swindonweb®  home    make this my homepage
myswindonweb   LOGIN / REGISTER  

Flying Nightingales 

The first-ever females to fly in to a combat zone took off from here 80 years ago

Article first published 14 May 2004. Updated 14 April 2024.
Below is a picture of the three of the bravest people you are ever likely to read about. Genuinely courageous and selfless in helping others in the most difficult of circumstances - and quite rightly described as 'pioneers'.

Flying Nightingales of Blakehill Farm, near Swindon
First flight back:
The first three 'Flying Nightingale' RAF nurse orderlies
in front their Dakota arriving back
at RAF Blakehill Farm, near Swindon, on 13 June 1944
with D-Day casualties bound for Chiseldon hospital
75 years ago - 13 June 1944 - nurse orderlies Cpl Lydia Alford, Myra Roberts and Edna Birkbeck took off from RAF Blakehill Farm, just outside Swindon, became the first female RAF aircrew to fly in to a combat zone.
Their task was to look provide emergency care and escort wounded soldiers back from D-Day to the RAF Alexandra Hospital at Chiseldon.
Overall, two hundred nurses of the RAF's Air Ambulance Unit were based at three airfields around Swindon - RAF Blakehill Farm & RAF Down Ampney near Cricklade and RAF Broadwell, near Lechlade, and flew multiple times every day to Normandy in the weeks after D-Day.

Over 100,000 casualties - many with truly horrific injuries - were evacuated in the airlifts.

And not one casualty died on the flights back.

No Red Cross signage was used on the Dakotas transport planes that flew, so each were a German target making each mission frought with danger - with bailing out forbidden.

Parachutes were locked away on the return flights, and with no seat space in the fuselage, the nurses were ordered to stand up and stay with their patients at all times, even when under attack.

And their salary for this unwavering bravery? 8p a week! Only in 2008 were the last surviving nurses recognised when the Duchess of Cornwall (now Queen Camilla) presented them with lifetime achievement awards.

You can read more on the inspiring story of the Flying Nightingales from RAF Blakehill Farm via the link below.
RAF Blakehill
Alan Fowler
The Yanks are Coming!...
Swindon on D-Day
Gilbert's Carpets, Swindon
The Burj
Absolute Skips - skip hire in Swindon
Barnes Coaches Advert
Chelworth Windows and Conservatories, Swindon, Wiltshire