RAMC

Medical Officers of the Malta Garrison
1942

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Malta Garrison – 1942

Regimental Medical Officers

Events 1942

Governor and Commander-in-Chief

April to 7 May 1942 – Lt Gen Sir William George Sheddon Dobbie
7 May to August 1944 – Field Marshal John Standish Surtees Prendergast Vereker (Viscount Gort)

In 1942, Lt Gen Ronald MacKenzie Scobie arrived in Malta to take command of the garrison under Lord Gort. His arrival coincided with the running of Admiral Syfret's convoy with the loss of nine merchant ships out of 14, at a time when supplies were desperately needed to enable the island to hold out.

Regent Cinema Valletta

On 15 Feb 1942, at about 18:10 hrs, a bomb fell on the Regent Cinema Valletta causing many service casualties. Medical officers, RAMC personnel, and ambulances from 161 (East Anglian) Fd Amb assisted in the rescue work. Thirty three casualties were treated and evacuated to hospital.

Army Casualties July-Sept 1942

In Mar 1942, No 90 General Hospital was evacuated to underground shelters after bombing raids on Ta' Qali aerodrome intensified.

The patients were moved to three tunnels and deep shelters, where 300 patients and staff remained underground for 48 hours.

Plans to render the underground hospital semi permanent were shelved as conditions for nursing below ground proved unsatisfactory.

Malta Air Raids

In Apr 1941, the Luftwaffe concentrated on the Russian front and raids on Malta diminished. However, in Dec 1941, Rommel was preparing for his offensive in Africa and the Luftwaffe began an intensified attack on the island. By 15 Feb 1942, attacks increased in support of the German-Italian advance towards the Egyptian border and beyond.

On Saturday 21 Mar 1942, an air raid on Ta' Qali Airfield at 10 am resulted in many bombs missing their target and landing on 90 British General Hospital Mtarfa. Seven soldiers of D Coy 1st/Durham Light Infantry, who were asleep after guarding German prisoners at night, were killed in the raids. A second bomb demolished the Mtarfa Club hut; a third fell near the reception block close to a slit trench. Two patients in G Block were injured and an ambulance destroyed.

The bombing reached a crescendo in Apr 1942, when 7,000 tons of bombs were dropped on the island. On 25 Apr 1942, 39 British General Hospital at St Andrew's was hit by the Luftwaffe and virtually demolished. The hospital became non operational and its staff were transferred to 45 General Hospital at St Patrick's, which was also hit. St Andrews' Barracks, where most of the families of the 2nd/Royal Irish Fusiliers had been quartered was also bombed.

On 3 Nov 1942, at 4 am, the main Sisters Quarters received a direct hit. Two sisters were badly injured. A Block in the Barracks Hospital Mtarfa, formerly Mtarfa Military Barracks, was hit. The Sisters Mess of the Military Families Hospital Mtarfa was reduced to rubble.

The last heavy bombing on Malta took place in Oct 1942. Between 11 June 1940 and 1 Feb 1943 there were no less than 3,243 alerts and 1200 actual raids.

George Cross Malta

On 15 Apr 1942, King George VI awarded the George Cross to the islanders as a tribute to their gallantry.

On 13 Sept 1942, Lord Gort, who had succeeded Lieutenant General W G S Dobbie as Governor and Commander-in-Chief, presented the George Cross to the Chief Justice Sir George Borg.

On 13 Sept 1942, the ceremony of the presentation of the George Cross to the people of Malta was attended by a Mobile Medical Aid Post and a First Aid Party from 161 (EA) Fd Amb.

QAIMNS Reserves

The Reserve Sisters Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNSR) were engaged for war service. They wore the same uniform as regular nursing sisters except that their cape was grey edged with scarlet, rather than totally scarlet.

On 13 July 1942, five nursing sisters from the Reserves serving at Mtarfa flew out to Egypt to exchange with five colleagues.

201 Malta Pioneer Group

In 1942, 201 Malta Pioneer Group was formed under the command of Maj J M D Booth-Tucker RWK. A number of officers and men from the KOMR transferred to the corps.

Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers

The Royal assent for the formation of REME was given on 19 May 1942. However, no postings were made to the Corps until 1 Oct 1942 which is celebrated as the official birthday of the corps.

Psychiatry

In May 1942, the Malta Command requested the War Office to establishment a specialist psychiatrist in Malta. One arrived in June from England, but having reached the Middle East remained there as DDMS Malta did not require him.

A medical specialist at 90 GH was appointed Acting Command Psychiatrist, and two other medical specialists as Area Psychiatrists. It was only in May 1943, that a specialist psychiatrist arrived in the Malta Command.

In June 1943, the Consulting Psychiatrist to the Army visited Malta and prepared the way for the arrival of the Command Psychiatrist, who reached Malta in July. The latter at once organized an efficient psychiatric centre of 60 beds to serve the Navy, Army and Air Force.

The work load decreased in 1944. At the beginning of 1945, the Command Psychiatrist was transferred to the Command Mediterranean Force and replaced by a Naval Psychiatrist.

