Friday 9 December 2016

Captain Bernie Mapstone

An army doctor who trained in Galway and later became the first woman to serve with Britain's Grenadier Guards

Published 07/03/2010 | 05:00

CAPTAIN Bernie Mapstone, who has died aged 95, became the first woman medical officer to serve with a unit of Britain's Grenadier Guards when she was posted to Libya in 1947.

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On enlisting in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) two years earlier, Bernie Noone, as she then was, became the only woman at the Aldershot training depot.

After a year examining troops prior to posting abroad, she volunteered for overseas duty herself and was moved first to the Suez Canal and then -- by mistake -- to the 1st Guards Brigade in Tripolitania. The posting order had omitted 'Miss', and she was assumed to be a man. Her arrival at the Brigade Field Artillery Regiment caused great consternation, as there was no accommodation for a woman, and a commanding officer had to give up his quarters to her.

Bernie Noone was relocated to the base military hospital at Tripoli to join staff of the area medical centre in Azizia Barracks, which was occupied by the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards. As the only female service medical officer in North Africa, she was allocated a German prisoner-of-war as her driver, and overcame many difficulties with her strength of character and pleasant disposition until leaving the RAMC in 1949.

The eldest daughter of a village postman, she was born Bridget Noone on February 10, 1914, at Ahascragh, Co Galway; and, after a mistake in the registry, given the middle name of Bernard. From a local convent school she won a scholarship to the National University of Ireland, Galway, where she qualified in medicine and surgery in 1940.

Bridget Noone became resident obstetrical officer and senior house physician at the Central Hospital, Galway, from 1940 to 1941. She moved to an industrial practice in Chesterfield, England, where her duties included attending injuries down the coal mines. She then spent three years as an assistant GP at Potters Bar.

After the war she spent more than a year as assistant in general practice at Nuneaton until marrying Captain Jimmy Mapstone.

She joined Coventry city council as assistant schools medical officer, with special responsibility for handicapped children, until the birth of her daughter in 1954; and then worked part time for Essex county council until her son's birth in 1956. Moving with her husband -- who had joined Britain's Colonial Service -- to Nakuru, Kenya, she had notable success in eliminating the serious mosquito infestation of Lake Nakuru by transferring fish from Lake Magadi, which ate the mosquito larvae. After a short break in Anglesey, North Wales, the family moved to South Africa. Her most frequent task as casualty surgeon at the Provincial Hospital in Pretoria was to treat stab wounds. On one chaotic night she carried out 54 such operations, some of them on the floor.

She was promoted to government district surgeon for Pretoria from 1964 to 1974, which involved supervising the whole range of medical services in the city. She was the first woman appointed as a district surgeon in South Africa. Throughout her married life, the safety and welfare of her children and husband took priority.

In 1974, the family returned to England. She joined Surrey Area Health Authority as a clinical medical officer for school clinics, until compulsorily retired in 1989.

Until reaching 90 in 2004, she continued to assist wounded and injured ex-servicemen and women in disputes with the War Pensions Agency, and was also an active fundraiser for the Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal.

Bernie Mapstone, who died on January 16, is survived by her husband, daughter and son.

Sunday Independent

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