The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 triggered off a cascade of events, the repercussions of which touched virtually every household. During the Great War, Maltese Labour Battalions served in Mudros and Salonica and a Cyprus Contingent of the King's Own Malta Regiment of Militia served outside Malta. But the prime contribution of the Maltese Islands to the war effort was a humanitarian one. Malta became the nurse of the Mediterranean.1 It received the sick and wounded from the Dardanelles (25 April 1915 – 8 January 1916) and from the campaign in Salonica (5 October 1915 – 30 September 1918).
On 29 July 1914, six days before Great Britain formally declared war on Germany, Deputy Director Medical Services (DDMS) Malta Command Colonel Michael William Russell RAMC recalled his medical officers and men of 30 Coy RAMC from leave. He also placed his four hospitals, Cottonera (278 beds), Mtarfa (55 beds), Forrest (20 beds) and Valletta Hospital in the
Precautionary Stage to war. The Valletta Hospital had been used for the sick of the Royal Malta Artillery (26 beds) and as a Military Families Hospital (10 beds). On the declaration of war, he mobilized his Field Ambulance with its three sections to their respective war stations.
A Section joined Fortress Reserve at Attard;
B Section moved to Bir id-Deheb;
C Section deployed to Iz-Zebbiegh near Mgarr. Ambulance wagons were positioned at Mtarfa (2 wagons), Mellieha Camp (1 wagon), Ghajn Tuffieha Camp (1 wagon) and Bir-id-Deheb (2 wagons).
On 6 August 1914, the Royal Malta Artillery Hospital at Valletta and the Cottonera Military Hospital were shut in compliance with the Defence Scheme for Malta. Their staff and patients were transferred to the new Mtarfa Barrack Hospital which was set up in Blocks A, B, C and D. Only a dispenser, a cook and a steward remained in Valletta to man the Military Families Hospital. Mtarfa Hospital was evacuated of all venereal cases. Those able to do duty were discharged to the ranks; the remaining 20 patients were transferred to Forrest Hospital which was expanded by the addition of tentage. On 17 August, Forrest Hospital had 69 venereal cases. Mtarfa Officers mess was reserved for the nurses of the QAIMNS under Matron Miss Jane Hoadley RRC QAIMNS.
On 8 August, two non-dieted Clearing Hospitals were opened, one at Zabbar Gate under Major Henry Lawrence Weekes Norrington RAMC and Dr R Busuttil, and another in
A Block Floriana Barracks, under Surgeon Major Alfred Eugene Mifsud RMA. The staff for these hospitals and for the outlying forts was provided by the St John Ambulance Association (StJAA) in accordance with para 101 Malta Mobilisation Order. Forty-eight civilian doctors, 13 lady nurses and 97 trained male nurses (bearers) including 6 pharmacists, 6 compounders and 6 cooks volunteered for service through the St John Ambulance Association.
On 6 August 1914, the first of eight medical practitioners and 16 men of the StJAA were employed under the provisions of the Defence Scheme and were sent to Cottonera Hospital to be issued with their uniforms. The Maltese Civil Surgeons in military hospitals wore the ordinary officer's uniform, but with the St John's badge on their collar and black tabs on the collar lapels. They did not wear a Sam Browne belt as they were not commissioned officers. The civil surgeons spent a few days in a military hospital to familiarise themselves with military procedures. They were then attached to a Field Ambulance to learn the rudiments of field sanitation, before being posted to outlying forts or Clearing Hospitals. Among those appointed were: Lt Col (retd) Richard P Samut RAMC, Doctors R Busuttil, Paolo Grech, J Ellul, B Bonello, Hyzler, A Paris (vice Hyzler who left to attend his civilian patients), A Azzopardi (at Fort Ricasoli), L Frendo, R Balzan, S Ellul Grech, E Said, E H Ferro, G C Anastasi, E Borg, A Frendo, J Inglott, M Micallef Eynaud. Dr P Boffa with two civil subordinates deployed to Zurrieq Camp.
On 18 August 1914, the Field Ambulance returned to barracks and demobilised on 30 August. All civil surgeons and Voluntary Aid enrolled personnel were discharged on 22 August in consequence of the withdrawal of the troops from Malta. On 3rd September, the 2nd/Royal Warwickshire Regiment and the 1st/Royal Welch Fusiliers left Malta on the SS Ultonia. On 11 September, the 2nd/Scottish Rifles, the 2nd West Yorkshire and the 2nd Middlesex Regiments, as well as a number of regular RAMC officers, left Malta for France.
On 13 September 1914, the 1st/London (City of London) Field Ambulance (T) (201 all ranks), disembarked at Malta under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Richard Reginald Sleman RAMC (T).