May 22, 2022

The Editor Speaks: The British ATS also forgotten heroes

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Colin WilsonwebFurther to my Editorial concerning the forgotten Home Guard and Cayman’s tribute to them – “It was about time” at: John Evans (of ‘Tempura’ infamous fame) wrote to me concerning the British Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) that too has been largely forgotten for its role in the Second World War.

The ATS was the women’s branch of the British Army.

It was formed on 9 September 1938, initially as a women’s voluntary service, and existed until 1 February 1949, when it was merged into the Women’s Royal Army Corps.

The ATS had its roots in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), which formed in 1917 as a voluntary service. During the First World War its members served in a number of jobs including clerks, cooks, telephonists and waitresses. The WAAC was disbanded after four years in 1921.

Prior to the Second World War, the government decided to establish a new Corps for women, and an advisory council, which included members of the Territorial Army (TA), a section of the FANY First Aid Nursing Yeomanry/Women’s Transport Service and the Women’s Legion, was set up. The council decided that the ATS would be attached to the Territorial Army, and the women serving would receive two thirds the pay of male soldiers.

All women in the army joined the ATS except for nurses, who joined Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMS), and medical and dental officers, who were commissioned directly into the Army and held army ranks, and those remaining in the FANY, known as Free FANYs.

SOURCE: Wikipedia

Queen Elizabeth II was a member of the ATS when she was Princess Elizabeth. In February 1945, she was registered as No. 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor. Trained at the military academy in Aldershot, Elizabeth became a mechanic and a driver in the British Army, rising to the rank of junior commander. Queen Elizabeth ii is the only living head of state who served in uniform during World War ii.

From: The Trumpet By Brad MacDonald

Queen Elizabeth II ought to have been the first dignitary invited to Normandy on June 6, not the last.

The leaders of France, Canada and the United States descended on Normandy on June 6 in a much more peaceful way than the 150,000 Allied soldiers did on that date in 1944. They commemorated the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Hitler’s Europe. Eight hundred British veterans of Normandy joined the dignitaries, along with former servicemen from Canada and the United States, a squall of reporters and countless tourists from across the planet.

You would think that someone would have reserved a chair for Britain’s head of state, the 83-year-old matriarch of the indefatigable institution at the heart of Britain’s wartime resilience, herself a survivor and veteran of World War ii.

Not so.

Queen Elizabeth ii was not on the original list of invitations to the commemoration. So, instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow veterans in Normandy to commemorate the sacrifice and service of friends and family, the Queen would have had to watch Mr. Obama, Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. Brown—none of whom were even conceived until after the war—mark the occasion with rallied empathy via television. Shame.

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Here is John Evan’s story:

“My mother joined the ATS in 1939 and was one the first to undergo training as a searchlight operator. Eventually the ATS took over much of this work and ‘mixed batteries’ were formed with the men on the guns and the ATS manning the searchlights. My mum was promoted to Sergeant and apart from the normal operational requirements one of her jobs was to protect her girls, most of whom were in their late teens or early 20s and in their first time away from home – mum was 29 and had moved away from home when she was 16, from the attentions of the gunners. She was only about 5′ 4″ but her aggressive run ins with some of the men are legendry. During one encounter she apparently unleashed every swear word and insult you can imagine on a 6′ tall sergeant before threatening to castrate him. Strangely when her original four-year enrolment ended in 1943 it was not extended and she was discharged but ended up on what we now call quality control in the aircraft factories. Very little of the ATS contribution to the war effort has ever been properly reported.

“In researching my Uncle Ted’s death we’ve come up with an even stranger omission, but one that can be explained. By September 1944 the allied supply lines stretched across France from Normandy to the German border. Patton’s Third Army were actually stopped near Metz due to fuel and ammunition shortages. The port of Calais was still occupied and although Cherbourg had been liberated the facilities had been destroyed. On September 4 (two weeks before the Arnheim drop) Antwerp was liberated and the port was captured intact. This would have cut the supply lines to the front in half and offered almost unlimited (the docks covered 10 square miles!) access for shipping. The problem was that vessels using the port have to negotiate the Schedlt estuary, which was covered on both banks by the Germans.

The American leaders, backed by the British Admiral Ramsey who was Eisenhower’s Naval Chief of Staff, wanted to mount an immediate operation to open the Schedlt. At that time the German positions were relatively weak but Montgomery was committed to the Arnheim landing and went crying to Churchill. “The rest is history. The resources used to try and reach the ‘Bridger Too Far’ delayed the operations to open the Schedlt for two months, allowing the Germans to reinforce their positions. In the end the re-opening of Antwerp didn’t take place until late November and cost over 12,000 casualties (including my uncle), many avoidable and over half of them Canadians. Hundreds of Dutch civilians also died.

5203b9d9!h.300,id.9355,m.fill,wBecause of the implications on Montgomery’s reputation all this has been conveniently left out of most WWII history books. Whatever history tries to suggest the fact is that Montgomery was an arrogant arse whose antics very nearly derailed the whole Allied push through Europe and could potentially have let Stalin’s forces advance right across Germany. Because of the weather systems moving in if the landings at Walcheren on 1 November had been delayed even a few more days it is very unlikely that Antwerp would have reopened until well into 1945.

“Just to rub this in the BBC coverage of Sunday’s remembrance at the Cenotaph featured the 70th anniversary of Arnheim but completely ignored not only the Walcheren operation but also the Royal Marines, who celebrated their 350th anniversary this year, themselves. The RM veterans were actually marching into camera as the BBC cut away for something else. The BBC then went back to the march past and covered a whole load of obscure groups including charities who have nothing to with the armed services or ex-servicemen. I’ve complained about this but knowing the BBC it will be ignored.”

I bemoaned that Major Roddy Watler was forgotten as the Captain of the Home Guard at Sunday’s Remembrance Parade. I don’t feel quite so bad now that the powers that be can snub Her Majesty Queen of England.

IMAGE: From the August 2009 Trumpet Print Edition

Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS standing in front of an ambulance in April, 1945. Princess Elizabeth served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service.


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