Navigating a naval medical career

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Obituary: Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander Peter James Hoare, RAN, Rtd. 

By Michael Fogarty*

HMAS Sydney had returned to Korea for a second deployment in the post-armistice period from 1953-54. The complement of 1401 included eight midshipmen.  The commanding officer, Captain George Oldham, was a fine ship handler as he frequently demonstrated in night transits of the treacherously narrow Shimonoseki Strait, between the Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu. 

One duty midshipman on the bridge was tasked to observe and learn ship routines. The navigator on watch softly gave an order to the Coxswain to alter course at the wheel. The officer then noted that he had adopted the wrong course and, without immediate correction, the aircraft carrier would soon founder on nearby reefs. He told the helmsman to change to the given course. After supervising the command, he then quietly told him with a wan smile. “Chief, you do that again, and I will kick your balls in.” The navigator had survived the sinking of HMAS Nestor in 1942. 

Dr Peter James Hoare MB, BS, Diploma of Dermatology was that young midshipman. Born on 19 January, 1934 at Waverly, NSW his family background was unremarkable and their finances were straitened by the Depression. Peter’s father served in the RAAF during WWII. The younger Hoare had an early education at Newington College which was abandoned in the absence of a fee-paying scholarship.  He joined the Royal Australian Naval College at Flinders, Victoria in early 1948, one of 28 cadet midshipmen, a record intake, since 1919. He graduated fourth of 20 in 1951. His peers included Admiral Alan Beaumont (a Defence Chief) and Rear-Admiral Peter Sinclair, who served as Governor of NSW. One of Peter’s Gunroom mess-mates later ended his life in tragic circumstances. Dr Hoare despaired of his friend’s depression but was unable to help him. One was lost in Voyager in 1964.  

Korean service was memorable for it included a return flight as a passenger in a Firefly aircraft from the carrier. Peter later served in Malaya and in 1954 he accompanied a platoon of Ghurkhas in Johor Bahru in an unsuccessful search for   terrorists who had murdered a policeman. In 1956 he returned to Malaya where his ship, HMAS Queenborough, shelled communists. Back in Australia, including a posting to HMAS Cerberus, he undertook flying training at RAAF Uranquinty but did not complete it, failing his air work, and he was removed from the course. Deafened in one ear by gunfire, he was invalided from the RAN, being categorised BNPS (below naval physical standards) in 1959 to study medicine at Sydney University. 

By then had had married Margaret Anne Gale, a nurse. Naval pay was parsimonious in that era and it was often a struggle, more so when a daughter later joined them. He regarded Vice-Admiral Roy Dowling as ineffectual in improving pay and conditions of service. It prepared him for a new role as a full-time medical student where he endured similar penury in surviving without a decent income. In 1963, he was given an under-graduate scholarship to complete his studies being indentured to rejoin the RAN on completion of his residency at Hornsby Hospital in late 1966. 

Now a surgeon lieutenant, he was appointed as the ship’s doctor in HMAS Duchess which served in the Far East from January-June, 1967. Aware of his seniority, he affixed a thin strip of red electrical tape between his two salty rank stripes to signify that he had joined the service years before some of the younger trainees were born. In a low-level breach of the Geneva Convention, this notional non-combatant stood at least one watch on the bridge as a qualified seaman officer.  His commanding officer, Commander Kel Duncan, was assured that Dr Hoare was fit to do so, having earned his watch-keeping ticket in 1957, under Captain VAT Smith.   

On a visit to Hong Kong, Dr Hoare had a run ashore with Lieutenant Taylor and Sub-Lieutenant Phil Hancox, all Korean veterans. They returned safely on board at 0800, victualled and watered, soon to be quartered. Not so. They marched to the quarter-deck and attended colours. The suits were slightly dishevelled for the lack of adequate dry-cleaning facilities on board, but they were not. The CO was impressed. They did not turn in but turned to, as a day’s work still awaited them. Peter also served in HMA ships Hobart, Supply, Kuttabul and in Navy Office in his other naval iterations to qualify for a pension after twenty years.  

Dr Hoare was posted from Duchess to serve in Hobart during its work-up to be deployed back to Vietnam in 1968. His brief service onboard did not have a happy ending. He had a personality clash with the ship’s executive officer and it impacted on the crew’s morale for he was most trenchant in his criticism of the command structure. Outside intervention tried to resolve the hostility between them but to no avail. Peter left the ship being replaced by another ship’s doctor. It was a needless episode which could have been ameliorated if both were prepared to cooperate with each other. It was not to be, surprising for a former trained executive branch officer. 

