Great Britain's First Aid Nursing Yeomanry: Background information when reading Code Name Lise

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Code Name Lise

The True Story of the Woman Who Became WWII's Most Highly Decorated Spy

by Larry Loftis

Code Name Lise by Larry Loftis X
Code Name Lise by Larry Loftis
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    Jan 2019, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Great Britain's First Aid Nursing Yeomanry

This article relates to Code Name Lise

Print Review

FANYs 1Odette Sansom, heroine of Larry Loftis's book Code Name Lise, began her espionage career as a member of the FANYs – Great Britain's First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.

FANY was formed as "an all-female volunteer organisation which deploys multi-faceted rapid response teams to support civil and military authorities in times of crisis" and its purpose remains the same to this day, over a century later. The idea for such a group began with Edward Baker, a Warrant Officer with the 21st Lancers in 1898, as he lay nursing his leg on the battlefield during the Mahdist War (1881-1899). He thought it would be advantageous to have nurses right there on the battlefield to tend to the wounded before they were transported to the casualty clearing stations.

His idea finally come to fruition in 1907, and young women who could ride and already owned horses were recruited (hence the word "yeomanry" in the group's name). By 1911 they were being led by Grace Ashley-Smith (1889-1963) - "a feisty, non-nonsense Scottish woman" - and Lilian Franklin (1882-1955), known simply as "the Boss." They instituted a rigorous training camp that usually lasted two weeks and which concentrated on riding and first aid skills.

FANYs 2When WWI broke out, the FANYs immediately tried to be of use – but no British unit would have them. Ashley-Smith was on a ship bound for Africa when hostilities were declared and began her return immediately. While traveling home, she met the Belgian Minister for the Colonies, and she convinced him of how useful the FANYs could be. Back in the UK, Ashley-Smith acquired an ambulance and along with six FANYs crossed to Calais on 27 October 1914 to drive ambulances for the Belgians and French. This date marks the beginning of their wartime service. According to the FANY's history site, "On 29th October they took over a dirty and decayed convent school opposite the Church of Notre Dame, called Lamarck Hospital. The wounded were being brought in before the FANYs had even had time to unpack." They served with the Belgian forces throughout the war and were asked to join the British troops on 1 January 1916, when the War Office finally recognized their value.

After the war, the other two female forces (the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the Women's Auxiliary Air Forces) were disbanded; the FANYs, however, were privately funded and couldn't be broken up. During peacetime they continued to recruit and train, transitioning from horses to automobiles and becoming formally recognized by the Army as military drivers and mechanics.

The FANYs continued to be of use during WWII, working with the British Red Cross, the American Ambulance Corp, and the British Committee for the Red Cross from 1940 – 1945. In addition to first aid and ambulance services, they acted as "radio officers, encryption specialists, wireless operators, radar operators, personal assistants, drivers, coders, and decoders in the UK, North Africa, Italy, India, Ceylon and the Far East."

FANYs 3Perhaps their most crucial role during this conflict was their collaboration with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), the purpose of which was "to organise active resistance to the Germans by any means possible, legal or illegal, gentlemanly or otherwise." In addition to providing critical communications personnel, FANYs served as agents in the field, generally as couriers; 39 of the 50 women sent to German-controlled France were members of FANY. They were trained in "silent killing, weapon handling, fieldcraft and sabotage; and did parachute jumps at Ringway aerodrome. They also learned how to operate wireless sets, which they would have carried around in cases, made to look like ordinary leather suitcases." Of the 39 women deployed, 13 were killed by the Gestapo before the end of the war.

The FANYs have remained an important part of Britain's defense strategy since the end of WWII; in fact, they played an important role during the Cold War, their involvement becoming known only recently as documents have been declassified. The organization was renamed the Princess Royal's Volunteer Corps in 1999 after receiving permission from Princess Anne to use her name, and they're currently known as FANY (PRVC).

All quotes and photographs from FANY's website.
FANYs near Michelham Convalescent Home in France.
FANYs learning vehicle mechanics.
Working for the Belgians, Unit V, 1916.

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to Code Name Lise. It originally ran in February 2019 and has been updated for the January 2019 edition.

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