- Contributed by
- Violet Smith
- People in story:
- Violet Smith nee Stanbury
- Location of story:
- England and Italy
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 09 November 2003
In August 1941 I was seventeen and a half years old, just old enough to join the ATS. One day, during my lunch hour off work, I walked into a local employment office and volunteered to join the ATS. Within a fortnight I was called up and on my way to Guildford for my initial training.
I remember Guildford very well because, as I was unable to be fully kitted out with my uniform, I had to wear my civilian dress covered by a man's Army greatcoat. This was because I was a larger than your average young lady. It had one advantage, however: I had my uniforms made to measure.
Off to Church Crookham
After my training was completed, I was posted to Church Crookham near Aldershot and attached to the Royal Army Medical Corps, No 1 Depot, and stationed in the Officers' Mess. I worked as an accounts clerk in the Mess Steward's office.
The Mess Steward was a civilian who used to travel in each day on his motorbike from nearby Fleet. When I heard the roar of his bike coming up the drive, I used to do a quick dash to get his tea and get into the office before he made his entrance through the big bay window of the office, which was his usual entrance each day.
The ATS were accommodated in two Nissen huts in the grounds of a large country estate. Army personnel were also accommodated in another part of the estate, and the house accommodated the Officers. There were two dozen of us girls, mostly waitresses, two who worked as cleaners and a stores person, who was a very popular person when we went home for a weekend (as those of us who lived in London could) because we would be given rations to take with us.
We got plenty of exercise because, being in the country, we were quite a way from a bus stop, and as buses were infrequent we would usually walk into Fleet to attend local dances. We would take a bus into Aldershot, usually once a week, to visit the local cinema. We were invited to dances at a nearby Army camp. Then transport was provided for us in TCVs,(transport carrying vehicles).
I had taken part in concerts in the main depot, where they had their own theatre and band, and it was the bandmaster who recommended me to a singing teacher in a nearby village, who I visited twice a week for lessons. More often than not I would walk the one and half miles, singing along the country lanes, giving my lungs a good airing.
I enjoyed my time at Church Crookham, both the work and leisure activities, but after three years, I volunteered for service abroad.
I was posted to Paddington for training before being posted abroad. We left from a siding at King's Cross Station in the middle of the night, and travelled to Scotland where we boarded our ship in the Clyde. We didn't know where we going but knew from the iniforms issued in KD (Khaki Drill), that it would be to a hot climate. Again I had two new uniforms made to measure!
After we had embarked, American forces arrived on board with the same destination code on their kit bags as we had on ours. They told us that we were going to Naples and sure enough we did arrive in Naples.
Naples at last
After six weeks on board, calling first at Malta to drop Navy personnel and pick up other Navy personnel who were going back to England, we disembarked in Naples, Italy, in October 1944. I was then transported to the AFHG (Allied Forces Headquarters), Caserta, where I worked and was billeted in barracks.
The Caserta Palace had been taken over by the AFHG and the offices were manned by American and English. I worked with three other girls and five Army personnel in the Q (main) Office. Fighting was going on in the northern part of Italy and our job was to see that requests for supplies were dealt with.
There was an American cinema as well as an English cinema at Caserta. We would visit the American cinema more often than the English because it showed more up-to-date films; in fact, some American films we saw as much as a year later after our return to England.
An audience with the Pope
My friend and I went on our first leave in Rome and this was to be a memorable occasion because we visited the Vatican and, after queuing for a considerable time, we were admitted with other Army personnel to an audience with the Pope.
We were in a section of the hall where we were the only two girls and the soldiers pushed us to the front. This enabled us a to have a good view when the Pope made his way through the centre aisle of the crowd. He stopped and spoke to us, asking about our familes back home and giving us his blessing. We felt very honoured.
Romance at the RASC Concert Party
After a few weeks in Caserta I had joined the RASC Concert Party, and this is how I met my husband, Frank. A theatre was being prepared and until it was finished we rehearsed in the Sergeants' Mess, then when the theatre was almost ready we rehearsed in there with the Regimental Band. My husband-to-be was the electrician for the Concert Party and used to do the stage lighting. He also contacted an American source and was able to obtain films. So, in our own theatre, we would do a short variety performance and then a film would be shown.
We went to other Army, Navy, RAF barracks and hospitals to entertain and I gained special leave for rehearsals and for time off, if we had to leave during the working day to get to our venue.
Wedding to remember
Frank and I were married in July 1945 after first being approved by our respective commanding officers. This was arranged through the Army - a wedding to remember. The reception was in a room in the Caserta Palace, which was reserved for the use of the ATS, and, as Frank was in the RASC, our transport was arranged by them.
A buffet wedding breakfast for 100 guests was provided by the Army catering; we just had to give £1.50d for the chef. Frank arranged for our photos to be taken by someone from the RAF, and he paid for the flowers.
I had a white wedding. The veil was one that went around the Ecchelon for girls to borrow; there was a dress also, but not my size. I was lucky and was able to borrow one from an officer who had been a bridesmaid and worn a white lace dress.
We left our guests enjoying themselves at the reception, and were driven by car to Sorrento for our honeymoon. After a fortnight, a car returned to take us back to Caserta. We were very lucky - we could not have had a better wedding if we had been in England.
After we were married the Army arranged for us to live out with an Italian family and the Mamma used to look forward to Frank taking films for them to watch at their home. They were mostly musicals because Mamma couldn't speak English. As the walls in the lounge were distempered, the films were very easy to watch.
Back to England
We returned to England in December 1945. I enjoyed my time in the Army and if I had not married I would have stayed on.
I still belong to a singing class, at a local Pensioners' Club, and enjoy singing and requests to do so.
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