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War Tales 1914-1919 - Page 8

by Lynette Beardwood

Copyright © Lynette Beardwood, WTS(F.A.N.Y.) 1997

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AFTER THE ARMISTICE a convoy of thirty FANYs moved to Strasbourg to work with the returning prisoners of war.

Last week nine cars went to Karstadt, 10 miles into Germany to fetch prisoners. It was 60 km each way, rather dull country, and we crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge with lots of French sentries but no German ones because they have had to retire and leave 10 miles of neutral country. Some of the men we took were very ill and one was only moved because he begged to be allowed to die on French soil, he had been practically starved to death. He died next day in Strasbourg. [74]

 

The convoys were demobbed one by one over the next few months. However their skills were much in demand and many FANYs stayed in France and Belgium. They worked for the British Red Cross in Boulogne; for the Belgian Military Automobile Service in Brussels and Paris; for the Reparations Committee; for the Imperial War Graves Commission based at St Omer; for the French Red Cross Service des Blessés et Refugiés throughout eastern France; for the French Army Regions Liberées at Versailles; for a British Officers’ convalescent home in Cap Martin and for the Empire Leave Club in Cologne. While with the Service d’Exhumation in Brussels, they provided a Guard of Honour when the body of Edith Cavell was exhumed for reburial England.

It seemed strange at first, never to hear the guns nor the humming of the Boche avions, to go down roads which were no longer under shellfire; life has lost some of its salt and there is a certain flatness in the runs now; no more orders for casques et masques, [75] no more being told not to loiter at certain places, but also, mercifully, no more trains of suffering men. [76]

 

 

Some years before they had chosen as their motto Arduis Invictus, loosely translated as In difficulty Undaunted, and unofficially as I Cope. They had lived up to it.

F-A-N-Y” spelled a passing Tommy as he leant from the train. “I wonder what that stands for?”

“First anywhere?” suggested another.

 

Epilogue

 

“Why F.A.N.Y.?” might be asked, when there are 101 organisations which have supplied the urgent needs of this war. Primarily because FANYs are the finest stimulant against Red Tape that the British Army has ever known. [77]

In those days one had the feeling that one was still on trial, perhaps we older FANYs, who had won the early rounds and been so thoroughly doubted and inspected in 1915, felt it more than the others, but one did feel that one must be just that much better and cooler and more careful because one was a women and expected to be a fool. [78]

‘FANYs? Yes, I should think I do know the FANYs. I was at Audricq. Did you know Franklin? The Boss they called her. Bravest woman I ever met. Came out with the first ambulance that night we sent for them when the ammo dump was hit and stayed to the end. The Boche was crumping them down all over the place, most unhealthy. Franklin just stood there, out in the open, helping to load the ambulances and standing by between the vehicles, quietly smoking. She had a cheery word for everyone. The bombs were continuous, and shrapnel was raining down, but she never went for shelter and She never flinched”. [79]

I think the FANYs have proved that ‘esprit de corps’ is a much finer thing than to surround the average British girl with rules; once establish that and they will play the game all through. [80]

I was not afraid. I just did my duty, which was to collect the wounded. [81]

We may have been naive, we did not say the actual words, but we all had the feeling that we really were keeping the world fit to live in, that our many sacrifices had been worthwhile. In that Spring of 1919 we felt the world was a better place. [82]

Copyright © Lynette Beardwood, WTS(F.A.N.Y.) 1997 [83]

 

If you can leave your bed when all around you

Are sleeping and not on the evac;

If you can go three times to the Canadian

And smile when Boss says “Will you please go back?”

If you can wait and not get tired of waiting

When you are punctured, and have got no spare;

If you can know who took it, without hating,

And simply murmer “Bah! mais c’est la guerre.”

If you are late and yet do not drive faster;

If you persuit, yet make it not your aim;

And if a train thwarts, calmly wait disaster

And without grousing, just unload that train;

If you can bear to hear the word Boulogne

And start away mid rain and wind and mud;

If you can see the tyre you’ve mended punctured

And stoop to jack it, with a jack that’s dud.

If you don’t mind when all your valves are sticking;

If you can laugh with water in your jet;

If you can drive through torrents to St Omer

And yet not curse the road, or damn the wet;

If you can ‘carry on’ when life is blighting;

Or winning medals, keep the common touch;

If all your friends leave Calais to go fighting;

If the Corps counts with you for very much.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds work of grease caps done;

Yours is the bus,*** and all the toil that’s in it;

And, which is more.......

you’ll be a FANY.

*** ambulance

Donnett Mary Paynter
British Calais Convoy 1916

 

74

From a letter from Phyllis Puckle 1919

Back to text
75 helmets and gas-masks Back to text
76 From a letter from Joan Bowles 1919 Back to text

77

Beryl Hutchinson in F.A.N.Y. Gazette 1920 ‘ Suggestions for the future of the Corps’ Back to text
78 From a post-war account by Beryl Hutchinson Back to text
79 Unnamed British officer, in a conversation with Baxter Ellis 1921 Back to text
80 Lilian Franklin 1920 Back to text
81 Sadie Bonnell Marriott Talbot MM, 1988 aged 100 Back to text
82 From a post-war account by Beryl Hutchinson Back to text
83   Back to text

 


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