Known to all as Rowley
Charles Rowland Bromley Richards, known to all as Rowley, was a general practitioner, sports medicine physician, community leader, humanitarian, and author.
Rowley was born in Sydney in 1916 and grew up in Summer Hill. Both his parents were profoundly deaf and the way they overcame daily challenges had a strong influence on their young son.
Rowley graduated MBBS from the University of Sydney in 1939. He enlisted in the AIF as a medical officer and served in the Malayan campaign of 1941-42 before being imprisoned by the Japanese following the fall of Singapore in 1942. He was a Prisoner of War in Changi Prison before being sent to the infamous Burma Railway. Later he was sent to a slave labour camp in the north of Japan, surviving shipwreck on the way, harsh winter and infection with smallpox just prior to liberation. On return to Australia he was Mentioned in Dispatches for his service as a regimental medical officer during his time as a Prisoner of War. In 1969 he was awarded an MBE for his services in war and peace. He also earned the Efficiency Decoration. Following his return to Australia he supported other survivors of Japanese Prisoner of War camps and their families through his role as President of the 2/15th Field Regiment Association, and his long service as president of the 8th Australian Division Association.
On his return to Australia Rowley became a general practitioner in Seaforth in Sydney. Rowley was one of the first members of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and he was one of the first general practitioners in Australia to attain Fellowship of the RACGP by assessment. He later also worked in occupational medicine and sports medicine and was a Foundation Fellow of both the Australian College of Occupational Medicine and the Australian Sports Medicine Federation, and was awarded Fellowship of the American College of Sports Medicine. He was medical advisor to the Australian Olympic Rowing teams for the 1968 Mexico City Games in 1968 and 1972 Munich Games.
Rowley was Honorary Medical Director of the Sydney City to Surf Fun Run between 1977 and 1998, and since 1998 served as Honorary Medical Consultant. In 1993 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his service to sports medicine and the City to Surf.
Rowley served as New South Wales Chairman and Vice President of the St John Ambulance Association and in 1981 was made a Knight of St John in recognition of his service. In 2003 he was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal for service to the sick and injured through the St John Ambulance Association.
Throughout his working life Rowley combined his work as a skilled and respected general practitioner with lifelong voluntary commitment to Australian sport, to the well-being of Australian veterans and their families, and to the welfare of the whole community through his work with the St John Ambulance Association. At the age of 89 years Rowley published his memoirs. A Doctor's War, published by HarperCollins, provides a graphic and very moving account of his experiences as a doctor while imprisoned in Changi, on the Burma Railway, and as a slave labourer in Japan. In his memoirs he writes about his growth as a doctor and as a human being through his terrible wartime experiences.
Rowley was one of the last survivors of the 42 Australian doctor-prisoners of war from the Burma Railway in World War II. The dedication of this remarkable small group of Australian doctors is now part of our nation's proud history; doctors who saved the lives of many of their countrymen under the most terrible circumstances. Rowley’s own experiences as a prisoner of war had a profound effect on his future life and his long and distinguished record of voluntary service to the people of our nation.
Remembrance of Rowley not only honours his great personal commitment but also honours the memory of the many medical graduates who have served our nation at a time of peril with great distinction and who then went on to contribute at a high level to the health and well-being of the people of our nation and the world through professional and voluntary service.
Tribute submitted by Prof Michael Kidd
This tribute originally published in 2015 on the NSW&ACT Tributes page.