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Alice Ross-King

She enlisted as a staff nurse in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, on 5 November 1914; her surname was hyphenated to Ross-King to distinguish her from another Alice King in the A.A.N.S. She embarked from Brisbane on 21 November with the 1st Australian General Hospital, bound for Egypt. Her appointment as sister, A.A.N.S., was effective from that date. On arrival in Egypt the 1st A.G.H. was established at Heliopolis, Cairo. Soon after, Alice Ross-King and a group of nurses were sent to Suez to occupy an evacuated French convent orphanage as a clearing hospital for casualties from Gallipoli. Later in 1915 she returned to Australia on transport duties, nursing the wounded; she later returned to Egypt with a troopship carrying reinforcements.

In April 1916 the 1st A.G.H. was sent to France and established at Rouen. Sister Ross-King remained with it throughout the Somme offensive until detached to the 10th Stationary Hospital on 7 June 1917 at St Omer. On 17 July she was sent forward to the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station close to the trenches at Trois Arbres near Armentières. On the night of 22 July the C.C.S. was bombed. Although close to the railway line the hospital had never been attacked before and Ross-King was following an orderly along the duckboards when five bombs hit the hospital, the first falling directly ahead of her. In her diary she describes the horror and carnage that followed and it was for her bravery during the attack that she was awarded the Military Medal. The citation praised her ‘great coolness and devotion to duty’ during that night. Ross-King was one of only seven nurses of the A.A.N.S. to be awarded the Military Medal during World War I. The ribbon to her medal was presented a month later by General Sir William Birdwood.

Bombing raids continued on the C.C.S. during the next few weeks and the 3rd battle of Ypres was taxing for the staff; Alice Ross-King wrote in her diary, ‘The Last Post is being played nearly all day at the cemetery next door to the hospital. So many deaths’. On 18 November she was posted back to the 1st A.G.H. at Rouen. On Christmas Day she was mentioned in dispatches and on 31 May 1918 was awarded the Associate Royal Red Cross.

The 1st A.G.H. transferred to England on 9 January 1919 and that month Ross-King embarked for return to Australia. Her A.I.F. appointment ended on 17 September.

Ross-King, Alice (1891 – 1968) – Australian Dictionary of Biography

Service Record

Service Record – National Archives of Australia; DiaryAWM

The bombing at Trois Arbres, 22 July 1917

I want to write the story of the bombing while it is still fresh in my mind.

