Category Archives: Women

World War Two Humorous Postcard

This week we have a nice little postcard from the Second World War. The fit (or lack thereof) of army uniforms has long been a source of humour and one famous joke went that in the army there were two sizes of clothing, too large and too small. If your uniform fitted you , then you were clearly the wrong size. This card though pokes gentle fun at the size of army trousers:SKM_C284e18060515060In many ways the back of the postcard is more interesting than the front:SKM_C284e18060515061The card was sent to a Private Hatfield of the ATS who was based in Chilwell:SKM_C284e18060515061 - CopyIt seems to have been sent by a fellow ATS member, possibly on leave:SKM_C284e18060515061 - Copy (2)The card reads:

Dear Margaret

I am having a fine time, dancing, beer and men, but it’ll be grand to see all the girls in Camp. Hope you are all fine in Hut 44.

Love Peggy

Chilwell Camp was particularly large, as recalled by one member of the ATS, Joan Ball:

After training I was sent to Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. The camp was enormous, with three thousand army personnel and three thousand civilians. Military policemen were on duty at all the entrances and we had to salute every officer we met. We were billeted in the Queen Elizabeth Barracks, a large building on top of a hill. The dining room, catering for a thousand girls, was huge. The food was generally plain and rather stodgy. We had scrambled egg, which arrived on huge trays and was made from dried egg, for breakfast. It was not a pretty sight; but it was either that or porridge. We brought bread and cheese back from meals to toast for supper while sitting around the fire trying to keep warm. Mother sent me food parcels occasionally, which was a treat.

Fortunately there weren’t too many air raids. Life was busy but we had plenty of leisure pursuits at the camp. Telephones were a luxury in most homes at the time so I wrote lots of letters.

I was trained as a clerical officer. After passing my exams I was allocated to an office about a mile from the barracks. It being such a large camp, discipline required that we march to work in platoons. When it was dark the last person at the rear carried a lantern. Eventually I was promoted to Lance Corporal and was in charge of the platoon as well as joining the guard duty rota at the barracks.

M Newberry was another at Chilwell:

I served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (A.T.S) and the Women’s Royal Army Corps (W.R.A.C) from 1940 to 1951. I was aged 23 when I volunteered to join the A.T.S at the recruiting office in Trinity Square, Nottingham on 12th September 1940. A week later I was embodied at Neville’s Cross Recruiting Depot, County Durham on 20th September 1940. After 3 weeks training and being kitted out in uniform I was posted to Central Ordnance Depot (C.O.D), Chilwell, Notts, Platoon 4, Hut 48 on 11th October 1940.

From then my work was in the Depot M.T. (Mechanical Transport) Stores, Building 157, R.A.O.C (Royal Army Ordnance Corps), with the road and railway bringing the stores in at one end and the rail and road taking the stores out to all the war zones at the other end.

The A.T.S were billeted in a camp on the hill overlooking the Depot brick huts with the so called ‘Donkey Store’ (hard to get going). These huts housed 24 girls each. They had to be meticulously cleaned each day, except weekends, for inspection, with all bedding barracked perfectly. This was before we marched on parade to and from work, twice a day to the Depot.

The stores we were packing were for the R.A.O.C and we had to be Trade Tested and learn about stores. This meant that we were given an increase in pay when we passed these Tests and then allowed to wear the R.A.O.C badge over the lapel coat pocket. After that we worked hard to earn promotion, I was fortunate to gain a quick year of holding Lance Corporal, Corporal, Sergeant, Staff Sergeant ranks in 1942/43. Then finally I was promoted to Warrant Officer II in 1945, which is shown in my records.

Trade Testing gave us a foresight into stores we could be handling in the course of our work, particularly the areas due to receive them in all corners of the world such as in the African Campaign, the North Atlantic (Mumansk) and Japanese (Far East) where stores were specially treated for the climatic conditions for example Tank Sealing (Arcticisation) for Russia, (Wax Dipping) South East Asia Command for humidity. Welding and tyre re-treading was a speciality done by A.T.S as well as Clerks, Cooks, Orderlies and Admin. We had Russian representatives stationed in the Depot to oversee the Arcticisation of tanks, vehicles and spares.

Night shift was introduced as the war intensified and bunk beds were introduced to accommodate more A.T.S up to 5,000 in Chilwell from all over the country and the British Empire e.g. Jamaica. D Day, VE Day and VJ Day will long be remembered by the A.T.S. who were stationed at Chilwell.

At the end of the war we still had plenty of work to do as stores were returned to Chilwell by the troops coming home. This continued until my demob number was due and after careful consideration I decided to accept my recommendation for a Commission in the A.T.S.


