RAMC

Lady Doctors of the Malta Garrison
White Sarah Marguerite

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10 Dr Sarah Marguerite White
MD MS (Univ Illinois USA)
4 Feb 1883 – ?

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, 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 — Sarah Marguerite White

Sarah Marguerite White obtained her degree of Doctor of Medicine and Surgery from the University of Illinois Chicago on 4 June 1912.

July 1916 Dr Sarah M. White was in the first group of women doctors to be attached to the RAMC. She was contracted to work for 12 months as a specialist in operative surgery with extra pay under para 36 RW 121/Med/3746. 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.

2 Aug 1916 Embarked for Malta as part of the Women's Medical Unit RAMC. Dr Sarah M. White was appointed Surgical Specialist to St Elmo Hospital.

Malta 1917 On duty at Malta up to 5 August 1919.

Malta Feb 1918 Assisted Col Sir Charles Ballance4, to remove a bullet from the right ventricle of the heart of 75965 Trooper Robert Hugh Martin, aged 21 years, who was wounded on 14 November 1917. The patient had exploratory surgery at 40th Casualty Clearing Station Hospital Salonica. He was then transferred to No 63 General Hospital Salonica, and was admitted to St Elmo Hospital Malta on 13 January 1918. On 16 February 1918, Tpr Martin underwent surgery at St Elmo Hospital to remove the bullet. Lt Colonel Herbert John Shirley administered the anaesthetic. The bullet lay near the apex of the heart on the right side of the posterior inter ventricular groove inside the ventricle. Col Ballance, assisted by Dr White, removed the bullet with a pair of artery forceps introduced into the cavity of the right ventricle. Tpr Robert Hugh Martin survived the operation but died on 14 March from sepsis.1

There were other recorded instances of soldiers allegedly surviving being shot in the heart.2 Lieut General Sir Arthur Sloggett, Director General Army Medical Services, was shot in the chest in the battle of Khartoum, during the Nile Campaign of 1898. Sloggett accounted for him not being killed on the spot by stating that his heart must have been in his mouth at the time.3 Mr Cortland MacMahon, instructor for Speech Defects at St Bartholomew's Hospital, having read the story of General Sloggett's living with a bullet in his heart, wrote of a similar case which came under his treatment. Cortland recounts that a colonel in the 1914–18 war was shot through the heart and was laid out for burial. A brother officer, arriving to take a look at his commanding officer, thought he discerned some movement. The medical officer was summoned and was in the process of explaining that life was wholly incompatible with the situation of the wound, when he himself discerned signs of life. The colonel made a complete and permanent recovery and continued his military service.2

Malta 5 Aug 1919 Returned to England.

20 Sept 1919 Embarked for Chicago where she became an Assistant Surgeon to the Carl Beck North Chicago Hospital Clinic.

Bibliography