Average strength Malta Garrison

In Sept 1939, there were four infantry battalions serving in Malta. These were gradually reinforced so that by 1942 there were 11 British Battalions and 3 Maltese Infantry Battalions, 3 Regts of Artillery and a Home Guard 3000 strong. In addition there were 5,474 service families. In 1942, the Malta Command was placed under HQ Middle East Command.

Average strength Malta Garrison 1938–1942
  1938 1939 1940 1942
Average strength of troops in Malta 1938 to 1942.
officers 154 216 350 1077
other ranks 2605 3985 6157 16995
women 356 506 505 5474 (inc children)
children 516 688 673  
local troops 625 1957 4254 8868
local officers       281
Maltese Auxiliary Corps       2080
Royal Navy       1623
Royal Air Force       4339

Sick Quarters RAF Stations

Between Jan and June 1942, over 120 raids on RAF Station Luqa killed 25 people, seriously injured 38, and slightly injured 58 personnel. The relatively low casualty rate was due to the digging of slit trenches and deep rock shelters, and a good air raid warning system.

Emergency sick quarters were completed in 1942 at Kalafrana, Hal Far, Ta' Qali and Luqa. Those at Kalafrana and Ta Qali took the form of quadrangular galleries cut into the face of a quarry while that at Luqa was T-shaped. The emergency sick quarters at Hal Far consisted of two parallel deep shelters with interconnection at either end, opposite entrances and exits respectively.

A safe shelter was one dug to a minimum depth of 15 feet in solid rock with staggered stairway, vertical air shaft and a blast wall as close as possible to the entrance. Twenty two airmen were killed in a shelter which lacked a blast wall.

Typhoid

In April 1942, the whole harbour area had been shattered by waves of dive bombings. A large number of German aircraft, up to seventy to hundred at a time, repeatedly attacked the island. Villages close to Ta Qali, Hal Far aerodromes, Kalafrana and HQ Valletta Lascaris Barracks were devastated. Food shortages, damage to the water supply and to the sewage system, together with a great many people living in rock shelters or in overcrowded Reception Centres increased the risk of epidemics. This was compounded by the Government authorizing the spreading of raw sewage on crops to increase their yield.

Between July to Nov 1942, there was an outbreak of typhoid among the civilian population. In Aug the RAF had 13 cases in HQ Unit Valletta which was traced to a civilian cook. The NCO in charge of the airman's cookhouse, who was the last to be admitted to hospital, first reported symptoms of typhoid pneumonia on 13 September. Between 26 July and 18 Aug 1942, there were another four cases among airmen at Hal Far, and a further six cases between 27 Sept and 13 Oct 1942 in Hal Far.

Diphtheria

An outbreak of diphtheria broke out among civilians in the autumn. The disease was rife in Birzebbugia where RAF Hal Far personnel had been dispersed among the villagers. A total of 21 cases occurred among RAF personnel between 1 July 1942, of which 12 occurred at Hal Far sporadically between 24 Aug and 12 December. 18.5% of the RAF population at RAF Station Hal Far were found to be Schick positive and were immunized.

Epidemic Hepatitis

The incidence of epidemic hepatitis jumped from the average of 2.4 cases per month between Jan to Aug 1942, to 10 cases in Sept, 12 in Oct, 35 in Nov and 71 in Dec 1942.

The increase coincided with the arrival of RAF personnel from Egypt, many of whom had been incubating the disease. Out of 58 cases at RAF Luqa, 29 occurred in aircrew immediately after their arrival from Egypt, while many others occurred within three to seven weeks of their arrival in Malta.

Encephalopathy

In Dec 1942, 70 out of 250 labourers were admitted to St Aloysius War Hospital Birkirkara with varying severity of neurological symptoms. Four died in hospital. The carriers and stackers had been employed by the Civil Government in unloading and stacking leaking cans of RAF 100 Octane fuel in a disused, poorly ventilated railway tunnel in Mtarfa.

The men had been working for some weeks in 12 hour shifts with an hour break for meals with two other breaks of half an hour each during the 12 hours. The carriers took ten minutes to transport a carton of two four gallons petrol cans to the end of the tunnel and another ten minutes to reach the open for the next load.

Of all the labourers, the stackers were the most affected. Mild cases had soreness of eyes and throat, headaches, nausea, and breathing difficulties. The severely affected had vertigo, loss of power in their legs, profuse salivation, involuntary muscle jerking of the face and hand muscles (myoclonus) and loss of consciousness.

A labourer aged 38 years had been working for four weeks in the tunnel prior to the onset of his symptoms. On 15 Dec 1942, he complained of giddiness, headache, difficulty in swallowing, profuse salivation and lower limb weakness. He was admitted to St Aloysius College Hospital on 25 Dec. He became delirious and incontinent with a coarse tremor of the upper limb. He lapsed into a coma and for two to three days prior to his death had generalized convulsive movements. His postmortem showed brain oedema and petechial haemorrhages in the sub thalamic region. It was concluded that the symptoms were due to intoxication from petrol fumes rather than tetra ethyl lead.

39 GH Mellieha Camp

Following the destruction of 39 GH, it was decided to rebuild the hospital as a 200–330 bed tented hospital in the abandoned infantry training camp at Mellieha. Tents were erected on 26 May 1942, but on 19 June, a gale blew down 80% of the tentage, demonstrating the inadequacy of using a tented camp as a hospital.

On 10 July, plans for a tented hospital were abandoned and a stone hospital of 300 bed was build instead. It was agreed to have eight wards in four terraces each for 40 patients. By mid-Aug, work had progressed due in part to the time saved by the use of a stone cutting machine which was used in Malta for the first time on 28 Aug 1942. Lt Col Tanner Command Royal Engineers (North) had discovered that the machine had been on the island for 12 years in the possession of the Strickland, but had not been used so as not to antagonise the local work force.

However, by 11 Sept 1942 the machine was no longer working satisfactory. Work on the hospital progressed at a slow pace due to shortage of material and bombing of the area on 18 Oct, when the enemy described hitting an important wireless station.

39 GH Mellieha finally opened on 14 Mar 1943. It closed down on 8 Apr 1944, when it embarked for Naples, and onwards to Glasgow.

Pte George Lupton RAMC 39 (Br) General Hospital

On 18 Feb 1943, 7390822 Pte George Lupton RAMC was awarded the British Empire Medal. DDMS Malta Colonel William Kenneth Morrison wrote:

On the morning of 25 April 1942, Pte Lupton was a nursing orderly on an acute surgical ward, when the first bombing attack took place on the hospital. The only shelters in the hospital area were slit trenches unsuitable for bed cases. Pte Lupton immediately set about protecting the bed patients by placing them under beds and covering them with mattresses, and by his example greatly encouraged these helpless men. The ward received a direct hit and the roof and a wall collapsed. Three patients were killed but Pte Lupton's work undoubtedly saved the lives of several others. Pte Lupton was himself buried and pinned down by a steel girdle, but although suffering from an extensive laceration of the scalp, when he was rescued, his first thought was for his patients. He showed a fine spirit of self sacrifice and devotion to duty.

Strength Malta Medical Units – June 1942

Medical units – Malta June 1942
  Brit Off Malt Off Brit OR Malt OR QA VAD
Medical units Malta June 1942. British Other Ranks (BOR), Maltese Other Ranks (MOR), Queen Alexandra Nurses (QA), Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) of the British Red Cross.
DDMS Staff 3 0 15 0 0 0
39 BGH (600 beds) 13 1 115 2 4 0
45 BGH (600) 17 1 101 44 18 0
90 BGH (1200) 24 3 181 25 35 35
Mil Fam Hosp 1 0 2 0 2 0
15 Fd Amb 12 3 89 90 0 0
161 (EA) Fd Amb 12 2 126 46 0 0
57 Fld Hyg Sec 1 0 14 10 0 0
Cmd Lab 1 0 2 0 0 0
Reception Block 1 0 12 13 0 0
Depôt Med Stores 1 0 9 4 0 0
Cmd Conv Depôt
(250 beds)
1 0 5 0 0 0
Total 87 10 671 234 59 35

References

  1. B.B. Waterman, Memories of Malta 1940-42. J Roy Nav Med Serv 1984; 70: 182-185.
  2. Jean Bowden, Grey Touched with Scarlet. (Great Britain: Ebenezer Baylis and Son, 1959), 47-105.
  3. Henry Harris, The Royal Irish Fusiliers. (London: Leo Cooper Ltd), 121-129.
  4. Wismayer J M The History of the King's Own Malta Regiment. (Malta 1989).
  5. The Army List Oct 1942, correct to 25 September 1942, Part 1.
  6. The Army List Oct 1942, correct to 25 September 1942, Part 2.
  7. The Army List for Jan 1943, correct to 25 December 1942.
  8. General returns of the regimental strength of the British Army on 30 September 1942.
  9. General returns of the regimental strength of the British Army on 28 Mar 1942.
  10. Crew F A E, Medical history of the Second World War, Malta 1940-43. Vol 1, 613-632: John Wright and Sons Ltd; HMSO 1956.
  11. Crew F A E, History of the Second World War, The Army Medical Services. Campaign Vol 1 London HMSO 1956.
  12. Bates Mary, Extract from her war diary published in Spooner T., Faith Hope and Malta G C; pp 83-84: Newton 1992.
  13. TNA:WO 177/700, War Diaries No 15 Field Ambulance RAMC April 1941 to April 1944.
  14. TNA:WO 177/751, War Diaries No 161 (East Anglian) Field Ambulance RAMC September 1939 to September 1943.
  15. TNA:WO 177/1287, War Diaries No 45 General Hospital May 1941 to April 1946.
  16. TNA:WO 177/1274, War Diaries No 39 General Hospital Sept 1941 to December 1944.
  17. TNA:WO 177/1360, War Diaries No 90 British General Hospital April 1940 to September 1946.
  18. 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.
  19. Obituary H Seddon CMG MA DM FRCS FACS. Br Med J (1978); 1:41 (Published 7 January 1978).