One area of military life that was to receive particular attention during the Second World War was physical training. The army had been disappointed by the physical standard of many recruits during the war, the depression of the interwar years had resulted in many suffering from poor diet and being chronically underweight. Whilst army food built these recruits up, the newly formed Army Physical Training Corps helped build up their muscles and stamina, all essential for those in the military.
It was not just the men who needed physical training, it was also seen as essential for the women of the ATS and female physical training instructors were recruited and sent out to offer PTI to women. Needless to say they were not always popular, but many of the women of the services relished the opportunity to play sport and if Swedish drill in the early hours was not always appreciated, team sports were a happier choice.
One popular sport was netball and tonight we have a bronze medal issued players in a women’s interservice netball competition in Egypt: From the rear we can see that this was awarded in 1945/46 and was for those who were runners up: Netball has traditionally been a women’s game, being an offshoot of basketball developed in England in the 1890s and even today the men’s game is not officially recognised by the sport’s governing bodies. Interestingly though, the 1945 army manual on sport for India includes detailed information on the rules of the game, courts, how to play etc. There is no mention of gender in this section at all; implying that, at least on a unit level, male netball matches might have been arranged. Certainly the equipment required is pretty basic- a rough pitch and two buckets on poles to serve as goals would suffice and the non-contact nature of the game would make it suitable for troops recuperating after injury. If anyone has more information about the playing of the sport during the war, by either men or women, please get in contact.