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The Flying Nightingales' commemoration


Lucy Parsons, the Divisional Director of Nursing of Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust recently joined military, civic and fellow NHS leaders to commemorate the pioneering nursing work of  'The Flying Nightingales' – who treated wounded soldiers following the D-Day landings 80 years ago, earlier this month.

On Tuesday 13 June 1944, one week after D-Day, three Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) nursing orderlies flew from what was then RAF Blake Hill Farm to an airstrip in Normandy to undertake the first casualty evacuation flights. Corporal Lydia Alford, Leading Aircraft Woman (LACW) Myra Roberts and LACW Edna Birkbeck treated the wounded as they were being flown back to Britain. 

The moment of their return was recorded by the waiting press, who dubbed these pioneering nurses 'The Flying Nightingales'. 

Gathering 80 years later at the former airfield where those first flights departed were family members of The Flying Nightingales, serving members of the RAF Medical Services who carry out the same role today, senior representatives from the NHS and RAF, and local dignitaries.

The event was a commemoration and celebration of the life-saving contribution made by RAF Medical Reserves, past and present, in what is also the Centenary year of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. 

Those in attendance heard more about the stories of these extraordinary women and were treated to a demonstration of modern aeromedical evacuation capability to highlight the ongoing critical contribution of RAF Medical Reservists, most of whom also have full-time jobs within the NHS.

A commemoration ceremony was held at the end of the runway with the last post sounded by a Trumpeter of the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment in honour of The Flying Nightingales and all RAF Medical Services personnel. 

Lucy Parsons, our Divisional Director of Nursing, said:

"I really enjoyed commemorating The Flying Nightingales. Armed Forces Reservists make a significant contribution to our organisation and are much valued members of our team – particularly in the critical care unit and emergency department."

Group Captain Charlotte Thompson, Director of RAF Nursing Services said: 

"It's a real privilege to be invited here today by 4626 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force, who have put on this wonderful event to commemorate the 80th anniversary of The Flying Nightingales. 

"As Head of Nursing for the RAF, it's incredible to hear the stories of the aeromedical evacuations these inspiring women undertook on a Dakota, and then look at where we are at now in 2024."

Kate Davies, Director of Health and Justice, Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Services Commissioning at NHS England, said: 
"With D-Day commemorations recently taking place across the country, we remember those who lost their lives in Normandy and thank all those who have served and are serving. From the battlefield to the NHS, medical reserves are an important part of our clinical workforce – providing much-needed care and support to our patients."