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australian rowers profiles and history

Charles W B Littlejohn, MC OBE Croix de Guerre (Belgium)

4 Jan 1889 - 4 Aug 1960

The following biography has been taken from the Scotch College, Melbourne WWI honours and awards website: on 26 April 2020.

Charles Littlejohn was the son of the Principal, Mr W.S. Littlejohn. He was a member of Cadets at Scotch, where he was an outstanding pupil, becoming dux in both 1905 and 1906. He was a member of the 1906 athletics team. He was awarded a 1909 Rhodes Scholarship and attended Oxford University, where among other brilliant results he achieved first class honours in Natural Science and qualified in medicine. Charles was a fine rower: he was in the Scotch First crew from 1904 to 1906, in winning Oxford crews in the Boat Race in 1911 and 1912, and in 1912 rowed for Great Britain at the Olympic games in Stockholm, winning a silver medal in the eights. Charles enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 4 August 1914, and would remain with the British Army throughout the war. He arrived in France with the 2nd Cavalry Field Ambulance that month. He participated in the British Army’s fighting retreat from Mons to the Marne.

In October 1914, after a battle at Mont des Cates, in northern France, Charles treated the mortally wounded Prince Max of Hesse. While in France, Charles also tested the efficacy of the new box respirator gas masks, voluntarily exposing himself to German gasses in a gas chamber. He was wounded at the first battle of Ypres in August 1915. An article about Charles appeared early in the 1917 Collegian and is reproduced below. It said ‘We learned with regret just before our Christmas vacation that “Charlie” Littlejohn, the eldest son of our Principal, had been wounded. Our regret was changed to rejoicing when we were told that he had been married while convalescent in England.’ The students' joy increased when, in honour of the event, a day was added to the boys’ Easter vacation.

Charles was made a Temporary Captain in May 1917. At one point he served in Salonica on the Macedonian front before returning to the Western Front. At the latter he undertook surgical work at British Casualty Clearing Stations. Charles earned the Military Cross at Ypres with the 140th Field Ambulance from 28 September to 4 October 1918. He was in charge of forward stretcher-bearers in that period and was responsible for maintaining contact with infantry battalions and evacuating their wounded. ‘He exposed himself freely to sniping, machine-gun and shell fire’, according to the citation reproduced below, ‘to get at the wounded of not only his own brigade but of other divisions, and by his fine conduct saved many lives.’ He gained the Croix de Guerre for ‘distinguished conduct’ in the same offensive. Charles was demobilised on 20 November 1918, returning to Australia in February 1919.

Charles returned to Melbourne in 1919 and began practising medicine in Ivanhoe. He was a clinical assistant at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (1920-23), a surgeon to its out-patients (1924- 31) and worked there as an orthopaedic surgeon (1931-48). Charles was also a surgeon at the (later Royal) Children’s Hospital. In 1932 Charles founded Victoria’s first large modern orthopaedic clinic. He coached the Scotch 1st VIII from 1926 to 1931, winning the 1926 and 1927 Heads of the River to complete a hat trick of victories for Scotch. Charles also coached the Melbourne University crew. In World War II he was the officer directing the surgical division of the 2/4th Australian General Hospital during the siege of Tobruk in 1941. For his ‘magnificent example of courage and devotion’ in this siege he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. In 1947 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for ‘distinguished service and leadership’ in Borneo and New Guinea, where he was a Consulting Surgeon from 1942-1945.

He was demobilised in 1946. Charles retired in 1948 and became a consulting surgeon to the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He was a member of the Australian Cricket Board and the Victorian Cricket Association. Charles died 4 August 1960. He had married Edith Simpson Robertson (d. 1973) in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1915, and they were divorced in April 1934. Charles married Mrs. Helen Margaret Gray (d .1986) in Melbourne in 1935. Charles’ only child was Ross Robertson Littlejohn (1921-45) who attended Scotch from 1928 to 1934. He became a commando in the British Army, and was taken prisoner during a raid in Italy. By order of two SS officers, he was executed on 19 March 1945.

Compiled by Andrew Guerin
May 2020

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