Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Sarah O'Flynn
1886 –1972

70 Sarah O'Flynn

MB ChB (Ed 1912)

4 Apr 1886 [Co. Clare Ireland] – 9 Sept 1972 [Havant Hampshire]

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 Sarah O'Flynn, (Lady Winstedt from 1935), was educated at convent schools in County Clare, Ireland, and in France. She studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, from where she graduated MB ChB in 1912. In July 1912, she was appointed Junior Obstetric Assistant to the Royal Free Hospital, becoming a clinical assistant to Dr Langmead and second clinical assistant to the Gynaecological Department, Royal Free Hospital, Gray's Inn Road London.

Dr S O'Flynn became a militant supporter of the women's suffrage movement. She was a friend of the Pankhursts and enjoyed chaining herself to railings, going to prison, and making frequent demonstrations. Victory for women being acquired, she found other inequitable treatments of women and continued the battle long after it was won.1

April 1913 Attended a course of lectures and practical laboratory work at the London School of Tropical Medicine. Received clinical instruction in tropical diseases in the hospitals of the Seamen's Hospital Society. She passed the examination at the termination of the course, gaining 63 per cent of the total marks. Dr S O'Flynn was joint author of Tropical Hygiene for Schools, published in 1950-3.

1913 – 1916 Entered the Colonial Medical Services and went to Malaya where she pioneered modern infant care in rural Malaya through home visits. She devised a procedure for the diagnosis of ruptured malarial spleens, which were fairly common in Malaya in 1916. The method consisted of infiltrating the sub-umbilical region with local anaesthetic and inserting a trocar with cannula. The withdrawal of blood was diagnostic of a ruptured spleen and was followed by immediate splenectomy.3 Dr O'Flynn reportedly helped establish one of the first women's hospitals in Malaya. She left Malaya in 1916.2

Sep 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.

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

1 June 1917 Embarked for Salonica.

19 Dec 1918 – 14 Dec 1919 On duty at Fort Pitt, Chatham (Eastern Command).

14 Dec 1919 Ceased duties. In 1919, Dr S. O'Flynn joined Lady Muriel Paget's medical mission to North Russia.

1921 Dr S. O'Flynn returned to Singapore and married Richard Olaf Winstedt. She joined the surgical unit of Singapore General Hospital and became head of Singapore's first paediatrics ward, as well as one of the colony's leading surgeons. She retired from Singapore General Hospital in 1933.

1935 Returned to England and continued medical work until 1952. After leaving the Malayan Medical Service she worked in the Marie Curie Hospital in Hampstead as assistant director.

Aug 1937–38 Assistant Director Marie Curie Hospital.

Aug 1940 One of two doctors who escorted 1000 children evacuated from England to Canada at the start of the Second World War.

1942–46 Industrial Medical Officer, Woolwich Royal Arsenal.

1946–48 Medical Officer Darenth Park Dartford. Resident at No 10 Ross Court, Putney Hill, London S.W. 15.

1949–52 Part time Medical Officer Middlesex County Council.

9 Sept 1972 Died in Havant, Hampshire, aged 86 years. Her obituary describes her as a bright, sprightly, provoking figure who made life happier for all who knew her.