I was at the head hut when Wilson came for me. Gilmore a very bad pneumonia was frightfully delirious & Capt C had suggested giving him seditative enemata. I went along the duckboards on the way to the tent where Gilmore was when Fritz was caught in the searchlight just above us. Batty caught my arm & pointed up saying “doesn’t he look pretty Sister” Wilson walked on swinging a lantern. Then we heard the whurr of the dropping bomb “Get down get down” cried Batty & dived under the ward table – Though we had been ringed often before we had not been hit & I just ran on after Wilson expecting the bomb to hit the railway line but it fell ahead of me & was followed by 4 others. The noise was so terrific & the concussion so great that I was thrown to the ground & had no idea where the damage was. I flew through the chest & abdo wards & called out “Are you alright boys? “don’t bother about us was the general cry from there – I raced along the duckboards towards Giilmores tent – although every light was out & there was a faint moon, the sky was full of searchlights & fragments from the Archies were flopping like big rain. I remember one hitting a board right in front of me. I met the Cook running along the duckboards making for the paddock next door. Swearing hard   When he saw me he shouted “Its put out my bloody fire Sister, its put out me bloody fire”   Then I met a patient running in pyjamas – “Ive got me paybook Sister” he shouted as he passed. I raced on & the next thing I knew I went over into a bomb crater. I shall never forget the awful climb on hands & feet out of that hole about 5 ft deep  greasy clay & blood tho I did not then know that it was blood. It was right in front of Gilmores tent – which was 3 marquees joined together, with about 46 stretcher cases in it. The tent had collapsed 6 though I shouted nobody answered me or I could hear nothing for the roar of planes & Archies – I seemed to be the only living thing about. I tore along to the Theatre  the lights were out – & the doors shut. I hammered on the door & called out “help help we’e been hit” but noone came. Topsy told me afterwds that every bottle had been broken & they were in pitch darkness & afraid to move because there was so much free chlo & ether about. They were expecting fire. I raced back to the tent & the first one of the staff I saw was the Padre. “Oh what shall I do Padre I can’t get help”  “Just leave it to the Lord Sister” said the dear old pet. A very decent chap he was. It seemed such a mad thing to say but he was very much shaken, “I’ll go & get some help Sister but you must get under cover. I tried to get into the tent again & got hold of a stretcher handle under the fly. There was a patient on it but he was dead as I found afterwds – the stretcher handle must have been splintered & I fell backwds into the crater again. I can not remember who came next or what I did except that I kept calling for Wilson to help me & thought he was funking but the poor boy had been blown to bits. Somebody got the tent up & when I got to Gilmore he was crouched on the ground at the back of his stretcher. He was at the far end of the tent. He wd not take any notice of me when I asked him to return to bed so I leant across the stretcher & put one arm round him & tried to lift him in. I had my right arm under a leg which I thought was Gilmores but when I lifted I found to my horror that it was a loose leg with a boot & putty on it. One of the orderlies legs which had been blown off & landed on Gilmores bed. Next day they found the trunk up a tree about 20 yds away. I have no very distinct recollection of what followed but apparently I carried on with the job. The bombing happened at 10.30 p.m. & when I next remember clearly it was early daylight & Fritz was coming over again. I got a bad attack of trembling when I heard Fritz again. Staff Bennett stayed with me. There was a sudden disappearance of the staff in general again. Over 20 men were killed by concussion. They were lying on stretchers on the ground. 5 bombs fell in the Camp & two outside one in the Mortuary & one in the Cemetery

25th July Uncle Jimmy came over today. All the boys are very wild with Fritz & they went out last night on reprisals – I hate to think about it  poor little sparks did not come back.

30th. July  There are two theories about the bombing. Some think he was after the balloon because it tethers about 2. miles away & there is a hole of stagnant water near the Camp that might look like a balloon. Tops thinks he was just caught in the searchlights & lightened without looking for a mark but most of the boys think he is snakey because we fired on stretcher bearers whom we thought were carrying bombs.

Diary (typed transcript pp86-87), AWM PR02082

“It is too awful for words”

4.8.17 Today a piece of shell case from H.E. they were shelling the baloon with fell through the abd theatre roof. It tore through the metal op. table & through the floor. Capt Calson had been giving an anaesthetic & had lifted the pat head while orderly lifted feet to place him on stretcher on the floor otherwise it wd have caught both anaesthetist & pat in the head. Capt C. very shocked & had to go off duty. I wet my pants. On the 5th we cleared early & I went up for a bath. Whilst in the bath Fritz started on the baloon. I could hear the whirr of a fragment It fell 6 inches outside washhouse. Never for[g]et how it felt naked & shiver

Have not written up in full for over a month. Had a most appaling time, Ypres offensive. Too big to write up now. Just a few things I want to remember. I can’t believe there is a God. It is too awful for words. No 3 has been shelled out & No 1 has had dud after dud. We are taking their cases. They are shelling B. & each day the shells go whining over our heads to the back areas. the Pork & beans are holding & Salient many quarrels taking place between boys. Bomb in estaminet, 23 Porkos killed. Working 7 a.m. till 2 a.m.

A silly order put up “All Sisters to go to Dugout when Fritz is overhead.” I expect they want to get rid of the lot of us if there is direct hit.

The last post is being played nearly all day at the Cemetary next door to the Hospital. So many deaths. The prisoners being brought in have buckles with “Got Mit Huns” written and our Pardre is always praying that “the Right will prevail” Im beginning to wonder about it all.

