Biography

Birth date: 28 August 1910
Birth place: Australia: New South Wales, Sydney, Summer Hill
Death date: 15 November 1957
Death place: Australia: Victoria, Richmond
Final rank: Colonel
Service number: NX12617 - Second World War, 1939-1945
F391 - Second World War, 1939-1945
Unit: WRAAC

A nurse and senior army officer in the Second World War, Kathleen Best was born at Summer Hill in Sydney on 28 August 1910. Best was educated in Sydney and undertook nursing training at Western Suburbs Hospital and midwifery training in the Crown Street Women's Hospital. Having completed her training, Best nursed at Wyong Hospital on the New South Wales central coast, was appointed Acting Matron at the Rachel Forster Hospital in Sydney and later Deputy-Matron at the Masonic Hospital in Ashfield.

Best's military nursing career began with her appointment to the Australian Army Nursing Service on 30 May 1940. She was posted as Matron to the 2/5th Australian General Hospital and embarked for the Middle East in October that year. After opening in Palestine in December 1940, the hospital moved to Greece in April 1941. During the short-lived campaign, Best - the senior matron in Greece - and her colleagues endured regular German air raids. Best and 39 colleagues volunteered to remain in Greece after the evacuation knowing that they risked captivity. Within hours of deciding to stay, however, they too were ordered to leave, the last Australian nurses to do so. They survived further German air attacks on their ship before reaching Crete and later Alexandria. Best was awarded the Royal Red Cross for her service in the Greek campaign.

The 2/5th Australian General Hospital was then re-established in Palestine and reorganised under Best's supervision, but in August 1941 moved again, this time to Eritrea on the African coast. By March 1942 Best had returned to Australia, where her appointment to the AIF was terminated in mid-June. This, however, was not the end of her contribution to Australia's war effort. A month after leaving the AIF she became the Controller of full-time Voluntary Aid Detachments, which in September became part of the Australian Army Medical Women's Service. She held this post for seven months until she received a promotion to lieutenant colonel in February 1943 and was posted as Assistant Adjutant General (Women's Services). In September 1944, it having become clear the Allies would eventually prevail, she became Assistant Director of Women's Re-establishment and Training for the Department of Postwar Reconstruction. Among her responsibilities was the task of assisting servicewomen and female war-workers to adjust to civilian life once the war ended.

On 12 February 1951, Best became the founding Director of the Australian Women's Army Corps, which was shortly after given the designation "Royal". In September 1952 she reached the rank of honorary colonel and four years later, in 1956, appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Despite her achievements Best has been described as a modest woman with an engaging sense of humour. Those who served under her considered Best an inspiring leader who ruled with a firm hand, but who also treated her subordinates with fairness. Aged only 47, Best became ill with melanomatosis and died on 15 November 1957 at Epworth Hospital in Richmond, Melbourne.

Rolls and Awards

Honours and Awards : Royal Red Cross (1st Class)

  • Conflict: Second World War, 1939-1945

Collection Items

Photograph

004796

1940-10-18. SYDNEY - NURSES AND MASSEUSES AT SYDNEY SHOWGROUND SHORTLY BEFORE EMBARKATION. THEY ARE IN CHARGE OF MATRON K.A.L. BEST, AND THE MAJORITY OF THEM ARE FROM NSW. ARMY. NURSES EMBARKATION.

004796

004797

1940-10-18. SYDNEY - MATRON K.A.L. BEST WHO WAS IN CHARGE OF THE NURSES. ARMY. NURSES EMBARKATION.

004797

006924

1941-04. A.I.F. IN PALESTINE. NEAR REHOVOT. MATRON KATHLEEN BEST AND NURSES OF THE 2/5TH AUSTRALIAN GENERAL HOSPITAL ON PARADE IN CAMP NEAR REHOVOT. (NEGATIVE BY F. HURLEY).

