Alice Ross-King was born in Ballarat, Victoria on 5th August 1887 to a family of Scottish descent. Tragedy struck the Ross-King family in the early 1890s when Alice’s father and two brothers drowned in an accident, leaving just Alice and her mother. Succeeding this tragedy, Alice and her mother returned from Perth to Melbourne where Alice trained to become a nurse. In 1914, Alice joined the Australian Imperial Force or Australian Army Nursing Service and was sent to the 1st Australian General Hospital, on the outskirts of Cairo Egypt.
By April 1915, Alice had been working at setting up several casualty clearing stations in the city of Suez in anticipation of an overflow of wounded soldiers. The fears of an unending stream of causalities became reality, when in late April 1915 Alice Ross-King’s casualty clearing station began to receive casualties from the Battle of Gallipoli. The nurses and other devoted hospital staff, “worked around the clock, tending to their patients and fighting overwhelming odds to improve the survival […] of many of the […] seriously wounded.” Alice’s experiences during the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915 where just a taste of tragedy to come, as after a brief furlough home to Australia, Alice set up another Australian General Hospital in Rouen, France.
However, Alice’s experiences of the various fronts in WWI where not without their measure of entertainment and sightseeing excursions. Whilst stationed in Egypt, Alice was able to visit the pyramids and the Sphinx. There were also tea parties, dances, and lectures for the troops and hospital staff alike. This jovial camaraderie helped alleviate some of the stressful symptoms of war such as amputated limbs and post-traumatic stress syndrome, even for just a short period. This happy atmosphere didn’t last long as Alice experienced yet another important and terrifying battle in 1916, the Battle of the Somme. The Australian General Hospital’s position near the Somme battlefield meant that, similarly to the Battle of Gallipoli, the hospital staff dealt with an unending stream of casualties.
After Alice’s experiences in two significant battles, she was moved to a hospital near Trois Arbes. Only five days after her arrival she again showed her courageous and determined spirit. On the night of July 22nd, 1917 there was an air raid over the hospital, with a bomb landing directly on the casualty clearing station. Alice immediately ran to the wards shouting “Are you alright boys?” before falling into a blood soaked crater which held the remains of her boys. Alice wrote in her diary
Though I shouted nobody answered me or I could hear nothing for the roar of the planes and the Archies [artillery]. I seemed to be the only living thing about…. I kept calling for Wilson to help me and thought he was funking, but the poor boy had been blown to bits.
For her bravery, and for a further incident in where she saved the lives of forty-five wounded German soldiers, Alice was awarded the Royal Red Cross Medal (2nd Class) and was mentioned in Dispatches in 1918. After the cessation of hostilities, Alice returned to Melbourne where she married Dr. Sydney Appleford. However, Alice’s adventures weren’t finished and in WWII she trained members of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (V.A.D.) ready for a new war and a new battle front.