Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Barbara Martin Cunningham
1877 –?

22 Barbara Martin Cunningham

OBE (1918) MB ChB (1901) LM (Rotunda Hosp Dubl 1902)
MD (Ed 1909) DPH (Camb 1910)

26 Aug 1877 – ?

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

Dr Barbara Martin Cunningham graduated from the University of Edinburgh on 27 July 1901, where she passed her final examinations for the Degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, with distinction. Her name was included in the Medical Directory for Scotland on 18 October 1901. She worked as an assistant in a private practice in Edinburgh, generally concerned with gynaecology, and had been in charge of certain women's hospitals in India. On her return to England, she was appointed Resident Medical Officer to Clayton Vale Hospital, Manchester, and Assistant to the Medical Officer of Health for Manchester.

Jan 1914 Appointed Medical Officer on the staff of the National Health Insurance Commission (England). The Medical Directory for 1923 lists her address as the National Health Insurance Commission, Buckingham Gate, SW 1.

1916 Medical Officer in munition factories. Up till August 1916, the Ministry of Munitions had been aware of 20 cases of toxic jaundice in male munitions workers and in forty-two female workers. Six men and twelve women had died of liver problems, in addition to two TNT workers who had died of anaemia. On 12 August 1916, The Lancet, published the work of Drs B. M. Cunningham and Agnes M Livingstone-Learmonth, both munition factory doctors, who had studied the symptoms and complications caused by TNT dust in workers.1

July 1916 Dr Barbara Martin Cunningham 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. Most of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.

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

Malta 30 Jan 1917 Attended the funeral of Dr Isobel Addy Tate.

Malta 25 June 1917 In June 1917, St Patrick's Military Hospital mobilized as No 61 General Hospital for duty with the Salonica Expeditionary Force. The staff consisted of 12 officers, 8 medical women, 38 female nursing staff, 3 Warrant Officers, one of whom was the Quartermaster and 204 other ranks. On 25 June, the Headquarters of the unit moved to All Saints' Camp, which served as the awaiting passage camp.

Malta 2 July 1917 Dr Barbara Martin Cunningham embarked on HMT Ship Abbassieh with No 61 General Hospital, under the command of Lt Colonel Arthur Kennedy RAMC. The other medical women were:

Malta 4 July 1917 HMT Ship Abbassieh sailed out of the Grand Harbour escorted by HMS Aster and HMS Azalea. HMS Aster struck a mine and sunk eleven miles off Malta with the loss of ten lives. HMS Azalea also struck a mine as she went to the aid of the stricken ship. The ships returned to Malta and anchored in Marsaxlokk Harbour.

6 July 1917 HMT Ship Abbassieh sailed out of Marsaxlokk Harbour. She arrived at Suda Bay, Crete on 9 July and in Salonica, (Thessalonika) Harbour, on 11 July. The medical women were accommodated in the H.S. Llandovery Castle until 21 July, when they rejoined their unit; the men moved to Karraisi Rest Camp.
Dr Barbara Martin Cunningham served at Salonica until 1 August 1918.

13–30 July 1917 No 61 General Hospital was set up at Uchantar, about 12 kilometers from Salonica and about a mile to the east of the Monastir Road. While the site was being prepared, the lady doctors attended lectures on the Regulations for the Army Medical Services, Military Allowances, and the duties of patients in military hospitals. On 13 August, consulting physician Colonel Stewart Purves, who had deployed from Malta, gave a lecture on dysentery and another on the soldier's heart.

27 July 1917 The lady doctors attended a lecture by Major Falkoner, consulting staff, on pyrexia. All the men working in the sun were issued with canvas pads to protect the spine from the heat.

10 Aug 1917 No 61 General Hospital became operational.

23–24 Aug 1917 No 61 General Hospital admitted 200 patients from 25 Casualty Clearing Station; four were admitted from the advance party of 10 Division and 119 from the ambulance trains. By 27 August, the hospital had treated 444 patients.

25 Oct 1917 Mentioned in Dispatches GHQ British Salonica Force (London Gazette 28 November 1917). The medical women attached to the RAMC who were mentioned in a dispatch dated 25 October 1917 from Lieutenant-General G. F. Milne, Commander-in-Chief, British Salonica Force for distinguished service were: Mary Alice Blair, Barbara Martin Cunningham, Elsie Jean Dalyell, Elizabeth Mary Edwards and Edith Blake Hollway.

10 Dec 1917 Dysentery patients were transferred to No 42 General Hospital in preparation for the closure of No 61 General hospital.

28 Dec 1917 No 61 General Hospital closed on 28 December and went into winter quarters. Drs A. Winifred, J. E. Reynolds, A. E. Sanderson, M. M. Rougvie, and Rose Lilian Humphrey Davy who had been transferred from No 62 General Hospital on 4 November 1917, departed for duty at No 38 General Hospital. Dr B. M Cunningham left for duty at No 42 General Hospital. Dr Katharine Waring who had been under treatment for dysentery at No 43 General Hospital embarked for England as an invalid on 3 December 1917.

18 Apr 1918 No 61 General Hospital was re-erected on Hortiach Plateau, which had been vacated by No 66 General Hospital.

25 Apr 1918 Dr Agnes Livingstone-Learmont and Dr B M Cunningham together with the Matron and 4 nursing sisters rejoined No 61 General Hospital.

30 Apr 1918 Dr Austin Winifred and Dr Jane E Reynolds rejoined No 61 General Hospital which became operational on 1 May 1918. The hospital had tentage for 1,560 beds.

3 May 1918 Dr Helen Beatrice Hanson rejoined No 61 General Hospital.

10 June 1918 On duty on Hortiach Plateau Salonica.

Awarded the Order of the British Empire, for services rendered in connection with the war while on the strength of Mtarfa Military Hospital.

6 July 1918 At Hortiach Plateau Salonica. Lectured to the newly arrived VADs on the dangers of climate, and the precautions to be taken to combat them.

July 1918 Returned to England at the end of her contract which expired on 1 August 1918.

7 Jan 1919 Closure of No 61 General Hospital Salonica.

26 Feb 1923 Hosted 29 foreign Health Officers who had visited England and Scotland to study methods of health administration, under the auspices of the Health Organization of the League of Nations. On 26 February, the visitors were officially welcomed at the Ministry of Health by the Earl of Onslow, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry, and Captain Walter Elliot, Under Secretary for Health for Scotland. Sir George Newman gave an illuminating address on the whole system of public health administration in England and Wales. In the afternoon and on the following morning explanatory lectures on the various activities of the Ministry were delivered by Lt Col S. P. James, Dr Barbara M. Cunningham, Dr F. J. H. Coutts and Dr J. Smith Whitaker, so that the visitors started their tour with a good insight into the scheme of central administration.2