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Maureen Gara initially attended the National School in Meenaveen and at the age of ten moved to Carrick National School. She celebrated VE in Eindhoven, in the Netherlands. The Royal Red Cross medal 1st Class mentioned, was awarded for having displayed "special devotion and competency in her nursing duties," and was awarded to her by Queen Elizabeth II. Also, in her honour, in 1999, a ward was dedicated to her in the Ministry of Defence Hospital, in Northallerton, Yorkshire.
From The Telegraph 27 December 2009
On June 14 1944, after the first Normandy landings, Maureen Gara, a Nursing Officer with 79th General Hospital, left in a convoy to set up a large field hospital at Bayeux. On the way to Southampton, people from towns and villages which had been devastated by German bombing cheered her and her colleagues through the streets. After a sleepless night on the troopship, she clambered down a scramble net into a landing craft, only to find that rough seas prevented the vessel from reaching shore for four hours.
She spent her first night on land in trenches with a 24-hour ration pack for sustenance. There was a battle raging outside Caen, the racket was tremendous, and the ground shook beneath her.
At 10 o'clock the following morning, trucks took her to the site for the hospital. The place was buzzing with troops – Pioneers, Reme, Sappers and Royal Army Service Corps. The marquees were up, generators were humming, boiling water was bubbling in huge cauldrons, kitchens had been assembled and trenches dug. Crates were unpacked and an enormous Red Cross laid out. By four o'clock in the afternoon, the first casualties were arriving. Four hundred came in that night.
Mary Anne Gara, always known as Maureen, was the eldest of seven children in a family of subsistence farmers. She was born in rural Ireland, near Carrick, County Donegal, on January 18 1916. Her mother died suddenly and Maureen's aunt took over care of the family, leaving the girl free to pursue her ambition to become a nurse. Maureen went to a convent school and won a scholarship which enabled her to continue studying beyond the age of 14. After qualifying at a training school in Manchester, she volunteered to join the reserve of Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) and, in December 1943, was sent to the 79th General Hospital at Watford.
It was a mobilisation unit housed in the dreary, dark buildings of a St Agatha's orphanage. Gara was met by a woman in full battledress, boots and gaiters who trained her and the other nurses in military medical procedures, tentage and drill. The first task was to make up 600 bed rolls in readiness for deploying as a field hospital at the front. In April 1944, she moved to Peebles Hydro, Scotland, where she trained in chemical warfare and mountaineering. In May, the hospital moved to East Anglia with a large concentration of troops ready for D-Day. In her spare time, she and other nurses were sent out on to the lawns to sew a huge red cross made out of hessian.
The surgeons in the hospital in Normandy, she said afterwards, were the best that Britain could provide. Casualties had to be kept moving so that there were always trestle tables available. There was an airstrip nearby and an efficient evacuation system was organised. Penicillin was regarded as the new miracle drug but in emergencies there was not time to test patients for allergic reactions. On one occasion, a soldier that she was treating had a violent reaction to the drug and reached for a scalpel to kill himself. Only with great difficulty did she prevent him doing so. The alarm was raised one night when movement was spotted in bushes near the sleeping quarters. The hunt for a suspected prowling German soldier was called off when the real culprit, a stray cow, poked its head into Gara's tent.
While she was in Normandy, she used to watch the Luftwaffe bombers flying overhead on bombing raids. They deliberately avoided bombing the hospital area and one particular aircraft with distinctive markings always dipped its wing as it passed over the hospital. Some years later, at an event in Germany, Maureen Gara mentioned this. One of the pilots present said: "Madam, that was my plane." In September, Gara moved with the hospital to Holland for the battles of Arnhem and the Rhine crossing. On the way, she stopped in Brussels for her first proper bath since leaving England.
After the war, she applied to join the Regular QAIMNS, later designated the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC), and was posted to India. She subsequently served in the Middle East, in Singapore and at the Commonwealth Hospital, Terendak, Melaka, Malaysia, where she was deputy matron.
In 1967, she was promoted lieutenant-colonel and posted to the QARANC training centre as chief instructor. Two years later, she was awarded the Royal Red Cross for excellence in military nursing and she moved to the Queen Alexandra Hospital, Millbank, as matron. She retired in 1971. Settled in the Aldershot area, she became involved with the Normandy Veterans and Queen Alexandra Associations and served as a trustee and subsequently chairman of the latter for a total of 11 years. She never lost her love of her native Ireland and its traditional music – her father and two of her brothers played the fiddle. She also enjoyed travelling and went on several world cruises.
In 2004, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day, a stamp of St Vincent and the Grenadines was printed in her honour. Maureen Gara died on October 19 2009. She never married.