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BIRNIE, George Alexander (1889-1979)

BIRNIE, Dr George Alexander (1889-1979)

'Alex' Birnie was born at Hawthorn on 6 April 1889, the son of Norman Birnie and Barbara nee Irving. He was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and Geelong College, entering College as a day student in 1905. He was entered by N Birnie listing his address as Laurel Bank Parade, Geelong. The Annual Report of 1906 listed George Birnie as the recipient of a Special Prize.

He went on to Ormond College, The University of Melbourne, in 1910, where he graduated MB BS in 1914, then to London University, where he graduated DPh.

Alex' offered for service in the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMS) but was told that they did not require any more doctors so he sailed for England on RMS Medina where he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps in April 1915 as a Lieutenant, and arrived in France in June. In October, he received a posting to the Northumbrian Field Ambulance attached to the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers. He was wounded in the left shoulder on 31 December, 1915, and hospitalised for five months. In March 1916 he was promoted Captain, and in February 1917 posted to No 43 Stationary Hospital, and in May to the 8th East Surreys (18th Division). He took part in the Battles of Cherisy and Passchendaele, where he was wounded again on 17 October, and spent another two months in hospital.

Kiddle reported in 'War Services Old Melburnians':
'He is in the Northumbrian Fusiliers, and has had a piece of shrapnel through his shoulder; still on the sick list, but doing well. His brother, R K, is in the field ambulance at Salonika. . . . G A Birnie was admitted to the Second Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, on October 14, suffering from a severe gunshot wound in the shoulder. This is his second wound. While commiserating with him on his misfortune, we have to congratulate him on having won the Military Cross. He was one of the hundred doctors asked for by the British Government, and left for England in March 1915. He was severely wounded in the celebrated Hill 60 engagement, near Ypres, while MO to the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers ('The Fighting Fifth'), and was in hospital for six months. He was then on Home Service, chiefly at Guy’s Hospital, London, till March 1917, when he was passed as fit for active service again, and joined the 8th Surreys, with whom he was once more wounded.'

He was awarded the Military Cross at Passchendaele, gazetted on 23 April 1918, the citation read:
'In going forward with two stretcher bearers to form an advanced aid post he was wounded in the shoulder by a piece of shell, one of the stretcher bearers being killed at the same time. He continued dressing the wounded in our most advanced line, and even penetrated the enemy line of posts in search of casualties, keeping at his work until relieved some eight hours later'.

He married Dorothy Elizabeth Campbell in Ayr, Scotland on 1 January, 1918. Demobilised in March 1918, he returned to Australia, embarking in June 1919. He took his DPh London in 1919, MD in Melbourne in 1920 and was a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Physicians (Foundation), 1938. Post WWI he became clinical assistant and then Honorary Physician at the Alfred Hospital remaining on staff there until his retirement in 1936. He also gave many years’ service to the men at the Repatriation Hospital.

'Alex' Birnie died 3 July 1979.

His brothers, Dr Robert Kenneth Birnie (1890-1956), Norman Eric Stewart Birnie (1892-1920) and John Irving Birnie (1896-1954) also attended Geelong College.

Sources: Based on an edited extract from Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck p140(citing J Beacham Kiddle OBE, War Services Old Melburnians 1914-1918 (1923); Pegasus; The National Archives, Kew, England). RACP: College Roll. Online Edition.
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