Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service


Royal Air Force Nursing Service
Royal Air Force Medical Services, 1939-1945. CL1862.jpg
An RAF General Hospital in Brussels during the Second World War
Active1 June 1918–present
(originally as Royal Air Force Temporary Nursing Service)
CountryUnited Kingdom United Kingdom
AllegianceHM The Queen
Branch Royal Air Force
RAF Medical Services
Size498 nurses
Garrison/HQAir Command, RAF High Wycombe
EngagementsWorld War II,
Korean War,
Falklands War,
Gulf War (Op GRANBY),
Bosnian War,
Kosovo War,
War in Afghanistan,
Gulf War II (Op TELIC)
Matron-In-ChiefGroup Captain Fionnuala Bradley
PatronPrincess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy, LG, GCVO
RAF EnsignEnsign of the Royal Air Force.svg
Red Cross EmblemFlag of the Red Cross.svg

Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (PMRAFNS) is the nursing branch of the British Royal Air Force.

It was established as the Royal Air Force Temporary Nursing Service (RAFNS) in 1918, and became part of the permanent establishment as the Royal Air Force Nursing Service on 27 January 1921. It received the Royal prefix after Princess Mary agreed to become its Patron in June 1923.

It was a women-only branch until 1980, when men were also permitted to join. Until the Second World War, it was only open to unmarried women, or childless widows. There was also a Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (Reserve) (PMRAFNS(R)) to supplement the regular service during times of war or emergencies.

A history of the service was commissioned from the writer Mary Mackie and appeared in 2001.[1] An updated and extended edition covering subsequent decades (including service in Afghanistan) was published in September 2014.[2]


The initial ranking system used by the PMRAFNS was as follows.

PMRAFNS rank Equivalent RAF rank (from 1943)
Staff Nurse[3]
Sister Flying Officer
Senior Sister[4] Flight Lieutenant
Matron Squadron Leader
Principal Matron[5] Wing Commander
Chief Principal Matron[6] Group Captain
Matron-in-Chief Air Commodore

From 1 June 1943, PMRAFNS personnel were granted emergency Commissions, and wore rank insignia corresponding to their equivalent Royal Air Force officer rank. On 1 February 1949, the women's forces were integrated into the Armed Forces, and a new ranking system was introduced, although professional titles were still used on the wards.

PMRAFNS rank Equivalent RAF rank
Flying Officer Flying Officer
Flight Officer Flight Lieutenant
Squadron Officer Squadron Leader
Wing Officer Wing Commander
Group Officer Group Captain
Air Commandant Air Commodore
Air Chief Commandant[7] Air Vice-Marshal

Other Ranks were introduced in 1956, although unqualified Nursing Orderlies had previously served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and Women's Royal Air Force. They held standard RAF ranks. Officers used the separate ranking system until 1980, when they too adopted RAF ranks.


The RAF had several hospitals which were staffed by nurses from the PMRAFNS. These were located at Akrotiri, Albrighton, Wolverhampton, Ely, Halton Nocton Hall, Lincolnshire, Aden, Uxbridge, Wegberg and Wroughton.[8]


  • Dame Joanna Cruickshank, 1918–1930
  • Dame Katherine Watt, 1930–1938
  • Dame Emily Blair, 1938–1943
  • Dame Gladys Taylor, 1943–1948
  • Air Commandant Dame Helen Cargill, 1948–1952
  • Air Commandant Dame Roberta Whyte, 1952–1956
  • Air Commandant Dame Alice Williamson, 1956–1959
  • Air Commandant Dame Alice Lowrey, 1959–1963
  • Air Commandant Dame Veronica Ashworth, 1963–1966
  • Air Commandant Dame Pauline Giles, 1966–1970
  • Air Commandant Ann McDonald, 1970–1972
  • Air Commandant Barbara Ducat-Amos, 1972–1978
  • Air Commodore Joan Metcalfe, 1978–1981
  • Air Commodore Joy Harris, 1981–1984
  • Air Commodore April Reed, 1984–1985
  • Group Captain Mary Shaw, 1985–1988
  • Group Captain Elizabeth Sandison, 1988–1991
  • Group Captain Ethnea Hancock, 1991–1994
  • Air Commodore Valerie Hand, 1994–1997
  • Air Commodore Bob Williams, 1997–2001[9]
  • Group Captain Annie Reid, 2001–2004[10]
  • Group Captain Wendy Williams, 2004–2006
  • Group Captain Jackie Gross, 2006–2010
  • Group Captain Phil Cushen, 2010–2013
  • Group Captain Phil Spragg, 2013–2015
  • Group Captain Michael Priestley, 2015–2018
  • Group Captain Fionnuala Bradley, 2018–2021

Group Captain Emma Redman, 2021

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ Mary Mackie: Sky Wards - A History of the Princess Mary's Royal Air Force Nursing Service (London: Robert Hale, 2001).
  2. ^ Mary Mackie: Wards in the Sky – the RAF's Remarkable Nursing Service (The History Press, UK, 2014, ISBN 9780750959568).
  3. ^ Phased out during the Second World War.
  4. ^ Initially called Superintending Sister, but renamed after a few years.
  5. ^ Introduced later than other ranks.
  6. ^ Introduced later than other ranks, possibly not until the Second World War.
  7. ^ An honorary rank held only by Princess Mary (7 October 1950) and Princess Alexandra (1 November 1966).
  8. ^ "RAF - PM MDHU History". Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  9. ^ "History". Archived from the original on 18 April 2009. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  10. ^ "BLDSS". Retrieved 1 February 2016.

External links

  • Official Website
  • Ministry of Defence Hospital Unit Peterborough MDHUP
  • Defence Medical Services