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11 Field Ambulance

11 Field Ambulance Reunion at Enoggera 2011

11 Field Ambulance Reunion at Enoggera 2011

11th Field Ambulance Origins:

11th Field Ambulance was originally raised in 1916. However no 11th Field Ambulance  existed for almost a century although units called 11th Field Ambulance did serve in World War One and World War Two and in 2022 it exists as part of the Order of Battle as the 11th Medical Company of the 7th Combat Service Support Battalion, located within Gallipoli Barracks at Enoggera.

During the past century, a number of '11th Field Ambulances' have served Australia, with many members of these units whom fought and died in wars.

Members of the current 11th Medical Company, 7th Combat Service Support Battalion are supporting operations and providing medical support to the 7th Brigade. In WW I, 11th Field Ambulance, Australian Army Medical Corps, was officially formed at Mitcham, South Australia on 1 March 1916 and became an integral part of the Third Australian Division.

LTCOL M. H. Downey was appointed as the Commanding Officer (10 Feb 1916 – 25 Oct 1917), much to the satisfaction of the men. He would later be recommended for a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his administration and conspicuous ability as a leader whilst the Commanding Officer of 11th Field Ambulance.

Once raised, the unit commenced training in the hills to the south of Mitcham. This training was to prove remarkably valuable, as the terrain was very similar to that which the unit would soon encounter in France.

The unit embarked for England in four groups on different ships, the Suevic, Berrima, Wandilo and the Afric between 31 May 1916 and 30 June 1916. The first group arrived at Plymouth on 21 July 1916 and the unit was united at Salisbury Plain (Lark Hill Camp) for further training. The Unit spent four months in the Salisbury Plains area where they had a most pleasant ever experienced in the history of the Unit.

On the 24 November 1916 the unit embarked at Southampton for France. On this cold, wet and depressing day the unit was on its way to the Western Front only eight and a half months after being raised in balmy South Australia. On reaching Le Harve they entrained for the forward zone on the afternoon of the 26th, three days later they disentrained at Bailleul on a miserably cold night and the place was knee deep in mud. The unit then route marched for two and a half days before they eventually took over the Divisional Rest Station at Steenwerck. This station would become historic in the annals of the Ambulance, as it was the first station that they administered in France. Secondly on account of the amount of pioneering work that was accomplished to make the place worthy of its name; thirdly it was here they spent their first two Christmases in France. From here the unit undertook various duties in support of the Third Division. These duties included running sector medical posts and stations, operating Advanced Dressing Stations and running rest areas.

The unit's first casualties occurred while in the Le Bizet sector, when the enemy shelled the Advanced Dressing Station. Two cooks were badly wounded, one succumbing to his wounds a few days later on 7 April 1917. During it’s time on the Western Front the Ambulance was involved in numerous areas and sectors including, Ploegsteert, Messines (No carry was under two miles over ground shell-churned and trackless.), Charing Cross (in this area doctors and personnel were also compelled to work with gas marks on.); Ypres (Broodseine Ridge, Passchendaele and Flanders Ridge); the Somme and Villers Bretonneux. The casualties were numerous, and the bearers had a very strenuous task evacuating them from the various posts. During these offensives the Commanding Officer, LTCOL R.W. Chambers, (26 Oct 1917 – 15 Sep 1918) was awarded a DSO for his close attention to detail, and his fearlessness in the presence of danger.

In the final stages of the war 11 Field Ambulance was involved in the last Somme operations in 1918. The then Commanding officer LTCOL H.B. Lewers (13 Sep 1918 – 11 May 1919)  received the award of the “Order of the British Empire” (OBE) for the following reasons. “During the attack on the Hindenburg Line, 29 September, 1918-1 October, 1918, Colonel Lewers was able to effect the prompt evacuation of an unexpectedly large number of American casualties in addition to those of his Division by the exercise of his untiring energy and power of initiative.”

From the time of its first casualty in April 1917 to the cessation of hostilities the unit experienced 19 killed in action, 56 wounded in action. As well as 41 men were gassed of which one subsequently died, so for a period of just under two years active service the unit had 116 casualties.

The unit returned to Australia and was demobilized in 1919.

Between WWI and WWII:

Two years later the 11th Field Ambulance was re-raised at Rockhampton, Queensland in 1921 as a Militia unit. Little is known of the units activities between 1921 and 1941 until Japan entered the second world war.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour in December 1941 the Australian Government realised it would have to increase the size of the army particularly in the South West Pacific region and to this end mobilized a number of militia units, including 11 Field Ambulance. The unit was placed on full time duty on 16 December 1941.

Between December 1941 and July 1942 the unit undertook intensive training first in central and then northern Queensland. In March 1942 the unit was placed under command of the 29th Brigade.

In August 1942 the unit embarked for Milne Bay were it was in support of the 7th Brigade. On 26 August 1942 about 8000 Japanese attacked about the same number of Australians at Milne Bay. The Australian forces consisted of two reinforced Brigades that included the 11th and 2/5 Field Ambulances and a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), which is similar to a  Health Support Battalion in 2022. Due to the appalling conditions, it was wet season; evacuation from the Field Ambulance to the CCS was almost impossible so the Field Ambulance overflowed with casualties while the CCS remained quiet. For example on 30 August 1942, 11th Field Ambulance held 172 patients and had a daily average around that time of 155 patients. To ease the preasure on the Field Ambulance Medical Officers from the CCS moved forward to assist.

Malaria was rife in the area with about half the Brigade were invalided back to Australia. The remaining members of the unit along with the rest of the Brigade were transported to the Port Moresby area in March of 1943. In April the entire Brigade was transferred to a rest camp at the foot of the Owen Stanley Ranges. During this time most of the Malaria victims returned and the unit was brought up to strength by reinforcements.

