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15 October 2014
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Mary Elmes' NAAFI Adventuresicon for Recommended story

by ActionBristol

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Alice Mary Elmes (nee Drury), Ernest Elmes
Location of story: 
UK and Europe
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 May 2005

This story is submitted by a volunteer on behalf of Radio Bristol Action Desk at City of Bristol College.

Mary was born 23.01.1922 in the countryside. From the age of 14 Mary was in domestic service.

Mary joined the NAAFI 20 January 1942 and went to RAF Bridgnorth, Shropshire, which was 10 miles from home.

On 1st January 1942 they asked for volunteers for overseas. Mary passed her medical and then went to Dalkeith Scotland in March 1944 for 6 weeks ATS training. Joan then became W/297413 Drury A.M. (Pte). Mary returned to Bridgnorth and then 6 weeks later went to HQ at 44 Dulwichwood Avenue, London at the beginning of June. It happened to be the first time the doodle bombs came over London, so they had to sleep in the cellars.

By this time the troops had gone over to Normandy. Mary went to Normandy on 4th August 1944. They left London and had one night in a rest camp in Southampton. There were 26 ATS EFI. Joan sailed out with 1600 troops and lots of extra military machinery. It was a boiling hot day. The French had objected to them coming in slacks, so the ATS girls had to wear skirts and it was announced on the tannoy 'would all troops turn their faces to France while the ATS girls come down'. They came in at Arromanches on tender boats.

They went on to their billets at Bayeux. A dozen were then posted to a rest camp in the British sector and were under canvas for 6 weeks. Troops came in from the front line for 3 days rest. Mary saw plenty of shell-shocked men. They used to play housey housey.

In October Mary was on the move to Brussels but had to stay one night in an ex-German billet. Mary was ill due to the diesel fumes from travelling on army trucks. She went into sick bay and then transferred into the general military hospital in Brussels.

At the end of October 1944, Mary was sent home to England with the wounded. She was the first ATS girl to fly home. There was no seating, just room for stretcher cases. It was a Canadian crew and Mary travelled in the cockpit. It came in to Lyneham, Wiltshire and then Mary took an overnight train to Litchfield where she had her appendix taken out. After sick leave, Mary returned to London just before Christmas 1944.

Mary then went back to Brussels in January 1945. This time there was 96 ATS who sailed from Tilburgh to Antwerp. Mary joined the rest of her mates at Cafe Blighty where she stayed until 8th May 1945, when a dozen of them were in an army lorry on their way to Enchede, Holland on the German border. The collaborators were being marched through the streets and spat at Mary's group.

Mary stayed at this canteen until December 1945. She had a job there as a cashier in the barber's shop.

Mary then moved to Hamburg, where Mary's job was selling cigarettes in the Victory Club. Mary was here until February 1947. It was there that Mary met her future husband 1841695 Elmes E.L. RA(HAA). They married in Mary's home town of Much Wenlock, Shropshire on 5th April 1947 and moved to Bristol. They had 50 years of married life, but sadly Ernest passed away 6th July 1997.

Whilst in Hamburg, Mary and some of her fellow ATS friends had the following published in 'Soldier' magazine in an attempt to set the story straight! 'NAAFI Girl Speaks Out: I have read Soldier fairly regularly during the past few months - especially the Readers Grouse Page, as I call it. It is amazing with what frequency the subject of NAAFI crops up. Well boys, you've had your say. May a NAAFI girl have hers? To all those who appreciate what we've done, thanks. To all the grousers... I've served you - Army, Navy and RAF - for nearly four years. I've stood in Nissen huts, in barracks, in sheds and in tents. I've worked 14 hours a day to give you your cup of tea. In this theatre, we of NAAFI/EFI were not immune from lack of mail; not even from the shells over Caen or the V2s over Antwerp. Fair enough you say. The job needed doing I agree. But did you have to make it 10 times worse - haggling when I gave you a razor blade in lieu of the change I didn't possess, complaining of the tea when I made it out in the open, with the rain coming down in buckets and putting out the boilers? I've listened to your grouses about NAAFI, about the Army. And I've seen you treat an English girl, a stranger to you, like a piece of dirt. Even a NAAFI girl has feelings. I'm not in this job for the good of my health any more than you are. Go on grousing. Go on sneering. Maybe if you go on long enough they'll disband NAAFI in BAOR and give all the stores to the people of Europe, who might appreciate what you don't want. Then I could go home because, believe me, that's where I want to go - every bit as much as you do.'

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