The Royal Army Medical Corps
And the Malta Garrison

The Malta Garrison – 1941


Malta Command

Four infantry brigades were formed in 1941–42 to protect the island from airborne and seaborne landings. A mobile reserve was held on the triangle of high ground bound by Rabat to Gebel Ciantar to just South of Ghemieri. The four brigades replaced Northern, Southern and Central Infantry Brigades.

In Mar 1941, the Malta Command was transferred to the Middle East Command. A small garrison of about 500 men was placed at Gozo. With them went a Medical Officer, an RAMC Sgt and 5 RAMC Pts to run a Regimental Aid Post.

In Oct 1941, the strength of the medical staff in Malta was 127 officers, 1128 Other Ranks and 46 QAIMNS. The number of troops on the island amounted to 34,000. They were distributed as follows: Army 25,500, Malta Auxiliary Corps 2,000, RAF 6,500.

90 General Hospital

Mtarfa Barracks
Pre 1920 map of Mtarfa Ridge with Mtarfa barracks. The military hospital was not yet completed.
Mtarfa Barracks
90 General Hospital Mtarfa
Mtarfa Barracks
Mtarfa Ridge with Mtarfa Barracks with its prominent clock tower

No 90 (Br) GH Mtarfa was the former Military Hospital Mtarfa which had been in operation since 1920.

From 10 to 19 Jan 1941, GH Mtarfa received casualties from air raids in the Grand Harbour area. Fifteen nursing orderlies were recalled from the Advanced Dressing Stations to help deal with the injured from HMS Illustrious, HMS Gallant and SS Exeter.

On 22 Jan, the following nursing staff QARNNS moved from RN Hospital Bighi to Mtarfa General Hospital: Matron Miss E Campbell, Sisters Miss K V Chapman, Miss E Mansell, Miss B Nockolds and Miss N Foster.

On 25 Jan, Surg Cdr J W L Crosfill RN, Surg Lt Cdr D P Gurd RN, moved to Mtarfa from the Royal Naval Hospital Bighi. Matron and Surg Lt Cdr A S Pearson RNVR returned to RNH Bighi on 18 and 20 Feb respectively.

On Easter Sunday 13 Apr 1941, thirty six bombs were dropped on 90 GH by the Italian Air Force in reprisal for an alleged bombing of an Italian Field Hospital in Libya. The raid caused structural damage to the Families Isolation Hospital and the old M I Room in the Barrack Hospital. There were 3 slightly injured casualties.

In Aug 1941, nursing sisters were given the opportunity of leaving for home or volunteering to stay at Malta. Seven left: two to be married, four whose tour had expired after five years overseas and one was medically boarded back to England. By Oct 1941, the medical personnel consisted of 127 officers, 1,128 other ranks and 46 QAIMNS.

In the summer of 1941, the Mtarfa Military Barracks became a hospital of 600 beds bringing the total beds in Malta to 1,200. These were provided by 90 General Hospital, the Barracks hospital and 39 General Hospital.

39 General Hospital St Andrews

Pembroke Barracks
Pre 1920 map of Pembroke with St Andrew's and St George's Barracks. St Patrick's Barracks was not completed until 1940. It was located where the word cemetery appears on the map.

No 39 Br GH was incorporated at Leeds on 10 Sept 1941. A draft consisting of 18 officers and 149 other ranks and 164 ORs reinforcements left No 11 Depôt and Training Establishment RAMC Leeds.

On 16 Sep, the men embarked in 11 parties in different ships and sailed from Swansea, Birkenhead and Glasgow. The convoy assembled in the Firth of Clyde on 17 Sept and sailed for Malta. On 27 Sept, it was attacked by Italian torpedo bombers off the coast of North Africa, as it approached Sicily. At 20:20 hrs Imperial Star was hit by a torpedo with the loss of kit of 70 ORs 39 Br GH.

No 39 Br GH and 139 ORs RAMC disembarked and was set up at St Andrews Barracks. The Assistant Matron of 90 GH who had organized the opening of the Barracks Hospital became matron of 39 GH. On 20 Oct 1941, work commenced on converting St Paul's Barracks and hutments into a hospital.

No 39 Br GH opened on 1 Feb 1942 with six surgical wards equipped, but the acute surgical reception and one operating theatre were not ready until 20 Feb 1942. The hospital was destroyed by enemy action on 25 Apr 1942.

45 General Hospital

St Patrick' Barracks
St Patrick's Barracks
St Patrick's  Barracks
St Patrick's Barracks central tower with date 1939 George VI above door.

On 20 Aug 1941, No 45 (Br) GH was established in skeleton in the Sandhurst Barrack Block St Patricks, although construction on the operating theatre did not start until Oct and was only ready for use on 30 Dec 1941.

In the first 24 hours only one patient was admitted. It had 600 beds for General Medical and Surgical cases, skin and VD patients, infectious diseases, gas cases, shell shock patients, facio maxillary injuries, orthopaedic cases and beds for junior officers.

On 28 July, 13 officers were posted for duty at 45 GH under the command of Col F Whalley DSO TD KHP. On 26 Aug 1941, 161 (EA) Fd Amb and 15 Fd Amb were instructed to admit all hospital patients to 45 GH. Work was still in progress in Sept despite a steady flow of patients being admitted and discharged.

British troops and Local troops were eligible for admission. Locally enlisted personnel such as Maltese Auxillary Corps (MACs) and civilian employees were only entitled to admission to hospital if their injury or disease was directly attributable to military service. All civilian employees the daily rate of 2 shillings.

