An event commemorating the 80th anniversary of the first British women on active service to be officially flown by His Majesty’s Government into a war zone took place in a quiet nature reserve in Wiltshire, according to a press release.

On June 13, 1944, one week after D-Day, three Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) nursing orderlies—Corporal Lydia Alford, Leading Aircraft Women (LACW) Myra Roberts, and LACW Edna Birkbeck—flew from what was then RAF Blakehill Farm to an airstrip in Normandy to undertake the first casualty evacuation flights. The press waiting for their return dubbed these pioneering nurses ‘The Flying Nightingales’.

Eighty years later, family members of The Flying Nightingales, serving members of the RAF Medical Services, senior representatives from the NHS and RAF, and local dignitaries gathered at the former airfield where those first flights departed. The event was a commemoration and celebration of the life-saving contribution made by RAF Medical Reserves, past and present, in the Centenary year of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.

Attendees learned about the stories of these extraordinary women and witnessed a demonstration of modern aeromedical evacuation capability, highlighting the ongoing critical contribution of RAF Medical Reservists, most of whom also have full-time jobs within the NHS.

The ceremony concluded at the end of the runway with the last post sounded by a trumpeter from the Band of the Royal Air Force Regiment in honour of The Flying Nightingales and all RAF Medical Services personnel.

LACW Lydia Alford’s niece, Sheila Lane, recalled seeing her aunt in a Pathé news reel in 1944. “On the screen was my Aunty Lydia saluting two officers before boarding an aircraft to go to France. That’s my earliest recollection of her,” she said. “Today means a great deal to me. Growing up, Aunty Lydia was a bit of a heroine and role model for me. I have great respect for those that do the same job today.”

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Lisa has a degree in Media & Communication from Glasgow Caledonian University and works with industry news, sifting through press releases in addition to moderating website comments.
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Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke (@guest_826990)
3 days ago

A link

There is an official RAF still there.

I think the Pathe newsreel is a misattribution there is nothing catalogued as that?

I’m having a hunt around in a few other archives to see if it survives.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_827129)
3 days ago

Ah, Blakehill Farm. Into the 80s was an antenna farm for GCHQ.

Last edited 3 days ago by Daniele Mandelli
Mr Bell
Mr Bell (@guest_827166)
2 days ago

Ahead of their time. Now aerial repatriation and aerial ICU is a capability that the RAF has firmly established.
These women were brave and highly professional nurses and deserve our respect. Bit like the modern NHS nurses really, treating covid patients with no PPE or defunct inadequate PPE.