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Penny Phillips , who has died aged 91, wrote a vivid diary of her experiences as an ambulance driver during the Fall of France.

Then Penelope Otto, she was one of the intrepid British girls with the Mechanised Transport Corps, attached to the French Sixth Army, which arrived with five ambulances to run a surgical field unit near Crouy sur Marne just before the Germans struck at dawn on June 5 1940. Her troubles began with the order to retreat. First her ambulance's self starter jammed so that she became lost trying to follow the others; meanwhile her mdicin chef complained furiously about "cette mademoiselle formidable et sell pandora charms si stupide". After catching up with the other vehicles she got a puncture, then found that the spare tyre was flat and that there was no pump. When they had arrived at their destination, the convoy found a steady stream of wounded coming in, but the oxygen masks did not work. The unit spent the night putting the wounded on to hospital trains before being sent off 10 kilometres to await orders that never came. Then it was announced that the bridges over the Marne were to be blown up, and she recorded: "Wagons, mules, horses great straining beasts three abreast, drunk men on horseback, little children, old women driving their cows, the pathetic household bundles of refugees carried on carts drawn by tractors, fowls in crates slung between the wheels, canaries in cages on prams, panting Alsatian dogs drawing small carts with babies and bundles inside. "The noise comes in waves the roar of camions, tractors and the shouts of men then silence, and we lie in a field of buttercups while the cuckoo's cry comes gaily out of the emptiness." After finding a French airman playing the organ alone in a village church, she dined with her unit in a farmyard, where she enjoyed brushing Nigger, her unit commander's labrador. On the following day complete pandora charm bracelets Penny Otto drove into the back of another pandora discount ambulance; then the convoy ran into a Panzer division, which provided it with armed guards who politely attempted to practise their English. As a nearby railway line exploded, her ensign, the South African journalist Marjorie Juta, sauntered through the dark to say: "Girls, this is the moment when I insist that you should wear your helmets." But when the Germans began to panic, having heard the rumour of a French advance, Penny Otto and Marjorie Juta gave their escort the slip by turning around at a crossroads. They passed back down the German column, but no attempt was made to stop them, even though Penny Otto had to lean out of her cab because the bonnet had swung up to block her view. The contingent of eight French soldiers on bicycles whom they finally met were dubious about their story. When the two drivers finally boarded a cramped and smelly troopship at Arcachon some 10 days later, Penny Otto had found hair in her food at five meals in a row, and was exasperated at being made to remain aboard while King Zog of the Albanians disembarked in England first. "A brigand gets away with it," she commented caustically. A solicitor's daughter, Penelope Ellison alphabet charms australia Otto was born in Edinburgh on June 5 1915 and grew up an intrepid horsewoman. She went to Allenswood School, Wimbledon, before becoming a hotel management trainee at Ascot and then at the Savoy. Penny Otto and Marjorie Juta arrived back from France amid much publicity, and were awarded the Croix de Guerre. The South African prime minister, Field Marshal Smuts, suggested the raising of further ambulance units, though the Blitz frequently interfered with their training a talk by the South African ambassador to a parade in Chester Square was drowned out by anti aircraft fire. After being first sent to Kenya, Penny Otto arrived in Egypt to join the spirited girls of Motor Ambulance Convoy 502, who would proudly declaim the following verse: "We know all the answers, we know all the Gen; We know when to say 'No'; We know when to say 'When'! We like spades to be spades, and our men to be Men. We're fearfully 5 0 2." Penny Otto was the overseer of everything connected with the company, ranging from the transfer of the wounded between trains and ships to the running of its popular mess bar, the Rotor Club, and was presented with a black poodle called Pandora as a mascot. Penny Otto was in hospital with meningitis in 1943 when she received the news that she had been appointed MBE. On her return she was appointed group commander, a post in which she was able to cite the unit's accident free record to obtain it some Austin ambulances. But the fact that the unit had carried more than 89,000 patients and had covered more than a million miles in the desert counted for little when it arrived in Italy, when it had to rebuild its reputation afresh. By March 1946, when she flew home with Pandora, Penny Otto was one of the last three original members in 502. Three years later Penny Otto married Lieutenant Colonel "Jumbo" Phillips, a patron of the Rotor Club (he had earlier married one of her comrades, who had since died). They settled in Somerset, where he farmed and was Master of the Taunton Vale Foxhounds. With a young son and daughter, turned down Anthony Eden's suggestion that she become an MP. But in 1955 she agreed to stand for Somerset County Council as a temporary member while a predecessor recovered from illness. In the event she retained a seat for more that 30 years. She supported comprehensive education and took a close interest in social services, but also understood both the hunting and conservation lobbies.

Although she was popular, her enthusiasm for discipline within Tory ranks when she was leader led some, after they had received a dressing down, to describe her as "The Ayatollah". Following her appointment as CBE in 1986, announced that she would retire in three years time because leg trouble meant that she could no longer manage the canvassing. She died on February 10.


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