RAMC

Lady Doctors of the Malta Garrison
Astley—Maer Constance Muriel

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26 Dr (Mrs) Constance Muriel Astley—Maer
LRCP (Ed 1902) LRCS (Ed 1902) LRFPS (Glas 1902)
12 Jan 1878 – ?

Introduction

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, from the 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 — Constance Muriel Astley—Maer

30 Sept 1902 Her name appears in the Medical Directory for Scotland (Edinburgh) in September 1902.

1 Feb 1910 Constance Muriel Scott married Mr Cyril Astley Maer at Canterbury (her surname appeared as Mayer in her marriage certificate). The Medical Register of 1916 lists her residing at Canterbury. She was a member of the Medical Women's Federation.

July 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.

12 Aug 1916 Embarked from Southampton for Malta on the Hospital Ship (H.S.) Gloucester Castle as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC.

July 1917 Contract expired but the majority of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.

Malta 15 Sept 1917 Recorded as working at Mtarfa Military Hospital.

17 Dec 1917–10 May 1919 On duty in Egypt. Renewed her contract for six months.

By 1918, the majority of the medical women had over two years experience in military hospitals. They had proven their worth in Malta and were employed in RAMC hospitals in Salonica, Sinai and elsewhere, but their status vis a vis their military colleagues was exactly as it was when they first joined. Although we are senior in service to many of the men here, wrote Dr Edith Guest from Egypt, yet they all, however young and inexperienced, rank above us, and any youngster will take precedence over us, even if we serve ten years. The longer one serves, the more galling this becomes.1

The Lady Doctors' Federation formed a subcommittee to fight the injustice, and solicited the views and experiences of women doctors in the field. One reply came from Dr Astley Maer in Sinai: We certainly think the Federation should press during the war, through the British Medical Association, for proper rank and commissions for the women doctors serving with the RAMC. All right minded colonels in whose hospitals we have worked agree in this.1

May 1920 Made an Officer of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

July 1922 The Sydney Morning Herald, dated 5 July 1922, recorded Mr Justice Gordon granting a decreed nisi in the suit between Cyril Astley Maer and Constance Muriel Maer. Cyril Astley Maer asked for a dissolution of his marriage with Constance Muriel Maer (formerly Scott) on the grounds of desertion.

Bibliography

  • No 26 (24/A/329) [21.10.19], Army Book No 82. Record of Special Reserve Officers' Service (Records of 132 Lady Doctors).
  • Obituary, Louisa Aldrich—Blake. Br Med J (1926); 1: 69 (Published 9 January 1926).
  • Macpherson W. G., 1921. History of The Great War, Medical Services General History, Vol I, Chap XIII, The Medical Services in the Mediterranean Garrison pp. 235-248. HMSO London.
  • 1Leneman L., Medical women in the First World War - ranking nowhere. Br Med J (1993); 10: 1592 (Published 18 December 1993).
  • Leneman L., Medical Women at war 1914-1918. Medical History 1994, 38: 160-177.
  • Fairfield L., Medical Women in the Forces. Part I Women Doctors in the British Forces 1914 - 1918 War. Journal of the Medical Women Federation 49. 1967; p 99.
  • Mitchell A. M., Medical Women and the Medical services of the First World War.
  • SA/MWF/CI 59. Medical Women Federation, (Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine). Status of medical women under the War Office.
  • Women doctors. Hansard House of Commons Debate 2 July 1918; 107: cc1555–6.
  • Reports of Societies. Womens' service in Malta with the RAMC. BMJ (1919); 2 : 634, (Published 15 November 1919).
  • The Medical Directory 1916, 72nd Issue. London J. & A. Churchill.
  • TNA:WO 372/23/27383, Medal Card.