Mary Cardwell is a Consultant Anaesthetist at the Countess of Chester hospital and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Territorial Army, serving in the 207 Field volunteers, a team of civilian professionals who serve in their spare time. She joined up in 1991 and has been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria where she cared for injured soldiers at military hospitals on the front line.

Some 26 years ago Mary met a young dynamic priest, otherwise known as The Revd Hugh Bearn and their friendship has blossomed…

At our meeting on 17th January 2023, Hugh interviewed her. Mary is originally from Hounslow, West London and now lives in Lymm.

She says about herself that she:

  • Developed a passion for Medicine when her sister was unwell.
  • Undertook 18 months nurse training at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London.
  • Went on to study Theory of Medicine for 3 years at St Andrews University Medical School, then went on to The University of Manchester Medical School where she undertook her clinical training and placements.
  • Was confirmed into the Church of England in Hounslow.
  • Has served as a Medical Officer reservist in the British Army since 1991.

As a civilian medic, Mary’s role as a Consultant Anaesthetist is split between the Operating Theatre and Intensive Care. She was inspired to follow her chosen specialism having observed an Anaesthetist take control of a situation that involved a mother and her child who had been in a road traffic accident. She chose to train as an Anaesthetist and has continued to work in this specialism from there on. At the end of her 4th year at Medical school she was introduced to the TA. She passed the gruelling residential weekend which included a stretcher race in water, in Daisy Nook!

As a medic with the TA she is required to maintain her professional expertise, including 27 days training every year, which the NHS supports with 27 days paid annual leave.

Throughout Mary’s redeployment as a Consultant Anaesthetist she has met some outstanding, inspirational individuals and has been exposed to many challenging moments on the front line. She greatly values the support of the Padres who have been invaluable – ministering to soldiers and their families, providing pastoral and spiritual care and moral support. Open access to the Padre, a reassuring presence, providing personal support, is very important to her and much appreciated.

Mary continues to maintain a reflective diary as part of her supervision, allowing her to record her feelings and reactions to events or experiences as they happen. She shared with the audience a particular account throughout which she received support from both the Padre and Commanding Officer at the hospital. A positive resolution was achieved for all, which meant that she and her colleagues were able to continue with their daily work in the manner they had been trained.

Mary has admired many colleagues throughout her service, however one particular individual resonated with her, for their skills, achievements and all-round inspiration, for which Mary will be eternally grateful.

Her mother was very accepting when she shared her news of joining the Army. She said, ‘Mary knows her own mind!’ and was very philosophical. She simply said ‘just keep in touch.’ Mary’s Father served in the Navy in World War II, so the values of the Armed Forces resonate. Community spirit – ‘it teaches you how to live your life, develop values…. how to look after each other’ and the support within is ‘very strong and core to being in the Armed Forces.’

Mary believes that one’s faith ‘keeps you strong in the good times and the bad!’ Over the years, she has seen many changes, keeping in touch with friends and colleagues, through the Tri-Service Anaesthetic Society (UK) where she’s able to catch up, share experiences, ideas, audit, research and much more…
She values the opportunity to meet new people and work in different environments, whilst challenging both herself and others.

Some reflections from Mary:

‘the soldiers who have life threatening injuries need surgery immediately otherwise they wouldn’t survive, so that’s what we provide.’

the work I do with the TA enhances the medical skills I have developed in my NHS work practice.’

I feel I’m doing a worthwhile job, with surgical experience, and I make a lot of good friends.’

Questions were taken from the floor, then the Vicar and Rowena closed the interview thanking Mary for her time and passion in being interviewed and in all the work she and the team undertake – a truly inspirational woman with lots of passion for an amazing cause, long may it continue…!