice served as Cromwell’s mayor before enlisting for World War I. Holding the rank of Captain, he was killed at Armentières in 1916, leaving his wife Elizabeth to care for six children aged from five to 14. All eventually gained university qualifications.
The memorial plaque has been erected on the wall of the Cromwell Grain & Seed Store once owned by this father.