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Maitland, George Brumfitt (1896–1982)

by John H. Pearn

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

George Maitland, 1944

George Maitland, 1944

Australian War Memorial, 064076

George Brumfitt Gibb Maitland (1896–1982), soldier and medical practitioner, was born on 12 January 1896 at Eagle Junction, Brisbane, son of English-born (but Scottish-descended) Andrew Gibb Maitland, assistant government geologist, and his Victorian-born wife Alice Maud, née Brumfitt. As an infant, George moved to Perth with his family. At the High School, Perth, in 1907-14, he was a champion athlete, swimmer, diver and rower. On matriculation, he commenced engineering studies (1915) but abandoned them to serve in World War I.

Having been a gunner in the Citizen Military Forces, Maitland enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 26 July 1915. He served as a medical orderly in the Middle East with the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital (1915-16), the 14th Australian General Hospital (1917) and, thereafter, the 4th Light Horse Field Ambulance, from which he was detached in January 1918 to the 4th Light Horse Regiment. On 1 May, during the regiment’s fighting withdrawal from Jisr ed Damie(h) in the Jordan Valley, he attended to the wounded under heavy fire and then placed an injured soldier on his horse and walked out, supporting the man, across ‘almost impossible hills and wadis’. For these actions he won the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He was repatriated in 1919 as a corporal and discharged from the AIF on 24 May.

Maitland’s experiences guided him towards medicine. While an undergraduate at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1924), he continued to row. In Perth on holidays, he frequently pawned his microscope. He also courted Olga Elfreda Matilda Stenberg; returning home after visiting her, too late for public transport, he swam the shark-infested Swan River, at the Narrows. They were married on 3 September 1925 at St Mary’s Church of England, South Perth. By then he had established a sole general medical practice at Pinjarra. About 1930 the family moved to West Leederville, Perth, and again Maitland practised essentially alone. His work included general surgery, obstetrics and paediatrics. He devoted much time to his patients, occasionally perturbing his wife who acted as his receptionist-nurse. In addition, he served on the board of his local hospital and on the Medical Board of Western Australia.

In 1929 Maitland had been appointed an honorary captain, Australian Army Medical Corps Reserve. Active in the CMF from 1930, he was promoted to major in 1935. When World War II broke out in 1939, he immediately volunteered for the AIF; his appointment was gazetted on 13 November. He sailed for the Middle East in January 1940 with the 2/1st Convalescent Depot. On 16 February 1941 he rose to temporary lieutenant colonel and assumed command of the 2/6th Field Ambulance, which supported the 21st Brigade’s operations in Lebanon in June-July. Maitland controlled his unit well and braved enemy fire to ensure the speedy evacuation of casualties. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in despatches.

Back in Australia in March 1942, Maitland was promoted to temporary colonel in July and, sent to Papua, was appointed assistant director of medical services, Milne Force, next month. He ensured that medical and surgical needs were met in the battle of Milne Bay (August-September) and remained in his post, in spite of temporary incapacity from malaria, until August 1943; he was mentioned in despatches a second time for his ‘gallant and distinguished service’. Occupying a succession of senior positions in Papua and New Guinea—including that of director of medical services, First Army—he travelled extensively in the South-West Pacific Area and was promoted to temporary brigadier (November 1944) and mentioned in despatches twice more. From February 1946 he was deputy director general of medical services at Army Headquarters, Melbourne. He transferred to the Reserve of Officers as a colonel and honorary brigadier on 24 May 1946. Next year he was appointed CBE.

Maitland is a legendary character in the history of Australian military medicine. His career as a doctor-soldier was exceptional and his many decorations reflect the intensity of his operational service as well as the esteem of his peers. Retiring from his Perth civil practice in 1968, he continued his hobbies of yachting, fishing and gardening. He was a member of the Wembley-Floreat sub-branch of the Returned Services League of Australia. After his wife died, he moved to a retirement home at Kalamunda. He was a stylish man who, according to his family, ‘went out in style, being hit by a Jaguar’ car while walking. Following the accident, he died on 23 April 1982 in Royal Perth Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. His son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (1953)
  • A. S. Walker, The Island Campaigns (1957)
  • W. J. Edgar, Veldt to Vietnam (1994)
  • B2455, item Maitland George Brumfitt Gibb, and B883, item WX1546 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

John H. Pearn, 'Maitland, George Brumfitt (1896–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/maitland-george-brumfitt-15778/text26967, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 21 February 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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