I was given a hardback edition of Army Girls as a Christmas gift. Published in the UK in November, it’s not yet sold in Canada although it can be shipped from the UK.
These women served in the UK, and later overseas, with the Auxilliary Territorial Service (ATS), which in 1949 became the Women’s Royal Army Corps. They included my mother who, among other things, served on an anti-aircraft gun site. I hoped to learn from the book about her life experience in the ATS.
The book is “the intimate story of the final few women who served in World War II and are still alive to tell their tale. They were female soldiers in a war Britain wanted to fight without conscripting women. It was a vain hope, by December 1941 for the first time in British history women were called up and a generation of girls came of age in khaki, serving king and country. Barbara trained to drive army-style in giant trucks and Grace swapped her servant’s pinafore for battledress and a steel hat, Martha turned down officer status for action on a gun site and Olivia won the Croix de Guerre in France.”
At first, the ATS was not popular with young women, and with their parents who had to agree to single women’s enlistment, owing to the history of women camp followers and prostitutes. Initially circumscribed by ideas of what a woman was capable of, as the war wore on and the lack of men to perform various tasks became apparent, women took on expanded responsibilities — short of firing weapons. They acquired skills, and made friendships, while in the ATS. The former became a gateway to a career after the war — my mother became a teacher after having had an instructor role with the ATS. However, the post-war period, cut off from those friendships, perhaps in a new marriage and as a mother (remember the baby boom) was perhaps as much of a challenge as that on enlistment.