Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Ada McLaren
1876 –?

35 Ada McLaren

MB BCh (Ed) DPH (Camb)

c.1876 [NewZealand] – ?

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 Ada McLaren came from a farming family who lived near Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand. All her siblings were involved in the suffrage movement and or the women's Dress Reform movement in New Zealand. She qualified from the University of Edinburgh and completed the DPH from Cambridge. She held the appointment of Assistant School Medical Officer in Birmingham. In 1911, she took advanced bacteriology at Birmingham University, and in 1912, took three months unpaid leave to study tropical medicine.1

Mar 1910 Resident at 14, Beverley Road, Colchester. Elected a member of the British Medical Association (East Anglian Branch).

23 June 1915 Appointed surgeon with the Anglo-Serbian Hospital which was universally known as the Berry Mission in Serbia.

10 Nov 1915 – 18 Feb 1916 Held a prisoner at Vrnjatchka Banja under the Austro-Hungarians.2

July 1916 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.

12 Aug 1916 Embarked from Southampton for Malta on the Hospital Ship (H.S.) Gloucester Castle as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.

1917 Served at Malta.

21 Mar 1918 Left for Egypt.

21 Mar 1918 – 14 Sep 1919 On duty in Egypt.

11 Aug 1919 Contract expired.

14 Sep 1919 Arrived in England on 12 September and demobilised two days later.

Jan 1929 From London W.1, wrote in the Queries and Answers section of the British Medical Journal, advocating ultra-violet for the control of pain in varicose veins. I have not had a failure during the four years I have used a tungsten lamp for that condition.3