Female Pierrot with Machine Gun Corps Cap

This week’s image is rather unusual and depicts a young lady in what appears to be the dress of a pierrot, wearing an army cap:SKM_C284e18041711450The cap has the badge of the Machine Gun Corps:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (5)Whilst the dress has distinctive pom-poms on it, typical of the costumes worn by pierrots:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (6)The pierrot show was hugely popular in the United Kingdom throughout the first half of the twentieth century. The concept had been taken from the French pierrot shows and brought to this country in 1891 by the singer and banjoist Clifford Essex. The character of pierrot came from French pantomime and wore baggy clothes in black or white, with contrasting pom-poms sewn on. English pierrot troupes consisted of a number of men who dressed up in distinctive costumes and then put on concert parties with singing, dancing, jokes and juggling amongst their repertoires. They became synonymous with shows on the piers of the country’s seaside towns and throughout World War One soldiers set up their own pierrot troupes as part of concert parties put on to amuse the troops. The popularity of these shows was such, that even the Australians copied the concept creating their own ‘Digger pierrot’ troupes. This young lady would probably not have been one of these troupes operating near the front line, although there were women in YMCA concert parties in France during the war, it is more likely for her to have belonged to a group back in the United kingdom putting on shows for either convalescent troops or even just the general public. Her costume is clearly inspired by the traditional male pierrot costume, but made as a dress rather than as baggy trousers and a jacket.

Happily someone has written on the date, 1917, to the photograph so we can date it:SKM_C284e18041711450 - Copy (7)The girl in the photograph may just be larking around with some props in the photographer’s studio, however I do not feel that is the case and I suspect she was genuinely involved in entertainment as a pierrot of some sort. These photographs are very intriguing, but often throw up far more questions than can easily be answered.

Unissued Women’s No 2 Dress Uniform Jacket

I don’t collect a lot of women’s uniform items for my collection, however occasionally something turns up where the price is so cheap I really can’t leave it there, hence the unissued Women’s Service Dress jacket tonight that I picked up for just 50p:imageThis jacket is based very closely on the men’s No2 Service dress jacket, but cut to fit the female figure and buttoning to the opposite side. Other changes made include changing the exterior pockets to a simple straight slit pocket:imageThis example has never been issued so there is a series of white thread ‘x’s up the front indicating where the buttons would be sewn:imageThis allows one uniform to be manufactured and the correct regimental buttons added later by the owner, thus saving the costs of having to have several different patterns manufactured. The shoulder straps are also sewn down with white thread:imageThe jacket came with a packet of staybrite buttons for the Adjutant General’s Corps in the pocket:imageThe Adjutant General’s Corps was formed in 1992 and provides much of the administrative support needed to run the army. It was formed from personnel drawn from

  • Army Legal Corps
  • Corps of Royal Military Police
  • Military Provost Staff Corps
  • Royal Army Educational Corps
  • Royal Army Pay Corps
  • Women’s Royal Army Corps
  • Staff clerks from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps
  • Clerks from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME)

The inside of the jacket is fully lined, with a small change pocket sewn in, inside of which is the original cutter’s label from when it was first manufactured:imageA white stores label is sewn into the inside of the jacket with sizing, which for women has a bust size rather than a chest size:imageThis jacket would have been worn with a khaki blouse and tie and a matching skirt, accompanied by a peaked regimental cap for parades:CaptureThis particular design of jacket has now been rendered obsolete by the new ‘FAD’ dress uniform introduced at the start of this decade and like most items of parade uniform can be picked up very cheaply on the surplus market.

Royal Artillery Compact

One group of items that women always struggled to find during the Second World War were cosmetics, with production of what were often seen as frivolous vanity items severely curtailed. In 1940 the British government introduced the Limitation of Supplies Order that reduced production to just 25% of its pre-war capacity. Companies that had previously made cosmetics were put over to war production, making foot powders for the military. With such shortages, it is unsurprising that makeup, or lack of it, became a common problem for many women. It was recognised that beauty products did help boost morale, and could help disguise how tired and drab a female workforce was feeling working long hours. Despite this, there was never enough supply to meet demand. In 1942 to save metal it became illegal to make powder compacts from metal (plastic had to be substituted). Before this date however most manufacturers enjoyed some success with compacts that featured regimental badges on the front, either as a transfer or as a separately attached badge. Tonight we have an example of one of these compacts:imageThis features the badge of the Royal Artillery:imageThese compacts were popular keepsakes to be bought by servicemen for their wives and girlfriends, the appropriate badge for their branch of service being chosen. The largest regiments such as the Royal Artillery and RASC are the most common of these compacts to find today due to the larger volume of production in the 1940s. Opening up the compact we can see a mirror and a small hinged lid:imageThis opens up to reveal the powder compartment:imageEngraved on the outside of the lid is the trade name ‘Vogue Vanitie’ and that it was made in England:imageDaphne Crisp recalls some of the details of wartime makeup and hairdressing:

I was a young woman working as a hairdresser in the shop, “Dancers” in Braintree. Dancers was a large store with both a barbers and a hairdressers selling expensive cosmetics by Elizabeth Arden and Yardley. There was always great excitement when some make up came in and everyone would be desperate to get it.

