Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 26 April 2012

You’re in the Army Now

Seventy years ago this week (27th April) my mother received a letter from her employee, thanking her for informing him that she was joining the A.T.S. on May 1st 1942.


This was the Auxilliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army during WW2. Originally, the The 1941 National Service Act required only unmarried women between 20-30 years of age to join one of the auxilliary services. Mum was due to be married in ten weeks time, but her call-up came through in May, so off she went to do her bit.

This Pathe News clip gives some insight into how it was for new conscripts (click on pic).


You may recall that Mum had been a keen First Aider, which is what Mr Harris was referring to in his letter of thanks. I wrote about this in 'First aid Post’. Mum was apparently given a choice of the services to join, and says later that had she joined the RAF, as a married woman, she would have been entitled to be posted to the same station as her husband. As it turned out, they often found themselves posted at opposite ends of the country. Naturally this was not very romantic for newly-weds, who would always be looking forward to the next 48-hour pass, with much of the precious time being spent in travelling.
When they married on 11th July 1942 (this year is their 70th wedding Anniversary) Mum was 21 years, seven months old, Dad was just two days past his 21st birthday. They look so youthful in this photograph that it’s no wonder that when Mum arrived at her first posting people were curious about ‘the new kid’. Mum laughs when she tells this story, repeating the anecdote with relish: “You know that new kid? Well she’s married!” She was the first married woman to be posted to the 504 Battery in Nottingham, by her own admission, creating ‘quite a stir’. Mum had been at the War Office as a cypher operator for a short time, and recalls that she was there when the Fall of Tobruk came through.

In May 2001, the Nottingham Evening Post, ran a piece about the 504 Battery to accompany an old photograph, and asked if anyone had any memories. Mum duly responded and was delighted when her letter was published.

”I was a member of 504 Battery at Gainsford Crescent. I don’t really recognise anyone in the photograph but it depends on when it was taken. I arrived there in the autumn 1942 from Kent, having been a cypher operator at the war Office for a short time. It was a compassionate posting as my mother was rather ill. I did not know anyone else in the battery who was local, most were from London, Durham etc. I did not know this area as I was from Trent Bridge. The battery had been posted to Nottingham from Lowestoft where several people had been killed in the raids. 
I created quite a stir when I arrived. The Major was delighted as I was the first married woman in the battery (aged 21). I was conscripted in May (I did not volunteer) ten weeks before my marriage. My husband was in the RAF so I had to take a letter from the vicar so that I could be given leave. We later all moved to Ticknall in Derbyshire, then on to Ashby, near Scunthorpe.
We had one very cold winter in Derbyshire when one night some men chopped up a bed (or maybe more) to put into the stove to keep warm. The Major then had all the stoves removed for about a week from every hut - it was freezing. I was lucky enough to be a clerk in the battery office so I was warm whilst on duty - but often could not type because of dead fingers and had to plunge my hands into hot water.
Also, whilst I was with them, the whole battery went by train to Firing Camp at Weybourne for about two weeks. I think there’s a few more memories but I’m getting writer’s cramp."

Despite infrequent opportunities to be together my parents were determined to start a family as soon as possible, thereby ensuring that Mum would leave the army and Dad would know hat she was happily at home with her own Mum and Dad whilst he was away. Mum duly found herself pregnant and was all packed up, ready to leave. Dad had even managed to obtain a pass and had arrived to collect her. Sadly, Mum miscarried, and remembers the army doctor’s words, when she came round from her sedation; "You’re still in the army.” Dad was there to hear the words and I don’t think he ever forgave the callous way the news was delivered to them that they had lost their first baby. My brother wasn’t born until July 1944 so Mum was to serve for another two years.


May 1st is a date which means different things to different people, but for my Mum it was the day she joined the army. Alan has given us a lovely picture of Maypole Dancers as our Sepia Saturday prompt and I’m sure some of the contributors will be remembering more celebratory ways of marking May Day. Why not see for yourself?





28 comments:

  1. Hello Marilyn:
    What a marvellous piece of living history all of this is. It all becomes so much more real when one can give a personal account of how the war really did change lives so completely.

    And, how wonderful that your parents will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. Such an achievement. We wish them every happiness on their special day!

