In Apr 1940, the Governor, Lt Gen Sir Charles Bonham-Carter (Mar 1936 – Apr 1940), fell ill with pneumonia and coronary thrombosis. He returned to England on 24 May on prolonged sick leave.
Lt Gen Sir William George Sheddon Dobbie (Apr 1940–7 May 1942) arrived as Acting Governor and Commander in Chief in relief of Sir Charles Bonham Carter.
Italy declared war at midnight 10 June 1940. The first air raid of the war commenced at 07:00 and lasted till 08:06 on 11 June. During the day, raids were carried out on the airfields. In the early months of the war, casualties were evacuated by sea to Alexandria. Others were taken off when the first convoy reached Malta three months after the onset of the siege.
The first hospital ship arrived early in 1941 to take the casualties of the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious. Movement of casualties then became more irregular and averaged one to four a week. Casualties were transferred by bomber aircraft to Egypt, by flying boats to England, or by submarine to Gibraltar.
Psychiatric patients were not evacuated. Up to the close of 1942, forty one cases of TB had been evacuated. Submarines supplied Malta with drugs and medical stores.
In Nov 1939, the army strength in Malta was raised from a Brigade to a Division, under the command of Maj Gen Sir Sanford John Palairet Scobell. The Divisional Brigades were:
231 Infantry Bde – assigned to the Southern Sector under Brig L H Cox. HQ Southern Infantry Brigade at Luqa.
232 Infantry Bde Bde – assigned to the Northern Sector under Brig W H Oxley. HQ Northern Infantry Brigade at Melita Hotel Attard next to San Anton Gardens.
233 Infantry Bde Bde – formed on 30 July 1941; assigned to the Central Sector under Brig I De La Bere.
234 Infantry Bde Bde – assigned to the Western sector under Brig F Brittorous.
Medical Aid Posts
The following medical units became operational between April and May 1940. More Advanced Dressing Stations opened at Zabbar and Zejtun after Dec 1940 when the garrison expanded to 16,000 men:
Advanced Dressing Stations
Government School Mgarr (335288)
San Pawl Tat Targa (411289)
E Block St Andrews Barracks
Rock Store Floriana
Villa Barbaro Tarxien (483221)
Medical Aid Posts
Tigne Barracks – casevac via ADS St Andrews
R N Hospital Bighi – casevac via ADS Tarxien
RAF Sick Quarters Kalafrana – casevac via ADS Tarxien
RAF Sick Quarters Hal Far – casevac via ADS Tarxien
500 naval families occupied St George's Barracks and 400 army families moved into St Andrew's Barracks. On 20 May 1940, E Block at St Andrews Barracks was converted into a 60 bed Reception Station to care for them.
General Hospital Mtarfa was the only army hospital when Italy entered the war.The hospital was located a mere two miles from Ta' Qali aerodrome. Adjacent to it was the Barrack Hospital; both were repeatedly bombed during raids on Ta' Qali airfield. By 27 June 1940, the hospital had expanded to 1,260 beds, including 60 beds in the Family Division. On 3 July, the Isolation Block which had been used as offices, opened as an Isolation Hospital for families; the isolation wards in the Families Hospital were shut and all patients transferred to the Isolation Block.
Medical reinforcements arrived in Oct 1940, bringing 30 army sisters and as many RAMC officers. On 16 May 1940, patients from Bighi Hospital were moved to General Hospital Mtarfa, where a ward was set aside for them. Three medical officers, including a surgical specialist and an ophthalmic specialist, six to eleven nursing sisters and 29 sick berth ratings manned the naval wing. The naval medical officers from Bighi Naval Hospital were integrated with the officers of the RAMC, the majority of whom were consultants from various parts of the British Isles. A skeleton staff remained at Bighi and manned a Casualty Clearing Station. The naval hospital was severely damaged on 10 July, when the operating theatre and x-ray department were destroyed.
Two military hospitals reached Malta in 1941. No 45 General Hospital (GH) arrived in May 1941 and was ready to admit patients in July 1941. No 45 GH opened at Pembroke Garrison Gymnasium while the Sandhurst Barrack Block St Patricks was converted into a hospital, which became No 45 GH.
No 39 GH arrived in Sept 1941 and took over the huts at St Paul's Barracks from Command Convalescent Depôt. It functioned briefly from 2 Feb until 25 Apr 1942, when it was rendered non operational by enemy action.
On 3 June 1940, Military Hospital Mtarfa went on a war footing. All ranks were confined to barracks, had to carry their steel helmet, respirator and field dressings in their respirator's haversack. The hospital became operational on 18 June 1940, seven days after the Italians had declared war on the island. No further ante-natal clinics were held at Floriana, but weekly clinics commenced at St Andrew's Aid Post.
As Mtarfa Military Hospital was elevated to No 90 British General Hospital, all military personnel were given acting promotion. Medical stores were in short supply, and the only antibiotic available on the wards was sulphonamide tablets, often ruined by sea water. These were crushed, and used as a powder on wounds.
Percy Hope Falkner
Lt Col Percy Hope Falkner RAMC FRCSI died at Malta on 9 Oct 1940. He was born in Bray Co Wicklow on 16 Feb 1876. He was commissioned Lieutenant on 27 July 1899 and retired on 23 Mar 1926.
In the South African War, (1899 - 1902), he took part in the Relief of Ladysmith and was present at the actions at Colenso, Spion Kop, Vaal Kranz, Operations on Tugela Heights (14 Feb 14 to 27 Feb 1900), and the actions at Pieters Hill. He also took part in operations in Natal (Mar to June 1900) and the actions at Laings Nek (6 to 9 June 1900).
He served in France and Belgium in 1914-1915. He was brought to notice for his valuable services rendered in connection with the war.
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Henry Harris, The Royal Irish Fusiliers. (London: Leo Cooper Ltd), 121-129.
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General returns of the regimental strength of the British Army on 31 March 1940.
General returns of the regimental strength of the British Army on 30 June 1940.
General returns of the regimental strength of the British Army on 30 September 1940.
Coulter J L S, The Royal Naval Medical Services. Vol 1 Administration. London HM Stationery Office 1954.
Drew R: Commissioned Officers in the Medical Services of the British Army Vol II. Roll of Officers in the Royal Army Medical Corps 1898–1960. London The Wellcome Historical Medical Library 1968.
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Crew F A E, History of the Second World War. The Army Medical Services, Campaigns, Vol 1, Chap 13 Malta 1940–43, p 613–632. London HM Stationery Office 1956.
TNA:WO 177/1083, War Diary Military Families Hospital Mtarfa April 1940 to June 1940.
TNA:WO 177/1360, War Diaries No 90 British General Hospital April 1940 to September 1946.
TNA:WO 177/104, Convalescent Depôt Malta March 1941 to November 1945.
TNA:WO 177/101. Medical Diaries DDMS Malta April 1940 to December 1943.