Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Francis Margaret Harper
1876 –1945

No 3 Francis Margaret Harper

MB ChB (Ed 1903) DPH (Camb 1904) DTM RCPS (Lond 1913)

6 July 1876 [Edinburgh] – 3 Oct 1945 [Leopoldville Belgian Congo]

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 Francis Margaret Harper was one of the early women graduates of the University of Edinburgh. She received her medical education at Edinburgh, Paris and King's College London. She graduated in 1903, and took the DPH of Cambridge in 1904 and the DTM of the English Conjoint Board in 1913. In her youth she had studied the violin at Milan, but later made medicine her career, and after qualifying held the posts of: Assistant Medical Officer for Health at St Helens and at Stoke-on-Trent, out door House Surgeon at the West End Branch of the Glasgow Maternity Hospital and Medical Inspector of Schools Lancaster County Council.

Dr Francis Margaret Harper was a Fellow of the Society of Medical Officers of Health, a Member of the Royal Sanitary Institution and in 1906, co-authored with Dr Sommerville, the book Modified dried milk feeding of infants and young children. The Medical Directory of 1918 lists her address as c/o Messers Reid & Howard, Custom House Chambers, Leith.

July 1916 Dr Francis Margaret Harper 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.

2 Aug 1916 Embarked for Malta as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.

1917 Her obituary states that she served at Malta with No 3 Malta Company RAMC.1

1918 On duty at Malta.

10 Feb 1919 Ceased duty at Malta.

6 Mar – 6 May 1919 On the strength of Southern Command.
On duty at the Military Hospital Devonport. Ceased duty on demobilisation.

After the war Dr Francis Margaret Harper served as medical officer with the English Mission to Czechoslovakia. For nearly a quarter of a century she worked as medical missionary in the district of Lake Leopold II in Central Africa, at first attached to Baptist missions, but for the past twelve years at Lediba, on the banks of the River Kasai, where she established a private hospital. Living a lonely life in the bush she devoted herself to the care of sick natives. Her work was recognized by diplomas from the University of Paris and the Belgian Colonial Ministry

3 Oct 1945 Died at the Government Hospital, Leopoldville, Belgian Congo.