About This Unit
The 3rd Field Ambulance was the Field Ambulance Company that belonged to the Third Brigade of the First Division, comprised of 9th 10th 11th and 12th Battalions, all of which were drawn from the "outer States", namely Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania respectively.
The 3rd Brigade were the first to land at Gallipoli on the 25th April 1915 as the Covering Force and the Field Ambulances were soon in action being established near the beach.
Significant numbers of South Australians saw service in the 3rd Field Ambulance and indeed the unit exists to this day as a sub unit of the 9th Combat Service Support Battalion at Warradale in Adelaide's southern suburbs.
Perhaps the most famous members of the 3rd Field Ambulance were Private John Kirkpatrick Simpson and his donkey, who famously evacuated casualties for hte Gallipoli fighting to the beach head until Simpson was killed by a Turkish machine gun on 19 May 1915.
The Field Ambulance Company was responsible for 'Second Line' casualty evacuation from 'First Line' Regimental Aid Posts (RAP) in each battalion.
The RAPs served each Battalion (or other units) and were manned by the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO), a qualified doctor generally of Captain rank supported by several non-commissioned officers (NCO) of Sergeant and Corporal rank, with a number of medical orderlies at the rank of Private.
They in turn were supported by unit stretcher bearers, generally drawn from the Battalion's Band. These men would be trained to administer First Aid sufficient to clear airways, staunch bleeding and perhaps splint fractures so that casualties could be evacuated to the Battalion RAP. Casualties would be hand carried - requiring at least four men but more like eight over any distance for each casualty. Hand carts were also used but rough ground generally meant stretchers, When mass casualties occurred, such as through major shelling or an enemy attack, decisions would have to be made about the priority of evacuation. The RMO would assess the casualty and decide whether they were to be evacuated and with what priority. Grievous wounds with little chance of survival would generally not be evacuated.
When an attack or advance was undertaken, the RAP would follow up the units' forward elements and were thus exposed to enemy direct fire (rifles and machine guns) and indirect fire (artillery mortar fire and even gas).
The Field Ambulance would have personnel deployed forward to retrieve casualties from the RAP to the Field Ambulance Advanced Dressing Station and then to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS).
They would have to deploy forward to reach the RAP, and thus come under the same risks as the front line combat troops.
They may have had a number of means to assist in casualty evacuation from light rail, horse drawn vehicles and even motor vehicles. Or they could indeed also be stretcher borne.
On Gallipoli, the Field Ambulances were 'on the beach'. Subsequent evacuation was by ship to Lemnos Island, then to Malta and ultimately to the United Kingdom where soldiers might be hospitalised for many months. Then they would undergo rehabilitation, either in the UK or in serious cases they might be repatriated back to Australia. Many of the wounded succumbed to their wounds in transit. They would be buried at sea in the traditional naval fashion.
Once at the CCS, additional Medical Officers and supporting personnel were available to carry out life saving surgery. Some casualties might be retained in a limited number of beds - generally to allow more seriously wounded to be evacuated further to rear. The tragic fact was many men would have died here from serious wounds and indeed many of the cemeteries scattered through Northern France and Belgium originally began alongside a CCS.
From a CCS casualties might be taken to a Field Hospital or straight to a General Hospital.
Soldiers with serious wounds who needed surgery have what is called "The Golden Hour" to receive the treatment they need. After that time their chance of survival diminishes rapidly. Conditions were such that evacuation times were extended considerably by poor weather, the predominance of water, mud, the detritus of battle, shell torn ground and enemy action. At the time infection was also a great risk as it was prior to the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics.
Battle/ Campaign/ Involvement
The 3rd Field Ambulances war service closely parallels that of its parent Brigade, the 3rd Brigade.
The 3rd Field Ambulance served at Gallipoli. Wounded soldiers were evacuated to wother 1 Stationary Hospital on Lemnos, or to hospitals in Cairo. More seriously wounded men would be evacuated to Malta then to the United Kingdom.
By this time disease was taking its toll mainly due to poor sanitation and deteriorating hygiene. Dysentery and enteric fever (typhoid) were rife. The 3rd Brigade was extracted from Gallipoli in late October 1915 having been replaced by fresh troops of the 2nd Division.
After re-grouping and re-organising in Egypt from December 1915 unti March 1916, the Australians embarked for Europe arriving in Marseilles in April 1916. After an initial period in "The Nursery" sector in Flanders, the Brigade was sent south to the Somme Valley.
Reinforced, the Battalion was back in action at Mouquet Farm between 19-23 August.
All five Divisions were committed to this epic struglle
There were a series of key battles that defined the Third Ypres campaign. Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde Ridge and the two Battles for Paschendaele.
Campaign Entry German Spring Offensive Hazebrouk and Lys April 1918
In late May most of the Australian Divisions moved south to the Somme but the First Division remained in the Merris sector on the French / Belgian border, throughout June, engaged in sustained heavy fighting. The 3rd Brigade took part in the eventual capture of the town of Merris in July and was then re-deployed to the Somme.
Campaign Entry - Merris May- June 1918
On the 8th August the Battle of Amiens began (well east of the city) the great August offensive known as the "Hundred Days" during which the ANZAC Corps swept all before it, under the command of General Sir John Monash.
The Brigade took part in the attacks on the Hindenburg Line in late September 1918. A number of German field artillery guns captured at this time are to this day displayed in a number of South Australian suburbs and towns including, Victor Harbour and Murray Bridge.
Along with the rest of the AIF, the 10th Battaion and the rest of the 1st Division was withdrawn from the line after the 5th October and were resting reinforcing and training near Epehy when the Armistice was declared.
We would particularly like to encourage individual historians researchers or members of unit associations to contribute to the development of a more detailed history and photographs pertaining to this unit and its members.
Please contact [email protected] for details on how to contribute.