Intended for healthcare professionals


Rowley Richards

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 01 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2995
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Australian doctor who cared for fellow prisoners of war during the second world war

As a prisoner of war during the second world war, Rowley Richards kept a meticulous secret diary documenting the inhumanity he witnessed in Japanese prison camps from 1942 until 1945. Thousands died, but Richards survived and in the following years he would read his diary many, many times.

In his book A Doctor’s War, published in 2005 and one of his two published memoirs, Richards wrote, “I am now 89 years old. And still, each time I read my pages, I cannot remember all of the events my words allude to.” He adds, “Sometimes I even find myself thinking, ‘Those poor buggers were really having a terrible time,’ without seeing myself as one of them.”

His inability to remember, Richards surmised, was most likely a form of self preservation. He could easily recall humorous incidents and memories of the prison camps that demonstrated “brotherly love, compassion, self sacrifice.” But he had buried the memories of “misery, brutality, and degradation of life” in order “to move on and lead a meaningful life, free of bitterness and regret.”

Indeed, Richards led a meaningful life. After the war, he met a nurse, Beth McNab, while working as a resident medical officer at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. They married in 1947, built a home in the Sydney suburb of Balgowlah, and raised two sons. Richards established a private practice as a general practitioner and obstetrician. He was medical adviser to the Australian rowing teams for the Olympic Games in 1968 and 1972. In …

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