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Norris, Sir Frank Kingsley (1893–1984)

by Andrew J. Ray

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Sir Frank Kingsley Norris (1893-1984), physician and army medical officer, was born on 25 June 1893 at Lilydale, Victoria, younger son of Victorian-born parents William Perrin Norris, medical practitioner, and his wife Mary Jane, née Foulkes. Kingsley was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, where he acquired the nickname ‘Dum’ (from Dumnorix, a Celtic chieftain who opposed Julius Caesar), although his family called him ‘Bill’. While studying medicine at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1916; MD, 1920), he was resident in Trinity College, played lacrosse and acted with Gregan McMahon’s Melbourne Repertory Company.

Interrupting his course, Norris enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 August 1914. He served as a medical orderly in Egypt and England, and was discharged on 13 April 1916 to complete his studies. Due to the shortage of doctors, he and a fellow student, L. E. Hurley, were appointed to the staff of the Queen’s Memorial Infectious Diseases Hospital, Fairfield, Melbourne. After graduation, he was appointed to residencies at the (Royal) Melbourne and (Royal) Children’s hospitals and was invited to be an assistant to Hobill Cole. He then set up in private practice as a paediatrician. On 24 May 1920 at St John’s Church of England, East Malvern, he married Dorothy Leonard Stevenson, a sister from the Children’s Hospital. He began a long association with the Alfred Hospital.

In 1923 Norris was commissioned as a captain in the (Royal) Australian Army Medical Corps, Citizen Military Forces, rising to major (1928) and lieutenant colonel (1934). He became deputy assistant director of medical services in 1938. In October 1939, soon after the outbreak of World War II, he was seconded to the AIF. He was initially appointed commanding officer of the 2/1st Casualty Clearing Station. In April 1940 he was promoted to colonel and appointed assistant-director of medical services of the 7th Division. By November he was in the Middle East. In the Syrian campaign (June-July 1941) he impressed his commander, A. S. Allen, with his courage, organising ability and devotion to the welfare of the wounded; he received the Distinguished Service Order.

The division returned to Australia early in 1942, deployed to Papua in August and was soon in action. Norris walked the Kokoda Trail twice, although almost 50 years of age. His vivid description of life and death there—later reproduced in his autobiography, No Memory for Pain (1970)—has been much quoted. He supervised the division’s medical services until the campaign ended in January 1943. That year he was appointed CBE. Allan Walker, the official medical historian of Australia in World War II, spoke of ‘his outstanding work as A.D.M.S. in this [the Owen Stanley] campaign’.

Back in Australia, Norris was promoted to temporary brigadier and appointed deputy-director of medical services, II Corps, in May. He was in Papua and New Guinea from October but dermatitis led to his repatriation in March 1944, hospitalisation, and transfer on 3 April 1946 to the Reserve of Officers. As director (1945-48) of the Melbourne Permanent Postgraduate Committee, he travelled overseas investigating postgraduate medical studies.

On 3 May 1948 Norris returned to the army as director general of medical services, with the rank of temporary (later substantive) major general, Permanent Military Forces; he succeeded (Sir) Samuel Burston. Norris established the School of Army Health and during the Korean War made several trips to Japan and Korea. He was appointed CB (1953) in recognition of ‘his enthusiasm, drive and leadership’ and ‘keen sense of duty’, before being placed on the Retired List on 26 June 1955.

Norris held part-time appointments as medical officer of the staff clinic at Royal Melbourne Hospital and medical adviser (1955-61) to the Directorate of Civil Defence. In 1957 he was appointed KBE. Again succeeding Burston, Norris was honorary colonel of the RAAMC (1957-62). He remained an indefatigable traveller, public speaker and contributor to public life. Among the many positions he held were chairman (1949-57) of the College of Nursing Australia, president of the Victorian branch of the Royal Empire Society (1948-54) and of the Good Neighbour Council of Victoria (1959-63), and chief commissioner in Australia (1963-69) of the St John Ambulance Brigade.

Stockily built and 5 ft 6½ ins (169 cm) tall, Sir Kingsley retained twinkling eyes and a military bearing almost to the end, but suffered increasing deafness. He enjoyed convivial occasions, notably with the Melbourne Beefsteak Club. Survived by two of his daughters, he died on 1 May 1984 at Camberwell, Melbourne, and was buried with full military honours in Box Hill cemetery. One daughter (d.1927) and his wife (d.1975) had predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • A. S. Walker, Middle East and Far East (1953) and The Island Campaigns (1957)
  • People (Sydney), 10 Mar 1954, p 31
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 7 July 1984, p 41
  • B2458, item 340000 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Andrew J. Ray, 'Norris, Sir Frank Kingsley (1893–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/norris-sir-frank-kingsley-15825/text27024, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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