Laura Lean, who has died aged 48, gave many years of outstanding service to the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps, known as FANY).
The Corps’s founder was Edward Baker, a warrant officer in the 21st Lancers. He was wounded at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 and, lying on the battlefield, he thought that it would be wonderful if there were women able to administer first aid before the men were removed to the casualty clearing stations.
Recruitment drives in the early years were designed to attract young women who could ride and who owned their own horses (hence the inclusion of yeomanry in the Corps’s name).
In the First World War the FANY set up regimental aid posts, motor kitchens and mobile bath vehicles. They drove ambulances and had to cope with the most primitive living conditions while facing death and disease with equanimity as well as Zeppelin bombing and chlorine gas attacks.
Independent and self-funded, the Corps survived the inter-war years and, in the Second World War, the FANY provided radio and radar operators, coders, drivers, cooks and clerks. They served in Europe, North Africa and all over the Far East. Many served with the Special Operations Executive.
Laura Lean deployed in several major incidents in support of the City of London Police’s Casualty Bureau. The Incident Room is the central point where all information is received, collated and assessed. These operational deployments included the Grenfell Tower Fire and the attack by a terrorist on London Bridge, both in 2017, and the attack at Fishmongers’ Hall in 2019. Lean went on to support the arrival of evacuees, many of whom were soldiers, from Afghanistan in 2021.
She knew Afghanistan well from her trips to the Middle East and was able to brief her colleagues in the FANY on the culture before they assisted the military in the operation. She also visited families in hotels and guest houses in London and the Home Counties, working under great pressure to assess and provide for their needs in a very limited time.
More recently, during the Covid pandemic, Lean deployed to the Nightingale Hospital, London, working with the family support and liaison team as a vital lifeline between the intubated and unconscious patients and their families. Callers were sometimes going through highly traumatic experiences, and to remain calm and provide timely, sensitive and effective assistance could be a very exacting task.
Laura Alice Bevan Lean was born in Guildford, Surrey, on October 22 1974. Her father was a captain in the Royal Navy. Her grandmother had served with the FANY and she was proud of the service her family had given in both World Wars.
She lived in Gibraltar, Spain and Venezuela as a child and was educated at Windermere St Anne’s School before going up to Manchester University to read art history. She was a purchasing manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers for five years before moving to Chicago to work for the Art Institute there as a research volunteer in the department of prints and drawings.
She lived in Hyderabad, India, for 18 months before returning to England to become a freelance photographer, working for a number of agencies including the Press Association. She also worked for the charity Turquoise Mountain, which supported craftsmanship, education and health in Afghanistan.
Laura Lean joined the Corps as a recruit in 2009 and underwent basic training before qualifying as an active member the following year. Members of the Corps are volunteers and combine their work with their daytime jobs.
Within a few months, her leadership skills marked her out for rapid promotion. By 2015, she had been promoted to training officer in the rank of commander and she was named FANY of the Year.
She specialised as parachuting officer and, between 2013 and 2016, she passed the two-week parachuting course at the École des Troupes Aéroportées four times. ETAP, based at Pau in France, is a military school for training the paratroopers of the French army.
After gaining her French military wings she encouraged many other members to do the same. She was the best kind of team player: she always looked out for her teammates and, after jumps, she always tried to make sure they came back together, no matter how far apart they landed.
She ran imaginative annual camps, introducing external trainers to bring realism to exercises, but insisted that training should be fun as well as useful. In her spare time, she enjoyed wild swimming and sailing and she went on several FANY expeditions. One took her to Mount Kenya and, on a winter skiing expedition in Norway, she followed in the footsteps of wartime members of the SOE.
Laura Lean became the Corps’ photographer and in 2015 she began work on the picture desk of The Times. She moved into the Civil Service in 2020, initially for the Commonwealth & Development Office, and ended her career in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
Over the past two years she had battled a cruel illness. In July 2023, on her last public outing, in recognition of her outstanding leadership and commitment to the Corps, she was awarded the Order of the League of Mercy. She had previously been given the Lord Lieutenant’s Meritorious Service award.
Right up to three weeks before she died, she was happy to be surrounded by her friends in the FANY, who brought her food, kidnapped her for a surprise picnic, organised a sailing weekend, joined her for a swim in Hampstead Ladies’ pond, or wheeled her around the hospice garden. She remained a full serving member of the Corps and was an inspiration to everyone who knew her.
Laura Lean died in Trinity Hospice, Clapham. She is survived by her mother, Amanda Lean, who was with her when she died, and her sister Cordelia Lean.
Laura Lean, born October 22 1974, died September 26 2023