King's Own Royal Regiment Museum

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Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service

The Auxiliary Territorial Service was born in the crisis of September 1938 when war with Germany seemed imminent.  Designed to carry out non-combatant duties in war, each company of ATS was affiliated to an army territorial unit.  The women were expected to train like Territorial Army soldiers and their affiliated units were asked to help with out-of-camp training.  Two ATS companies were affiliated to the 5th Battalion King’s Own.  Their training was carried out in the Regimental Depot at Bowerham Barracks, to which one company was allocated for duty in war.

There were 116 categories of employment for members of the ATS including:

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Armourers

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Draughtswomen

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Fitters

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Wireless Operators

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Clerks

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Technical Storewomen in Ordnance Depots

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Teleprinter Operators

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Switchboard Operators

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Cooks

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Radar Operators

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Searchlight Operators

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Orderlies

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Drivers

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Butchers

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Mess Stewards

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Mess Orderlies

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and over 56,000 employed on Anti-Aircraft Defences.

On 9th September 1939 the ATS was called up and a company 53 strong operated at Bowerham Barracks.  At first its members continued to live in their homes and come to barracks daily.  Some were accommodated in Ripley Hospital and then later at the hutted camp at Bowerham Barracks. 

Ripley Hospital was used as the ATS Reception and Training Centre and Bowerham Barracks was used as the Headquarters.  During 1940 and 1941 many hundreds of girls were recruited every week and passed through Ripley.

In September 1941 the government decided to increase women’s service and the King’s Own Infantry Training Centre at Bowerham Barracks was one of twenty selected to form wings for training women volunteers for the ATS.  Some 500 women recruits were based at the Militia Camp at Bowerham Barracks.  On 1st November 1941 Number 4 ATS Training Centre took over everything at Bowerham Barracks, apart from the Commanding Officer’s and Regimental Sergeant Major’s houses  which remained with the King’s Own, the later as the Sergeant’s Mess. 

Training at Bowerham Barracks

On 10th September 1939 the Regimental Depot officially became the King’s Own Infantry Training Centre.  By 30th September there were 934 men going through their 16 week basic training at Bowerham.  Middleton Towers, the holiday camp at Heysham, was taken over for the accommodation of troops.

Training of men continued until late 1941 when training was moved to Carlisle and the ATS took over the whole of Bowerham Barracks.

“The uniform too, is not designed to flatter the female figure.  There are little pockets in it which bulge in places where no women should ever wear little pockets that bulge.  Actually I am doing exactly what I did as a mere civilian.  I answer the telephone; I type out a lot of correspondence; I make tea.”
Recorded one unknown ATS member in the King’s Own Regimental Journal in 1942.

ATS Facts:

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The first ATS member killed in action was Auxiliary Nora Caveney who was attached to 505 Battery, 148 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, based on the south coast of Hampshire.

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During the War 67 members of the ATS were killed in action, 9 died of wounds, 313 were wounded and a further 16 were posted missing.

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10,000 ATS girls served in the Royal Corps of Signals operating telephones, teleprinters, telegraph and radio services.

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By 1945 6,290 ATS girls were on the continent covering many roles - as staff officers in the Intelligence branch, civil affairs, public relations, psychological warfare, liaison with Allies, personal assistant to the chief of staff and his deputy, 120 cooks and mess orderlies, 113 drivers and 220 clerks.

Eileen Raby volunteered for service with the ATS at the Manchester Recruiting Office on 17th October 1941.  Eileen was sent to Bowerham Barracks in Lancaster for her basic training.  In June 1942 she left Bowerham.  Her war service as a driver saw her attached to the Royal Engineers, Northern Command HQ, 5th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, and then overseas from March 1945.  In France she served with Headquarters in Paris and Lines of Communication in Normandy.  Eileen Raby remained in the forces after the war when the ATS was converted into the Women’s Royal Army Corps.  Eileen was discharged on 26th May 1946 with the rank of Subaltern.

© 2006 Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum