Lady Doctors
Of the Malta Garrison
Helen Isobel Winifred Kerr
1892 –1974

68 Dr (Mrs) Helen Isobel Winifred Kerr (nee Taylor)

MB ChB (Glas 1915) MD (1954)

5 Oct 1892 [Kingston Jamaica] – 26 Jan 1974

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

Kerr H I
Dr Helen Isobel Kerr.
(Courtesy RAMC archives)

Dr Helen Isobel Winifred Kerr nee Taylor, graduated in medicine at Glasgow University in 1915, proceeding MD in 1954 with her thesis Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, with special reference to the endocrine aspect. After qualifying she worked in the Ophthalmic Department of Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Oct 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.

18 Oct 1916 Ordered to embark in the Hospital Ship Britannic on 20 October for Malta and Egypt, via Naples and trans-shipping at Mudros.

Passenger list HS Britannic (TNA:MT 25/593)

1917 On duty at Malta.

7 May 1918 Invalided from Malta. Embarked for England via Italy and France. On 11 May was at Taranto, from where she continued her journey by train to England via Havre.

23 July 1918 – 31 Aug 1919 On duty at the Military Hospital, Park Hall Camp, Oswestry (Western Command).

2 June 1919 Married Army Officer Alec Gerald Taylor 2nd/Cheshire Regiment at the Parish Church, Whittington.

31 Aug 1919 Ceased duty. Returned to Glasgow to gain experience in Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

travel order
Travel Order issued by Malta Fortress HQ dated 7 May 1918 authorising Medical Woman H I W Kerr to travel to England via Taranto.

1920 Appointed Assistant Schools Medical Officer to East Suffolk County Council.

1921 Moved to Colchester where she was in medical charge of military families.

1923 The Medical Directory lists her address as Cairnhill Cambuslang, Glasgow.

1939 Joined the Women's Volunteer Service on the outbreak of World War II.

1942 – 1946 Worked in General Practice at Ipswich.

1946 Entered General practice at Fetcham near Leatherhead.
Held sessions in rheumatology at the Charterhouse Clinic, London.

1965 Retired in 1965, returning to Suffolk four years later.

26 Jan 1974 Dr Helen Isobel Winifred Kerr died at the age of 81 years.