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Alice Ross-King (1887–1968)

by Lorna M. Finnie

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Alice Ross-King (1887-1968), civilian and army nurse, was born on 5 August 1887 at Ballarat, Victoria, daughter of Archibald Ross King, storekeeper, and his wife Henrietta, née Ward. Baptised Alys Ross, she normally used the more common spelling of her first given name. The family moved to Perth when she was very young. There Archibald King and his two sons were drowned in an accident on the Swan River; soon after, Alice and her mother settled in Melbourne.

Although a Protestant, Alice King was educated first at the Academy of Mary Immaculate (Convent of Mercy), Fitzroy, and later at Presbyterian Ladies' College. Not being old enough to begin nursing training, she worked for some time assisting the matron of the Austin Hospital, Melbourne, with general duties. During a typhoid epidemic she helped staff at the Alfred Hospital and stayed on to start training. Having gained her certificate, she remained there, becoming sister, night superintendent and acting matron. Before World War I Alice King was a theatre sister and in charge of a private hospital in Collins Street.

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. During the voyage home she had met a doctor, Sydney Theodore Appleford. They were married on 20 August 1919 at Wesley Church, Melbourne, and settled at Lang Lang, South Gippsland; they had two daughters and two sons. According to her daughters, Alice Appleford was a very private person and never talked about her war experiences.

In the late 1930s she trained Volunteer Aid Detachments in the Gippsland area. By 1940 she and her family had moved back to Melbourne, living at Essendon. She enlisted for full-time duty with the V.A.D.s and her husband was commissioned as a medical officer in the army. By 1942 the V.A.D.s had developed into the Australian Army Women's Medical Services and Alice Appleford was commissioned as a major and appointed senior assistant controller for Victoria. Untiring in her devotion to duty and hard work, with responsibility for some 2000 servicewomen, her organizing skills had great impact on fund-raising activities during World War II. She was fully committed in assisting Red Cross and Service charities, supporting war widows and children and demonstrating concern for the well-being of members of the A.A.W.M.S.

Alice Appleford was awarded the Florence Nightingale medal in 1949 by the International Red Cross. Her citation is descriptive of her character: 'no one who came in contact with Major Appleford could fail to recognise her as a leader of women. Her sense of duty, her sterling solidity of character, her humanity, sincerity, and kindliness of heart set for others a very high example'.

Survived by her four children, Alice Appleford died on 17 August 1968 at Cronulla, Sydney, and was buried in the Presbyterian section of Fawkner cemetery, Melbourne. Her husband had predeceased her in 1958. An annual award is presented to a serving member of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps by the Ex-A.A.W.M.S. Association to perpetuate her memory.

Select Bibliography

  • J. H. Leslie (compiler), Historical Roll (With Portraits) of Those Women of the British Empire to Whom the Military Medal has Been Awarded During the Great War (Sheffield, Eng, 1919)
  • A. G. Butler (ed), Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War 1914-18, 1, 3 (Melb, 1930, Canb, 1943)
  • Sabretache, July 1977
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 July 1919
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 12 May 1949
  • Australian Red Cross Society, citation, Sept 1949 (records, Australian Red Cross Society, Melbourne)
  • biography card index (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Lorna M. Finnie, 'Ross-King, Alice (1887–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 20 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • King, Alys Ross
  • Appleford, Alice

5 August, 1887
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia


17 August, 1968 (aged 81)
Cronulla, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.