Lady Doctors of the Malta Garrison Ahern Mary Josephine
77 Dr Mary Josephine Ahern LRCPI, LM (1913 RCSI) 24 Sept 1889 – ?
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 — Mary Josephine Ahern
14 Apr 1913 Dr Mary Josephine Ahern qualified as a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons and Physicians in Ireland in 1913. She also gained her Licentiate in Midwifery (LM 1913 RCSI). Dr M. J. Ahern held the appointment of Resident Medical Officer at St Vincent's Hospital, Stephen's Green, Dublin.
Aug 1915 Appointed Certifying Factory Surgeon for the Charlestown District Co. Mayo.
1916 The Medical Directory lists her address as Soho Villa, Cork.
1 Nov 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. Most of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.
4 July 1917 HMT ship Abbassieh sailed out of the Grand Harbour. She 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 transports 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. The medical women were transferred to the H.S. Llandovery Castle, while the men marched to Karaissi Rest Camp. No 62 General Hospital was erected in Uchantar Convalescent Camp to the east of No 61 General Hospital. The site was about 12 km from Salonica and a mile east of the Monastir road.
21 July 1917 Eight medical women who had been transferred to H.S. Llandovery Castle reported for duty.
28 Aug 1917 Dr Mary Josephine Ahern and Dr Lillie Josephine Murphy were assigned for duty at Karaissi Refugee Camp. They returned to No 62 General hospital on 21 October.
6 Nov 1917 Closure of No 62 General Hospital. The medical women were transferred to other hospitals. No 62 General Hospital left Salonica for Taranto, Italy.
5 May 1919 Dr Mary Josephine Ahern demobilised.
No 77, Army Book No 82. Record of Special Reserve Officers' Service (Records of 132 Lady Doctors).