Five stories told, a century later

A new documentary explores the connections between the short lives of five young pharmacy students, the history of the profession in Australia and the modern day

At Monash University, a board lists the names of pharmacists and students who served in World War One.

Professor Bill Charman, former Dean of Monash’s Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, told the AJP that reading the names of five pharmacy students who lost their lives as a result of the Great War sparked a journey to document a story which had begun a century earlier, as Australians headed out to serve overseas.

“I wanted to understand a bit about the stories behind those names,” Prof Charman said.

Around 200 pharmacists and 30 pharmacy students chose to serve in the War, with the students interrupting their studies to enlist.

Of the 30 who enlisted, four were killed in action, and their stories, as well as the story of one pharmacy student who came back, are told in a new documentary, Five Soldiers.

Alan Crawford Couve

Alan Crawford Couve, aged 21, had been apprenticed to his father, a pharmacist who owned Couve’s Pharmacy in Dandenong. Enlisting in 1914, Lieutenant Couve led his men into battle at Gallipoli on April 25, 1914, and was the first Melbourne College of Pharmacy Student to be killed in World War One.

Eric Simson Bissett, aged 28, fought in the Somme Offensive and was killed in 1916; Lieutenant Wallace Gordon Jewkes, aged 22, led his men on a raid in January 1917 and died from a gunshot wound; and Sergeant Malcolm Jones, aged just 20, fought in France and Belgium before being killed by an artillery shell attack near Ypres.

“It wasn’t easy finding information about these students,” Prof Charman told the AJP. “They were single, they had no children and indeed, two of the families of today did not even know those particular relatives existed, because of the records being what they are, and because at the time, people didn’t speak of the War.”

The four were honoured in 2019 with posthumous degrees at a ceremony at the Faculty, during which a fifth soldier, Thomas Francis Cahir, was also honoured with a Certificate of Appreciation and Recognition.

Eric Simson Bisset

“He served in the Medical Corps and was a phenomenal individual,” Prof Charman said. “He was highly decorated – he rescued countless soldiers from Gallipoli and the Western Front, slinging them over his back and carrying them single-handed against machine-gun fire.”

Later Staff Sergeant Cahir went back to photograph the fallen, who were being exhumed and identified after the War.

Post-Traumatic Stress was not recognised in those days, Prof Charman said, and sadly Staff Sergeant Cahir, who was by 1928 married with three children, lost his life to suicide that year.

One of his sons, Patrick Cahir, accepted the certificate on behalf of his father at the 2019 event.

“He’s an incredible man, and we were able to work with that family in a very emotional way,” Prof Charman said.

“So we had these five students, and we wanted to tell the story of these five men who lost their lives and were never able to complete their degrees.

Gordon Jewkes
Gordon Jewkes.

“We wanted to tell their stories, to understand the stories behind the names on that board.”

Prof Charman said that the lives of the five students and their families were woven into the history of pharmacy and health care in Australia, as well as Australian history more widely: for example, Malcolm Jones’ brother Murray, who completed his pharmacy degree on return to Australia, became general manager and then chairman of de Havilland in Australia. Meanwhile the brother of Gordon Jewkes – again, also a pharmacy graduate – had a role in setting up the PBS.

“Then, through all this, we discovered that these people served under John Monash, who the University is named after,” he said.

“We discovered that John Monash gave the opening address to the College of Pharmacy in 1927 and presented the pharmacy gold medal to a young man called Ernest Dunlop, who was a pharmacist before he studied medicine.

Malcolm Jones.

“The more you look at it, the more you find. I knew this was important to do, but would never have imagined we’d discover all these aspects we now have.

“It’s such a humbling thing to have been able to help tell these stories, to capture them, to understand them and see how those characteristics of pharmacists – commitment and contribution – are just as relevant today as 100 years ago.”

The film was produced by Rob Sutherland of Silvereye films and is available to view here.

Frank Cahir
Frank Cahir

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