Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Mary Agnes Beausang Murphy
1887 –1965

79 Mary Agnes Beausang Murphy

MB BCh BAO (NUI 1912) DPH (Ed &Glas 1915)

21 Sep 1887 [Cork] – 4 Sept 1965 [Oxford]

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 Mary Agnes Beausang Murphy was born in Cork, where her father was a barrister. She studied Medicine at Queen's College Cork and University College, Dublin. She graduated MB BCh in 1912. Her brother and two sisters also studied medicine at the National University of Ireland. After qualifying, she held the appointments of House Physician at Vincent's Hospital Dublin, House Surgeon Children's Hospital Bradford, and Resident Medical Officer Ransom Sanatorium, Mansfield.

The Medical Directory of 1917 list hers address as Castle View House, Macroom Co. Cork. Dr Mary Agnes Beausang Murphy was the sister of Dr Lillie Josephine Murphy who also served in Malta.

1 Nov 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.

Malta 18 Nov 1916 Embarked for Malta as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.

2 Oct 1917 Volunteered to serve in France as a pathologist.

22 Nov 1918 On duty in France as a pathologist.

14 Feb 1919 – 11 May 1919 On duty with 1st Southern General Hospital (Southern Command).

12 May 1919 On duty in Dublin (Irish Command). Was granted pay of 5 shillings a day from 1 January 1919, whilst performing the duties of specialist in Gynaecology and midwifery at the Military Families Hospital, Curragh.

Took up residence in Turloe Square London.