A tribute to...

Donald Beard

Published: 27/4/2023

A Tribute to Donald Douglas Beard


Born 22 February 1925, Died 6 December 2022.

Donald Beard was born in Ashford, son of Harold and Alison Mavis (nee Wright). He had an elder sister Beryl. He was educated at Adelaide Technical High School and then Adelaide High School, completing leaving honours before studying medicine at The University of Adelaide.

He married Margaret Dunn in January 1962 at St Augustine's Church Unley. They had 2 sons - Matthew, a physiotherapist in living in Adelaide and Alastair, an accountant now living in Lancefield, Victoria. Margaret is alive, and well, and still living in the family home of 50+ years in Norwood.

Apart from his family and friends, he had three great passions, the army, cricket, and surgery. He played club cricket in many countries. Tall (1.95 meters), he played A Grade cricket (and baseball) for university and later cricket for Sturt as a fast medium opening bowler. His cricket involvement continued for life. For 30 years he was Honorary Medical Officer to the SACA for the South Australian state team as well as both the Australian and the visiting Test teams playing at Adelaide Oval. He was also medical advisor to the Australian Cricket Board (ACB), now Cricket Australia. Many international players sought his wise council and during this time he became a close friend of Sir Donald Bradman. On one memorable occasion, prior to a "test match dinner" in 1978, Sir Donald, then age 70, batted on a prepared wicket in the Beard's back yard. He was dressed for dinner and wore no protection at all. "The Don" batted for a captivating 20 minutes, demonstrating the style that made him famous with magnificent footwork and timing. The "net bowlers" included the great Jeff Thomson who was opening the bowling for Australia at the time.

Don graduated in medicine in 1947. As a student, he had served in the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC), CMF (now Army Reserve). In February 1949, he volunteered for full time Army service with the British Commonwealth Occupational Forces (BCOF) in Japan. In December 1949, he extended his tour of duty and was promoted Major. On the eve of his return to Australia, North Korea invaded South Korea and many nations were drawn into the war with North Korea under the United Nation flag . Don volunteered to serve in Korea, with a reduction in rank to Captain as the Regimental Medical Officer 3 rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (RMO 3RAR), part of the 27th  Commonwealth Brigade.

On arrival in Korea, he took 3 days to find 3RAR bivouacked near Seoul, challenged by the retreating human tide as he travelled north. There was no RMO with the Battalion, combined with the worst winter in memory (minus 30°C). The battalion were not clothed for cold weather and there was a shortage of medical equipment and medicines. Don had to improvise constantly, especially treating frost bite. A novel treatment was developed with soldiers directed to use their "Barbasol" shaving cream) and to rub this vigorously into their hands and feet. Don taught first aid, wound management, and fracture splintage to battalion band members who were co-opted as stretcher bearers. The support team included a 14 year old Korean refugee lad who remained with the unit during major engagements. Later with the support of Don, and others, he emigrated to Australia. Don built up a great affinity with troops from the many nations who contributed to the United Nations force. In particular, the members of the 60 th Indian Parachute Field Ambulance who helped treat Don himself when he was struck down with pneumonia.

On 22 April 1951, 300,000 Chinese invaded South Korea. 3RAR was moved northeast to the slopes of the Kapyong Valley a main invasion route. The 27 th Brigade was opposed by a 12,000 man Chinese Division. On the evening of 22 April 1951, 4,000 Chinese attacked 3RAR (600 men), and fought a furious close quarter battle. The Regimental Aid Post (RAP) was under direct fire with Don Beard an obvious target. Following intense fighting the 3RAR was ordered to withdraw to higher ground, having fought the Chinese to a standstill. Most casualties were evacuated but 30 still remained near the Chinese positions and they could not be overlooked. On several occasions, Don rode forward in a US Sherman tank, under fire, to pick up these injured solders. They were lashed to the outside of the tank for the return trip during which the Chinese held fire - only to take it up again as the tank came back to collect more of the wounded.

After Korea, Don became a much admired and respected figure in 3RAR circles. He would attend the annual 3RAR Kapyong Day formal parades at Holsworthy in NSW, and later in Townsville QLD, either placing the Kapyong decorations on the Regimental Colours or reading the US Presidential Citation awarded to the battalion for the Kapyong Battle.

