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Best, Kathleen Annie Louise (1910 - 1957)


28 August 1910
Summer Hill, New South Wales, Australia
15 November 1957
Richmond, Victoria, Australia
Nurse and Servicewoman


Kathleen Best, as nurse and army officer, was an inspiring leader in both a war and peace time environment. As an army officer in the Middle East, she distinguished herself through her courage and efficiency in her treatment and care of the wounded. After her wartime service, she assumed a number of peacetime appointments, which included becoming the founding director, Australian Women's Army Corps (Women's Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC)) in 1951. Kathleen Best's war effort was acknowledged by the award of the Royal Red Cross medal 'for gallantry, conduct and devotion in Greece 14/27 April 1941' and her subsequent role as Director of the WRAAC was honoured with her appointment as Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1956.


Kathleen Best was the second child of Rupert Dudley Best, commission agent, and Emily Edith, née Stevenson. She was educated at Bondi Public and Cleveland Street Intermediate High School. She embarked on her nursing career at Western Suburbs Hospital and completed her midwifery at the Crown Street Women's Hospital, Sydney.

On 30 May 1940, Best enlisted in the Australian Army Nursing Service, Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) (service number NX12617), and was posted as matron of the 2nd/5th Australian General Hospital, which opened in December at Rehovot, Palestine. It moved to Greece on 10 April 1941 to assist the Anzac Corps in its battle against the Germans. Medical and nursing personnel worked under constant air raids, and by 25 April, most medical staff were evacuated to Crete. Best and 39 nurses volunteered to remain to care for the wounded, but later that day they were ordered to leave and survived a dangerous journey to Greece. She was awarded the RRC for her gallant conduct under difficult circumstances. She returned to Palestine to reorganise the hospital, then in August 1941, she went with the 2nd/5th AGH to Eritrea, Ethiopia.

Best returned to Australia in March 1942 and her AIF appointment was terminated on 13 June. She then took on the position of controller of full-time voluntary aid detachments for the Australian Army Medical Women's Service. She relinquished this post in February 1943 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel to become assistant adjutant general (women's services). In September 1944 she transferred to the Reserve Officers and became the assistant director of women's re-establishment and training in the Department of Postwar Reconstruction. This position involved helping servicewomen and female war workers adapt to the changed postwar conditions. The culmination of her career came with her appointment as the founding director of the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps in February 1951. She was promoted to the rank of honorary colonel in 1952 and was appointed to the OBE in 1956. She was a member of the Melbourne Lyceum Club. Two portraits of her, painted by Nora Heysen and Geoffrey Mainwaring, hang in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Kathleen Best died in the Epworth Hospital, Richmond, Victoria, from melanonomatosis on 15 November 1957.


1940 - 1942
Served in the Middle East
Awarded Royal Red Cross Medal (RRC)
1942 - 1943
Controller for the Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS)
1943 - 1944
Assistant Adjutant-General Women's Services
1944 - 1949
Assistant Director, Re-establishment Division, Department of Post-War Reconstruction

Sources used to compile this entry: Bassett, Jan, Guns and brooches : Australian Army Nursing from the Boer War to the Gulf War, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1992, 261 pp; Lincoln, Merrilyn, 'Best, Kathleen Annie Louise (1910-1957)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, 2006,; accessed 18 July 2002.

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Archival resources

Australian War Memorial, Research Centre

National Archives of Australia, National Office

  • Christmas message from Colonel Sybil H IRVING (honorary Colonel of the Corps HONCOL) and Colonel Kathleen BEST (Director, Women's Royal Australian Army Corps DWRAAC), 1956, Series A7483; Control Symbol 1568457; Item Barcode 13455322; National Archives of Australia, National Office. Details
  • Speech by Colonel Sybil H Irving (honorary Colonel of the Corps) made at the opening of the Kathleen Best Memorial Gates, Women's Royal Australian Army Corps (WRAAC) School, Mosman, NSW, 6 November 1959, 6 November 1959, Series A7483; Control Symbol 1568449; Item Barcode 13455241; Irving, Sybil Howy (1897 - 1973); National Archives of Australia, National Office. Details

National Archives of Australia, National Office, Canberra

Digital resources

Lieutenant Colonel Kathleen Best
Heysen, Nora (1911 - 2003)
Australian War Memorial


Rosemary Francis

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

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