In September 2014 I was privileged to have been asked to present a British Legion Centenary Lecture on the First World War. My chosen subject was “First Anywhere”, the story of the ladies of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, or FANY as they became affectionately known.
My own research on the FANY had focused on their work during the Second World War and my quest that those attached to Bletchley Park will one day receive the recognition they deserve. So, when I was asked to deliver a lecture on the FANY during the First Word War, I delved into my copies of the appropriate National Archive files, raided my bookshelves and re discovered Hugh Popham’s book, “The FANY in Peace & War”.
The revised edition takes the reader from the formation of the FANY in 1907 up to 2003. The content has been meticulously researched and is well illustrated with provenance from the FANY archives, some of its members and Mark Seaman, late of the Imperial War Museum. For the researcher this edition contains an extensive Bibliography and Index.
Written in a matter of fact fashion, which typifies the ladies in question, the author provides an insight into the formation of the Corps in 1907 and its aim “to deliver First Aid to soldiers who would otherwise have died where they had fallen on the field of battle”. He also covers the troubled times during its early years, and the tenacity of its members to overcome the views of the Military men of the First World War, who believed that a woman’s place was firmly in the home.
However, the ladies did go to war and served in Belgium and France between 1914 and 1919. During the war they ran hospitals; drove mobile canteens and ambulances, and in one night alone, were awarded 18 medals for evacuating the wounded whilst under fire. Directly after the war they continued to look after the injured and helped repatriate the lost prisoners of war.
Between 1940 and 1946, Popham introduces Special Operations Executive and those FANYs working in the shadows of espionage, the secret backrooms of Signals Intelligence, radio communications and code-breaking.
From nurses on horseback, the author describes how the Corps has adapted to and embraced the twenty-first century. The ladies of the FANY continue to train, and in time of need report for duty, often unseen and unheralded.
This book really is an eye opener.