A hero's return
27 November 2006
One of the last survivors of the 42 Australian doctors who were prisoners of war on the Burma Railway in World War II has been presented with an honorary degree by the University.
Rowley Richards was imprisoned in the Changi prisoner of war camp, sent to the Burma Railway, and later became a slave labourer in Japan. With a group of colleagues including Weary Dunlop and Albert Coates, he helped save the lives of many men under terrible conditions.
Now in his nineties, Mr Richards was presented with an honorary Doctor of Medicine in the Great Hall by the Chancellor, Justice Kim Santow.
Born in Sydney in 1916, Mr Richards graduated from the University of Sydney in 1939. He enlisted in the AIF as a medical officer and served in the Malayan campaign of 1941-2 before being imprisoned by the Japanese following the fall of Singapore in 1942.
He was a prisoner of war in Changi Prison before being sent to the infamous Burma Railway. Later he was sent to a slave labour camp in the north of Japan, surviving shipwreck on the way, a harsh winter and infection with smallpox just prior to liberation.
After the war Mr Richards became a general practitioner in Seaforth, Sydney. He was one of the first members of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners which was established 50 years ago, and he was one of the first general practitioners in Australia to attain fellowship of the RACGP by assessment.
He later worked in occupational medicine and sports medicine and was foundation fellow of both the Australian College of Occupational Medicine and the Australian Sports Medicine Federation, and was awarded a fellowship of the American College of Sports Medicine. He was medical advisor to the Australian Olympic rowing teams for the Mexico City games in 1968 and the 1972 Munich games.
Mr Richards was honorary medical director of the Sydney City to Surf Fun Run between 1977 and 1998, and since 1998 has served as honorary medical consultant. In 1993 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to sports medicine and the City to Surf.
Mr Richards served as New South Wales chairman and vice-president of the St John Ambulance Association and in 1981 was made a Knight of St John in recognition of his long service. In 2003 he was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal for service to the sick and injured through the St John Ambulance Association.
In 1969 he was awarded an MBE for his services in war and peace.
Contact: Richard North
Phone: 02 9351 3720