Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edward Thomas Brennan (1887–1953)

by M. Austin

This article was published:

Edward Thomas Brennan (1887-1953), surgeon and medical administrator, was born on 13 April 1887 at Stawell, Victoria, son of Edward Thomas Brennan, surveyor, and his wife Anne Mary, née Powell. Educated at Beechworth Grammar School and the University of Melbourne (M.B., B.S., 1909), he was resident surgeon at the Ballarat Hospital in 1909-10 and medical superintendent at Fremantle Hospital, Western Australia, in 1911-14. In June 1913 he was commissioned in the Australian Army Medical Corps.

On 31 August 1914 Brennan joined the Australian Imperial Force as a captain and was made regimental medical officer in the 11th Battalion. He sailed for Egypt in November and went ashore with the covering force at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. His unit fought at Steele's Post where Brennan had to set up his aid-post on top of a steep cliff; he overcame the problem of evacuating wounded by easing them down a sand-slide to the beach. He received special mention for 'various acts of conspicuous gallantry' in the first ten days at Anzac. Later, at Leane's Post, he risked his life by crawling along a shallow communication trench under heavy fire to attend wounded. He remained at Anzac until the evacuation and was awarded the Military Cross. Promoted major in January 1916, he was transferred to the 7th Field Ambulance and reached the Western Front in April and served in the battles of the Somme. In February next year he was made temporary lieutenant-colonel and commander of the 1st Field Ambulance and took part in all the 1st Division's major operations in 1917-18. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in June 1918 and was mentioned in dispatches four times during the war.

Brennan's A.I.F. appointment ended in January 1920. He resigned his commission on 18 July and next day joined the Royal Australian Navy as surgeon lieutenant on H.M.A.S. Sydney. Three years later he left to become travelling medical officer for the Territory of New Guinea, a post which 'for its action and adventure suited him well'. On 26 October 1923 at Rabaul he married an American, Ruth Todd; their home for the next two years was the 45-foot (13.7 m) schooner which Brennan sailed around the coast on his medical duties. He was later stationed at Madang. In 1928 he was made director of public health for the territory and in 1933 became member of the Legislative Council. A friend observed that these added responsibilities 'sat easily upon him, and the assumption of authority altered his genial bearing not a whit'. He held both offices until World War II when he sought an A.I.F. post but was declared medically unfit for active service. In December 1941 he was appointed assistant director of medical services for the 8th Military District (New Guinea), holding the rank of colonel; after a few months ill health forced his evacuation. He was deputy director of medical services of the Allied Works Council, New South Wales, in 1942-45 and chief medical officer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in the south-west Pacific in 1945-50.

Survived by his wife and three daughters, Brennan died of coronary vascular disease at Cronulla, Sydney, on 18 August 1953 and was buried in Woronora Catholic cemetery. His courage and vivid personality boosted morale in both peace and war. He had a remarkable aptitude for grasping the essentials of any problem and for making rapid, sound decisions. These qualities, together with his genial disposition and professional knowledge, made him a popular and highly respected medical officer and an excellent administrator.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vols 1, 2 (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-1918, vols 1-2 (Melb, 1930, Canb, 1940)
  • London Gazette, 24 July 1915, 28 Jan, 2 Feb, 11 July 1916, 28 May, 3 June 1918
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 12 June 1954.

Citation details

M. Austin, 'Brennan, Edward Thomas (1887–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 16 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


13 April, 1887
Stawell, Victoria, Australia


18 August, 1953 (aged 66)
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.