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SINCLAIR, Alexander John Maum, OBE (1908-1988)

SINCLAIR, Dr. Alexander John Maum, OBE (1908-1988)

Ad Astra noted: 'psychiatrist worked with a number of leading hospitals, the army and citizen military forces and as a branch councillor and president of the AMA (Vict Div). His service to medicine was recognised by the award of an OBE in 1967. He was elected a Fellow of the Australian Medical Association in 1969.'

Alexander John Sinclair was born in Western Australia on 6 November 1908. The son of Richard Cole Sinclair and Annie Mildred, nee Maim, he attended Ashby State School in Geelong before his enrolment as a day student at Geelong College from 14 February 1923 to December 1927. His father worked for the Vacuum Oil Co and that was the address in Geelong provided at his enrolment.

At College he was a member of the 1st Rowing VIII, a School Prefect and Dux of the College in 1927.

On 15 March 1937 in Melbourne he married Dorothy Marian Gepp, the daughter of Herbert William Gepp and Jessie Powell, nee Hilliard, (Sir Herbert and Lady Gepp]. Dorothy Gepp graduated MBBS From Ormond College, the University of Melbourne, at the same time as Alec Sinclair and Alec McGregor, in 1933.

The Pegasus of December 1937 noted:
'Alex Sinclair has now taken his MRCP in London. It is several years since he took his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at the Melbourne University and added MD to his other letters. He pulled a good oar in the Eight and played with the XVIII, besides being Dux of the School, and was later in Queensland as a 'Flying Doctor'. He was admitted as a Member of the Royal College of Physicians in London in 1963.'

Sinclair enlisted (No. VXJ5158) in the AIF on 13 May 1940 serving in the Middle East (December 1940 - March 1942), and New Guinea (August 1942 - 0ctober 1943).
The Australian War Memorial holds a paper written by Lt-Col E L Cooper and A J M Sinclair entitled, 'War neuroses in Tobruk: report on 207 patients from the AIF 1941' , which stated in part:
'In the Second World War the military went as far as admitting that their foremost objective was the 'maintenance of the strength of the fighting force'. It was largely for this reason that the specialist clinics were established to treat psychiatric casualties The clinics were set up to ensure the maximum return of troops to active service. However, treatment was only available to those psychiatric casualties who were believed to be capable of further military service. As the army stipulated in regard to the War Neurosis Clinic in Tobruk: this is a 'centre for the rehabilitation of those men who can be of further use in the Army'. If this was not clear enough, the army added, 'Such a centre cannot be cluttered up with men boarded as unfit for further service'.

Early in the Second World War two prominent psychiatrists in the Royal Australian Army Medical Corps, Cooper and Sinclair, claimed that after treatment 'four out of every five men who break down under the stress of modern warfare are capable of further useful service'. In 1941 Cooper and Sinclair exceeded their own expectations by returning ninety-four per cent of 'fear state' casualties to the front line. This success rate was no indication of the number of casualties who actually regained mental health because, of most of those who were returned to active service, over two-thirds failed to cope and had to be removed for a second time.

Cooper and Sinclair did not pretend they were returning casualties in good health. They admitted that they had to send casualties back because 'evacuation to base through medical channels would lay open an avenue of escape that might be increasingly used in a beleaguered garrison'. Cooper and Sinclair were also aware that front-line treatment was inherently problematic for psychiatric casualties because they were not removed from the traumatic environment: 'There was difficulty in convincing a terrified patient that he was perfectly safe in the ward when the very sounds that conditioned the fear were, at times, more in evidence than in the front line'. Yet, they contmued to treat psychiatric casualties on the front line and they continued to return them to active service.'

The Pegasus of June 1946 reported:
Dr A J M Sinclair MD, MRCP (1927) is appointed honorary psychiatrist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and visiting psychiatrist to the Central Hospital. Last year he had the distinction of giving the Beattie-Smith Lectures at Melbourne University. He served with the AIF in the Middle East (including the five months' siege in Tobruk), in New Guinea and in Australian hospitals as OC of a medical section.

Pegasus of June 1967 further reported:
Col A J M Sinclair, MD, RAEME, was awarded the OBE in recognition of his outstanding service to the army. Dr Sinclair is a prominent Melbourne psychiatrist.' ''

Alex' Sinclair died on 7 October 1988.

Sources: Pegasus June 1946; Pegasus June 1967; Geelong Collegians at the Second World War and Subsequent Conflicts' compiled by J Affleck pp479-480.
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