Dr Geoffrey Hampden "Doc" Vernon MC
Most people who have read a book on Kokoda will have come across the name Doc Vernon. Doc Vernon was a Medical Officer attached to the 39th Battalion on the Kokoda Track.
Geoffrey Hampden "Doc" Vernon MC was born on the 16th of December 1882 at Hastings, Sussex, England. He was educated in Sydney at the Sydney Church of Grammar School what is now known as Shore. He later went on to study medicine at the University of Sydney (M.B., Ch.M., 1905).
On the 4th March 1915 during The First World War he was appointed Captain in the 4th Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance, Australian Imperial Force. He was made almost totally deaf by a shell burst on the Gallipoli Peninsula. He served in the Middle East as Regimental Medical Officer for the 11th Light Horse. On the 8th of August 1916 near the Hd el Beheir Oasis in Sinai he won the Military Cross for devotion to duty under fire. January 1917 saw Doc Vernon promoted to the rank of Major and the following November he was wounded in action at Tel el Sheria and returned to Australia in August of 1918.
In the years after The First World War, Doc Vernon made his way to the territory of Papua New Guinea. Here he spent many years doctoring, planting and trading. When war came to New Guinea in 1942 and people were being evacuated to Australia, Doc Vernon refused to leave believing his skills would be better put to use in the war effort. He put his age down by eight years in order to enlist in the Australian Army Medical Corps, once again serving as a Captain this time attached to the famous 39th Battalion.
Doc Vernon had a reputation for kindness and courage and worked hard in the early days of the Kokoda Campaign to treat the wounded on the Kokoda Track. He also gave medical treatment to the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels winning the hearts and minds of many an Australian Digger and Native carrier alike.
Doc Vernon passed away on the 16th May 1946 and is buried on Logea Island, PNG.
During the period July-November 1942 he kept a diary, here are a couple of extracts.
"The diary records my movements and work as MO to carriers on LOC, IIolo and Kokoda. It is a first hand account as being very deaf, from concussion deafness on Active-Service 1915 I do not gather much information from others I therefore miss much that goes on including the many rumours and false reports that constantly passed along the line. The absence of these may be an advantage."
"On arrival, I reported to the 39th and then inspected and arranged the police house which had been turned into the RAP. In front of this was a large scorched area where a quantity of army and canteen stores had been burnt before the withdrawal on the 26th July. I was tired after the forced march, from Efogi and want of sleep the night before at Deniki and I said I would have a rest in the Graham's house near the RAO, arranging to be called for the first casualty I selected a lounge and lay down in the company with a fine ginger cat whose acquaintance I had already made when visiting the Grahams eight months previously. I fed the cat with pieces of scone; he seemed hungry and grateful for the snack, and nestling up against me we both fell asleep. I hung my last few remaining treasures on a hook where I could grab them in an emergency, but eventually I had to leave them there for when the time came to retrieve them it was too late to enter the house as it was being riddled with bullets from a Jap machine gun, posted just below it on the upper slope of the escarpment."