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15 October 2014
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The ATS in Wartime Northamton - part 1

by Doddridge

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Gladys Shaw
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Civilian Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
15 September 2004

When war was declared in I939 I went to work as usual to Oxford Circus to be greeted by our Director. Mr. Lines. He was sure that London would soon be reduced to a heap of rubble within a matter of weeks, and had convinced himself it was not any good keeping us in employment. He retained only one buyer from each department and one other member of staff. It was an uncomplicated matter in those days for an employer to give his workers the sack, and we were given our cards to return home to the prospect of job hunting again. Fortunately, the local shop in the East End kept going, and I applied to Bearmans in the Leytonstone Road. I was hired to work on their hosiery counter, with the advantage that I was able to travel to work by bicycle, but what a change of atmosphere! I was used to hosiery being made to order, with the family monogram set in to pure silk at five guineas a pair. Now it was rayon at I/II- a pair, not even fully fashioned. The children's socks were sold at just under four pence a pair. The staff comprised local girl and our First Hand was a lady who had lost her sweetheart in the First World War and true to his memory had remained a spinster. She always took the first customer and the resulting commission from any sales. We were then lucky if we attended to the second or third hand of sales, so the pros of earning extra money were not good. As a consequence we only made any money from commission during the sale. Most of my time was taken up sewing tags on second-rate stock for reduced sale. I often had to fetch stockings from the stock room and in doing so passed the Upholstery Department where some fresh faced young men worked. I was particularly interested in one of them, a lad called Ronald, and after working long hours we would walk to his house in Leyton. On arrival, if his mother and brothers Raymond and Terry were out, it was necessary to prise open the front room window in order to get in, as he had not been given a key.

During the war this house was damaged by flying debris which crashed through the roof. His grandmother, Mrs. Herring, had a lucky escape. She had recently been evacuated to Kings Lynn, and would probably have been killed as metal landed on her bed. Ronald and I became engaged, much to my mother's disgust, who made it clear she felt he was not good enough for me. Partly thanks to her our relationship did not survive. I was told it would be unlucky for us to have our photograph taken together, which we did before he was called up. He was posted to the Rifle Brigade and sent to France as a Despatch Rider. He was very soon captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war, kept at Stalag 8B near Dusseldorf in Germany.

I received one letter which contained a photograph sewn in with grey sock wool. It showed he had a violin to play, which was a comforting thought as I had happy memories of the musical evenings we had enjoyed together before he went away, but correspondence between us was difficult. He was only allowed to write one letter a month, which was delivered via Sweden and took three months to arrive. My mother thought it better I did not read these in case I became upset and she destroyed some of his correspondence. I wrote to him from the ATS camp where I was stationed, but was not allowed to give any information about my whereabouts, myself or what had been happening to me (content which was considered sensitive was struck out by the censor's blue pencil) and I sent many parcels to the POW camp containing vitamin tablets and clothing, but he did not receive my gifts.

He was released by the liberating forces crossing Germany and we met again when he returned, but the magic between us had gone.

Many years later my husband found some mementoes of the romance and destroyed them. The very precious photographs in my album survived, however and I tried to locate him in the year 2000 as I thought might welcome their return. I could not remember his regimental number and up to now my search has not been fruitful. If he has a family, I feel they should have them.

In the early stages of the war, the government felt that young people should have a choice about which branch of the armed forces they joined. The alternative was to go into munitions factories, making shells and torpedoes to aid the war effort. I applied to join the Auxiliary Territorial Army for Women, known as the ATS. As I suffered from a heart condition I was doubtful I would be accepted, but at my
Medical I was told, untruthfully, that my feet were not flat. My heart was pronounced OK and I awaited my call-up papers. I was elated. I looked forward to leaving home and living beyond the reach of mother's strict disciplinarian ways. My mother, however, was devastated; she had just been told that my sister was to be evacuated to Banbury. My brother had been accepted as a medical student, so all three of us left home within a ten-day period. It must have been dreadful for her.

For Gladys’s experiences in the Wartime ATS, see part two of her story.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - ATS in Northampton

Posted on: 01 October 2005 by pireson

I am gradually working through my late mother's large collection of photos and came across a group of ATS trainees at Northampton Technology College in 1942. My mum's name was Hazel Greenfield. Mum went on to follow the liberating troops across Europe. Does anybody have any other memories, or perhaps you met her? Philip Ireson

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