In November 1944, 11 Field Ambulance was transferred to Bougainville Island in support of the offensive against the Japanese Garrison there. They provided medical support to the Division until relieved by the 15th Field Ambulance. The Commanding Officer LTCOL J.M. Blair (12 Jun 1942 – 15 Jun 1945) was awarded with a Mentioned in Dispatches for gallant and distinguished services in the South West Pacific (SWP) area in 1943. This was later followed by an OBE for highly meritorious service and ability in Bougainville in 1945.

During the course of the war, four members of 11th Field Ambulance were killed or died. 

The above actions of 11th Field Ambulance should not be confused with the actions of the 2/11 Field Ambulance, which was a separate unit. With the formation of the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) at the commencement of World War Two one of the new units raised was the 2/11th Field Ambulance. When the AIF deployed to England in 1940 unexpected problems in relation to medical care were discovered and a more extensive medical service was required. Part of the solution was to increase the number of field ambulances. To this end, in June 1940 the 2/3rd Field Ambulance was split in two, half remaining as the 2/3rd Field Ambulance and the other half becoming the 2/11th Field Ambulance, this creating two field ambulances prefixed 11th.

After extensive training in England 2/11th Field Ambulance was transferred to Palestine and then in March 1941 to Egypt as part of the 9th Division. By the end of March 1941 the 9th Division was spread along the north coast of Cyrenaica with the German forces pushing the allies westward. At this time2/11th Field Ambulance was in depth at Tobruk. The unit was to remain in the Tobruk area for the next seven months and endure the siege of Tobruk, being relieved on 20 October 1941.

After leaving Tobruk, the entire 9th Division was granted a period of rest and then commenced training for there next operation. The 9th Division was then sent to relieve the 7th Division in Syria, with 2/11th Field Ambulance relieving the 2/4th Field Ambulance in January 1942. Duty in Syria was generally quieter than it had been in Cyrenaica with non-battle rather than battle casualties predominating, of these malaria was the most significant.

The Division moved south to the Western Desert in June 1942. By early July 1942 the bulk of the 9th Division had moved into position in the vicinity of El Alamein. 2/11th Field Ambulance, having been reinforced by a mobile team and vehicles from the 2/8th Field Ambulance had the responsibility of operating the active Main Dressing Station for the divisional front from 10 to 25 July 1942. During this time there were a number of hectic periods as a result of major battles and a total of 1157 casualties were treated. The Unit was actively involved in the battle of Alamein treating a stream of casualties. For his actions the Commanding Officer LTCOL W.W. Lempriere (2 Dec 1941 – 30 Jan 1943) was awarded a DSO for devotion to duty, gallantry and conspicuous service at Alemein during the period from 23rd October to 5th November 1942. On 31 October 1942, the 2/32nd Battalion captured a building known as the “blockhouse” which was occupied by three German medical officers, some medical orderlies and German casualties. The Battalion RMO established his RAP there and with a medical officer and section from 2/11th Field Ambulance set up a kind of international medical post with two German and two Australian medical officers working side by side.

From early November 1942, with British forces in pursuit of the Axis forces the intensity of the activity for the 9th Division eased and the 2/11th Field Ambulance provided medical support and RAP services to local units. The 9th Division returned to Palestine in November 1942 and from there returned to Australia. On their return the unit refreshed, retrained in North Queensland before redeploying into the SWP area, including New Guinea, Finschafen, Morotai, and finally Tarakan Island, before Japan surrendered.

11 Field Ambulance Post WWII:

With the cessation of hostilities both 11th and 2/11th Field Ambulances returned to Australia and were demobilized in 1946. Post World War Two In 1948 the 11th Field Ambulance was again raised this time as a Citizen Military Force unit in Brisbane, the unit remained as such until it was again disbanded in 1962.

The unit was reinstated to the Order of Battle in 1967 at Wacol, Queensland to provide Royal Australian Army Medical Corps (RAAMC) reinforcements for the operations in South Vietnam. With the secondary role of staffing the 1st Camp Hospital’s rehabilitation wing for returning Vietnam casualties.

In 1971 the unit moved to Enoggera Barracks, Queensland but also had a detachment in Singapore in the early 1970’s.

With the withdrawal of Australian Combat troops from Vietnam, the unit was tasked in support of the 6th Task Force. Members of 11 Field Ambulance were often detached to various other units around the country, (e.g. Duntroon, ACT, 6 RAR, 8/9 RAR, LWC Canungra, Water Transport Kangaroo Point, 3/4 Cav Regt, 1 Field Artillery Regt, 5 Transport Sqadron, and occasionally even overseas, or working in Australia with other Nation's Defence Force units, sch as 19th Inf Btn 25th Div US Army etc.) 

The formation of 6th Brigade from 6th Task Force in 1982 resulted in the 11th Field Ambulance becoming a 6th Brigade unit. As part of 6th Brigade, 11th Field Ambulance has trained to develop the capability to support a brigade in low level and conventional operations. The unit was integrated with the Army Reserve in 1986 with one third of its establishment being reserve.

With the introduction of the Ready Reserve scheme in 1992, the unit continued to provide medical support to the 6th Brigade until on the 20th Jan 1993, 11 Field Ambulance was amalgamated into the 6th Brigade Administrative Support Battalion (6 BASB) as its medical Company, and again removed from the Order of Battle. The final Commanding Officer of 11th Field Ambulance was LTCOL G. Young, and his RSM was WO1 Tim Stanley.

On July 1st 1997, the 6th and 7th Brigades amalgamated leading to the disbandment of 6 BASB and the raising of the 7th Combat Service Support Battalion (7CSSB).

The medical element is now known as 11th Medical Company, 7 CSSB.

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