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  2. This is such an interesting piece of history about your parents. The war seemed to get in the way of life's plans and everyone had to work around it. Your parents do look very young. They are neat pictures that you have.

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  3. It's often said that we owe people like your parents a huge debt of gratitude. Frankly, I don't think it can be said often enough. This is a wonderful tribute to the efforts of both.

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  4. What a lovely and interesting bit of history. Thanks so much for gathering this story all together with great pictures.

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  5. Oh, what a great story and so nice that you still have the photos and letters. How sad for your mother about the miscarriage and that callous doctor.
    Nancy

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  6. What a tremendous story about your Mum and Dad. Congratulations to them both in advance for their anniversary in July.
    You're in the Army now has memories for many people, myself included, but to be told you are still in the Army in such a callous way is unforgiveable.

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  7. How sad for them with the loss of their first baby, and that news is most horrible even without being delivered so heartlessly, and not in a tactful manner. But amazing things they did for their service, what a life time of memories for their service, and the stories they must have had to share!

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  8. I was hanging on every word of this post. Your mother's letter published in the newspaper is especially interesting. I'm such a whimp that I doubt I could have put up with the cold.

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  9. I enjoyed your mother's story and all the added newspaper clips and letters, especially your mother's letter.

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  10. What a delightful story. Your mother has such a cheerful glow about her. I bet she was a delight to work with. That bad doctor though!

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  11. I can easily see this a movie starring Peter Lawford and June Allyson. Just feels like a wonderful old movie. Great story!

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  12. These memories from your parents are really very special. They make me wish that I was blogging when my parents were alive, but I can enjoy the vicarious family history by reading your ever-fascinating posts.

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  13. Your post is very interesting. I didn't know that British women had to serve in the military during the war.

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  14. Amazing story and pictures of your mother - you must be very proud of her service!

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  15. Oh, Nell, what a wonderful story! You must be so proud of both of your parents, and please pass on an anniversary wish from me. What an excellent and informative historical post, as yours always are.

    Kathy M.

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  16. I love how their hats are cocked at the same angle. They obviously are a perfectly matched pair!

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  17. A wonderful story and it fairly closely follows that of my in-laws. Sadly, they are both gone now and I can't ask for their details. It's great that you have all this recorded because one day your children and your children's children will want to know.

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  18. They Look So Perfectly In Tune With Each Other!

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  19. Everything I've read about your parents is so interesting, do they read your blog?

    Love the photo of them both and the fact they've been married so long. Sadly, if certain anecdotes on parenting websites are anything to go by, some doctors are no more sensitive about miscarriage than they were back then.

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  20. I did not know that single women were required to serve in the armed forces during WWII. Your mom and dad look so happy (and, as you say, young) in the photograph. Sweet couple!

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  21. A beautiful story of your parents alas tinged with some sadness; I think you are right when you say that people have different memories of May celebrations, it is an individual theme celebrated all over the world in different ways.

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  22. A lovely post Nell. I read it in bed a night or two ago on my iPad and blogger decided to have a bit of a turn when I tried to comment - technology!

    Congratulations for your parents anniversary in July. It is my anniversary on a few days later although we are not anywhere near 70 years - what an achievement.

    Great story and document from Boots - I am sure I have mentioned before they do have an archive, so it might be worth seeing if Boots have any material that you could use to compliment your story.

    A really lovely tribute. Thanks for sharing.

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  23. Such an interesting story and so well told -full of both happiness and pathos.
    A 70 year long marriage is fantastic and so hard to imagine these days.
    Barbara

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  24. This day certainly has special meanings for your family. I love the multitude of documents you have about this. You know how much I like diversity in my own posts; this one here is a treat!! Congrats to your parents for their 70TH.
    :)~
    HUGZ

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  25. Interesting story. The details your mother remembers are so interesting - things we don't necessarily think about, like typing with freezing cold fingers. Congratulations to your parents for their sacrifices during the war and for their long marriage! I really enjoyed reading this.

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  26. I love these photos and the history of WWII within them. Very interesting.

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  27. My goodness, that doctor was heartless. But it seems your parents had what it takes to endure all kinds of things. Great photo of the couple in uniform!

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