Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Helen Patricia Barnes (nee Dent)
1888 –1975

No 1 Helen Patricia Barnes (nee Dent)

MB BS (Lond 1913)

17 Mar 1888 – 11 Apr 1975

In May 1916, Dr Louisa Aldrich-Blake, Surgeon at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital and Dean of the London School of Medicine for Women, approached all the women on the Medical Register asking them to say if they would be willing to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps. From the replies received, 48 lady doctors were enrolled. The first 22 medical women embarked for Malta on 2 August 1916; another 16 lady doctors embarked on the Hospital Ship (H.S.) Gloucester Castle on 12 August 1916.

The Director General Army Medical Services, Sir Alfred Keogh, was responsible for employing medical women and for dealing with illnesses among them. Women doctors, also referred to as lady doctors, were classed as civilian surgeons attached to the RAMC. Women serving as full time doctors in the Army and doing precisely the same work as their male colleagues had neither military rank nor status, but received the same pay, rations, travelling allowances and gratuity as temporary commissioned male officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. A uniform was not introduced until after April 1918. This was similar in appearance to that worn by the Queen Mary's Auxiliary Army Corps (QMAAC) but with an RAMC badge on both lapels.

In October 1916, on hearing from the War Office that fifty more medical women were needed for service with the RAMC in English hospitals, Aldrich-Blake again negotiated with all the women who had qualified in the preceding ten years, and secured the requisite number in a very short time. On 20 October 1916, eleven medical women embarked on H.S. Britannic for Malta.

The casualties from operations in Gallipoli (25 April 1915 – 9 January 1916), and Salonica (October 1915 – 30 September 1918), were initially treated in Malta and Egypt, but in 1917, submarine attacks on hospital ships made it unsafe to evacuate from Salonica and five General Hospitals, Nos 61, 62, 63, 64 and 65, mobilized in Malta for service in Salonica to which the medical women were attached.

Between August 1916 and July 1917, eighty two lady doctors served in war hospitals in Malta. They worked alongside their RAMC colleagues and carried out all but administrative duties. Their assistance was very highly appreciated. Their work was recognized in the King's Birthday Honours list of June 1918 when Dr Barbara Martin Cunningham MB ChB, Military Hospital Mtarfa, Mrs Katharine Rosebery Drinkwater MB BS, in charge of Military Families Staff and Department Malta and Miss May Thorne MD, in charge of Sisters' Hospital and Staff Department Malta, were awarded the Order of the British Empire for services rendered during the war.

Service Record

Tigné Barracks medical staff c.1916–1917. (Courtesy AMS archives)

21 July 1909 Dr Helen Patricia Barnes trained at the London School of Medicine for Women. In July 1909 she was approved at the examination of second MB (Part II) of the University of London.

20 June 1913 Dr Barnes qualified in 1913. Her name was included in the Medical Directory for Scotland (Edinburgh) on 20 June.

July 1916 Dr Barnes was in the first group of women doctors to join the RAMC. She was contracted to work for 12 months as a Civilian Surgeon attached to the RAMC. Her salary was 24 shillings a day, including allowances, but excluding duty transport. A gratuity of £60 was awarded at the end of the contract, provided employment had not been terminated for misconduct. The majority of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.

2 Aug 1916 Embarked for Malta as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC. Served at Tigné Military Hospital.

Tigné Barracks medical staff c.1916–1917. Matron seated right of Surg-Maj Robert Randon RMA. Note boy scouts in front row. (Courtesy AMS archives)

27 July 1917 Served at Tigné Military Hospital. Left Malta in July.

10 Sept 1917 On duty at the University War Hospital Southampton (Southern Command).

6 June 1918 Resigned from her employment. The Medical Register of 1918 lists her address as Chippenham, Wiltshire.

Dr Barnes spent most of her medical career in Public Health, first as assistant MOH for Wolverhampton and Staffordshire General Hospital, then for some years as medical officer in charge of maternity and child welfare for Leicester. Dr Barnes was also senior resident medical officer and surgical house officer at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children and Women and resident Obstetric officer and ophthalmologist and house surgeon at Bristol Royal Infirmary. The latter part of her career, including the period of the second world war, was in maternity and child welfare for the boroughs of Barking and Lewisham. She had been a member of the British Medical Association since 1919. In 1941, she became Honorary Secretary and treasurer of its Westminster and Holborn Division, holding the post for several years and eventually becoming vice chairman.

11 Apr 1975 Dr Barnes lived in retirement at Okehampton, West Devon where she died aged 87 years. She was survived by her two daughters.1