March was a very busy month for Annie Wheeler. Soldiers who had been on furlough during January and February were back in France preparing for a big push – the first battle of Bullecourt. As soon as the boys from central Queensland arrived back on the western front they sent Annie a letter with their postal details so she could forward mail, parcels and news. 65 letters from soldiers arrived in a single mail all requiring Annie’s attention.
Paul Voss (pictured above) was a regular visitor and had known Annie for most of his life. He sent Annie a letter not long after he arrived back at the 1st Australian General Hospital in Rouen to let her know he would be heading to the front as part of the 5th Australian Field Ambulance. Paul was a doctor and the son of Annie’s former employer Vivian Voss.
Vivian had been a doctor in Queensland since arriving in Bowen in 1885; a locum from England. He moved to Rockhampton in 1887 and established a private hospital. Annie worked for him before she got married and met her husband, Henry Wheeler, when Vivian operated on him after he was thrown from his horse. Henry Wheeler was badly injured and Annie nursed him during his long recuperation.
Annie also met her friend Mary Stewart Trotman working at the hospital. Mary was doctor Voss’s receptionist and Annie’s able deputy during the war. Mary was responsible for organising and fund raising for Annie’s comfort work. Annie wrote regular letters to Mary with details of the boys and Mary organised their publication in the local paper, ‘The Capricornian’. Mail was often so unreliable families relied on Annie’s letters for news of their loved ones.
Paul Voss was twenty-three when he enlisted in February 1916. Being a doctor on the front was as dangerous as being a soldier. Aid posts, clearing stations and auxiliary hospitals were constantly under fire. Paul was shot in the left leg in November 1916. The wound wasn’t too severe and after a couple of months in England he was back in France. Paul was wounded again in April 1917 while working at the 3rd Australian Auxiliary Hospital; shrapnel tore through his elbow shattering the bone. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1919 for his “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He worked at his aid post under heavy fire for two days’ operations and attended to the wounded of two divisions.”
Paul Voss’s military file has been digitised by the National Archives of Australia and is available online.