Agony Kellaway turned up today. He is pathology something or other with Prof Watson. Last time I met him we were at a prayer meeting at the N.C.U. at St Hildas. I said to Charles “Do you still believe all that” He said “Alice I’m a complete agnostic”. He has a Major rank though he has had no fighting – As bad as me carrying a M.M. !

I can’t keep this diary. Pity! Ill wish I had when we get home again.

Major Barton came to the mess tonight to talk over the [p]lans for the new theatre hut with me. Fritz over & Matron ordered me down to the dug out. She had a row with Barton who would not let me go. She turned out the light & said You can’t see anyhow Major. Suppose she was jealous that she was not consulted about the plans. B. turned his torch on to the plans & we went on with the job.The door opened & Eric Gutteridge walked in. Saw us sitting close & said Oh I beg your pardon & got for his life. Silly old Guts! He had ridden over through heavy shelling. Hope he got back safely.

It is about 8 weeks since I last wrote here. I’m back at 1 A.G.H. lost my luggage on the way back. Bro John can find. I got a bit shell shocked Had a nasty near miss with a bit of H.E. Kept on duty but used to wet my pants when ever Fritz came over. Topsy told M. on me. So she told Matron Conyers I’d been too long at C.C.S. So I had.

Diary (typed transcript pp87-88), AWM PR02082

Harry Moffitt

“Everything centers around him now” – diary, October 1915

53rd Battalion

The 53rd Battalion was raised in Egypt on 14 February 1916 as part of the “doubling” of the AIF. Half of its recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 1st Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the composition of the 1st, the 53rd was predominantly composed of men from the suburbs of Sydney. The battalion became part of the 14th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division.

The battalion arrived in France on 27 June 1916, entered the front line for the first time on 10 July, and became embroiled in its first major battle on the Western Front, at Fromelles, on 19 July. The battle of Fromelles was a disaster. The 53rd was part of the initial assault and suffered grievously, incurring 625 casualties, including its commanding officer, amounting to over three-quarters of its attacking strength.

AWM – Units

Killed in action, Fromelles

19 July 1916. Men of the 53rd Battalion in a trench in their front line a few minutes before the launching of the attack in the battle of Fromelles. AWM H16396

Eyewitness accounts of his death vary but all place him with his commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius Bertram Norris who was leading the 53rd Battalion.

The Battalion Commander of the 53rd, Lieutenant Colonel I. B. Norris, and his staff managed to cross No Mans Land safely to the security of the first trench but, as they moved further forward to the enemy support line, an unsuppressed machine-gun engaged and killed or wounded the entire party.

Lee, Roger & Australia. Dept. of Defence. Army History Unit 2010, The battle of Fromelles : 1916, Army History Unit, Canberra, A.C.T

Already our losses were severe. Among the fallen was our gallant Colonel (Norris). He was leading his wave on to the second line, calling out to his men to follow and deal it to the blighters, when a deadly spray of machine-gun bullets from the right flank riddled his body. He put his hands to his side, called out to his Adjutant to take his papers, and fell back dead. So ended the career of a gallant gentleman and brave soldier. Lieutenant Moffit, the Adjutant, stooped down over the body of his chief, thus exposing himself to the machine-gun fire, and was shot through the head. His death, too, was instantaneous.

Kennedy, J. J 1919, The Whale Oil Guards, James Duffy and Co, Dublin [Ireland]

Moffitt’s body has not been found and he is remembered at V.C. Corner. Lt. Col. Norris’ remains were identified recently in the Fromelles Project. He was buried by the Germans at Pheasant Wood. It is likely that Moffitt is among those ‘known to God’ at Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery.


Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery

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“Sr Moss King” likely Sister Ross-King identified #40 in this group photo of hospital staff at Rouen.

Published Tuesday May 31, 2011 · Last modified Monday August 25, 2014
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We're pleased that people are using this website as a source for locations, quotes and other primary source material. It's why we published our notes on the web. But we'd very much appreciate a footnote or credit. Much of the hospital (and other) location information for Lemnos and the Western Front is original research -- thank you, from Bernard & Cheryl