This month, to coincide with International Women’s Day, museum volunteer, John Edgar, has chosen a very special set of medals from our collection.
“Visitors to our medal room may be surprised to spot a medal group belonging to a woman.
Mary Marshall was born in Croydon in 1893. She joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) in 1912 and served in hospitals in Calais, port Binson and Marquise as a ‘motor driver’. Mary’s sister was also in the FANY, and their brother; a Major RB Marshall, had served with the East Surrey Regiment. He died in September 1919 of wounds received in action in Northern Russia.
On 23 September 1918, Mary and six colleagues attended a fire at an ammunition dump at marquise in Belgium, which was being attacked by German aircraft. They displayed considerable bravery under fire by evacuating the injured soldiers who had been manning the dump to hospital in their ambulances.
Mary and her colleagues were awarded the Military Medal for their actions.
‘For gallantry and coolness during a bombing raid by hostile aircraft. After the first bomb had fallen, Miss Marshall rallied the medical orderlies. Throughout the raid she displayed the utmost disregard of danger, attending many serious wound cases which required skilful and immediate attention.’ Mary Marshall’s Military Medal citation.
In the image above (courtesy of FANY/PRVC) Mary is on the left, with colleague Pat Beauchamp, who later wrote a book recalling her time with the FANY. The photo was taken at Fontinettes railway siding while they were providing refreshments for British troops in transit.
So why are her medals in The Green Howards Museum?
Well, it’s down to a very proud husband! The regiment’s Captain WD Wilkinson CB CBE DSO MC only agreed to having his own medals displayed here, if his wife’s were also put on show.
Mary’s medal group includes: the Military Medal, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-1920, Victory Medal 1914-1919, and two Belgian decorations, the Croix Civique 1914-18 and Queen Elisabeth Medal 1915.
Mary Marshall (image:Tim Franklin/FANY(PRVC)) belonged to a pioneering group of women, determined to serve their country and willing to battle not just the effects of hostile enemy action, but often the contempt and disparagement of the British military establishment.
The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was formed in 1907 as a first aid link between field hospitals and the front lines. It was given the ‘yeomanry’ part of its title as all of its members were originally on horseback (side-saddle of course).
Unlike nursing organisations, the FANY saw themselves as rescuers; retrieving the wounded and giving them first aid – similar to the modern ‘combat medic’ role. Each woman was trained not only in first aid, but also in signalling and drilling in cavalry movements.
The Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps, as the FANY is now known, is still going strong. It is the world’s longest established uniformed voluntary military organisation for women – and today, the only all-women military unit left in the UK.
Find out more about their history, and the work they do now, at their excellent website.”