The military nurses and Voluntary Aid Detachments who worked alongside members of the all-male Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), and became an integral and vital part of official provision seem to get the most attention, but theirs is only part of the story. Amongst the overlooked were the women doctors who considered it their duty to use their medical skills as part of the war effort. At the outbreak of war there were 1000 or so highly qualified women practitioners in Britain, including the surgeons and former militant suffragists Dr Flora Murray (1870-1923) and Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson (1873-1943).
From their dealings with officials, Anderson and Murray were keenly aware of the negative reaction they would receive to any ideas of medical help they made to the British authorities, so they went directly to the French, who were in desperate need of medical support. The French Red Cross welcomed them, and their offer of a fully equipped surgical unit made up of women doctors and trained nurses, with open arms.
By early 1915, the decision had been made to send as many injured men as possible home for treatment, and on the back of the success of the WHC’s work in France, and the shortage of staff at home, Sir Alfred Keogh, director general of the RAMC at the war office, invited Anderson and Murray to establish and run a military hospital, funded by the army, in London.
Despite setbacks, the Endell Street Military Hospital, created in the old workhouse of St Giles, Bloomsbury, took in the first patients in mid-May 1915, and soon gained a reputation for the excellent medical care, compassion and consideration given to the patients. The female surgeons at the hospital often carried out 20 operations a day on wounded troops, included amputations.
As doctor-in-charge at the military hospital in Endell Street Flora Murray was the only woman to hold the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the British army during the great war – All the WHC staff who had served in France were entitled to receive the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
WOMEN AS ARMY SURGEONS Being The History Of The Women’s Hospital Corps 1914-1919
Flora Murray’s book is a record of the Women’s Hospital Corps in France and the Endell Street Military Hospital, London. Despite a lack of training in trauma and orthopaedics and with no previous experience in military medicine, she met the challenge of treating often horrific wartime casualties and returning battle-injured men to society. She, along with her partner Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson, redefined gender roles in military medici