Colonel David Gifford Croll: 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance

State Library is lucky to hold the papers of Colonel David Gifford Croll, CBE, an eminent Queensland doctor who served in both World Wars, and is remembered not only for his outstanding service in Gallipoli and the Middle East but also his leadership in medicine at home.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1885, Gifford emigrated to New Zealand with his parents, before coming to Australia aged 13. He completed his medical training at the University of Sydney, and while studying, spent five years as part of the Sydney University Scouts (SUS), attaining the rank of Warrant Officer.  Back in Queensland, Gifford married a local Queensland nurse – Miss Marian Winifred (Winnie) Payne on 13 April 1912 at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Brisbane. Both were employed at the Brisbane Hospital.

Sister Winnie Croll. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Sister Winnie Croll. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

When war was declared in 1914, Gifford, wife Winnie and brother John all enlisted within weeks of each other. Gifford enlisted on 19 October, and was recommended for appointment as a Major with the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance, having spent almost four years since qualification as a medical practitioner with the Australian Army Medical Corps. John also joined the 2LHFA, and Winnie served with the 1st Australian General Hospital, and departed for Egypt on board HMAT A55 Kyarra on 21 December 1914.

Major Croll embarked from Pinkenba Wharf, Brisbane, on board HMAT A30 Borda on 15 December 1914 as Second in Command of the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance. Once in Egypt, he and his medical staff quickly came to grips with the desert conditions, but found themselves deployed to the Gallipoli Peninsula in May, and witnesses to the failed August Offensive and the bloody end of the campaign.

‘…the whole landscape is bathed in moonlight & looks very beautiful but the din is awful, every bullet as it passes overhead makes more noise then the rifle which fires it’. (Major Croll’s War Diary, 29 May 1915)

The OM78-70 David Gifford Croll Papers 1914-1919; 1944-1948 are an extensive collection of personal and official diaries, reports, memoranda and photographs which provide a detailed picture of Croll’s capability as a commander of a medical unit.  After the evacuation of the Peninsula he was promoted to Lt. Col. and given command of the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance as it supported operations in Egypt and Palestine. Croll was in charge of medical services and the logistics required to treat and retrieve wounded men under fire, in open warfare.

His narratives reveal his skillful co-ordination of field transport – bearers, drivers, horses, camels, wagons; the supply of medical services, as well as the basics of food, water and shelter. In extensive detail, these papers outline the logistic considerations and challenges of evacuating and treating men in desert conditions, and maintaining both a stationary and mobile medical facility with limited supplies and a wide range of ailments and injuries.  They also reveal the leadership and compassion with which Colonel Croll performed his duties.

‘We have men & horses, natives & camels all crowded together in to the smallest possible space & an outbreak of disease is sure to follow. If we had any material for building kitchen & sanitary conveniences, something might be done but the people behind never seem to wake up’. (Croll’s War Diary, 24 April 1916 – Romani)

Sister Winnie Croll had remained in Egypt with the 1st Australian General Hospital during the Gallipoli campaign, but was invalided home with pleurisy in January 1916. Gifford also returned home for a period in 1917, reporting for duty on the Hospital Transport Euripides, which embarked from Suez on 22 January. After a short period of leave in Australia he embarked again from Sydney on 9 May and returned to the Middle East. For a short while he was assigned to command the Camel Field Ambulance, then in August 1917 was appointed Assistant Director of Medical Services (A.D.M.S.) for Anzac Mounted Division.

Croll remained in the Middle East for the rest of the war, was promoted to Colonel in April 1918 and after the armistice was appointed Deputy Director of Medical Services (D.D.M.S.) of the A.I.F. in Egypt in March 1919. After a long war, he finally embarked for home on the Hospital Transport Dunluce Castle on 17 July 1919.

On 16 February 1919, Major-General Chaytor, commander of the ANZAC Mounted Division noted on Croll’s service record: ‘A very hard-working, conscientious, and reliable officer. His arrangements on all operations since becoming A.D.M.S. to this division have been excellent’. Mentioned in despatches twice in recognition for his highly practical and professional organisation skills, Colonel Croll was awarded the CBE in November 1919 “for his invaluable services in connexion with military operations in Egypt.

Upon his return to Australia Dr. Croll resumed his medical practice in Sherwood, a western suburb of Brisbane, and became a well known local identity. He served again in World War 2, and in 1941 commanded the 112 Australian General Hospital, which later became known as Greenslopes Military Hospital or Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital. He was also founder of the British Medical Agency, formed to assist doctors in their work. He died in 1948, aged 62.

Dr. Croll was a past commodore of the Royal Queensland Yacht Club, and was Commissioner of the Sea Scouts. He was also a foundation member of the Sherwood RSL, and he and Mrs Croll bequeathed their home to the Sub-Branch. In 1955, after Mrs. Croll’s death in 1954, it was dedicated as the Croll Memorial Centre. The title transferred to new premises at Corinda in 1967, and the precinct extended in 1971. Since the early 1970s, the Croll Memorial Precinct at the Sherwood Indooroopilly RSL Sub Branch has been a local centre for commemorative services, and stands as a tribute to Dr Croll’s immense contribution as a doctor and a soldier.

References:

Croll, David Gifford. First World War Service Record. National Archives of Australia.

“Dr. Croll Dead” The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 – 1954) 5 May 1948: 3.

Monument Australia. Dr. David Croll: Croll Memorial Precinct.

Sherwood-Indooroopilly RSL Sub-Branch. Memorials.

 

 Robyn Hamilton -QANZAC100 Content Curator