Title: The Albert Coates Story

Author: Coates, Albert OBE, FRCS and Rosenthal, Newman

Condition: Very Good Plus – Previous owners name on the front end paper.

Edition: 1st Edition

Publication Date: 1997

ISBN: 0908090013

Cover: Hard Cover with Dust Jacket – 185 pages

Comments: The biography of Sir Albert Ernest Coates OBE, FRCS.

Sir Albert Ernest Coates OBE, FRCS was an Australian surgeon and soldier. He served as a medical orderly in World War I serving on Gallipoli, and as a senior surgeon for the Australian Army Medical Corps in World War II in Malaya.

Sir Albert Ernest Coates (1895-1977), surgeon, was born on 28 January 1895 at Ballarat, Victoria, eldest of seven children of Arthur Coates, letter carrier, and his wife Clara Annie, née Eustice, both Victorian born. Although their worldly possessions were few, Arthur and Clara raised their family in an affectionate atmosphere and instilled in them the virtues of honesty, industry and education. They were strong supporters of the Methodist Church. Albert loved reading and had a thirst for knowledge, even as a child. His formal education at Mount Pleasant State School ended when he obtained his Merit certificate, aged 11. He began work as a butcher’s apprentice, but at 14 was indentured to a bookbinder, which afforded opportunities to read widely.

Encouraged by (Sir) Leslie Morshead who had opened a night-school at Ballarat, Coates passed the junior public examination with distinctions in five subjects, including French and German. He had decided to study medicine, but first took a job in the Postmaster-General’s Department to earn some money.

On 17 August 1914 Coates enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and became a medical orderly in the 7th Battalion. He served on Gallipoli and was one of the last to leave the peninsula on the night of 19/20 December 1915. His battalion was transferred to France in March 1916 and fought in the battle of the Somme. His skill as a linguist came to the attention of his superiors and in February 1917 he was attached to the intelligence staff, I Anzac Corps. Sir John Monash and British authorities recognized his ability and, at the end of the war, he was invited to apply for a commission in the British Army. Coates preferred, however, to go home to Australia where he found employment in the office of the Commonwealth censor in Melbourne.

Late in 1919 he returned to the P.M.G. where he continued to work night-shifts, while studying medicine at the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1924; M.D., 1926; M.S., 1927). Coates was one of the top students in his year, gaining second place in anatomy with first-class honours, and the exhibition in pathology in fourth year. At the final examinations he finished fourth in the class, with first-class honours in all subjects. On 26 March 1921 he had married Harriet Josephine Hicks (d.1934) at the Methodist Church, Camberwell; they were to have a son and three daughters.

In 1925 Coates was a resident at (Royal) Melbourne Hospital where he came under the guidance of Hamilton Russell and (Sir) Sidney Sewell. He then worked with Professor Richard Berry in the university’s department of anatomy, first as a Stewart lecturer (1925-26) and next as acting-professor (1927). Back at (Royal) Melbourne Hospital, he was appointed honorary surgeon to out-patients in 1927 and to in-patients in 1935. Following his wife’s death he visited surgical centres in Britain, Europe and North America; shortly after his return he was asked to establish the neurosurgical unit at the R.M.H. On 31 December 1936 at St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Dunedin, New Zealand, he married Catherine Martha Anderson. From 1936 to 1940 he was part-time lecturer in surgical anatomy at the University of Melbourne.

Appointed lieutenant colonel, Australian Army Medical Corps, on 1 January 1941, Coates joined the Australian Imperial Force next day. He was posted to the 2nd/10th Australian General Hospital and stationed at Malacca, Malaya. After the Japanese invaded on 8 December, the 2nd/10th A.G.H. fell back to Singapore; Coates was ordered to join a party which sailed on 13 February 1942 for Java, Netherlands East Indies. The convoy was bombed and the survivors reached Tembilahan, Sumatra, where Coates saved many lives with his surgical skill. He made himself responsible for treating all British casualties, and felt duty-bound to stay with them, though he could have left on several occasions. On 28 February he arrived at Padang which was occupied by the Japanese three weeks later.

In May 1942 Coates’s captors moved him to Burma. At the Kilo-30 and Kilo-55 camps on the Burma-Thailand Railway he cared for hundreds of prisoners of war under deplorable conditions. He subsequently described his medical practice at Kilo-55 to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East: in a bamboo lean-to, with his only instruments a knife, two pairs of artery forceps and a saw (used by the camp butchers and carpenters), his daily work consisted of ‘segregating the sick from the very sick . . . curetting seventy or eighty ulcers during the morning . . . and, in the afternoon, proceeding to amputate nine or ten legs’.

In December 1943 the Japanese sent Coates to Thailand. There, from March 1944, he was chief medical officer of a prisoner-of-war hospital (10,000 beds) at Nakhon Pathom (Nakompaton). Through ‘his initiative, resource and enthusiasm he was responsible for many improvisations which provided artificial limbs, transfusions and surgical appliances’. (Sir) Edward Dunlop was to recall that Coates’s ‘short, upright figure with a ghost of a swagger, a Burma cheroot clamped in his mouth, and his staccato flow of kindly, earthly wisdom became the object of hero-worship and inspiration’. With the cessation of hostilities, Coates returned to Melbourne in October 1945, transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 6 December and was appointed O.B.E. in 1946.