From The Daily Telegraph 15 January.
Surgeon Captain Rick Jolly, who has died aged 71, was a naval surgeon possessed of outstanding personal bravery and unparalleled dedication to his patients, who through his skill and leadership saved the lives of both friend and foe during the Falklands War.
Richard Tadeusz Jolly was born in Hong Kong on October 21 1946, the son of a gunner in the Colony’s Voluntary Defence Corps and former prisoner of the Japanese, and a mother who was an ambulance driver in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.
He qualified as a physician in 1969. In 1974, while working as a houseman, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve.
However, he found the Navy proper “a bit stiff and formal” until he tried the Royal Marines, and right from the start he loved it: “What I liked about them, and the Paras, with whom I worked closely for many years, was that officers and men were required to do the same training. In fact, the officers were expected to do it a little bit faster and further.”
While he was only a reservist (RNR surgeon), one of Jolly’s appointments in 1972 was as medical officer to 42 Commando, Royal Marines, who were deployed in Belfast alongside the 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment, with whom he built a strong friendship. In 1973 he was awarded the coveted commando Green Beret after completing the gruelling course.
Belfast at the time, he found, could be brutal: “No textbook can prepare you for the aftermath of a bomb, nor how the sounds and smell can impact on you when you arrive to help.”
He was interested in the forensic effect of munitions, so would visit the morgue several times a week to take photographs, which he would use for training his battlefield first-aid teams in 42 Commando.
The sessions became known as “Doc Jolly’s Horror Show”, and he observed: “It sounds gruesome, but a battlefield first-aider can’t be trained to deal with bullet wounds unless he knows what a bullet wound looks like.”
In April 1982 Jolly was commanding the headquarters troop of the medical squadron of the Commando Logistic Regiment, Royal Marines. He was on Easter leave when the Argentines invaded the Falklands, and he and his team embarked at short notice in RMS Canberra, which had been taken up from trade.
“Because of previous friendships,” he recalled, “it didn’t take more than 10 seconds to establish a working relationship with the embarked troops.”
Jolly’s first personal act of bravery during the war came after the frigate Ardent had been hit by bombs in Grantham Sound on the afternoon of May 21. He was scrambled in a Wessex helicopter to help search for casualties on the water, and as they hovered close to the burning ship, through the plumes of thick, black smoke which towered into the sky, he saw a man struggling to stay afloat.
“It was clear he wasn’t going to survive for too much longer,” Jolly recalled. “I didn’t have my immersion suit on. Apart from my uniform, the only extra bits of kit were a pair of gloves and a thin life jacket; I hadn’t intended to go for a swim. Suddenly everything went quiet, as your body does when it prepares itself for serious demand. I just remember thinking: if I don’t act now this man will die …
“I dropped into the ocean, which was freezing: barely two degrees. My heart slowed down and my vision changed like I was in a tunnel. I bear-hugged him and before I knew it we were back in the helicopter cabin. I literally jumped on the sailor and he vomited up all the seawater. He was alive. I was exhausted.”
No sooner had Jolly caught his breath, than the Royal Marines aircrew-man in the helicopter cabin pointed down. Jolly knew what he meant, and taking a deep breath, prepared himself for the second plunge.
“I dropped into the water but I was too weak to lift the casualty. He was in a terrible state, with a huge gash in his head and blood all over his face. I submerged and placed a hook through his life jacket. He was in such a bad state, I’m not even sure he was aware he’d been saved. Even now, that whole experience fills me with the deepest spiritual sense of pride.” The second sailor also survived.
Back in Canberra, where 42 Commando were waiting to climb into their landing craft, Jolly recalled that he “couldn’t help but shed a tear” as each marine patted the Ardent survivors on the back as they walked past. One marine said: “You gave them hell; we’re going to do the same.”
Shortly after that, Jolly’s medical team was also ordered to disembark. The plan had been for Canberra to become primary casualty receiving ship (PRCS) and to pass the seriously wounded to the hospital ship Uganda, but when Canberra was required for further troopship duties, Jolly created an improvised field hospital ashore in a former meat refrigeration plant at Ajax Bay.
It was the only building available of any size fit for the purpose, but given its position in the middle of a logistics and ammunition dump, and under the terms of the Geneva Convention, he was not allowed to paint Red Crosses on the roofs.
Conditions in the makeshift field hospital were poor, but despite the dirt, bad lighting, air attacks (which killed three men and wounded many), and the presence of two unexploded bombs, Jolly and his staff treated more than 650 Argentine and British casualties and carried out 210 operations during a three-week period.
No one died of their injuries while in Jolly’s care. He later attributed the “speed and vigour” of casualties’ recovery from wounds at least in part to the fact that many of them had donated blood just before the hostilities, stimulating the body’s self-healing mechanisms.
The hospital quickly became known as the Red and Green Life Machine and postwar Jolly took this for a book about his experiences. He was appointed OBE in the Falklands honours list.
When invited to visit Argentina in 1998, Jolly had sent a list of Argentines he had treated, requesting information about their welfare. This was the first intimation in Buenos Aires of the extent to which the British medic had also treated Argentine wounded.
More than 50 survivors were invited to a ceremony in Buenos Aires, where they met Jolly and he was appointed to the Order of May, with Merit, an honour given to “foreigners who distinguish themselves by service or personal achievement, or who have gained the nation’s gratitude”, for his work in saving the lives of many wounded Argentine soldiers and airmen.
He was the only serviceman to have been decorated by both sides after the war, and the Queen gave him permission to wear this order with his other medals. Jolly regarded his awards as recognition of the work of the 300 British naval, marine and Army medics involved in the war.
Full obituary with photographs.
Thanks for posting this.
I remember being very impressed with the reports about this chap whilst the war was going on. Everyone who was there that I've spoken to, thought very highly of him.