Sister Lily Mc Nicholas


Sister L. Mc Nicholas.
Ireland's Own, May 3rd 2013,pg20 /21.
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This heroic nurse Lily Mc Nicholas was born on 16th October 1909 in Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo one of ten children. Her parents were Thomas and Bridget. Her family owned a Bakery that had been in the family since 1860. She attended the St. Louis school in the town.


Lily Mc Nicholas emigrated during the 1930’s to study nursing in England. From within her nursing role she was promoted to Sister. She also enlisted in the war effort by becoming a reserve within Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. Sister Mc Nicholas following her harrowing experience at sea also after her convalescence continued with her nursing career in postings to London, Bombay and also Egypt. During 1947 she moved to Chicago to work in a hospital, she later became a nurse attached to the International Harvester.

Heroic Actions

Sister Lily Mc Nicholas was on board the MV Amsterdam, a hospital ship returning to Great Britain from Juno Beach with military causalities when the ship was torpedoed off the Normandy Coast on 7th August 1944. She along with her colleagues 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 rendered assistance, regardless of her own safety as she was unable to swim, thus she saved many wounded. Among those lost, 55 patients, 10 R.A.M.C. staff, 30 crew members plus 11 P.O.W. included also her best friend. When eventually Sister 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. 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.  [i]

Sister Mc Nicholas retired from nursing during 1976.  She died at a Residential nursing home – Oak Lawn – in Chicago aged 87 years on 5th March 1998. 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 and Sr. Mochua of St. Louis Convent Kiltimagh.   [ii]

Life Jacket

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

She has been remembered by relations as a feisty woman who spoke Hindi, she would quote Shakespeare.  [iv]


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 McNicholas 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 McNicholas’ 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 and 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
NameMcNicholas, 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
Legal status:


Public Record   [v]




[i] Ireland’s Own (May 3rd 2013)





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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