Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS)

Photo:ATS girl Hilda Graty with a friend.

ATS girl Hilda Graty with a friend.

Hilda Graty

On 23rd June 1938 with the threat of war looming, it was proposed that a Women's Auxiliary Defence Service should be established, and when that new corps took shape, in September 1938, the committee which oversaw its formation took the decision to change its name to the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

In every theatre of war

It was decided that the ATS would be attached to the Territorial Army and that the women who joined its ranks would be paid two-thirds of the pay a male soldier received.  Following a period of basic training, ATS members were sent to their units to take up their roles in the service, and initially found themselves acting as cooks, clerks, drivers, and orderlies.  Eventually the range of their duties began to diversify and would expand further when Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939; a declaration transmitted by an ATS telephonist.  In the early months of the war 300 members of the ATS served in France, and when the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk in May 1940, ATS telephonists were among the last military personnel to leave. 

Although officially their role was non-combatant, the ATS served in every theatre of war during the Second World War.

In April 1941 the ATS was awarded full military status; open to women aged 17-43 and by September 1941 membership of the ATS had risen to 65,000.  As the war took more and more men away to war zones overseas, ATS personnel worked as radar operators and military police, crewed Anti-Aircraft command posts, as well as fulfilling  a wide variety of essential operational duties.  Although officially their role was non-combatant, the ATS served in every theatre of war during the Second World War; during that time 335 of its members were killed, 94 were reported missing, 302 were wounded and 20 became prisoners of war.  At its highest point, in September 1943, membership of the ATS had risen to a figure in excess of 200,000.  One of the reasons for this increase was the Government’s decision to introduce legislation which would increase the number of women involved in war work.

Conscription of women

With conscription for men already in place, by the end of 1939 more than 1.5 million men had been conscripted into the armed forces so the need for women’s labour increased dramatically. Although many women had volunteered, they were not doing so in the numbers that the Government believed to be essential.  So in December 1941 Parliament passed the National Services Act; a piece of legislation that conscripted single women between the ages of 18 and 30.  Later, this would be extended to married women, however, mothers of very young children and women who were pregnant were exempt. When their call-up came, women could choose to do essential factory work, join one of the Auxiliary Forces, or if they preferred a non-military role, help to feed the nation by working on the land.

When hostilities ceased, although many women were happy to embrace the opportunity to return to civilian life, a number of women continued to join the ATS and, in 1949, when the service was replaced by the Women's Royal Army Corps (WRAC), many of those women chose to enlist in that new Corps.

Eileen Powles stayed in the service and volunteered for overseas again. In June 1946, she was posted to Germany where she was promoted to Sergeant. Although she returned to the Food Office in 1949, she had developed a taste for army life and went to work at Manston where the US Air Force had a base.  For Eileen, the chance to ‘see the world for two bob a day’ was not to be missed.

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 19/11/2011.
Comments about this page

I loved this page it was so useful for a project I'm working on.

By Whitney
On 06/12/2012

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