006924

022075

ERITREA. 1941-11. SOME OF THE STAFF IN THE GROUNDS OF THE 5TH AUSTRALIAN GENERAL HOSPITAL. FROM THE LEFT:-NX12617 MATRON K.A.L. BEST, NX34812 STAFF NURSE M.F. BELL, NX34980 STAFF NURSE M.M. BAXTER, NX12625 STAFF NURSE J.H. HAMMOND AND NX34698 STAFF NURSE M. MCAULAY.

022075

022077

ERITREA. 1941-11. THE NURSING STAFF OF THE 5TH AUSTRALIAN GENERAL HOSPITAL. FROM THE LEFT:- NX70375 MASSEUSE M.C. THOMPSON, NX70371 STAFF- MASSEUSE L. KNOWLES, NX70373 MASSEUSE J.V.R. HOETS, NX70372 MASSEUSE J.P. TIVEY, NX12625 STAFF NURSE J.H. HAMMOND, NX414 SISTER R.F. MCCALLUM, QX6123 STAFF...

022077

022078

ERITREA. 1941-11. THE NURSING STAFF OF THE 5TH AUSTRALIAN GENERAL HOSPITAL. FROM THE LEFT:- NX70375 MASSEUSE M.C. THOMPSON, NX70371 STAFF MASSEUSE L. KNOWLES, NX70373 MASSEUSE J.V.R. HOETS, NX70372 MASSEUSE J.P. TIVEY, NX12625 STAFF NURSE J.H. HAMMOND, NX414 SISTER R.F. MCCALLUM, QX6123 STAFF NURSE...

022078

062962

FAWKNER PARK, SOUTH YARRA, VIC. 1944-01-23. AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S SERVICE OFFICERS CRICKET TEAM SELECTED FOR THE MATCH AGAINST THE OTHER RANKS TEAM. THEY ARE: NFX77216 CAPTAIN F. MCNAB, AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVICE (1); VFX361 COLONEL A. M. DAGE, RRC, MATRON-IN-CHIEF, AUSTRALIAN ARMY...

062962

062967

FAWKNER PARK, SOUTH YARRA, VIC. 1944-01-23. LIEUTENANT COLONEL K. A. L. BEST, RRC., AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVICE, GETS RIGHT ON THE BALL, WHILE CORPORAL J. SCOTT WAITS FOR A CATCH DURING THE CRICKET MATCH BETWEEN THE OFFICERS AND THE OTHER RANKS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S SERVICE.

062967

062969

Spectators watching the play during the cricket match between the officers and other ranks of the Australian Women's Services. Identified, left to right are: VF345014 Major (Maj) D L Madden, Australian Women's Army Service (sitting cross legged, wearing glasses with jacket over her shoulders);...

062969

062970

FAWKNER PARK, SOUTH YARRA, VIC. 1944-01-23. NFX12617 LIEUTENANT COLONEL K. A. L. BEST, RRC., AUSTRALIAN ARMY NURSING SERVICE (1) ASSISTS TFX6010 CAPTAIN W. WOOLNOUGH, AUSTRALIAN ARMY NURSING SERVICE (2) WITH HER PADS DURING THE CRICKET MATCH BETWEEN TEAMS OF THE OFFICERS AND OTHER RANKS OF THE...

062970

062972

FAWKNER PARK, SOUTH YARRA, VIC. 1944-01-23. NFX12617 LIEUTENANT COLONEL KATHLEEN ANNIE LOUISE BEST, RRC., AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVICE, BEING STUMPED BY CORPORAL J. SCOTT DURING THE CRICKET MATCH BETWEEN THE OFFICERS AND THE OTHER RANKS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S SERVICE.

062972

062976

FAWKNER PARK, SOUTH YARRA, VIC. 1944-01-23. NFX12617 LIEUTENANT COLONEL K. A. L. BEST, AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVICE, BOWLING DURING THE CRICKET MATCH BETWEEN OFFICERS AND OTHER RANKS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S SERVICE.

062976

063416

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1944-01-22. INFORMAL PORTRAIT OF VF143893 COLONEL S. H. IRVING MBE, CONTROLLER OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S ARMY SERVICE (AWAS).

