Rick Jolly 1946–2018
The military surgeon who treated both friend and foe
Rick Jolly was one of the few service members in military history to be honored by both his country and its former foe. During the brief but bloody 1982 war between the U.K. and Argentina over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, the British navy surgeon and his team of medics attended to more than 1,000 battle casualties—a third of them enemy fighters. Misled by extreme propaganda, the wounded Argentine soldiers thought they’d be mutilated, or even eaten, by their British captors. But Jolly, the surgeon commander, saw them simply as patients. Asked who he’d treat first, an Argentine or a Briton, his answer was always the same: “Whoever needed attention more urgently.”
Born in Hong Kong, Jolly enlisted in the Royal Navy after studying medicine in London, said The Washington Post. To prepare soldiers for war, he showed them images of grim battlefield injuries—a presentation he called the “Jolly horror show.” One of his first acts in the Falklands War was dangling from a helicopter in his regular uniform and plucking two British sailors from the freezing water after their frigate was sunk. “I hadn’t intended to go for a swim,” he remarked.
When he arrived in the Falklands, Jolly set up an improvised field hospital “in a former meat refrigeration plant,” said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). After treating his first Argentine casualty, he made sure the patient’s family received word that he had been captured, not killed in action. Jolly was named an Officer of the Order of British Empire in 1983 and appointed to Argentina’s Order of May, with Merit, in 1999. When the surgeon sought permission from Queen Elizabeth II to wear a foreign medal, she told him he should wear it “on all occasions.”