Peter had several postings to HMAS Kuttabul and, of course, HMAS Penguin in an advisory and visiting consultant capacity. His tenure at Garden Island Medical Clinic was not without humour or drama. One senior officer fashioned a suit of paper so he would be protected from any radiation emitted while watching the TV. Another RAN doctor refused to treat patients from visiting foreign warships as they were not Australians. It took some time for the uproar to subside. A senior officer within the command was renowned for abandoning his post at 1100 to amble up the road in mufti to the nearest hotel where he could seek refreshment before lunch at the mess. More often than not, he would not return to his base, invariably continuing on to a yacht club near his residence where he could further imbibe and entertain colleagues. 

Dr Hoare had completed his return of service and chose a civilian medical career. It also alternated between permanent and reserve force stints whether in naval or military hospitals and establishments and in private work as a GP. He decided to specialise in dermatology gaining the requisite professional qualifications in London. His life in medicine was as frenetic as peripatetic for he spent a considerable stretch in Saudi Arabia, including a period during the Gulf War in 1991 where he treated refugee children, wounded Iraqi prisoners of war and USAF personnel at an air base. 

At one stage, during a return to the RAN, he stated that he was under contention to be promoted to Commander and appointed as the Fleet Medical Officer. His assertion was not matched by the facts. He separated from the service in 1982 as a Lieutenant-Commander and he was refused a further extension of service. For that, he would not have gained sufficient seniority and professional experience to be promoted to Commander. Moreover, despite being a good naval officer, with some promise during his earlier career as a seaman officer, he had unnecessarily antagonised his senior officers in the medical branch. He was keenly conscious that his peers had out-stripped him in the rank hierarchy but that was a function of his egress from the service yet it “rankled” him deeply and was unable to adjust to it. But he had been re-apprenticed as a medical doctor which would outfit him for civilian life. Despite the hardship and isolation of working in the Middle East, the high income stream well remunerated this foreign sojourn in a culture and society inimical to that of our own. 

Peter Hoare had many interests and supported local community activities, including a stint as a rugby doctor, doing pro bono work for the FESR body, Doyalson RSL and committee work in various associations, and golfing. He researched, wrote peer-reviewed papers and visited overseas often to attend and present papers at conferences and at in-house sessions in Australian and foreign hospitals where he acted as a dermatological consultant.  For his restless nature, and where work was to be found, he moved often, between Manly, Warwick Farm, the UK, Saudi Arabia, Canberra and the Central Coast, not in full order. He got around. 

His life was not blameless and he encountered many setbacks, his occupational status to initially practice as a dermatologist in Australia, having gained the professional qualifications in the UK, was but one. He experienced misplaced envy from a small cadre of dermatologists in Australia whom he said were jealous of his specialist standing and the fees he could attract. Peter held that this cohort exhibited a restraint of trade response and they were keener to limit those specialist surgeons in the guild. As well, he noted that he could never be held in contempt, as their legal actions against him were beneath contempt. He overcame that adversity and was later given full recognition and subsequent registration for his UK diploma. Currently, Dr Charlie Teo is facing some allegations within the medical profession. Once again, it demonstrates that medicine is replete with politics as the profession attempts to police its own in recognition that officialdom has its limits.  Dr Hoare was much admired by the Korean demographic at Campsie. They marvelled at this white-haired man who had once fought to save their nation from communism. Now a doctor, he would heal them as his hands, once trained to operate weapons of war, were now retrained to treat them in peacetime. The instruments had changed over time. 

Margaret and Peter Hoare recently celebrated six decades of a happy marriage. Daughter Dimity runs a successful business and her daughter Candice worked in Italy and speaks fluent Italian. Peter’s son Miles flew Lear jets in the US and married Patricia, a former RAAF officer, who also left the service to enter medical school and qualify as a doctor. They have two young daughters.  Margaret and Peter’s brother Warwick also survive him. Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander Peter Hoare died of emphysema and a heart condition on 7 August aged 85 in a hospital near Lake Haven. He was buried at Palmdale on 15 August. Two class-mates from 1948 attended. Curiously, two Australian flags flew at full height, within the surrounds, yet were not lowered to half-mast, as might be expected. In some regional towns, the local RSL club dips their national ensign to mark the passing of a veteran. While protocol may have denied him that singular honour, suffice it to say, his bier was draped with the naval ensign, an honour to which he was entitled.  Asbestos exposure from his destroyer service has claimed another proud RAN veteran. 

*Michael Fogarty served with Peter Hoare in HMAS Duchess in the Far East Strategic Reserve in 1967. 

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