As soon as Jean Argles, nee Owtram, turned 18 in 1943, she knew exactly what she had to do. It was the height of World War Two and among her birthday cards was a letter from the FANY – the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry – asking if she was interested in joining up.
“Was I ever!” Jean exclaims as she remembers her excitement at the invitation. A couple of days later, she travelled to London for an interview. “I’d been told by a friend that I should dress plainly. No make-up and definitely no nail polish. I had to make it clear that I was a serious person.”
The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was looking for a very particular sort of young woman. Founded in 1907, the FANY was formed to deliver first aid in the battlefield. The very earliest recruits were expected to be excellent horsewomen and trained in cavalry work. During the First World War, they drove ambulances to the front line. As it happened, Jean was an experienced rider but at her interview she was surprised when the officer in charge suddenly asked if she was any good at crosswords instead. “I wondered what on earth was going on,” Jean says. “I thought they were just filling time. I told them that of course I liked crosswords. There wasn’t much else to do in the evening at home in Lancashire. I thought nothing more of it.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies