The Royal Army Medical Corps
And the Malta Garrison

The Malta Garrison – 1940

11 June 1940 – Malta at War

Casualty stats
Deaths among the military 1940 (Crew F A E p 626 table 79)
Casualty stats
Diseases leading to invalidism 1940 (Crew F A E p 626 table 80).

In Apr 1940, the Governor, Lt Gen Sir Charles Bonham-Carter (Mar 1936 – Apr 1940), fell ill with pneumonia and coronary thrombosis. He returned to England on 24 May on prolonged sick leave.

Lt Gen Sir William George Sheddon Dobbie (Apr 1940–7 May 1942) arrived as Acting Governor and Commander in Chief in relief of Sir Charles Bonham Carter.

Italy declared war at midnight 10 June 1940. The first air raid warning sounded at 06:50 11 June 1940, with Hal Far being bombed at 06:55. About 30 bombs were dropped between Benghajsa and Birzebbugia. Kalafrana was also attacked. Further raids took place throughout the day. In the fog of war, three friendly motor torpedo boats from HMS St Angelo received artillery fire at 19:44, resulting in their destruction and Maltese casualties.

In the early months of the war, casualties were evacuated by sea to Alexandria. Others were taken off when the first convoy reached Malta three months after the onset of the siege.

The first hospital ship arrived early in 1941 to take the casualties of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. Movement of casualties then became more irregular and averaged one to four a week. Casualties were transferred by bomber aircraft to Egypt, by flying boats to England, or by submarine to Gibraltar.

Psychiatric patients were not evacuated. Up to the close of 1942, forty one cases of TB had been evacuated. Submarines supplied Malta with drugs and medical stores.

On 2 May 1940, families were placed at 6 hrs notice to embark. On 20 May, families quartered at the Camerata and Paceville were moved to Pembroke and Tigné Barracks. 500 Naval families were billeted in St Georges Barracks. E Block St Andrews Barracks was converted into a 60 bed Reception Station to provide them with medical care.

Evacuation was not compulsory but only on a voluntary basis. On 20 May, all those military families who had chosen to return to England were embarked at Parlatorio Wharf HM Dockyard.

Infantry Brigades

Melita Hotel
On 7 Aug 1940, the Melita Hotel Attard became HQ North Infantry Brigade.

In Nov 1939, the army strength in Malta was raised from a Brigade to a Division, under the command of Maj Gen Sir Sanford John Palairet Scobell.

On 10 June 1940, Malta was divided into the following Infantry Defence Sectors: Mellieha (1/KOMR) with sector HQ at Mellieha O.P. (GR 3333), Wardija (8/Manch) with sector HQ at Tas Saliba Rd (GR 3429), Pembroke (2/RIF) with sector HQ at San Pawl Tat Targa (GR 4128), Harbour (Fortress Reserve), St Thomas Bay (1/Dorset) with sector HQ near Hompesch Arch (GR 493226), Marsaxlokk (2/Devon and A Coy 2/KOMR) with sector HQ at Road Junction (GR 485223), and Sector 2/KOMR (G Coy 2/KOMR) located at Verdala Palace.

Bde Inf Reserves of Coy strength were held at: Iz Zebbieh (Wardija Sector), Hal Far (Marsaxlokk), Res Bn at Ta Qali, Res Bn at Luqa.

Northern Infantry Brigade was established on 7 Aug and consisted of 8/Manch, 2/RIF, 1/KOMR and 2/KOMR. It was commanded by Brig W H Oxley with its HQ at the Melita Hotel Attard.

Map of Medical units dated July 1942 by Sgt J A Critchley showing lines of evacuation (TNA:WO 222/383 DDMS Malta).

Southern Infantry Bde was made up of 2/Devon, 1/Dorset, 2/RWK and 3/KOMR. It was commanded by Brig L H Cox MC with its HQ at Lascaris Bks, but which moved to Luqa on 8 Aug 1940.

HQ Malta Infantry Bde remained at War HQ Lascaris Barracks.

