Irish-born 18 year old Molly O’Connell Bianconi joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment in 1915 and was sent to a Yorkshire hospital for expedited nursing training.
Molly was smart and bright and really wanted to help, so she was also trained in motor engine maintenance, something rare for men at the time and unheard-of for ladies.
She transferred to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and went to France in mid 1917 to drive and maintain ambulances.
In 1918, she was sent to the front line at St Omer as the enemy launched their terrifying Spring Offensive and threatened to overwhelm Allied forces entirely.
Molly worked tirelessly, getting her motor ambulance through barrages and broken tracks to rescue and treat wounded soldiers.
It was reported that “she worked for long hours under fire in the brave attempt to save the lives of those who were being buried in caves, dugouts and hospitals, which had been hit”.
She was awarded a Military Medal for her gallantry during the retreat and was also mentioned by name for bravery in the field in the dispatches of General Plumer. Again, these distinctions were terrifically rare for women.
And when WW2 arrived, Molly swung back into action.
She re-joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and then became a Commander with the ATS, the Auxiliary Territorial Service, serving in this capacity through the entire War, helping among many other duties, to organise and co-ordinate radar stations and anti-aircraft posts.
After the Second World War, she quietly returned to running the hotel she had set up with her husband after the end of the First.