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Memories of the ATS

A Whitley Bay resident recalls her time in the ATS during World War II.


I got my calling up papers and joined the ATS in 1942 at Fenham Barracks. My cousin and I kept saying we wanted to do something, but they kept saying “You have to wait until you get called up”. And then when I was called up, they wanted people in the ATS because they had this big drive on.

After I did my training at Fenham, I had to see the chiropodist and I missed the group I was with going away. I was quite pleased in a way though because the girls I got with eventually were lovely. We went to Oswestry to be trained. I was there on Christmas day and we just wandered around the camp because there was nothing to do. Even the NAAFI was shut. Eventually, we got split up and put on radar on an anti-aircraft battery. We moved about a lot because we were what you call a relieving battery. All the batteries had to go to Anglesey for firing practice and then we went and relieved them when they were away.

We would be in a small cabin with enough room for four people and we all had to look at a little radar screen. You followed the line, which was like a little wire as it moved down the screen and looked for breaks. There were standing breaks, maybe from a big tree or a church spire, which you had to recognise and knew that they were not going to move.

We would shout “On range…. on bearing….” And there was Minnie, she had a big thing with handles on and she would wind it round and round. The whole cabin went round as she turned it. There were the predictors and the height finders down on the gun park and the guns. Our information went down to them, but I remember one lecture we went to, they said that by the time your information gets down there the plane’s moved.

The hut was in the centre of a big iron mesh to avoid interference on the screens and there was a catwalk over it that we used to get to the hut. We used the Mark 1 system at first, but that was becoming obsolete. The power unit that supplied power to the transmitter and receiver would trip and go down and we had to get the radiomen to fix it. They didn’t like doing it and none of us liked being the one to go and tell them. It was 21,000 volts and they had to use a big “wand” to take the power down and reset it. Sometimes they used to cause it to trip again when they went stomping back across the catwalk. Sometimes they had to change a valve. We called it the Dolly Diode. I was given one to hold once and it was huge.

I remember the Captain at one of the camps we were at. When my father came home from abroad, he sent Captain Wood a telegram asking him to grant me some leave so I could go and see him. Every time I had to go to the Captain’s office after that he would look up from what he was doing and say “Ah Story! How’s your father?” I had to keep a straight face and answer him, but I could tell he thought it was a huge joke.

We went all over the place really. One time we were stationed in Northern Ireland outside of Lisburn, near the border. We sailed from Glasgow and I remember how beautiful Belfast Lough looked when we sailed in. We weren’t supposed to go out but some of the girls used to sneak out and go to dances on the other side of the border.

From there we went to Plymouth. We travelled by train from Stranraer and it took the whole day. We had to keep pulling into sidings to let the regular trains through, but you just accepted it. Another time we were stationed near Snodland in Kent. You had to cross the river to get to the town using a little ferry. When you got to the riverbank you had to shout across the river to get the ferryman to come and pick you up. It was always exciting when you went somewhere new.

I remember coming home on leave one night when the blackout was on. I couldn’t find our house in the dark although I got there eventually.

The war got to a point where they didn’t need anti-aircraft anymore, so we had to go to be trained to do something else. We were sent to Reading for a driving course and then transferred to Edinburgh for the rest of the war. I liked driving the 15 hundredweights. They were lovely, the tyres used to sing as you drove them, and they had these windscreens that you could push out. And ambulances, that was on our driving course. All we did was drive the Sergeant Major down to Leith Fort and wait there until she came back. It was an ancient place; it was terrible. The places they had for army wives were just stone walls inside the rooms, they were awful.

On V. E. night in Edinburgh, it was absolutely packed, and there were people climbing up Scott’s monument. There were so many people on Princes Street that my friend Irene and I got separated somehow. This student said to me “Are you all right? I’ll take you home if you like?” I said all right because it wasn’t very far. It was a bit awful leaving Irene in a way, but I couldn’t find her. She got back somehow though.

I got married in 1945 and then I got demobbed shortly after that. I missed the friendships. We all cried when we said goodbye.

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