Medical Aid Posts

The following medical units became operational between April and May 1940. More Advanced Dressing Stations opened at Zabbar and Zejtun after Dec 1940 when the garrison expanded to 16,000 men:

  • Advanced Dressing Stations
    • Government School Mgarr (335288)
    • San Pawl Tat Targa (411289)
    • E Block St Andrews Barracks
    • Rock Store Floriana
    • Villa Barbaro Tarxien (483221)
    • Villino Chapelle St Paul's Bay (376321)
  • Medical Aid Posts
    • Tigne Barracks – casevac via ADS St Andrews
    • R N Hospital Bighi – casevac via ADS Tarxien
    • RAF Sick Quarters Kalafrana – casevac via ADS Tarxien
    • RAF Sick Quarters Hal Far – casevac via ADS Tarxien
    • Mellieha (332335)

Military Hospitals

nursing sisters
Nursing Sisters General Hospital Mtarfa Oct 1940. (TNA:WO 177/1360)

General Hospital Mtarfa was the only army hospital when Italy entered the war.The hospital was located a mere two miles from Ta' Qali aerodrome. Adjacent to it was the Barrack Hospital; both were repeatedly bombed during raids on Ta' Qali airfield. By 27 June 1940, the hospital had expanded to 1,260 beds, including 60 beds in the Family Division. On 3 July, the Isolation Block which had been used as offices, opened as an Isolation Hospital for families; the isolation wards in the Families Hospital were shut and all patients transferred to the Isolation Block.

Medical reinforcements arrived in Oct 1940, bringing 30 army sisters and as many RAMC officers. On 16 May 1940, patients from Bighi Hospital were moved to General Hospital Mtarfa, where a ward was set aside for them. Three medical officers, including a surgical specialist and an ophthalmic specialist, six to eleven nursing sisters and 29 sick berth ratings manned the naval wing. The naval medical officers from Bighi Naval Hospital were integrated with the officers of the RAMC, the majority of whom were consultants from various parts of the British Isles. A skeleton staff remained at Bighi and manned a Casualty Clearing Station. The naval hospital was severely damaged on 10 July, when the operating theatre and x-ray department were destroyed.

Two military hospitals reached Malta in 1941. No 45 General Hospital (GH) arrived in May 1941 and was ready to admit patients in July 1941. No 45 GH opened at Pembroke Garrison Gymnasium while the Sandhurst Barrack Block St Patricks was converted into a hospital, which became No 45 GH.

No 39 GH arrived in Sept 1941 and took over the huts at St Paul's Barracks from Command Convalescent Depôt. It functioned briefly from 2 Feb until 25 Apr 1942, when it was rendered non operational by enemy action.

On 3 June 1940, Military Hospital Mtarfa went on a war footing. All ranks were confined to barracks, had to carry their steel helmet, respirator and field dressings in their respirator's haversack. The hospital became operational on 18 June 1940, seven days after the Italians had declared war on the island. No further ante-natal clinics were held at Floriana, but weekly clinics commenced at St Andrew's Aid Post.

As Mtarfa Military Hospital was elevated to No 90 British General Hospital, all military personnel were given acting promotion. Medical stores were in short supply, and the only antibiotic available on the wards was sulphonamide tablets, often ruined by sea water. These were crushed, and used as a powder on wounds.

Percy Hope Falkner

Percy Hope Falkner
Lt Col Percy Hope Falkner (Mtarfa Military Cemetery)

Lt Col Percy Hope Falkner RAMC FRCSI died at Malta on 9 Oct 1940. He was born in Bray Co Wicklow on 16 Feb 1876. He was commissioned Lieutenant on 27 July 1899 and retired on 23 Mar 1926.

In the South African War, (1899 - 1902), he took part in the Relief of Ladysmith and was present at the actions at Colenso, Spion Kop, Vaal Kranz, Operations on Tugela Heights (14 Feb 14 to 27 Feb 1900), and the actions at Pieters Hill. He also took part in operations in Natal (Mar to June 1900) and the actions at Laings Nek (6 to 9 June 1900).

He served in France and Belgium in 1914-1915. He was brought to notice for his valuable services rendered in connection with the war.