On 28 August 2022, Sydney University's St John's College dedicated a beautiful bronze memorial to the memory of Major Dr Kevin Fagan AO (1909-1992), a truly inspiring figure from Australian history. Dr Fagan was a man who endured the hellish conditions of the Burma-Thai Railway during World War Two, and worked tirelessly for the welfare of his fellow prisoners of war through that terrible time.
The artwork by sculptor Louis Pratt captures the essence of a remarkable story. Among the dignitaries present were former head of the Australian War Memorial Dr Brendan Nelson, who spoke movingly of the life and legacy of Dr Fagan, along with Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher who told of Dr Fagan's example of the "good life" in service of others. Representatives of the college and of Dr Fagan's family also spoke and I was very pleased to be invited by the college to record proceedings, some highlights of which follow below.
Veteran Gordon Nelson described holding the leg of a severely emaciated fellow Australian prisoner of war, who was about to have his leg amputated with an enormous tropical ulcer.... and he said, 'I held his leg, and I noticed drops of water falling onto the wound, and I looked up - and it was the tears of the doctor Kevin Fagan' ... this sculptural work - Kevin Fagan's life - will remind us every day to dedicate ourselves to be a people that continues to be worthy of these sacrifices, and to be a people that is selfless, caring and brave - Address by Dr Brendan Nelson AO.
He shared most of his rations with others and seemed to live on air, such that some thought him more angel than man. On the Thai-Burma Railway he witnessed the worst of human cruelty and the best of human courage and care. In places of darkness... he shone a light - the light of faith and hope.... giving himself so others might live. If ever there was a good life for our young women and men to emulate, this was surely one. And so here before his surgeon's coat upon a prison cross, at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember him - Address by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP.