Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Best, Kathleen Annie Louise (1910–1957)

by Merrilyn Lincoln

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Kathleen Annie Louise Best (1910-1957), by Nora Heysen

Kathleen Annie Louise Best (1910-1957), by Nora Heysen

Australian War Memorial, ART22216

Kathleen Annie Louise Best (1910-1957), nurse and army officer, was born on 28 August 1910 at Summer Hill, Sydney, second child of Rupert Dudley Best, commission agent, and his wife Emily Edith, née Stevenson, both native-born. Educated at Bondi Public and Cleveland Street Intermediate High schools, Kath completed nursing training at Western Suburbs Hospital and midwifery at the Women's Hospital, Crown Street. She became a staff nurse at Wyong Hospital, acting-matron at the Rachel Forster Hospital for Women and Children, Sydney, and deputy-matron of the Masonic Hospital, Ashfield. On 30 May 1940 she was appointed to the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Force, and posted as matron of the 2nd/5th Australian General Hospital.

Embarking for the Middle East in October, she impressed a member of her staff as 'a young, enthusiastic nurse, and a perfectionist' who ruled with a firm hand, but 'was always very fair'. In December the hospital opened at Rehovot, Palestine, and on 10 April 1941 moved to Greece where the Anzac Corps was encountering a German assault. Medical personnel had to contend with constant air-raids. By 25 April almost all the nurses and physiotherapists from the 2nd/5th A.G.H. had been evacuated to Crete. Best and a party of thirty-nine nurses were chosen from volunteers to remain and care for the wounded, but, later that day, were ordered to leave. They endured a hazardous voyage to Crete. For her courage and efficiency throughout the evacuation, Best was awarded the Royal Red Cross (1942).

Back in Palestine, she reorganized the hospital. For some time she had charge of a nurses' staging camp at Suez, Egypt; enclosed by a high, barbed-wire fence and with only one gate, it was popularly known as 'Katie's Birdcage'. In August 1941 she went with the 2nd/5th A.G.H. to Eritrea, Ethiopia. She returned to Australia in March 1942 and her A.I.F. appointment terminated on 13 June. Next month in Melbourne she was made controller of full-time voluntary aid detachments (Australian Army Medical Women's Service from September). Relinquishing the post in February 1943, she was promoted lieutenant colonel and posted as assistant adjutant-general (women's services). In September 1944 she transferred to the Reserve of Officers and accepted the assistant-directorship of women's re-establishment and training, Department of Postwar Reconstruction: her responsibilities included helping servicewomen and female war-workers adjust to peacetime conditions. On 12 February 1951 'K.B.' was recalled from the reserve and appointed founding director, Australian Women's Army Corps (Women's Royal Australian Army Corps). She was promoted honorary colonel on 17 September 1952 and appointed O.B.E. in 1956.

Five ft 5 ins (165 cm) tall, with blue eyes and a fair complexion, Best was committed to her duties and an inspiring leader; yet she was also modest about her achievements and had a lively sense of humour. She died of melanomatosis on 15 November 1957 in Epworth Hospital, Richmond; after a military funeral at Toorak Presbyterian Church, she was buried in Fawkner cemetery. Her portraits by Nora Heyson and Geoffrey Mainwaring are held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Brodziak (ed), Proudly We Served (Syd, 1988)
  • Australian Women's Digest, Oct 1944
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Jan, 1 May, 3, 4 July, 21 Sept 1942, 9, 28 Jan, 12 Feb, 15 Mar 1943, 16 Aug, 18 Sept, 18 Nov 1944, 2 Aug 1945, 27 Jan, 15 Feb, 22 Apr 1951, 1 Feb 1953, 2 Jan, 28 Oct 1956, 21 July, 16 Nov 1957, 7 Nov 1959
  • Herald (Melbourne), 2 July 1942, 18 Aug 1944, 27 Jan 1951, 16, 23 Nov 1957
  • Australian War Memorial records
  • private information.

Citation details

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Best, Kathleen Annie Louise (1910–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/best-kathleen-annie-louise-9500/text16721, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018