RAMC

Lady Doctors of the Malta Garrison
No 21 Bell Eliza Gould

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No 21 Dr Eliza Gould Bell MB BCh BAO (RUI 1893)
24 Dec 1862 – July 1934 [Belfast]

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 — Eliza Gould Bell

1889 In 1889, Miss Eliza Gould Bell completed one year's study in the Arts Faculty of the Queen's College Belfast, before applying and being admitted to the Faculty of Medicine. The numbers of medical students at the Queen's University Belfast during the 1889–90 session were increased by the admittance of five women students into the Medical Faculty for the first time. Of these, only Miss Eliza Gould Bell and Miss Henrietta Rosetta Neill proceeded to a university degree, the rest were satisfied with diplomas from licensing bodies.1

25 Nov 1893 Dr Eliza G. Bell was one of the first women medical graduates of the Royal University Ireland, taking her degree in 1893. Her name was included in the Medical Directory for Ireland on 25 November. She published A Curious Condition of Placenta and Membranes in the Annual Report of the Northern Ireland branch of the British Medical Association for 1895-96. Dr Eliza Gould Bell married Dr Hugh Fisher, but was widowed by 1911. There was one son of the marriage, Hugo Bell Fisher, who enrolled as a medical student at Queen's University.

1910 Resident at 83, Great Victoria Street Belfast. Dr Eliza Gould Bell was one of the keenest advocates in the pre-war movement for the extension of the franchise to women. She was a close friend of Mrs Pankhurst and her daughter and Lady Betty Balfour.2

July 1916 Dr Eliza G. Bell was in the first group of women doctors to join the RAMC. She 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. Most of the medical women were invited to renew their contracts at the expiry of their first year's work.

st Andrews
Hospital Staff of St Andrew's Military Hospital c. 1917.

Malta 2 Aug 1916 Embarked for Malta as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC. Requested to work in Irish Command, but no vacancies were available.

1916 – 1917 Served at St Andrew's Military Hospital.

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

Malta 27 July 1917 Left Malta.

23 Nov 1917 Lost her only son, Hugo Bell Fisher, who died of wounds while serving with the 2nd/Royal Munster Fusiliers at the Battle of Passchendaele. He was 19 years old.

Dr Eliza Bell Gould devoted most of her time to the welfare of children and women. She was honorary physician to the Women's Maternity Home and the Babies' Home, Belfast, and one of the medical officers appointed by the Belfast Corporation in connection with their babies' clubs welfare scheme. Ill health compelled her to resign the latter position.2

1925 Resident at 4 College Gardens Belfast.

July 1934 Dr Eliza Gould Bell died at her residence, 4 College Gardens, Belfast.

References

  1. No 21 (24/B/787), Army Book No 82. Record of Special Reserve Officers' Service (Records of 132 Lady Doctors).
  2. Obituary, Louisa Aldrich-Blake. Br Med J (1926); 1: 69 (Published 9 January 1926).
  3. 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.
  4. Leneman L., Medical women in the First World War - ranking nowhere. Br Med J (1993); 10: 1592 (Published 18 December 1993).
  5. Leneman L., Medical Women at war 1914-1918. Medical History 1994, 38: 160-177.
  6. 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.
  7. Mitchell A. M., Medical Women and the Medical services of the First World War.
  8. SA/MWF/CI 59. Medical Women Federation, (Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine). Status of medical women under the War Office.
  9. Women doctors. Hansard House of Commons Debate 2 July 1918; 107: cc1555–6.
  10. Reports of Societies. Womens' service in Malta with the RAMC. BMJ (1919); 2 : 634, (Published 15 November 1919).
  11. The Medical Directory 1916, 72nd Issue. London J. & A. Churchill.
  12. 1Hunter Richard H, The Belfast Medical School.
  13. 2Obituary 1934, Br Med J (1934); 2: 146 (Published 21 July 1934).
  14. Logan Mary S. T., The centenary of the admission of women students to the Belfast Medical School. The Ulster Medical Journal (1990), 59 (2), 200-203 (Published October 1990).