063416

056282

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1943-09-06. MRS F. D. ROOSEVELT ARRIVING AT THE PORT MELBOURNE NAVAL DEPOT. ALSO SEEN ARE:- LIEUTENANT COLONEL K. A. L. BEST, ROYAL RED CROSS, AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMENS SERVICE (AAMWS) (6); ACTING COMMANDER F. W. HERIOT, NAVAL OFFICER IN CHARGE, PORT MELBOURNE (8); ACTING...

056282

056283

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1943-09-06. MRS F. D. ROOSEVELT ARRIVING AT THE PORT MELBOURNE NAVAL DEPOT. ALSO SEEN ARE:- LIEUTENANT COLONEL K. A. L. BEST, ROYAL RED CROSS, AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVICE (4); ACTING COMMANDER F. W. HERIOT, NAVAL OFFICER IN CHARGE, PORT MELBOURNE (7); ACTING COMMANDER F....

056283

056288

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1943-09-06. ON HER VISIT TO THE PORT MELBOURNE NAVAL DEPOT, MRS F. D. ROOSEVELT WAS PRESENTED WITH A BOUQUET BY LIEUTENANT GENERAL EICHELBERGER (SECOND FROM LEFT), WITH LIEUTENANT COLONEL K. A. L. BEST, ROYAL RED CROSS, AUSTRALIAN ARMY WOMENS MEDICAL SERVICE.

056288

066268

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1944-05-18. MEMBERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S ARMY SERVICE BAND MARCHING TOWARDS THE SALUTING BASE OUTSIDE GOVERNMENT HOUSE WHERE LIEUTENANT COLONEL K.A.L. BEST, RRC., ASSISTANT ADJUTANT GENERAL, WOMEN'S SERVICES, "A" BRANCH LAND HEADQUARTERS IS TAKING THE SALUTE FROM MEMBERS OF THE...

066268

066269

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1944-05-18. LIEUTENANT COLONEL (LT COL) K.A.L. BEST, RRC., ASSISTANT ADJUTANT GENERAL, WOMEN'S SERVICES, "A" BRANCH, LAND HEADQUARTERS TAKING THE SALUTE FROM MEMBERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S ARMY SERVICE AND THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVICE OUTSIDE THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO...

066269

066270

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1944-05-18. LIEUTENANT COLONEL K.A.L. BEST, RRC., ASSISTANT ADJUTANT GENERAL, WOMEN'S SERVICES, "A" BRANCH, LAND HEADQUARTERS (1) TAKING THE SALUTE FROM MEMBERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S ARMY SERVICE AND THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVICE OUTSIDE THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO...

066270

066271

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1944-05-18. MEMBERS OF THE BAND OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S ARMY SERVICE GIVE EYES RIGHT AS THEY MARCH PAST THE SALUTING BASE WHERE LIEUTENANT COLONEL (LT COL) K.A.L. BEST, RRC., ASSISTANT ADJUTANT GENERAL WOMEN'S SERVICES, "A" BRANCH, LAND HEADQUARTERS (2) IS TAKING THE SALUTE DURING...

066271

066272

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1944-05-18. MEMBERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S ARMY SERVICE GIVE EYES RIGHT TO LIEUTENANT COLONEL K.A.L. BEST, RRC., ASSISTANT ADJUTANT GENERAL, WOMEN'S SERVICES "A" BRANCH, LAND HEADQUARTERS AS THEY MARCH PAST THE SALUTING BASE OUTSIDE GOVERNMENT HOUSE DURING THEIR WEEKLY PARADE....

066272

066273

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1944-05-18. LIEUTENANT COLONEL K.A.L. BEST, RRC., ASSISTANT ADJUTANT GENERAL, WOMEN'S SERVICES, "A" BRANCH, LAND HEADQUARTERS (1) TAKING THE SALUTE FROM MEMBERS OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S ARMY SERVICE AND THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVICE OUTSIDE THE MAIN ENTRANCE TO...

