Members' Military History - Back with the Mates I Left Behind: A Frontline Medical Officer from Passchendaele to Allied Victory

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A lecture by Ian Passingham, defence analyst and historian.


As a frontline infantry battalion's Regimental Medical Officer, Major Donald Dunbar 'Pom' Coutts's aim was to save life, rather than take it. He served with typical professionalism and dedication and won the DSO for his enduring courage whilst treating wounded men under fire. This lecture is based on the war diary, frontline experience and life of 'Pom' Coutts and the officers and men of his beloved 24th Infantry Battalion, which was part of the 6th Brigade, 2nd Australian Division.

'Pom' Coutts was on hand to play a crucial part in the 24th Infantry Battalion's fortunes in 1917 and 1918, as well as working assiduously in the aftermath of war to facilitate the repatriation of the Australian troops and record his experiences in his diary. He was to return to the Western Front in 1971 to unveil the 2nd Australian Divisional Memorial (replacing one destroyed by the German Army in 1940), revisit the battlefields and pay his last respects to the mates he left behind. With the blessing of his immediate family and close friends, Ian Passingham will tell the story and example set by this ordinary man who became a reluctant, though extraordinary hero.

Ian Passingham served for over seventeen years in the British Army in both the Royal Hampshire Regiment and staff appointments in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, the Falklands, Kenya, Germany (including Berlin) and the former East Germany.  He was educated at the Duke of York's Royal Military School, Dover, University of Keele, (BA in Modern History and Geography), RMA Sandhurst and the Army Staff College.  Ian left the Army as a Major in 1995 to pursue a second career as a defence analyst and historian. 

As a defence analyst he has worked for the Ministry of Defence / DSTL on a number of issues, including counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency, the tactical use of battlefield helicopters since the early 1950s and urban conflict in Chechnya, Bosnia and Vietnam, as well as Stalingrad and Berlin during the Second World War.  In addition, he has worked on key projects on aviation and Air Manoeuvre for Op HERRICK and in anticipating the roles and utility of both for the post-HERRICK Future Operating Environment. 

As a military historian, he has written three books: Pillars of Fire - The Battle of Messines Ridge, June 1917 (1998 / 2000 and republished in 2012); All the Kaiser's Men: The Life and Death of the German Army on the Western Front (2004 / 2006 and revised and republished as All the Kaiser's Men: The Life and Death of the German Soldier on the Western Front  in 2011); and The German Offensives of 1918: The Last Desperate Gamble (2008).  He has also written and directed a 26-part TV series for the History Channel, Clash of Warriors.  Ian is an experienced historical tours guide and is a member of the Western Front Association, British Commission for Military History and the German Historical Institute.  Also, he is a Research Fellow at the Centre for First / Second World War Studies at the University of Birmingham and has links with King's College and the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London.



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