Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Ethne Haigh
1889 –?

66 Ethne Haigh

MB BS (Durh 1913) MRCS (Eng) LRCP (Lond 1916)

18 July 1889 – ?

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

Apr 1911 Dr Ethne Haigh passed her First MB (Chemistry and Physics) examination of the University of Durham.

July 1911 Passed her First MB (Elementary Anatomy and Biology) examination of the University of Durham.

July 1912 Passed her second MB (Anatomy and Physiology) examination of the University of Durham.

July 1913 Passed her Third MB examination of the University of Durham.
Dr E. Haigh qualified MB BS in 1913 and held the post of House Physician at the Royal Victoria Infirmary Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Floriana Barracks
Floriana Barracks Hospital

Sep 1916 Dr E. Haigh 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.

18 Oct 1916 Ordered to embark in the Hospital Ship Britannic on 20 October for Malta and Egypt, via Naples and trans shipping at Mudros.

HS Britannic was sunk on 21 November with the loss of 21 crew and 9 officers and men of the RAMC killed. Captain John Cropper RAMC, who had met Dr Haigh while on her way to Malta, was one of the drowned.

Dr E. Haigh left an account of her journey to Malta, written in her room in Floriana Barracks Married Quarters:

You would have heard from mother that I had to leave in a rather a hurry. The day I left England, our train went straight to the dock. We only crossed the platform to get to the boat and we started off about 4 pm. We passed Gibraltar in the middle of the night. My first letter was posted from Naples, my second from Salonica. We had two days in Naples, a day at Mudros and a day and a half at Salonica and were then sailing down the Aegean. It was a splendid cruise. We were the only ones to be favoured in this way, the others came straight here. We had a most beautiful cabin with a private bath room attached. There were ten women doctors on board, not known to each other, but all senior to me in qualifications, the majority having qualified over 5 years. They are a varied lot of folk some of them being quite nice. Trans-shipped at Mudros where we were only given a berth in the officers ward to lodge for the rest of the voyage, a dozen sisters sharing the ward room.1

Malta Oct 1916 – July 1917 On duty at Floriana Military Hospital.

For the first week after our arrival, three weeks ago, we had to live in a pension in Valletta, as our quarters were not ready for us. Floriana is really like a suburb, so had not very far to come each morning. But the pension was the quaintest little place and although it was clean and the food was good I am very glad we had not to stay there for long. After a week we were able to move into the married quarters here in the barracks. Distressed to hear about the loss of the Britannic every one on board was so kind to us and although we had not been on her for a week we seemed to have made a number of friends and are anxious to know who has been saved.1

Malta 4 Dec 1916 The survivors of the HS Britannic arrived at Malta.

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

20 June 1917 Attached to No 65 General Hospital for duty with the British Salonica Force.

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 other 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.

6 July 1917 – 20 Oct 1917 On duty at Salonica.

9 Oct 1917 Elected a member of the British Medical Association (Metropolitan Counties Branch).

20 Oct 1917 Returned to England.

28 Oct 1917 Resigned.

1 Aug 1918 – 30 June 1919 On duty at London District, but ceased work on closure of the hospital.

14 July 1919 On the demobilisation of the army, she was thanked by the Army Council for her services rendered to the country during the war and for her excellent work with the RAMC.