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Harborough Museum

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry

The object of the month for November is the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry kit of Barbara Williamson.

Barbara Williamson was in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry during World War Two but the organisation was formed long before, even pre-dating World War One. You can see the objects in the Villages case in the museum.

First Aid Nurses Yeomanry
First Aid Nurses Yeomanry uniform, photograph and agreement letter for Barbara Williamson.

Foundation and World War One

The ‘First Aid Nursing Yeomanry’ (F.A.N.Y.) was formed in 1907 as a link between field hospitals and the front line.

The name ‘Yeomanry’ came about because its members rode horses. Their founder, Captain Edward Baker, a veteran of the Sudan Campaign and the Second Boer War, felt that a single rider could get to a wounded soldier faster than a horse-drawn ambulance.  This made it different from other nursing organisations as they saw themselves rescuing the wounded and giving first aid, similar to a modern combat medic.

Throughout the First World War they ran field hospitals, drove ambulances and set up soup kitchens and canteens for the troops and were involved in signalling and cavalry drilling. Many of the early women recruits were drawn from the upper middle classes.

During the First World War, two of the F.A.N.Y. nurses, Lieutenants Grace McDougall and Lillian Franklin, arrived in Calais driving motorised ambulances instead of the horses drawn ones.  The British Army were slow to accept this so they drove ambulances and ran hospitals and casualty clearing stations for the Belgian and French Armies instead. By the Armistice, they had been awarded many decorations for bravery, including 17 Military Medals, 1 Legion d’Honneur and 27 Croix de Guerre.


Members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and their work during World War One and beyond have been remembered with a memorial at St Paul’s church, Knightsbridge and the Women of World War II memorial, Whitehall.

During World War Two, some members of the Yeomanry were involved in top secret and highly skilled work. Members operated in several countries including North Africa, Italy, India and the Far East. Thirty-nine members were sent into France, of whom 13 were captured by the Gestapo and subsequently disappeared.  Many decorations, of both the UK and other countries, were awarded for their service and outstanding courage.

Among these, four of the highest UK decorations were the George Cross awarded to Odette Hallowes (who was caught and tortured, but survived the war) and to Violette Szabo and Noor Inayat Khan.  Both died in captivity and were decorated posthumously.  Nancy Wake’s awards included the George Medal.

A nurse from the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry Corps standing standing in front of an ambulance in France in 1914
A nurse from the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry Corps standing standing in front of an ambulance in France in 1914. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks to our volunteers for researching and writing this entry.

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