15 Field Ambulance

Map of Medical Units dated July 1942 by Sgt J A Critchley showing lines of evacuation (TNA:WO 222/383 DDMS Malta).

15 Fd Amb which was formed in skeleton on 1 April 1941, became a self contained unit on 17 May. Maj G F Edwards was appointed as temporary officer commanding. It took over the medical facilities opened by General Hospital Mtarfa, mainly the Main Dressing Station at Gharghur and Mosta, an Advanced Dressing Station at Rabat, Mgarr, Wardija, Naxxar and St Andrew's, and a Medical Aid Post at Mellieha.

MDS Mosta opened on 29 Jan 1941; ADS Rabat opened on 3 Sept 1941, ADS Wardija on 10 Nov 1941 and ADS Siggiewi on 23 Nov 1941. Because of shortage of men both 15 Fd Amb and 161 Fd Amb had Maltese RAMC Other Ranks serving with them. However, in Nov 1942, reinforcements arrived, and in order to prepare these medical units for overseas service, Maltese medics were replaced by British personnel.

161 (East Anglian) Field Ambulance

161 (EA) Fd Amb mobilized at Ipswich on 1 Sept 1939. It embarked at Liverpool and Glasgow on 17 Dec 1940, and anchored at Gibraltar on 29 December. On 6 Jan 1941, the convoy left Gibraltar. It was attacked by air off Malta on 10 January 1941 resulting in the death of No. 7348929 Pte K A L Simper RAMC from severe head wounds. Pte Simper was buried at sea. The convoy proceeded to Piraeus where 9 officers and 154 other ranks embarked on the cruiser HMAS Perth.

161 (EA) Fd Amb arrived at Malta on 14 Jan 1941. On 17 Jan, Lt Col G W Rose, OC 161 (EA) Fd Amb, took over from Major Edwards G F as SMO Malta North, and proceeded with the establishments of the medical units. ADS Floriana was set up on 17 Jan; on 23 Jan A Coy 161 (EA) Fd Amb set up ADS Zabbar, and work progressed to open ADS Zejtun. By 24 Jan, Medical Aid Posts at Tarxien and Valletta were manned by 161 (EA) Fd Amb. MDS Hamrun and ADS Luqa became operational on 2 Apr and 7 Apr 1941 respectively.

On 2 Apr 1941, the CO relocated himself from ADS Floriana to MDS Hamrun. The MAPs for the Grand Harbour Area were at: Barracca Lift Tunnel (GR 481256), No 7 Shed Pinto Marina (GR 475250), No 13 shed, Mifsud's Veranda, Bonded Street Wharf (GR 469241), and Boom Defence Depôt Marsa (GR 471237). Each MAP had a medical officer, an NCO, 4 nursing orderlies, and a runner.

57 Field Hygiene Section

Hygiene Course
Six day course in sanitation and water duties for the Other Ranks 1941.

On 1 Mar 1941, Field Hygiene Section Malta became a self administering unit as No 57 Field Hygiene Section. It ran courses in sanitation and water duties, and carried out sanitary inspections of war positions and dis-infestation for scabies, bed bugs and fleas which were prevalent in overcrowded shelters and war positions.

On the night of 22 Apr 1941, the building occupied by the section in St John's ditch Valletta received a direct hit from a small calibre bomb. No casualties were sustained as all personnel were in a rock shelter constructed by their own efforts, but part of the building was demolished and kit and equipment lost. The men lived under canvas until 16 Aug 1941, when they moved to new quarters in part of the Malta Hotels Ltd Laundry.

RAF Stations

Jan 1941 saw the advent of the Luftwaffe in the Central Mediterranean. Raids became more frequent, more intense and of longer duration. Repeated night raids during Jan to June 1941, interrupted sleep and increased irritability. In a surprise raid on RAF Luqa, the sergeant's mess sleeping quarters received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb while everyone was still asleep. Five sergeants were killed and nine admitted to hospital.

The transport of airmen from Luqa to St Andrews and of officers from Luqa to Valletta became a drain on petrol reserves. Shortage of fuel meant that the men were no longer able to be far from their work place. Hal Far dispersal was to Zurrieq. Part of the Poor House in Mgiret was used as a billet for airmen working at RAF Station Luqa. The men lived in three tier bunk beds which had an impact on overcrowding and the maintenance of sanitation. Bedbugs were ubiquitous, skin infection from scabies, sandfly fever and diarrhoea (Malta Dog) were common.

The greater part of the second six months of 1941 was relatively quite. Malta was left to the Regia Aeronautica and the Italians caused few casualties. The Germans were however back in December 1941 and the raids intensified once more. The deep shelters were a satisfactory answer to the dive bombing raids of Spring 1941 and saved lives.

The strength of RAF Stations in Dec 1941 was:

  • Luqa 139 Officers 1775 Airmen
  • Kalafrana 62 Officers 967 Airmen
  • Hal Far 41 Officers 501 Airmen
  • Hal Far FAA 49 Officers 202 Airmen
  • Ta Qali 51 Officers 686 Airmen
  • HQ Unit 82 Officers 424 Airmen

Army Nursing

In 1941, the Territorial Army Nursing Service and the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service were commissioned into the Temporary Women's Forces. This continued until 1949, when the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps was formed.

The TANS became QARANC (TA) and the Reserve became QARANC (Regular Army Reserve of Officers). Various records of the QAIMNS were destroyed by enemy bombing of the Arnside Street record store in 1940.