THOMAS Gordon Ross’s name can be found amongst the greats of Carlton’s golden era – men of stature like ‘Pompey’ Elliott, ‘Hackenschmidt’ Clark and ‘Mallee’ Johnson.
And while his time at Carlton ended with his 30th and final on-field appearance in the 1903 semi final with Collingwood, Ross is forever remembered for his bravery in wartime, and a recipient one of the British Commonwealth’s highest awards for gallantry: the Distinguished Service Order.
Born in the captivating gold mining town of Chewton in central Victoria way back in 1878, Ross followed Jack Worrall from Fitzroy to Princes Park – the former having turned out at Brunswick Street in four senior appearances for the Maroons through 1900 and 1901.
Worrall, as Carlton Secretary/Coach, took Carlton to the VFL Grand Final triumphs of 1906, ’07 and ’08, but by then Ross was long gone, his Princes Park playing days having been brought to premature end by the demands of his medical studies down the road at Melbourne University.
Carlton footballer Thomas Ross, a member of Carlton’s 1902 team, poses at far right for the photographer. At the far left is the legendary Carlton Secretary/Coach Jack Worrall, whom Ross followed to Princes Park from Fitzroy.
On completing his medical degree, Ross and his wife Florence relocated to Brisbane, where he established a private practice, and not long after became a Reserve officer with the Australian Army Medical Corps.
When the world was plunged into war in August 1914, 36 year-old Captain Ross was working as a surgeon at Townsville Hospital. He immediately enlisted in the AIF, and by the middle of the following year had been promoted to Major. At Gallipoli he was subjected to a baptism of fire with 12 Field Ambulance – and it was at Gallipoli that the heroics of the stretcher bearers, doctors and other medical staff became the stuff of Anzac legend.
In October 1915, having survived the horrors at the Dardanelles, Captain Ross was admitted to a field hospital with a particularly potent strain of influenza, later dubbed ‘Spanish flu’. He eventually recovered, but the after-effects of that serious illness were to plague him for years.
The following year, Captain Ross was further promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and given command of 12 Field Ambulance. But Gordon Ross was no staff officer. Despite his rank, he led his men into the thick of the action whenever the Australians went on the offensive – as he proved at the village of Warloy in August 1916, when he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for courage and leadership under fire. The official recommendation for this honour reads as follows:
Lt Colonel Ross personally supervised the evacuation of wounded from 6 August 1916, to 15 August 1916 from the firing line to the main dressing stations at Warloy, all of which were carried out without a hitch. He was also responsible for the advanced dressing stations, collection posts, reinforcements to Battalion stretcher bearers etc. He was instrumental in advancing the Regimental Aid Posts on the right and the left about one thousand yards, which greatly facilitated the evacuation of the wounded, and altogether carried out the work in a most admirable manner.
Lieutenant Colonel Ross’s Distinguished Service Order notification.
In February 1917, having been further honoured by being Mentioned In Despatches by his Commander In Chief General Sir Douglas Haig, Lieutenant Colonel Ross was again struck down by illness, his already weakened lungs ravaged by bronchitis. He was invalided to England for rest and recuperation, but it was clear he was unlikely to regain full fitness.
Therefore, as a volunteer non-combatant who had spent almost three years in front line service, Lieutenant Colonel Ross was offered, and accepted, an honourable discharge. He returned to Australia aboard the Megantic in August 1917, and resumed duties at his private practice in Brisbane.
In 1939, when Australia was drawn into another war against the same enemy, Doctor Ross was practising in Sydney – and having maintained his links with the AAMC, he didn’t hesitate when asked to again volunteer. He was immediately restored to his former rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and commanded 104 Australian General Hospital at Bathurst, New South Wales from 1941 to 1944 – by which time he was 66 years old and on the verge of retirement.
Thomas Gordon Ross D.S.O., M.B., B.S., F.R.A.C.S. died at his home in the northern Sydney suburb of Chatswood, at the age of 74 in August 1952. He was amongst the 229 players known to have risked their lives for liberty over the past 125 years – whether in The Boer War or the First and Second World Wars.
There were 22 Carlton players who did in wartime. Their names are as follows:
From the First World War: George Challis, Harold Daniel, Dave Gillespie, Albert Gourlay, Tom McCluskey, Fen McDonald, Stan McKenzie, Charlie Oliver, Alby Paterson, Jim Pender, Willie Rogers and Alf Williamson.
And from the Second World War: Wilf Atkinson, Jim Knight, Norm Le Brun, Jim Park and Henry Thomson.
They were amongst the tens of thousands of Australians who paid for their nation’s freedoms in blood, who sacrificed their tomorrows so that we could have today.