The Auxiliary Territorial Service


Having dealt at length with what has virtually been the male Territorial Army it would be a bit unfair and churlish not to mention the part played by volunteers of the fair sex over the years.

One of the first needs recognised on the formation of the Territorial Force in 1908 was that there would be a need for supporting medical services including of course, nurses. . There was already in existence Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service Reserve formed in 1897 by Princess Christian, the third daughter of Queen Victoria, By 1908 there was another nursing service, initially originated by Queen Alexandra when she was Princess of Wales and this became known as Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps. Determined equestrian ladies also formed the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, prepared to ride into battle and treat and retrieve wounded soldiers.

Queen's Surreys
(Click to enlarge)
1st Surrey Company, Auxiliary Territorial Service.

In 1914 a Women’s Legion was formed with the intention of relieving soldiers in “non combatant” tasks for service at the front. Also in the field were the Volunteer Aid Detachment of women ambulance drivers and nursing auxiliaries.

To integrate all the various separate agencies the War Department formed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) in 1917 and they performed valuable military services both at home and overseas. Queen Mary became Commandant-in-Chief and gave her name to the title. In 1921, with the exception of the nursing services, the women’s organisations were disbanded only to be re-formed in 1938 (under the threat of impending war) as the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) attached to the Territorial Army.

In 1938 it was foreseen that women volunteers would be required to assist or replace male personnel of Territorial units in time of national emergency. Accordingly in September 1938 the Auxiliary Territorial Service was formed as an integral part of the Territorial Army. ATS units were affiliated to Territorial Battalions, and before the outbreak of war in September 1939, to the Regimental Depots as well.

Initially, the only trades available to ATS were clerks, cooks, orderlies and storewomen, and in these capacities they showed themselves smart, reliable and conscientious. From the start there was on shortage of volunteers, and the outstanding characteristic was their enthusiasm.

The History of The East Surrey Regiment records, 'A new and valuable source of assistance was provided by the Auxiliary Territorial Service. The girls worked voluntarily and with great efficiency in the Orderly Room, in the Quartermaster's Stores and in the Cookhouse, learning Army methods of administration and coming as a very present help in time of trouble'.

The 1st Surrey Company ATS was affiliated to the 5th Bn The Queen's Royal Regiment. Colonel l C East, who was Adjutant of the 5th Battalion, remembers the prospective recruits' arrival at the Drill Hall in Sandfield Terrace before the official formation of the ATS had been announced. He was amazed to find himself confronted by about fifteen young women demanding to join up.

Dedicated and distinguished service was rendered by the ATS during the war in all spheres and in all activities whose scopes were gradually widened. Mixed anti-aircraft batteries came into being with women undertaking all the operational tasks except actually firing the guns.

After the Second World War the mistake that had been made after the First was not repeated. The women’s organisation, later re-named the Women’s Royal Army Corps became an integral part of the Army with both Regular and Territorial Units. Integration was finally completed by the eventual disbandment of the WRAC as a separate unit and the embodiment of its members in their own individual status and rights into Army Regimental and Corps organisation as a whole.

The “lady soldiers” have a record of which they can justifiably be proud. They have given, and no doubt will continue to give, valuable service in the defence of the Country.


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