Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Beatrice Coxon
1885 –?

No 5 Beatrice Coxon

LRCP LRCS (Ed 1909) LRFPS (Glas 1909)

c.1885 – ?

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 Beatrice Coxon received her medical education at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women, from where she qualified in 1909. Her name was included in the Medical Directory for Scotland on 22 October 1909. Dr Coxon held the post of House Surgeon at the Alnwick Infirmary, Northumberland (1910) and was Resident Medical Officer of the Hospice in Edinburgh and Resident Medical Officer and Lecturer at Battersea Bridge, Clapham Maternity Hospital. In 1910, she was elected member in the North of England Branch of the British Medical Association.

B Coxon
Tigne Military Hospital with Dr B Coxon (third row). Captain Unwin o/c is seated in the center while to the far right is a Maltese Civil Surgeon of the St John Ambulance Association attached to the RAMC. (Fred Hudson collection courtesy J Bird).

15 Apr 1915 Miss Beatrice Coxon was one of the medical officers in Mrs St Clair Stobart's tented Hospital in Kragujevatz, Serbia, under the auspices of the Serbian Relief Fund. She arrived in Salonica with six other female doctors (Mrs King-May Atkinson MB ChB, Miss Helen Beatrice Hanson MD BS DPH, Miss Mabel Eliza King-May MB ChB, Miss Edith Maude Marsden MB ChB, Miss Catherine Payne MB and Miss Isobel Tate MD (NUI). The hospital was evacuated in October 1915, when the country was overrun by German and Austrian troops and the unit had to retreat from Serbia over the mountains of Montenegro and Albania.

(See Group photo of Stobart Hospital - Serbian Relief Fund Unit No 3, in The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere by Mabel St Clair Stobart pp 18-19.)

The Serbian Relief Fund (SRF) maintained in Serbia five complete Hospital Units: (i) Lady Paget's, (ii) Cornelia Lady Wimborne's, (iii) Mrs Stobart's, and the (iv) First and (v) Second British Farmer's Hospitals. The last three were mobile units, specially organised and equipped to deal with either wounded soldiers or infectious diseases like typhus. In addition, the SRF sent nurses to Mrs Hardy's Hospital at Kragujevatz and a contingent of nurses to the typhus colony formed by Lady Paget at Skopje.

Apr 1916 Left for Petrograd, Russia with Dr Mabel Eliza King-May, (Royal Infirmary Manchester), in charge of the British Women's Maternity Unit for Russia which was organised by the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.

July 1916 Dr B. Coxon was in the first group of women doctors to join the RAMC. She 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. The majority of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.

Malta 2 Aug 1916 Embarked for Malta as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.
Served at Tigné Military Hospital.

Malta 1 Aug 1917 Left Malta in August.

The Medical Directory for 1917 lists her address as 31, Albert Bridge Road, Battersea London SW 11.

July 1931 Dr Beatrice Coxon was one of the medical practitioners who took part in the study of Rheumatic heart disease in children within the boundaries of the three counties of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.