Valor Friday

| November 3, 2023

Surgeon Captain Rick Jolly OBE RN (ret)

A recent question was posed to me. Have there been any people awarded medals by the enemy? I’ve talked before about some adjacent situations. Both Lieutenant Friedrich Lengfeld and Private Karl-Heinz Rosch have been honored by their enemy (Americans and Belgians respectively) for their heroics, but neither received a medal from the enemy government. I’ve also talked about some men who were given an honor from the enemy, such as Private Adolph Metzger, whose corpse was left unmolested after his last stand.

At least two Victoria Crosses have been awarded based on the testimony of the enemy. Lieutenant Commander Gerard Roope RN was awarded a posthumous VC based in part on evidence and recommendation of the Kriegsmarine. Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg RAF was posthumously awarded his VC based solely on enemy testimony. While he died in action attacking a German U-boat (sinking it), survivors of the wreck (who used the emergency raft from Trigg’s aircraft no less) lived to tell his tale of valor.

There are also cases where people have served in more than one Army, and thus held medals or honors from one side of a conflict from a prior war, and then earned new awards for another country. Richard Stern is one such man, having earned the Iron Cross while in Imperial German service, and then received a Silver Star while fighting against his former countrymen as part of the US Army in the next world war. Lauri Allen Torni (aka Larry Thorne) similarly earned an Iron Cross, his during WWII. Among his many other honors, his service in Vietnam as an American Green Beret earned him a Bronze Star and Distinguished Flying Cross.

There are many cases of spies receiving awards while undercover. One British spy received an Iron Cross during WWII for providing valuable (though completely incorrect) intelligence to the Nazis. Another man, Juan Pujol Garcia, received an Iron Cross from the Nazis and an MBE from the King for his wartime spy services. I don’t know if I consider that to be an answer to the question, since the enemy didn’t really know the man they were honoring wasn’t on their side.

In searching for the answer, I came across one who did receive honors from both sides in a conflict for battlefield actions. This is his incredible story.

Richard Tadeusz Jolly was born in 1946 in Hong Kong. His mother was an ambulance driver and his father a Polish gunner who’d been held a prisoner of war by the Japanese for five years. Educated at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, England. He then studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. He qualified as a doctor in 1969.

While working as a hospital intern, one of his senior colleagues suggested he join the Royal Navy Reserves as a doctor. He did so in 1972, partaking of the Royal Marines Commando course that year. I’m not sure if medical officers have to go through the full training program of other RMs. New RM officers currently go through more than a year of grueling training to earn their green berets. Regardless of the length of training, as with US Navy medical personnel assigned to work with our Marines, Royal Navy personnel working with the Royal Marines must meet the same standards for training.

In 1972, after completing his Commando training, Doctor Jolly was assigned as medical officer to 42 Commando. Pronounced “four-two commando”, they were deployed to Northern Ireland during The Troubles while Jolly was with them. He’d later do multiple tours afloat with the Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, served as a medical officer recruiter, and served at the Britannia Royal Naval College.

Jolly was known for going on street patrols in Belfast with his troops, to be immediately on hand for any casualties. He was also known for showing especially gruesome trauma slides while giving his Commandos first aid training.

In 1982 Britain was thrust into war. Their overseas possession The Falkland Islands were invaded by Argentina. The Falklands (along with the nearby South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands) were British territories. Inhabited by predominantly descendents of British colonists, they’d been a political subdivision of the UK since the early 19th Century. Argentina had (and continues to) claim the land as their territory. On 2 April 1982, the Argentine military “reclaimed” the territory in a surprise invasion.

Argentina invaded the Falklands first (and South Georgia the next day). The Argentine invaders met determined resistance from a small garrison of Royal Marines, naval hydrogaphers, and about two dozen local militiamen. They numbered about 100 strong. In the face of overwhelming enemy numbers, the island’s governor soon ordered a surrender.

Argentina then engaged in an occupation of the islands. Some in the civilian population resisted this, as the islanders overwhelmingly favored remaining British, and the occupation sometimes turned vicious. Towards the end of the conflict, soldiers placed booby traps in civilian homes, threw human feces into them, and set fire to some. Entire communities were interred for up to a month, and some longtime residents were expelled.

In response to the invasion, Britain mobilized. The location of the Falklands, deep in the southern hemisphere, meant that the British would take weeks to mount an effective military response. Among the earliest units deployed was the Royal Marines 3 Commando Brigade (of which 42 Commando is a subordinate battalion). They sailed on the requisitioned ocean liner SS Canberra (which herself had only returned to port two days previously from a world tour) on 7 April.

On 21 May, when the frigate HMS Argonaut was hit by numerous enemy air strikes and three men were spotted in the frigid waters near the burning ship, Jolly insisted on being hoisted down from a helicopter to rescue them. As brave as such a thing is in any circumstance, Jolly, a lieutenant command no less, wasn’t even fitted with an immersion suit and thus fully exposed to the conditions.

