A Good Man


I note from posts on the Facebook that one of the great heroes of the Falklands War, Surgeon Commander Rick Jolly has passed away. 

Rick Jolly arrived in the Falklands in May 1982 where he was Officer Commanding Medical Squadron of the Commando Logistic Regiment Royal Marines. As such he was Senior Medical Officer of 3 Commando Brigade RM and commanded the field hospital at Ajax Bay. Jolly wore the green beret, having passed the Royal Marine Commando course and while offered a weapon, chose not to carry one on the basis he was there to save lives. At the hastily set up ‘MASH” style field hospital, in a disused slaughterhouse in Ajax Bay, he did just that. 


The hospital was situated next to an ammunition dump, as those were the only roofed buildings available of any size fit for purpose. Therefore, due to its position, Brigadier Julian Thompson ordered they were not to paint a Red Cross on the buildings to highlight the hospital due to the terms of the Geneva Convention. At the height of the battle of Goose Green four bombs were dropped in the area, killing five people as the hospital was swamped with severely injured soldiers. Two of the bombs actually got stuck in the ­hospital roof, but failed to ­detonate. Yet Dr Jolly and his team continued to operate despite fears that they could have gone off at any moment. “Then the casualties from Goose Green started streaming in. We treated 47 casualties, some with terrible injuries, but they all survived. After most had been treated I said, ‘By the way, we’ve got two unexploded bombs in the back. They could be on 37-hour timers, but we’re on 46 hours now so we’re all right’. Everybody roared with laughter.” Should you feel some frustration next time you find yourself sitting waiting in the local A&E for four hours you may care to reflect on that story. 

Rick Jolly interviewed

The conditions in the field hospital were poor and despite the dirt, poor lighting, air attacks and the presence of two unexploded bombs, only 3 of the 580 British soldiers and marines wounded in action were to die of their wounds and none while under the care of Dr Jolly. Days after it opened an Argentine Sky Hawk aircraft scored a direct hit with two bombs, which failed to go off and remained partially exposed in the building throughout his time there. To save lives the 120 military medical staff at the field hospital knew they had to act fast, cleaning wounds, amputating limbs, treating dreadful burns, removing bullets and patching up the walking wounded before they were transferred to a hospital ship, the SS Uganda. After the Sir Galahad was hit, killing 48 soldiers and crewmen, the tiny field hospital was deluged with more than 120 injured men.

“I was very proud to work with a great team I had trained," said Commander Jolly. “We lifted morale among the fighting soldiers because we were their friends and they knew it. Word got around that if they arrived alive at the field hospital they would leave alive. We had some brilliant successes. We treated many Argentine special forces as well and we even persuaded Argentinian soldiers to give blood to help us save their injured."

Casualties coming ashore from Sir Galahad

Casualties coming ashore from Sir Galahad

Jolly wrote the book 'The Red and Green Life Machine' about his experiences, later republished as 'Doctor for Friend and Foe: Britain's Frontline Medic in the Fight for the Falklands.'  He was awarded an OBE by the Queen in 1983 in the South Atlantic Honours List and was given the Orden de Mayo (Order of May) by Argentina, 17 years after the conflict, in recognition of the treatment given to the country’s wounded soldiers. Being a foreign decoration, Jolly had to write to Her Majesty the Queen for permission to wear his Order of May award with his other medals, to which she personally authorised him to wear the award "on all occasions" on behalf of the three hundred British Naval, Royal Marines and Army medics involved in the war. However, he has been nominated for this award for co-founding the South Atlantic Medal Association, a vital organisation for Task Force members who put their lives on the line or were part of the huge support operation for the conflict.

At a subsequent lecture after the war he described being invited to the Pentagon to speak to the heads of the medical branches of each of the US armed forces. He described telling the Americans that each soldier had a syrette of morphine, issued because British forces weren't numerous enough to stop and give first aid to their wounded comrades. There was a stunned silence among the Americans. One of them pointed out that, had morphine syrettes been issued to US troops, there would have been none left by the time the troops landed.....

I recall that both during and after the war, the achievements of Rick Jolly and his team were rightly, a source of great national pride embraced by all. Good people, led by a very good man.