Coming home from Korea he returned to the RAH surgical staff. But in March 1953 Don was given leave from his position at the RAH, having been selected as the Medical Officer for the Australian contingent which has been invited to attend the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. He travelled to the UK in the aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney.. On arrival in London Don received an invitation for drinks at Buckingham Palace from Major John Althorp, Equerry to HM The Queen. John Althorp was to become the 8 th Earl Spencer, father of Princess Diana. Inside the Palace, and in uniform, Don was saluted by the then 5- year-old Prince Charles. On the Coronation March he stood out as the tall left marker in the front rank. When the ceremonies were over, HMAS Sydney returned to Australia via Canada, USA and the West Indies. A good time was had by all!

In 1955, he returned to the UK for further surgical training and passed the surgical exams FRCS (Eng) and FRCS(Ed) in 1957. Returning to Australia in 1958, he passed the Australian College FRACS exams and then served on the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) staff until 1963. He was appointed to the surgical staff of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (TQEH) where he worked until 1973 when he was made the first Director of Surgery at the new Modbury Hospital. He held this post at Modbury Hospital until his retirement in 1990.  

In the Army, he was again promoted Major in 1958, then Lieutenant Colonel in 1961. He was promoted to Colonel and was posted Commanding Officer 3rd General Hospital (CO 3 Gen Hosp) in 1965. He volunteered for full time duty in Vietnam in March 1968 and was posted as the only surgeon 8 th Field Ambulance (8 Fd Amb) which was enlarged to be 1 st Australian Field Hospital (1 Aust Fd Hosp) in April 1968 at Vung Tau. It was the end of the Tet offensive, there were many casualties and a shortage of medical and nursing officers. Morale was understandably low, and standards of discipline had fallen. Colonel Donald Beard's arrival restored humanity to the hospital. His reputation and professionalism was acknowledged and all patients, friend or foe, were to be treated equally. His generosity, tolerance and good humour in this time of adversity were much appreciated . When blood supplies were short, fresh donor blood from soldiers was used. Don would then shout lunch for the donors to thank them for their life-giving contributions.

In May 1968, the biggest Australian set battle involved Fire Support Bases Coral and Balmoral took place. There were 25 dead and 90 wounded. 1RAR and 3RAR stopped the 7 NVA Division advance on Saigon. Casualties were evacuated to 1 Aust Fd Hosp again testing the reserve of the medical, nursing and orderly team.

Don returned to Australia in June 1968 and was appointed Director of Medical Services (DMS) Army in SA from Sept 1970 to Oct 1974, a role in which he excelled. If he believed in a soldier's, or officer's, worth then he backed them fully to the highest level. His record for doing this was well known and respected throughout the Army.

Don Beard had many, and varied, interests including a passion for music, opera and the arts. In the late 1980's Opera SA was looking for a tall man to play the role of The Ghost in Richard Strauss' "Elektra" and rang Don to play the part. His brief operatic career continued with parts in "Samson and Delilah" (Saint-Saens) and as King Duncan in Macbeth (Verdi). In June 2002 he delivered an outstanding oration "Music and Warfare" to the Annual Scientific Congress Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. He delivered it again in 2005 to the Quincentenary Congress of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. For many years he was a member of the Robbie Burns Society, celebrating the life and works of the great Scottish Poet and lyricist.

Don had a long interest in, and concern about, road accident trauma and in 1974 he was appointed Chairman of the SA Road Safety Advisory Council. He was also Chairman of the SA State Committee Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) 1978-80.

Further military appointments included being made Honorary Surgeon to Her Majesty The Queen on February 1976, and in December 1978 being appointed Consultant Surgeon to Army HQ until February 1987. He was made a Member of the Military Division of the Order of Australia in 1987. Subsequently he was appointed Honorary Colonel (Colonel Commandant) RAAMC SA from June 1988 to 1991 then for Australia in 1991. He was also a member of the Council of the Australian War Memorial.

His funeral at the Adelaide Oval on 19 December 2022 was attended by the commanding officer and regimental sergeant major from 3RAR now based in Townsville. His coffin was piped out by a member of the battalion band.

In Jan 2013 General Sir Peter Cosgrove, the then Governor General, said in tribute 'His role as a doctor tending soldiers in combat is a byword in the Australian Army. At the Battle of Kapyong his inspirational care and leadership contributed to the love this strong man had for peace and compassion.'

(Author Dr. Peter Dudley BYRNE AM)

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