By this time, Jolly was senior medical officer of 3 Commando Brigade. After using SS Canberra as a hospital ship became unfeasible, Jolly was given 90 minutes notice to set up a field hospital. They did so at Ajax Bay when the British Empire struck back against the Argentines. The only two buildings of any size to be used for the purpose of a field hospital were a derelict meat processing plant and an ammo dump. The meat processing plant it was, but it was right next to the ammo dump.

Conditions in the makeshift medical building were poor. It was dusty, dirty, with poor ventilation, and even worse lighting. Being near a legitimate military target, they were also subject to enemy air strikes (including a couple of unexploded bombs lodged in the roof that remained for the duration of the war). Despite this, only three of the 580 wounded soldiers and marines would succumb to their wounds, and none under the direct care of Jolly.

The staff at the ‘Red and Green Life Machine’ as it came to be known, conducted hundreds of surgeries in the span of just a few weeks. Some of these were conducted with only flashlights for illumination and in freezing cold (the Falklands lie near the southern tip of South America, and are cool year round, with May and June being late fall and early winter in that part of the globe).

Among the men treated at the hospital were many enemy troops, more than 300 in total. The Argentine conscripts were surprised they received the same medical care from the enemy that the Brits were giving their own men.

By 14 June, the British had secured a surrender from Argentina, and the disputed territories returned fully to British control. Though the war lasted only a couple of months, the scars from the battles would last a lifetime. Post-war, Jolly became an advocate for the men he’d served with and helped save as they dealt with issues related to PTSD.

For his valiant and exceptional service during the Falklands War, Jolly was appointed an Officer in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (post nominals “OBE”) by the queen. The award was gazetted on 8 October 1982. The award is a high honor, something akin to a Legion of Merit in our awards system.

Jolly continued serving in the Navy, retiring in 1976 at the rank of captain (technically, he was a surgeon captain). That year, along with a former paratrooper, he co-founded the PTSD advocacy group the South Atlantic Medal Association (SAMA). He also took a defence fellowship at University College London. He studied the effects of biological and chemical warfare on ships’ crews.

In 1999 Jolly returned to the South Atlantic. He’d been invited back to Argentina. In front of a crowd that included 50 Argentine veterans of the Falklands War, some of whom Jolly had personally treated, he received Argentina’s Order of May (in the grade of officer). Similar in stature or prestige to the OBE, it’s one of the highest honors of Argentina. He became the only people to receive decorations from both sides of the Falklands War.

Jolly was published as an author several times. His obituary in the Journal of Military and Veterans’ Health says,

His bestselling account of the South Atlantic conflict, The Red and Green Life Machine: A Diary of the Falklands Field Hospital, was published in 1983. His other books include For Campaign Service, a novel about British service personnel in Northern Ireland (under the pseudonym Christopher Hawke); Jackspeak: A Guide to British Naval Slang and Usage, and In-Confidence: The Jackspeak Triservice Guide to Staff Reporting. The latter two are hysterical – if at times perhaps rather close-to-the-bone – examples of contemporary Service humour.

The same journal quotes Jolly as he explains his battlefield medical philosophy as;

Our attitude was simple: to treat the injured Argentinians in a way we would like to be treated. Before the battle of Trafalgar Nelson wrote a prayer in his cabin, saying: ‘May humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British Fleet’. As a naval officer those words meant a lot to me, so looking after the enemy’s wounded as though they were your own was instinctive.

People assume you’ve got to hate your enemy but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The only people who know what you’re going through are the people on the other side.

Over the years I’ve been asked what I’d do if I had to choose who to treat first, an Argentinian or a Brit. My answer was always whoever needed attention more urgently. As far as I am concerned you have to be able to look into your soul and like what you find there.

Jolly died in 2018 at the age of 71. He was survived by his wife Susie (née Matthews), a former children’s nurse, whom he married in 1970. He was predeceased by his son James, who died aged 17.

Prior to receiving the Order of May, Jolly wrote to Queen Elizabeth II for permission to receive the honor. She personally replied. The queen authorized him to wear the award “on all occasions” on behalf of the 300 British Naval, Royal Marines and Army medics involved in the war. He proudly displayed the medal, which you can see in the photo at the top of the article, it’s the rightmost ribbon.


Category: Historical, Marines, UK and Commonwealth Awards, Valor, We Remember

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Well done Doc!


Thank you Mason for the story of another true hero.


The only weapon that many Heroes carry is The Staff of Hermes.

Great story, Mason…again! Thank you, Good Sir!


Thanks much for this glimpse of history.


I don’t know how you find or research your stories, but they are always a good read. Thanks for sharing.



What a WONDERFUL story!

Thank You so much for sharing with us a Valor story of another Unsung Hero.

Surgeon Captain Richard Tadeusz Jolly: We Salute You, Sir!

Rest In Peace.

This song, “Brothers In Arms, performed by The Bands of HM Royal Marines, remind us so much of “The Doc”:

rick jolly.jpg

They do a very good rendition of the original. I’m sure Mark Knopfler would approve.


Beats ol’ Abe Simpson:


Knocked one out of the park with this one. Great article!

Green Thumb

Great read.


A man worth emulating.