Just one woman’s name is to be found amongst the 755 names commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial in Londonderry – that of Laura Marion Gailey, a nurse who served with the Voluntary Aid Detachment of World War 1.One of the first nurses to volunteer, Laura was a past pupil of Victoria High School in the city which later amalgamated with Londonderry High School to form today’s Foyle College.
That connection proved the starting point for a fascinating journey into the past by Cadets from Foyle College Combined Cadet Force. Their research into Laura’s story unravelled a poignant story of World War 1 courage and loss and earned the teenagers first prize in the Northern Ireland wide ‘Local Heroes’ project.
Laura, they discovered, was born in Londonderry on 8 November 1886, the daughter of William Gailey and Margaret Elizabeth Gailey. Not much is known about her early life, but her service record shows she volunteered in June 1915, joining the Donegal/Londonderry Commission of St John's Ambulance Service, later moving into the Voluntary Aid Detachment. During World War 1, volunteer nurses gave up their time, left their families and risked contracting diseases such as typhoid and influenza in order to care for ill and wounded soldiers in hospitals across the UK and in countries throughout the British Empire.