Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Prudence Elizabeth Gaffikin
1874 –?

58 Prudence Elizabeth Gaffikin

LRCP LRCS (Ed) LRFPS (Glas 1900)

18 Aug 1874 – ?

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

Orderlies and Medical Staff Manoel Island Hospital. (medical women is unidentified) (Courtesy AMS archives)

Dr Prudence Elizabeth Gaffikin was educated at Queen's College Belfast and Vienna. She qualified in 1900 and held the posts of House Surgeon Royal Samaritan Hospital for Women Glasgow; Assistant Medical Officer of Health Huddersfield; Acting Medical Officer of Health Warrington including the supervision of a small tuberculosis hospital; and Schools Medical Officer Enfield. Dr Gaffikin was Secretary of the The Women's National Health Association (WNHA). The movement was founded in 1907 to promote public health in Ireland.

Nov 1896 Passed her first examination (five year course) of the Conjoint Board in Scotland.

1907 Assistant Medical Officer of Health Huddersfield. In Huddersfield, those whose duties are to give the mothers advice as to the nursing and rearing of their offspring, who encourage them in every way to follow nature's method of bringing up their own children, and who inquire into infantile deaths in their districts, are fully-qualified medical women, of whom there are now two - Dr Prudence E. Gaffikin and Dr Catharine Laura Boyd. They visit the mothers and their babies as soon as the births are notified, a payment of 1 shilling being made to the person first notifying to the medical officer of health the birth of any child within forty-eight hours of such birth (in their new Bill the Corporation of Huddersfield have had it enacted that it is the father or midwife who must notify).1

Sep 1907 Acting Medical Officer of Health Warrington. Elected a member of the British Medical Association (Lancashire and Cheshire Branch).

Oct 1910 In October 1910, Dr Mary May Thorne and Dr Prudence Elizabeth Gaffikin lectured in conjunction with the caravan of the Women's National Health Association (WNHA). The Women's National Health Association (WNHA) was founded in 1907. It carried health education programmes the length and breadth of Ireland. One of its many initiatives was a horse drawn caravan that toured parish halls with displays and literature educating the public about disease prevention. In 1910, Muriel, Viscountess Helnsley, christened the caravan in pure milk, giving it the name of Florence Nightingale.3

1913 Medical Superintendent of the Peamount Sanatorium Dublin. Dr Gaffikin worked alongside Dr Joseph Daniel, the Resident Medical Superintendent, who had for four years been in charge of the home treatment of tuberculosis patients cared for by the Women's National Health Association in Dublin. In 1913, Dr. Daniel became Assistant Superintendent of the Collier Memorial Dispensary for Tuberculosis, leaving Dr Prudence Gaffikin sole medical superintendent. Dr. Gaffikin resided at Peamount. She was aided in the running of the sanatorium by her brother, Dr Philip Gaffikin, who had made special laboratory study of tuberculosis, and had been in attendance for six months at the White Abbey Sanatorium, Belfast.

In June 1912, the WNHA acquired the farm in Peamount, near Newcastle, Co. Dublin, for £2,500. The property was bought with money provided out of the special sanatorium grant under the Insurance Act and the Finance Act of 1911. A new sanatorium was built at Peamount for patients recommended for sanatorium benefit by County Insurance Committees. Peamount Sanatorium was managed by the Women's National Health Association, with the approval of the Irish Government.

Sept 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. The majority of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.

10 Sep 1916 Embarked in the Hospital Ship Essequibo as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.

30 Jan 1917 Attended the funeral of Dr Isobel Addy Tate.

1917 On duty at Manoel Island Hospital.

Malta 9 Sept 1918 Returned to England.

12 Dec 1918 – 14 Jan 1919 On duty with Southern Command.

14 Jan 1919 Resigned.

1923 The Medical Directory lists her address as No 2 Queen's Elms Belfast.

28 Oct 1926 Attended the meeting of the Ulster Medical Society held in the Medical Institute, Belfast, where she presented a lecture on the school child. She was also one of the principal speakers in lectures given by the Child Welfare Centres of County Dublin4