Soldier, citizen, doctor, humanitarian – a true Anzac

20 April 2011

The quintessential New Zealand citizen soldier Brigadier (Retired) Dr Brian Thomas McMahon CBE, KStJ is the 2011 Anzac of the Year.

The award was instituted last year by the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association (RNZRSA) to recognise the qualities of comradeship, compassion, courage and commitment which are embodied in the tradition of Anzac. The Award will be presented to Dr McMahon by the Governor-General, Rt Hon Sir Anand Satyanand, at a ceremony at Government House today.

RNZRSA national president Lieutenant General (Rtd) Don McIver says Brian McMahon has given significant service to New Zealanders and to the international community as a soldier, a citizen, a doctor and a humanitarian.  

“Brian McMahon has exhibited the qualities of comradeship, compassion, courage and commitment throughout 60 years of service to his fellow citizens, his comrades in arms and those he has served through his activities in overseas aid projects. He is a dedicated professional whose commitment and compassion for his fellow servicemen and women and their dependants, for those he has touched in his profession as a doctor, and for those he has touched in aid activities in Vietnam and the Pacific Islands are a matter of public record,” says Mr McIver.

Brigadier McMahon (Retired) served in the New Zealand Defence Force for over 40 years, culminating in his appointment as Director General Defence Force Medical Services.  He commenced his service as the Resident Medical Officer in Waiouru in 1966. In 1968 he was appointed Regimental Medical Officer 1st Battalion Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment in Malaysia. He served on active service as a Medical Officer in the 1st New Zealand Services Medical Team in Vietnam in 1969. He attended the Royal Army Medical Corps Command and Staff College in the UK in 1971 and 1972, and was then appointed as Commanding Officer Burnham Military Hospital until 1977. He was then appointed Commanding Officer New Zealand Forces Hospital Singapore until 1980, when he was appointed as Director General Defence Medical Services (DGDMS) until his retirement in 1983.

After retiring from the Regular Force, Brigadier McMahon remained active within the Defence Medical Services. He held the appointment of Colonel Commandant Royal New Zealand Army Medical Corps (RNZAMC) from 1992-95, and again from 2005-10. He was the locum Medical Officer at Waiouru in 1994, and the Senior Medical Officer there in 1996. During this time he also returned often to the Defence Forces medic training school (now called Defence Health School) to help teach new generations of medics on tertiary level health courses.

He was appointed Honorary Colonel for the Otago University Medical Company in 2002.

Brigadier McMahon’s military career was followed by a distinguished medical career. He maintained a prominent leadership role as medical superintendent of firstly Wakari Hospital and then Dunedin Hospital as well as Medical Officer of Health Otago Southland, and as a senior lecturer at Otago Medical School

Despite being 8, Dr McMahon continues to mentor and teach medical students and has been a powerful influence on the careers of many successful medical professionals, both in the military and civilian settings.

In addition, Dr McMahon provided his expertise as a medical advisor to four separate service organisations: Ministry of Civil Defence 1980-84, The Order of St. John 1980-93, New Zealand Red Cross 1981-84, and New Zealand Surf Life Saving Association 1981-84.

Internationally, Dr Brian McMahon is an active member of Leprosy Trust Board Fiji (Inc) based in Suva. He has undertaken leprosy missions in the South West Pacific and South East Asia first as Chairman, and then as the medical advisor to the Christchurch-based Pacific Leprosy Foundation – an activity he continues to undertake.

He remains actively involved in the NZ Vietnam Health Trust as Patron. He served in Bong Son during the Vietnam War.

The Trust was established by the Medical Corps and civilian personnel who worked in Vietnam during the war. Operating in close cooperation with Volunteer Services Abroad (VSA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trades (MFAT) own bilateral aid programme and later New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID) the Trust has sponsored numerous training programmes in Qui Nhon and elsewhere in Bin Dinh. The Trust continues its work today.

Brigadier (Retired) Dr Brian McMahon holds numerous Honours and Awards including Commander Order of the British Empire (CBE), Knight of the Order of St John (KStJ) and Knight Commander Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem (KCLJ). He has also had the honour of being appointed as Honorary Surgeon to Her Majesty the Queen 1980-83.

Contact: Don McIver RNZRSA National President 027 2603938 or Dr Stephen Clarke RNZRSA Chief Executive 027 3645687.


What is the Anzac of the Year Award?

The Anzac of the Year Award was established in 2010 to recognise the spirit of Anzac evident in New Zealanders today.  The successful recipient demonstrates the spirit of comradeship, compassion, courage and commitment, qualities which are embodied in the tradition of Anzac.

Why was it established?

The Award serves a variety of purposes. It is a reminder to current and future generations on how shared past has shaped us as a nation. Secondly it ensures that the Anzac spirit lives on.

How is the recipient selected?

The Award is organised and managed by the RNZRSA National Office.  Recipients of the Award are determined by a Selection Panel of distinguished individuals specifically convened to consider nominations.

 Who were previous recipients?

The first recipient of the award was Christchurch man Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) John Masters ONZM MC JP. 

Why is the award a statuette of two soldiers and a donkey?

The ‘Man with the donkey’ is one of the most recognised symbols of Gallipoli that represent the qualities of the Anzac spirit – comradeship, compassion, courage and commitment. It stems from the story of New Zealander Private Richard Henderson and the donkey, where these qualities were exemplified.  At Gallipoli, 19-year-old Henderson went far beyond the call of duty when he repeatedly brought in wounded men under heavy fire and with total disregard for his own life. Later, on the Western Front, similar feats of courage and selflessness would see him awarded the Military Medal. This commitment and compassion for his fellow comrades took a considerable toll on Henderson’s health as he went blind and battled illness all his life.

The base of the bronze statuette depicts the Maori hammerhead shark motif, signifying Tumatauenga, the God of War.  The Award was designed by Army artist Captain Matt Gauldie.  

This page was last reviewed on 19 April 2011.