Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Jessie Handyside Gellatly
1882 –1935

49 Jessie Handyside Gellatly

MB ChB (Ed 1906) MD (Ed 1910) DPH (1910)

7 Dec 1882 – 30 June 1935

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

64 GH Salonica
Aerial view No 64 British General Hospital Salonica (Cotter collection AMS Archives)

Dr Jessie Handyside Gellatly qualified in 1906 from the Medical College for Women Edinburgh. She was one of the earliest women students to pass through the Edinburgh medical school. In 1910, she completed her MD, the subject of her thesis being The Glass Cubicle System of Isolation and in the same year she took the DPH.

Dr J. H. Gellatly held the posts of House Physician Leith Hospital, House Physician Hull Children Hospital and Assistant Medical Officer with Messrs Cadbury at Bournville for three years.

Feb 1909 Medical Officer Walthamstow Sanatorium Chingford. Elected a member of the British Medical Association (Metropolitan Counties Branch).

1914 Assistant Medical Officer of Health Cambridge.

Aug 1916 Granted leave for war work. Dr J. H. Gellatly 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.

1 Sep 1916 Embarked for Malta as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.

20 June 1917 Attached to No 65 General Hospital for duty with the British Salonica Force. Served in Salonica from 2 July 1917 until 18 September 1918.

4 July 1917 Major E. W. Skinner (O/IC), 7 officers, 57 NCOs and men, 8 Lady Doctors, 1 Matron and 16 nurses left Malta on HMT ship Abbassieh. The transport was 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 convoy 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. No 65 General Hospital was erected at Hortiach which had been occupied by No 50 General Hospital. Seven medical women reported for duty at Hortiach on 30 July; Dr Blair and four nurses joined them on 2 August. The medical women were:

No 65 General Hospital became operational on 30 July 1917, when 200 patients were transferred from No 43 General Hospital. No 292 Pte Carrell was the first recorded death. He died on 17 August from cerebral malaria; the second and third deaths were from Bacillary Dysentery (Shiga group) on 26 and 27 August 1917 respectively.

18 Sep 1918 Appointed a Medical Official in Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps.

1919 After the armistice, Dr J. H. Gellatly worked for the Serbian Relief Fund. On her return to Cambridge she was re-appointed Medical Officer for Cambridge County Council. For twenty-one years, until a week before her death, she carried out the various duties of her office, which included the visiting and inspection of nearly 130 schools twice annually. Her earlier visits were made on a bicycle. For more than ten years Dr J. H. Gellatly lectured on school hygiene to the students of Homerton College. Her qualifications and experience made her contribution to the training of young teachers extraordinarily valuable, for her daily contact with the schools, with the problem of the maintenance of the health of school children, lent reality to her precepts. She was widely admired and respected in her public life for her brave and independent personality, and for the thoroughness and selflessness of her work. School teachers in remote country districts found in her not only a wise counselor but a friend interested in their personal lives, and in their homes as well as their schools she received a warm welcome.1

1923 The Medical Directory lists her address as No 17 Warkworth Street Cambridge.

30 June 1935 Died at the Evelyn Nursing Home, Cambridge, aged 52 years, after only a week's illness. To her more intimate circle of friend Dr J. H. Gellatly proved a warm-hearted and loyal friend, whose shrewd judgement was always tempered by a generous, almost maternal, forbearance. She delighted to take a share in the upbringing of her friends' children, and this interest in healthy, happy children may well have been the motive for her life's work. It was in the daily work in the schools that Dr Gellatly made her most valuable contribution and formed some of her most lasting friendships. Her friends and relatives hoped to endow a child's cot at the local hospital in her memory.1