066273

065513

KOOYONG, VIC. 1944-04-17. BRIGADIER (BRIG) R.G.H. IRVING, OBE., DIRECTOR OF MILITARY TRAINING, LAND HEADQUARTERS, BACK ROW, STANDING, LEFT (1), WITH SENIOR AUSTRALIAN ARMY OFFICERS AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE OFFICIAL OPENING CEREMONY OF THE AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S ARMY SERVICE, NO. 3 SENIOR ADMINISTRATION...

065513

141180

Melbourne, Vic. 1944-05-18. The Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) band give "eyes right" to NFX12617 Lieutenant Colonel K. A. L. Best, RRC, Assistant Adjutant General of the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) during their early morning march through the Domain.

141180

141181

Melbourne, Vic. 1944-05-18. NFX12617 Lieutenant Colonel K. A. L. Best, RRC, Assistant Adjutant General of the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS), returns the salute during an early morning parade of the Australian Women's Army Service (AWAS) in the Domain.

141181

P03725.007

Informal portrait of NX441 (Col) Colonel William Elphinstone Kay DSO VD, standing alongside NFX12617 Matron (Lieutenant Colonel) Kathleen Annie Louise Best (Royal Red Cross 1st Class), both of the 2/5 Australian General Hospital (5AGH). Col Kay of Glen Innes NSW, died of wounds 26 April 1941, aged...

P03725.007

063417

MELBOURNE, VIC. 1944-01-22. INFORMAL PORTRAIT OF LIEUTENANT COLONEL K. A. L. BEST RRC, CONTROLLER OF THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY MEDICAL WOMEN'S SERVCE (AWAS).

063417

Art

Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Best

Australian Army Medical Women's Service; Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen A L Best, Matron 2/5 AGH, AAMWS

ART22216

Heraldry

WRAAC badge brooch : Colonel K A L Best

Custom made brooch of silver, diamonds and silver gilt, plated with 18 carat gold in the shape of the badge of the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps. The obverse is surmounted with the Queen's Crown above a wreath of eucalyptus leaves that surrounds five diamonds in the form of the Southern Cross...

REL/19938

Timeline

Date of birth 1910-08-28 Summer Hill, NSW.
Date of birth 1910-08-28
Date and unit at enlistment (ORs) 1940-05-30 Volunteered for service in the Australian Army Nursing Service and was appointed as matron of 2/5th Australian General Hospital.
Other 1940-10 Embarked for the Middle East.
Other 1940-12 2/5th Australian General Hospital opened at Rehovot, Palestine.
Other 1941-04 Best and her staff were moved to Greece and based at Ekali, 12 miles south of Athens, where the ANZAC Corps were coming under constant German attack. Many of the medical personnel were evacuated as the Germans advanced. Best and 39 nurse remained to care for the wounded.
Other 1941-04-25 Best and the remaining nurses were ordered to evacuate, and were transported to Crete. For her courage and efficiency during the evacuations she was awarded the Royal Red Cross. Evacuated from Crete, Best and her staff then returned to Egypt where she had charge of a nurses staging camp at Suez. Enclosed by a high, barbed wire fence with only one gate, the camp was popularly known as 'Katie's Birdcage'.
Other 1941-08 Best went with the 2/5th Australian General Hospital to Eritrea in Ethiopia.
Date of honour or award 1941-12-30 Royal Red Cross (RRC).
Date returned to Australia 1942-03
Other 1942-06 Best's AIF appointment terminated.
Other 1942-07 Best was made inaugural controller of full time Voluntary Aid Detachments, later to be called the Australian Army Medical Women's Service.
Date promoted 1943-02 Appointed lieutenant colonel and she was posted as assistant adjutant general for women's services dealing with matters of policy.
Date of discharge 1944-09-02 Transferred to the Reserve of Officers and joined the Ministry of Post War Reconstruction, where she retrained service women for civilian life.
Other 1951 Recalled from the Reserve of Officers she was appointed first director of the Women's Australian Army Corps which gained the title Women's Royal Australian Army Corps later the same year.
Date promoted 1952-09 Honorary colonel.
Date of honour or award 1956-01-02 Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
Date of death 1957-11-15 Richmond, VIC.
Date of death 1957-11-15