Colonel (Dr) John Springthorpe (1855 – 1933) graduated in medicine from The University of Melbourne in 1884. He worked both in private practice and as a university lecturer.
In 1914 he enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps and served in World War One postings in Egypt, France and Belgium. He was employed in 1918 – 1919 in England to treat hospitalised soldiers suffering ‘shellshock’.
He started work at Mont Park No. 16 Australian General Hospital in 1919. He was appointed in charge of ‘neurological and cardiac patients’ and was an excellent choice. He was already 60 years old, but ‘Springy’ proved most energetic and productive. He was a determined man and could be dogged and intimidating if his ideas were challenged.
Dr Springthorpe showed great respect for the Australian women who had served as nurses on the front in WWI. He fought for better facilities for the returned soldiers in his care, and better training for the staff managing them.
‘Shellshock’ (today it’s called ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’) was not well understood. The soldiers’ mental health or symptoms included sleeplessness, mood swings, fatigue, depression, and the inability to communicate. The diminutive, ageing ‘Springy’ Springthorpe fought successfully for their rehabilitation through special psychological care. This was long before the utilisation of tranquillisers, medications for psychosis, or the use of lithium salts for bipolar disorder. One of his children, Dr Guy Springthorpe also worked in Melbourne in psychiatry and showed a similar tenacity in expressing his views on the diagnoses and treatments employed by mental health practitioners.
By Kathy Andrewartha
Damousi, J. (2015) John Springthorpe’s war. The La Trobe Journal. No. 96. September
The Springthorpe area: a brief history. (2016) Springthorpe and La Trobe Heritage Project. Springthorpe. Melbourne.