Secrets of the Anzacs: the untold story of venereal disease in the Australian Army, 1914-1919.

Extracts from pages 158-146

"Private Edward 'Jack' Ryan was from Tumut, in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, and was 25 when he enlisted in late 1915 and became a reinforcement for the 55th Battalion. His Victoria Cross came late in the way, for displaying conspicuous bravery during a assault on the Hindenburg Line near Bellicourt in September 1918. During a ferocious fight, Jack and some mates captured an enemy trench, but were soon evicted by fierce enemy gunfire. They then discovered that their retreat was blocked by enemy grenadiers, so Jack organised a charge using grenades and bayonets. The Australians killed some of the Germans, and then Jack alone attacked the rest with grenades, driving the enemy away. His actions enabled the German trench to be taken by the battalion; but, during his solo effort, he was shot in the shoulder, causing him to be evacuated to a hospital, where he remained until after the armistice.

In May 1919, he was invested with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace, a week before Maurice Buckley attended his ceremony there. Jack's celebrations in London must have been just as impressive as those held for Maurice, because he, too , ended up being admitted to Bulford* as a result.  This was the second time Jack had to endure a VD cure; in 1917, he had been treated for infections at an AIF hospital in France.

During his army service, he had not been in any serious trouble; but, shortly after his release from Bullford in 1919, Jack went before a district court-martial to face four charges of misconduct, including insubordination. He pleaded guilty, but was penalised only forfeiture of a day's pay and released. In September 1919, he left England to return to Australia, and in 1920 was discharged in Sydney. However, Jacks days of glory soon came to an end: he became one of the many returned soldiers who had difficulty adjusting to life as a civilian. He never married, was unemployed for most of the post-war decades, and, during the Great Depression, became an itinerant swagman. Jack died of pneumonia in 1941 in a hospital in Melbourne."

At least eight other Australian "Victoria Cross awardees had been treated in army venereal-disease hospitals. The percentage of VC awardees treated is about the same for the entire Australian army, which means that about 85 per cent did not catch VD. For some who did, it occurred before they were recommended for the award; for others, it occurred after."

* Bulford - 1st Australian Dermatological Hospital at Bulford in England was the largest Australian VD hospital during the war.

Secrets of the Anzacs: the untold story of venereal disease in the Australian Army, 1914-1919 by Raden Dunbar, published by Scribe, 2014.