Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Elizabeth Hurdon
1870 –1941

46 Elizabeth Hurdon

CBE MD (Toronto 1895) FACS

1870 [Bodmin Cornwall] – Jan 1941 [Exeter]

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 Elizabeth Hurdon emigrated with her family to Canada. She studied medicine at the University of Toronto, taking her MD degree in 1895. She then attended the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, where she studied under Sir William Osler.

1898 Assistant in gynaecology to Dr Howard Kelly at the Medical School Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, where she gained a very thorough knowledge of pathology and gynaecological surgery. She afterwards settled in private practice in Baltimore, remaining there until the outbreak of the Great War.

Aug 1916 Dr E. Hurdon 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.

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

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

20 June 1917 Attached to No 65 General Hospital for duty with the British Salonica Force.

4 July 1917 Major E. W. Skinner (O/IC), 7 officers, 57 NCOs and men, 8 Lady Doctors, 1 Matron and 16 nurses left Malta on HMT ship Abbassieh. The transport was escorted by HMS Aster and HMS Azalea. HMS Aster struck a mine and sunk eleven miles off Malta with the loss of ten lives. HMS Azalea also struck a mine as she went to the aid of the stricken ship. The convoy returned to Malta and anchored in Marsaxlokk Harbour.

6 July 1917 HMT Ship Abbassieh sailed out of Marsaxlokk Harbour. She arrived at Suda Bay, Crete on 9 July and in Salonica, (Thessalonika) Harbour, on 11 July. No 65 General Hospital was erected at Hortiach which had been occupied by No 50 General Hospital. Seven medical women reported for duty at Hortiach on 30 July; Dr Blair and four nurses joined them on 2 August. The medical women were:

No 65 General Hospital became operational on 30 July 1917, when 200 patients were transferred from No 43 General Hospital. No 292 Pte Carrell was the first recorded death. He died on 17 August from cerebral malaria; the second and third deaths were from Bacillary Dysentery (Shiga group) on 26 and 27 August 1917 respectively.

20 Oct 1917 Returned to England.

27 Sep 1918 Served at Greenwich and Woolwich Military Hospitals (Eastern Command).

5 Jan 1919 Resigned.

4 Nov 1919 A meeting of the London Association of the Medical Women's Federation, held at 11 Chandos Street London, discussed the Medical work in the Mediterranean area during the Great War. Several lady doctors, who had been attached to the RAMC gave an account of some of their experiences. Dr Hurdon described some of the cases under her care in Malta and Salonica. She referred to the difficulties in diagnosis between malaria and dysentery and in dealing with the mixed infections.

1924 Appointed research officer to the committee set up by the Medical Women's Federation, to study the effects of radium therapy in carcinoma of the uterus. Dr Hurdon toured several centres in Europe to obtain as much information as possible, and to compare methods of treatment which were being used in Sweden, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Belgium. On her return, the committee agreed to adopt the technique in use at the Radium–Hemmet in Stockholm. The first patient with advanced cervical carcinoma was treated by Dr Louisa Martindale on 25 September 1925 at the New Sussex Hospital, in the presence of Dr Hurdon.

On 14 August 1911, the Radium Institute opened in Riding House Street, London. It was the first building erected specifically for the treatment of patients with radium. Four women's hospitals: the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the South London, the Royal Free Hospital in London and the New Sussex Hospital in Brighton, also treated patients with radium under the supervision of Dr Hurdon. In 1928, No 2 Fitzjohn's Avenue Hampstead, London, was converted into a 30 bedded hospital, so as to centralize the treatment of gynaecological cancer with radium. It opened on 16 September 1929, as The Marie Curie Hospital.

1929 Dr E. Hurdon was appointed the First Director of the Marie Curie Hospital.

17 Feb 1933 At a meeting of the Section of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the Royal Society of Medicine Dr E. Hurdon read a paper on radium treatment of carcinoma of the corpus uteri.

1938 Resigned the Directorship of the Marie Curie Hospital in order to write her book on uterine cancer. Dr Hurdon, however, died in 1941 and the manuscript of Cancer of the Uterus, was published in 1942, by her associates Dr L. Martindale and Prof S. Russ, physicist to the Middlesex Hospital.

Jan 1941 Dr Elizabeth Hurdon died at her home in Exeter. She was known as an outstanding personality in the medical profession for her work on the pathology and treatment of cancer in women and her brilliant success as the first director of the Marie Curie Hospital, London.