There were just young apprentices like myself and older women working as hairdressers there, as all the women aged eighteen and over were doing essential war work. We had only basic soft soap to wash the hair and gum tragent, a really harsh setting lotion which we mixed ourselves. My customers ranged from local ladies, nurses working at Black Notley and prostitutes coming down from London. These were really good tippers and liked to have their hair swept up and clipped at the sides, showing a bare shaved neck.

Pre-Service Training Corps for Girls Book Review

A few weeks back I reviewed Jon Mill’s book on the MTC, as mentioned then this was one volume in a mini-series covering various lesser known Home Front organisations. Definitely amongst the more obscure is the subject of another of the volumes covering the various training corps for girls set up during the war:skmbt_c36416102111010_0001At the start of the Second World War there was a general feeling that with the displacement of the young from their homes through evacuation and the loss of parental figures as fathers went off to fight and mothers had important war work to do, something needed to be done to direct the energies of the young. Whilst male pre-military training schemes were already in existence (cadet units etc), provision for girls was limited with the Girl Guides being the closest thing available. This book covers a number of different training schemes, set up independently and the various legal wrangles that went on between them and the government for official recognition and some degree of central support. The impression one gets is of small enterprises run by enthusiastic women with miniscule resources. As ever the book combines rare archive photographs with even rarer photographs of surviving insignia and uniforms:capture6Although only a slim volume, the story related is an interesting one and I believe one that has not been written about before. As with many of these volumes the subject matter is very obscure- indeed this is far more peripheral than even the MTC story. With that in mind I cannot see many people going out of their way to pick up a copy of this book unless they have a specific interest in it, however if you do come across a copy on your travels at a good price pick it up as it is an interesting little read.capture9

Mechanised Transport Corps Book Review

I suspect that I, like many others, was only aware of the role of the Mechanised Transport Corps in World War two from the character of Sam Stewart in the popular TV series Foyle’s War; therefore it was with great interest that I started reading Jon Mills book Within the Island Fortress No4 The Mechanised Transport Corps. This book is not a thick book, being just 32 pages long in a slim A4 sized paperback, published in 2008 as part of a small series of books dealing with more obscure parts of the Home Front.capturedWhilst it is not a long book, the quality is excellent and the book is profusely illustrated with both period photographs and modern stills of original uniforms and insignia:captureaThe story laid out is actually quite a complex one with shifting roles for the corps and numerous spats with the War office over the MTC’s status and uniform which was felt to be too similar to that of an ATS officer. That Jon Mills makes this readable and more importantly understandable is to his great credit. There were several offshoots of the organisation and these are also covered, again with illustrations of their unique insignia. I am frankly astounded that the author has even found original examples of some of these badges and uniforms as the numbers issued sometimes barely reached double figures. Whilst not every photograph is captioned, the accompanying text made it easy to work out what was going on in those photographs without labels.

As well as their service in the UK, members of the MTC drove ambulances for the French before the German Invasion, and then for the Free French. They were then involved in driving ambulances for the South African Army and the Corps provided drivers for a wide range of civilian and ministry cars. They were only reluctantly acknowledged by the War office, but the Ministry of Supply and the Royal Ordnance Factories all took advantages of their services. Each of these allocations tended to produce another unique set of cloth sleeve insignia and these are covered comprehensively in the book:capturebThe author has a reputation for greatly expanding our knowledge of the civilian services during the Second World War and this book is a superb addition to the historiography of the period. I acknowledge that this is a niche subject, but like all Jon Mill’s books it is well written and worth picking up a copy if you can find one as you are guaranteed to learn something new. Sadly this book, and indeed the rest of the series, appears to have been out of print for a number of years but copies are available second hand and for the serious student of the Home Front are well worth acquiring.

WRNS Jigsaw Book

As all those who have served in the military will know, there are long periods of boredom with nothing happening. Service personnel fill these lulls with chatting, reading, playing cards and any other form of cheap, easily portable forms of entertainment. One popular pastime, especially in barracks, during the Second World War was the jigsaw puzzle. Tonight we have a jigsaw designed and produced by Waddingtons with service personnel and their families very much in mind:imageThis set is in the form of a thin book rather than a traditional box and has the Women’s Royal Naval Service badge on the front, along with a price of 2/6. The back of the book explains how a small box can be folded up to store the jigsaw puzzle and to post it to those in the services:imageSadly it seems that the jigsaw was given to someone else at the time as it is missing. The rest of the booklet has a brief history of the WRNS up to this point in the war, with line drawings to illustrate the story:imageimageimageimageI have not had much luck tracking down a history of these puzzles and I have yet to find any other examples of this puzzle, as ever if you have more information that can help fill the gaps, or indeed a photograph of the puzzle itself, then please get in contact so we can flesh out the history of this object a bit more!