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Sidney Gerrish Hamilton
Surgeon Commander

 

This account is taken from the Daily Telegraph biography dated 6th December 2006

Sidney Gerrish Hamilton was born on 14th November 1911 into a family of Bath businessmen and market gardeners. He went to Clifton before reading Medicine at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, and became a houseman at the Royal London Hospital. He volunteered for the Royal Navy at the outbreak of WW2.

Surgeon-Commander Sidney Hamilton, who has died aged 94, saved many lives in the battlecruiser Repulse when she and the battleship Prince of Wales were sunk in December 1941.

The two warships were heading for the Gulf of Thailand after Pearl Harbor when they were overwhelmed by Japanese high-level bombers and torpedo planes. Hamilton was conducting his daily surgery as the air raid alarm sounded at 1100 hours; he went immediately to his action station, ordering his staff to close an armoured hatch and set out their instruments. As several casualties were brought in, he heard of others elsewhere in the ship, and went to treat some dozen burnt and scalded men. He had returned for more morphine when Repulse was struck by a torpedo; a few minutes later there were two more severe blasts, and the lights went out.

Fearing that she would capsize, he ordered clips to be taken off the heavy hatch, enabling his men to force their way up the vertical ladder through the pouring water. There was no panic as the injured were helped up to the quarterdeck, from where Hamilton saw a trail of heads bobbing in the ship's wake; he was horrified to realise that some had already been caught in the propellers.

As the ship rolled on to her port side he was thrown into the sea, and his last sight of Repulse was the starboard propellers threshing the air, until her bows rose up "like a church steeple" and she slid under. All around him there were men in the water with blood streaking their oil-covered faces. The oil burned his eyes "as though someone was jabbing hot pokers into them," he recalled. Another survivor remembered the suction of 32,000 tons of steel sliding to the bottom as if someone was pulling his legs out by their hip sockets.

After an hour Hamilton was rescued exhausted from the sea by the destroyer Electra, with his clothes clinging to him like a second skin. The destroyer, which had a crew of 150, rescued 800 survivors. With Electra's doctor, Surgeon-Lieutenant William Seymour, and Repulse's dentist, Surgeon-Lieutenant WS Major, Hamilton sorted his patients between the dying, the surviving and those who might be saved. After cleaning them first so he could see their wounds he ensured that everyone was labelled ready for evacuation when Electra reached Singapore that night.

An eyewitness recalled that no praise was too high for Hamilton, who looked no more than a boy. He was mentioned in dispatches.

After Electra had reached Singapore, Hamilton continued to care for his patients in the naval hospital there until he was appointed principal medical officer of the light cruiser Durban, which became the last warship to leave Singapore. She was hit three times by dive-bombers before limping in to Colombo, where Hamilton transferred her wounded to the hospital ship Karapara.

After going on to the United States Hamilton returned to England, then was appointed senior medical officer of the landing ship Llangibby Castle, which was hit by an 8-inch shell from a French shore battery during the North Africa landings in November 1942. The following year the ship returned to Britain after a collision and was converted to carry 18 landing craft and 1,590 troops to the Mediterranean.

In preparation for D-Day, Hamilton set up a casualty clearing station at HMS Turtle in Poole, Dorset and finished the war at HMS Hesperides, in the Azores.

After retiring from the Navy in 1946 he went into general practice at Woolacombe, Devon, and later at Thornton Heath, near Croydon. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the formation of the National Health Service, and was a founder of the Royal College of General Practitioners, though later he deplored the decline of traditional family medicine.

In 1955 Hamilton and his wife Ann, who was also a GP, contracted poliomyelitis; while he recovered she was paralysed from the chest down. Hamilton cared for her in an iron-lung for a year and, learning new techniques of care which he passed on to his other patients, enabled her to progress to a wheelchair for the next 23 years.

On retiring from general practice in 1972, he became one of the first westerners to study acupuncture anaesthesia in China, before spending four years as chief medical officer at the British High Commission in Delhi, where his wife led an active life as a diplomat's wife and charity worker.

Much of Hamilton's last years were spent travelling, especially to the shores of the Mediterranean, to further his interests in bird-watching and photography. Of these travels he kept meticulous records, but about his wartime experiences he remained reticent. After the war, though, he tried to establish the fate of patients from whom he had become separated at the sinking of Repulse, and he contributed his medical report about the sinking to Middlebrook and Mahoney's book Battleship (1977). He also left a tape recording of his memories at the Imperial War Museum.

A pious, austere man with an unpredictable sense of humour, Hamilton kept in his refrigerator dead snakes and birds that he had found out walking, and once sent his grandchildren out to the compost heap to see how yesterday's cold porridge had incubated.

He died quietly at home, shortly after an enjoyable drive to the Quantocks and back.

Sidney Hamilton married, in 1940, Ann Mallet, who died in 1978. He is survived by their two sons and two daughters; a son, a son-in-law and two grandchildren are doctors.

Please contact Andy (webmaster) with any information.

Andy Wade (Webmaster)

Information provided by
Daily Telegraph newspaper.

 

 

 

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