FANY - A Century Not Out!
Every year we have a large majority of skydivers jumping for a variety of reasons; birthdays, anniversaries, ticking off the bucket list, pure fun and even wedding proposals! Whilst speaking to one of a group of jumpers who came up last weekend, I discovered that they were all FANYs! The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps). The FANY were founded in 1907 as an all-female voluntary organisation which deployed multi-faceted rapid response teams to support civil and military authorities in times of crisis. Today their aims remain the same and they are the world’s longest established uniformed ‘military’ voluntary organisation for women – and presently, the only all-women unit left in the UK.
This made me curious about their background, and what a history they have! Over the last century they have been involved in so much, for instance, the Corps’ strength in WW2 was 6,000, of which 2,000 were in the Special Operations Executive (SOE). One major contribution by the FANY to the work of the SOE was in Communications, in both Signals and Cipher departments. Another major contribution was the FANY agents in the field, working mainly in France. Thirty-nine of the fifty women sent into France with SOE were FANYs. Some were members before the war, others joined direct, while some were seconded from the other Women’s Services due to the restriction on bearing arms that applied to those Services. Thirteen of the thirty-nine were captured and murdered by the Gestapo.
Just a few days ago they commemorated the 75th anniversary of the first FANYs to parachute into France with SOE, on 24/25 September 1942. Hence, the reason for their commemorative jumps last weekend.
The first two FANYs parachuted into France were Lise de Baissac and Andrée Borrel, landing near the town of Mer. Lise’s main role was to be a courier and liaison officer in the Scientist network. According to Lise, on one occasion, "the Germans arrived and threw me out of my room. I arrived to take my clothes and found they had opened up the parachute I had made into a sleeping bag and were sitting on it. Fortunately, they had no idea what it was.” She continued her activities until the liberation, organising several groups and providing the Allied forces with information.
Andrée’s assignment was to serve as courier to the Prosper network. In the spring of 1943 she was made second in command of the entire Prosper network. During her time there she took part in sabotage, including raiding a power station and supervising weapons drops. Unfortunately, they proved too successful. The amount of activity over the skies of the northern fields, the sheer number of men and women involved inevitably led to their activities coming to official notice. On 23 June 1943 Andrée was arrested by the Gestapo, interrogated and tortured in the Gestapo’s Paris headquarters. On 6 July 1944 she was executed at the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp. Just one story of immense bravery in the face of adversity!
When a threat becomes reality….
Today, FANYs train every week in order to be on call 24/7 so that they can offer assistance to the civil and military authorities in times of crisis. However, in reality, members have not been activated for an emergency since the 7/7 London bombings in 2005 (although they have supported several, less prominent, operations in the meantime).
This year alone, they have been deployed four times in three months following recent terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge and the major fire in Kensington. In each case members’ responded brilliantly to the call-out, stepping up at short notice enabling them to meet all the requests for support without any difficulty.
FANY volunteers have, between them, provided 1,835 hours of their time to support the City of London Police, HQ London District, the Westminster Coroner, the London Resilience Group and the GOLD Commander over a period of just over three months. Whilst the incidents have been tragic, the events during this time have proved that their volunteers are efficient, effective, highly capable and adaptable and are ready to commit when the need arises.
Here at the Army Parachute Association we can only congratulate them for a job very well done!
“I had a truly awesome experience yesterday, in every way. I was absolutely terrified but felt totally invincible afterwards and I even fell in love with your cameraman, Mike! Cam was lovely too and if I decide to do it again it would have to be with him. It was all very professional, from start to finish. They were a great bunch and I will recommend this to anyone and everyone. I jumped for the MS Trust and secured £723 in sponsorship so far with promises of more to come. It is great to feel alive again.”
“First ever tandem skydive for worthing churches homeless project today, loved it. Special thanks to my instructor Jay and the cameraman trevor who both made me laugh a lot and really relaxed me! definately want to jump again Thanks guys for a great day!”
"First charity tandem skydive done here last Saturday. Despite being extremely scared, the instructors made me feel completely at ease and in safe hands. Highly recommend anyone doing a jump, to do it here. Would definitely consider doing another skydive off the back of this experience despite my fear of heights and flying. Brilliant day and life experience. Thank you."
"First ever tandem skydive....amazing!!! Massive thank you to my instructor Gary u were fab!!!"
"Amazing Day, looked after from start to finish, great people, very friendly, relaxed atmosphere, Pete my tandem partner.. TOP BLOKE he was very professional and experienced. HIGHLY RECOMMEND this to anyone."
"Wow first ever tandem skydive today for oakhaven. Raised over £1000, so thank you all ... with my daughter Leah lopez, amazing surreal, nothing else like it. Thank you to Gary and Jay...... Leah now wants to do more and do a single jump!! Eeek!"