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Thompson, Clive Wentworth (1882–1941)

by C. M. Gurner

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Clive Wentworth Thompson (1882-1941), medical practitioner and soldier, was born on 21 September 1882 at Bathurst, New South Wales, the seventh of eleven children of native-born parents William Gilbert Thompson, postmaster, and his wife Jane Amelia, née Fraser. Educated locally at All Saints' College, in 1902 he entered the University of Sydney medical school, but spent his time on sport and humorous escapades, and in 1905 went on the land. He later resumed his course (B.Sc., 1911; M.B., 1913), becoming a junior resident at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, and a captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps in 1913.

When war was declared in 1914 he immediately joined the A.A.M.C., Australian Imperial Force, as regimental medical officer to the 1st Battalion. His war service was outstanding. He landed with his battalion on the first day at Gallipoli and, apart from one short rest period, remained there throughout the Anzac campaign. Best remembered as the medical officer who warned Major General Sir William Throsby Bridges to be careful, and who then skilfully treated and evacuated the mortally wounded general, he repeatedly undertook many dangerous tasks and was awarded the Military Cross for his Gallipoli service. A non-commissioned officer wrote: 'I never saw a man go about his work so coolly as he did … helping wounded men under a withering shrapnel fire'.

Thompson was promoted and served as a medical staff major in Egypt and France. As lieutenant-colonel commanding the 14th Field Ambulance, a post he held for two years, he participated in the battles of Ypres and the Somme and the attack on the Hindenburg line. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, part of the citation stating: 'He showed great gallantry, initiative and organizing ability throughout this trying period. He regularly visited all advanced medical posts, and by his tact and courage and experience was instrumental in coordinating the medical arrangements of his own (Division) and the American Division operating with us'.

The 'initiative and organizing ability' were always evident. At Gallipoli he had retained—rather than dispersed—his medical personnel and, with his colleagues from the 3rd Battalion, established an important medical post. Early in 1918, in France, he conducted an 'admirable Australian Corps Medical School where … medical officers and N.C.O.s were given up-to-date training'; this was the predecessor of World War II A.A.M.C. schools and the Regular Army School of Army Health. In May-July 1918 Thompson developed a standardized advanced dressing station of three wooden huts, built in sections, transportable on three lorries, and capable of 'leap-frogging'. Estimating that 2 per cent of casualties held in forward posts could not undertake the long evacuation to surgical facilities, he introduced anaesthetic and resuscitation equipment to the field ambulance so that these men could be stabilized before evacuation; he further recommended that an operating team be provided at a divisional location for deployment forward as necessary. An Australian 'first', the concept was developed by the A.A.M.C. and then by the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Thompson's service distinctions included the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Française and four mentions in dispatches. He was twice wounded. A modest, humorous but determined man, 'always straight and game … unswerving in his affections and his friendships … Thompson was an excellent doctor and a better soldier'. Over six feet (183 cm) tall and lightly built, he was an all-round sportsman in his youth.

After returning to Sydney in late 1918, Thompson held resident appointments at the Royal Alexandra Children's and Crown Street Women's hospitals, and gained the degree of Master of Surgery from the University of Sydney in 1919. In 1919-23 he practised at Bathurst and in 1926 moved to Hamilton, New South Wales, where he was a general practitioner and assistant honorary surgeon to the Royal Newcastle Hospital until illness forced his retirement. A dedicated doctor who never spared himself, he treated many of his poorer patients without charge.

Thompson had married May Davis at St John's Anglican Church, Parramatta, on 17 April 1928. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died from mitral valve disease on 26 March 1941 in the Masonic Hospital, Ashfield, Sydney, and was cremated at Rookwood with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, vol 5 (Syd, 1937)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vols 1-3 (Melb, 1938, Canb, 1940, 1943)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark, A Heritage of Spirit (Melb, 1979)
  • London Gazette, 28 Jan, 1 Feb, 11 July 1916, 1 June 1917, 3 June, 11 July 1919
  • British Australasian, 10 Feb 1916
  • Prince Alfred Hospital Gazette, 30 Dec 1916
  • Commonwealth of Australia Gazette, 15 Oct 1931
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 12 Apr 1941
  • family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

C. M. Gurner, 'Thompson, Clive Wentworth (1882–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/thompson-clive-wentworth-8783/text15401, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 25 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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