Sister Lily Mc Nicholas


Sister L. Mc Nicholas.
Ireland's Own, May 3rd 2013,pg20 /21.
Railway Museum at Park, Kiltimagh
Author's Personal Photo
Juno Beach Centre by Dr. Alexander Mayer

Nurse / M. B. E.

This heroic Nursing Sister was presented with an award as she saved several lives at sea though unable to swim.

Lily Mc Nicholas was born on 16th October 1909 in Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo.  She was one of ten children.  Her parents were Thomas & Bridget.  Her family owned a bakery that had been in the family since 1860. [i]


She attended the St. Louis School in Kiltimagh: Ireland’s Own 3rd May 2013

Nursing Career

Lily Mc Nicholas emigrated during the 1930’s to study nursing in England.  From within her nursing role she was promoted to sister. [ii]

Military Career

Lily Mc Nicholas enlisted in the war effort as a reserve within Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.  Following her harrowing experience at sea & convalescence Sister Mc Nicholas continued with her nursing career with postings to London, Bombay also Egypt. [iii]

On 5th October 1942 Lily Mc Nicholas was granted a commission as a Sister (No. 246129) in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) Reserve. [iv]


During 1947 she moved to Chicago for employment in a hospital.  Sister Lily Mc Nicholas later became a nurse attached to the International Harvester.[v]

Heroic Actions

Sister Lily Mc Nicholas was on board the ‘MV Amsterdam’ (an hospital ship returning to Great Britain from Juno Beach with military causalities) when the ship was torpedoed on the 7th August 1944 off the Normandy Coast.  Along with colleagues Sr. Mc Nicholas assisted the wounded to lifeboats.  She herself gave up a place in a water ambulance to escort her patients to the deck from her ward.  When she escaped the capsized ship she again rendered assistance (regardless of her own safety as she was unable to swim) thus she saved numerous wounded personal.  Among those lost included  her best friend (Molly Evershed) &  fifty-five patients, ten R.A.M.C. staff, thirty crew members also eleven P.O.W.’s.  When eventually Sister Lily Mc Nicholas along with other survivors were picked up by an American Cutter she continued to care for all the injured though she was ill herself. [vi]

The Amsterdam’ was on her third cross – channel voyage to pick up Allied casualties also German Prisoners of War from the Battle of the Falaise Pocket when disaster occurred on 7th August 1944.  Sister Lily McNicholas survived the sinking of the hospital carrier that was transporting casualties to Britain from Normandy in France.  Lily McNicholas was forced to jump from the ship as it capsized.  She ‘fell ill’ as unable to swim: she was assisted by the ship’s captain.  With the arrival of an American Cutter.  She was rescued then continued to provide medical aid to the injured men as they were pulled from the water.  The incident was widely reported in the Press after The London Gazette announced that Sister Lily McNicholas was to be awarded the M.B.E. for her heroic actions. [vii]

The life jacket Sister Lily McNicholas wore as a nurse on the ‘MV Amsterdam’ Hospital Ship torpedoed by enemy submarine off the coast of Normandy was donated by her family to Kiltimagh Museum. Sister McNicholas with her nursing colleagues ensured that all wounded were safely transferred to safety before they scrambled to safety themselves.  Most of the wounded Personal were stretcher cases who had to be assisted on to water ambulances. Sister  McNicholas was unable to swim: she experienced some difficulty before being picked up by a US Cutter.  For her bravery she received an MBE. [viii]


When she was recognized for her efforts Sister Mc Nicholas did not attend her Investiture at Buckingham Palace. Instead she travelled to see the parents of her friend in Scotland. [ix]


Sister Mc Nicholas retired from nursing during 1976:


Sister Lily Mc Nicholas’s demise occurred on 5th March 1998 at a residential nursing home ‘Oak Lawn’ in Chicago.  She was aged eight-seven years.  Her funeral mass was held at the Catholic church on 4240 W. 98 TH St. Oak Lawn.  She was survived by her sisters Kathleen Madigan Chicago also Sr. Mochua of St. Louis Convent Kiltimagh:


Her bravery was rewarded with the conferring of The Order of the British Empire by King George VI in 1944. This announcement appeared in The London Gazette; (it detailed the recipients including Sister Lily Mc. Nicholas) St. James’s Palace S.W.1.The KING has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointments to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, in recognition of gallant conduct in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave manner; – Sister Miss Lily Mc Nicholas (246129), Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (Kiltimagh, Eire)

Hospital Carrier Amsterdam

Details of the QAIMNS and RAMC awards in recognition of gallant and distinguished services for their actions when the ship sank with patients aboard

Sister Miss Lily McNicholas (246129)
Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve.

On the 7th August, 1944, during the sinking by enemy action of Hospital Carrier “Amsterdam” off the coast of Normandy, Miss Mc Nicholas rendered important service whereby lives were saved which otherwise would have been lost. Well knowing that her place in emergency stations was in No.3 Water Ambulance as officer in charge, she continued to give encouragement and help in bringing patients from her wards on A deck up to the promenade deck. Her patients were admitted to the ship as stretcher cases, but in the grave emergency all, save the quite helpless were obliged to walk. In this distressing situation, Miss Mc Nicholas’ presence and her cheerful encouragement was of great value. She left the ship after it had capsized by scrambling down the starboard side which was almost horizontal by that time. Unable to swim, she had much difficulty and felt ill in the water, where she was helped by the Master of the ship & by an Officer of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Shortly afterwards she was rescued by an American cutter. With complete disregard of her own comfort she immediately rendered aid to patients as they were rescued from the sea.

Reference:WO 373/68/928
NameMc Nicholas, Lily
Service No:246129
Regiment:Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve
Theatre of Combat or Operation: Non-Combatant Gallantry
Award:Member of British Empire
Date of announcement in London Gazette:29 December 1944
Held by:The National Archives, Kew [x]




Sister Lily Mc Nicholas’s family donated memorabilia that included her life jacket to the Kiltimagh Railway Museum during 1989.[xi]

She has been remembered by relations as a feisty woman who spoke Hindi.  She would often quote Shakespeare:

Additional Information

Images feature of Sister Lily Mc Nicholas also her personal belongings on this site:

Sister Lily McNicholas  was featured in the Our Irish Women  temporary exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland-Country Life Turlough Mayo during October & November 2018.

Sister Lily Mc Nicholas’s story is featured on this site (12th December 2016):

Patrick Manning stated that the ‘MV Amsterdam’ sunk in eight minutes with the loss of one hundred & six souls at this link as he narrated his experience:

Several newspapers featured the tragic events of the downing of the ‘MV Amsterdam’  including these: Liverpool Daily Post, Western Morning News, London Gazette also The Citizen:

Publications that referenced Sister Lily McNicholas etc:

O ‘Connor Steven 2015 Why did they fight for Britain? Irish recruits to the British forces, 1939-45(Études Irlandaises) (40 / 41):

Doherty Richard 2002 Irish Volunteers in the Second World War  (page 185) (Ireland’s Own) May 2013:

McBryde  Brenda 1985 Quiet heroines: Nurses of the Second World War  (Hogarth Press London) (pages 173)  / Manning Patrick The sinking of the S.S. Amsterdam [Hospital Ship] 1944. [xii]


[i] Ireland’s Own  3rd May 2013

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Lily Mc Nicholas (  [Assessed 21st March 2022]

[v] Ireland’s Own  3rd May 2013

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Lily Mc Nicholas ( [Assessed 21st March 2022]

[viii] Life Jacket ( [Assessed 21st March 2022]

[ix] Ireland’s Own 3rd May 2013

[x] Recommendation for Award( [Assessed 21st March 2022]

[xi] Life Jacket ( [Assessed 21st March 2022]

[xii] Lily Mc Nicholas ( [Assessed 21st March 2022]

Comments about this page

  • Thank you for bringing this wonderful woman to my attention! I had not come across her before, amongst the Irish WW2 nurses.

    By Linda (10/04/2015)

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