Rick Jolly, a British navy doctor whose medical expertise and stiff-lipped poise saved hundreds of British and Argentine lives during the 1982 Falklands War, and made him one of the few service members in military history to be honored by his country as well as his former enemy, died Jan. 13 at his home in Torpoint, on England's southern coast. He was 71.
His death was reported by British news organizations, including the Times and Telegraph newspapers, which did not give a precise cause.
"The Doc," as he was known, reached the rank of surgeon captain in Britain's Royal Navy and had served for about a decade when the military of Argentina's crumbling dictatorship invaded the Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982. Located 300 miles off the coast of Argentina, the islands — known by Argentines as Las Malvinas — were home to more sheep than people and had been controlled by Britain for more than a century.
The invasion, widely seen as a last-ditch effort by Argentina's military junta to consolidate power, was stifled in just 74 days as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher deployed an armada to retake the archipelago. The result was an ascendant Thatcher, a return to democracy in Argentina and, for Capt. Jolly, a succession of surgeries and operations performed in the dark and cramped conditions of a makeshift hospital bombarded by Argentine fighter planes.
"We hope always in war that we're never busy at all," a lightly bearded Capt. Jolly said in a television interview near the end of the conflict, "but we have been busy."
It was, in typical Jolly fashion, something of an understatement. As the senior medical officer of the 3 Commando Brigade, he oversaw a field hospital inside an abandoned mutton processing plant at Ajax Bay, a landing point used by British troops.
Known to its patients and 120-odd medical personnel as the Red and Green Life Machine, from the beret colors of marines and paratroopers who were treated there, the hospital attended to about 1,000 service members over several weeks, losing just three patients, according to a government-commissioned history of the conflict.
In what Capt. Jolly later described as a decision based on the rules of war, the hospital was unmarked — bereft of a cross symbol that would have identified it to Argentine pilots as a medical facility and not a legitimate target — because it also housed a mess hall and stood near ammunition centers.
As a result, it was occasionally targeted by Argentine planes, leading Capt. Jolly and his fellow doctors to crouch and cover their patients, fearing the worst, until bombing runs ended. One night, the hospital was struck by four bombs that killed five and wounded 27, according to an account by military logistics scholar Kenneth L. Privratsky. Two of the 500-pound bombs landed near the surgical wards but failed to explode. They were later defused and surrounded by sandbags, and for the rest of the war they rested feet from the hospital's operating tables.
While Capt. Jolly was widely heralded for his leadership at the Ajax Bay hospital, where roughly 30 percent of his patients were Argentine troops taken in from the battlefield, he was also acclaimed for his bravery in plucking two British sailors from the South Atlantic. When a frigate, the HMS Ardent, was struck by Argentine aircraft in May 1982, Capt. Jolly boarded a helicopter that lowered him 30 feet, into the frigid waters of Grantham Sound.
Wearing little more than his regular uniform — "I hadn't intended to go for a swim," he later said — he pulled one sailor out of the water and was told to go back and save one more.
"I dropped into the water and I was too weak to lift him. He was in a terrible state, with a huge gash in his head and blood all over his face," Capt. Jolly told a newspaper in Plymouth, England. "He was in such a bad state, I'm not even sure he was aware he'd been saved.
"Even now," he continued, "that whole experience fills me with the deepest spiritual sense of pride."
Richard Tadeusz Jolly was born in Hong Kong in October 1946, according to British news reports. His father was a gunner in Hong Kong's colonial militia who, during World War II, was held captive for five years as a Japanese prisoner of war.
Capt. Jolly graduated from Stonyhurst College, a Catholic day and boarding school in England, and studied medicine at what is now Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry before enlisting in the navy.
By the time the Falklands conflict erupted, he had developed a grim familiarity with wartime medical practice, devising a photographic presentation known as "the Jolly horror show" in which he displayed images of battlefield injuries in an effort to prepare his troops — whom he wryly described as "potential customers" — for combat.
In all, 255 British troops and about 650 Argentines died in the war. Capt. Jolly treated both, in a commitment to medical ethics that alternately confused and irked his patients.
Among the Argentines, Capt. Jolly and his fellow doctors were rumored to be cannibals who tortured and then consumed prisoners of war; to some British troops, it was unconscionable that treatment was offered to downed pilots who, days earlier, tried to kill them.
When pressed, Capt. Jolly explained his actions by reciting some of the last words of Horatio Nelson, the legendary Royal Navy commander: "May humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British Fleet."
He was named an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1983 and 16 years later was awarded Argentina's equivalent honor, the Order of May, during a ceremony that included Prince Charles and several of the Argentine patients Capt. Jolly had treated during the war.
Survivors include the former Susie Matthews, his wife of 48 years, according to news reports. A son, James, died in 1989.
Capt. Jolly retired from the navy in 1996, wrote a memoir about his wartime experiences and co-founded a veterans organization, South Atlantic Medal Association 1982, speaking frequently on the importance of proper medical care for veterans and for soldiers in wartime.
"People assume you've got to hate your enemy but that couldn't be further from the truth," he told Britain's Sunday Mirror in 2012. "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."
Correction: An earlier version of this obituary imprecisely referred to the size of the medical staff that served at the Ajax Bay field hospital during the Falklands War. The group of about 120 medical personnel included medical assistants, not just doctors. It also imprecisely referred to Capt. Jolly's medical expertise. While he held the rank of surgeon captain and served as a senior medical officer, he did not specialize in surgery. The story has been updated.