18th Anti-Tank Battery

Major Roy Stevens

2/12th Field Amb. at Cowra

en route to Darwin

2/12th unit banner

The 2/12th Field Ambulance was a country NSW, Australian Army Medical Corps unit. Based at Cowra, it was inaugurated on 12th December 1940 and is renowned as one of the most distinguished units of World War 2 because more than two hundred of its members perished in service. That is a rate of more than one in three of its nominal roll, the highest for any non-combatant unit in Australian history.


Companies served with the ill-fated 'bird' forces, Gull and Sparrow, while another section was on board the doomed hospital ship Centaur, torpedoed off Moreton Island by a Japanese submarine. Only 14 of the 192 members of the 2/12th on board the Centaur that night in May of 1943 survived the sinking. In the Great War, the 12th Australian Field Ambulance was part of the Australian 4th Division in France and Belgium where they served with distinction evacuating dead and wounded from the battles at Messines and Polygon Wood where seven of the unit's stretcher bearers were killed.


Field Ambulance is a highly mobile unit, the 2/12th served the 23rd Brigade of the 8th Australian Infantry Division. They drove their unit vehicles from Cowra to Katherine in February-March 1941 over four weeks. As one of the first units to arrive outside Darwin, the 2/12th constructed buildings and medical facilities at Katherine and Winnellie. As many of the men had country and bush carpentry backgrounds and worked tirelessly with pick, shovel, axe and hammer, they were often referred to as the '2/12th Pioneers'.


Captain Leslie Poidevin and 12 other ranks sailed with the Westralia on 10th December from Darwin however the unit was considerably under strength for the task in hand. With malaria, tropical diseases, poor sanitation, unsuitable clothing and the monsoon season, most of Sparrow Force on Timor were suffering some form of ailment and unit strength was markedly affected. Major Roy Stevens arrived at Kupang, Timor with 12 other ranks on 10th January, on a regular passenger service Qantas flying boat. By the time the Japanese landed on 20th February, unit strength of the 2/12th Field Ambulance stood at 2 officers and 48 other ranks.

First aid stations were established at Klapalima, Penfui and Babao but for patient recovery it was found that mountain air and absence of mosquitoes provided a much more healthy environment, so a hospital was constructed at Champlong and headquarters moved there after Brigadier Veale arrived in Timor on 12th February 1942. Most of the 2/12th were at Champlong when Col. Leggatt surrendered his force at Airkom, only about 5 miles distant. Rather than go with walking wounded and other Sparrow Force members to the east to join up with the 2nd Independent Company commandos, the medical orderlies remained with their patients and went into captivity. Four men of the 2/12th Fd. Ambulance however accompanied Brigadier Veale and returned to Australia. 


The companies were camped at Katherine where they constructed small hospitals and medical facilities. 
          Headquarters - Commanding officer Lieut.-Col. Nathaniel D. Barton
                                  Major Leslie M. Outridge
          A Company - Major Roy H. Stevens - Sparrow Force on West Timor
               2-i.c. Captain Leslie O.S. Poidevin             
          B Company - Captain Peter M. Davidson - Gull Force on Ambon
               2-i.c. - Captain Stanley B.M. White
          AASC Attachment - Lieut. Edward M. Dickinson


Despite losing half its strength after the fall of Ambon and Timor, then again with nearly 180 in the sinking of the Centaur, the 2/12th Field Ambulance rebuilt and later served in Borneo, Morotai, Tarakan, Lutong and Kuching. ,

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Ian D. Skennerton

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