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15 October 2014
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My Time in the ATS

by David West

Contributed by 
David West
People in story: 
Doreen Myall W/242400
Location of story: 
Northampton / Greenford / Donington
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 February 2005

Mum at ATS Greenford

Chapter 1 - Call-up to Northampton

On the 5th of January 1943 I was notified that I was to report for duty in the ATS. I was not surprised, as I had signed on at Southend some time before.

On the 15th of January, my brother Victors friend, Peter Savill and my mother travelled with me to Euston station to see me on the train to Northampton, where I had to report to No1 ATS training centre. We were met at Northampton by army lorries, which took us to the centre. I do not remember too much of Northampton.

It was a very cold January that year with snow on the ground for most of my three weeks training. I had chilblains on my feet and trying to break in new army shoes was very painful as there were parades, PE and marching everyday. My first breakfast was kippers, not quite what I was used to at home but when you are hungry you eat. I did go into Northampton once to look around and marched one Sunday to Church Parade but cannot remember the name of the large Church we were in. Training was mainly learning the dos and don’ts and regulations of army life and being assessed as to where I would be posted.

Chapter 2 — Posted to Greenford

I was posted in February to the RAOC (Royal Army Ordinance Corp) camp and depot at Greenford Middlesex. The camp was a short distance from the depot and we had to march to work each day. The camp itself was quite nice, we were in Nissan huts, I suppose about twenty girls to a hut. They were cold in the winter months, there being a coke stove in the middle of the hut. The depot was originally a factory owned by Heinz 57 Varieties, before the Government took it over. There were army and civilian personnel working there, the buildings were all numbered, some were offices and some warehouses. I worked in 409, which was an office. Major Bush and RSM Dumbleton were over the army personnel and Mr Melhuish supervised the civilians. We were all a friendly crowd and worked well together. Our main job was to issue stores to various places in Europe, India, Burma and Africa and to make sure that everything was available in the warehouses; it was interesting work.

Two civilians I remember were Mr Doughty and Jimmy Peach. Mr Doughty lived at Greenford with his son and daughter-in-law, he always seemed to have a supply of peppermints. I was invited to tea at his home one Sunday with a friend and we were made very welcome. After the war he visited my home at Lodge Lane and later after I was married came to visit me at my new home at Chadwell St Mary.

We had all our meals at the cookhouse in the depot; on the whole they were not at all bad. Sometimes when we were on night work and there were air raids. The air raid shelters were concrete, above ground and not very comfortable. Being near to Northolt aerodrome we were a target for the Germans. They did bomb the airfield and on one occasion dropped a land mine on one of our warehouses. It was quite frightening; there were casualties, but not anyone that I knew.

My old school friend Phyllis lived at Hanwell, not far from Greenford and my friend Ivy and I were invited to visit her home for a meal. It was lovely to see her and her parents but travelling was dangerous then, as you never knew when there would be an air raid. On one occasion we went to a dance at Ealing and there was an air raid, the military police took us back to camp.
I remember once, we had been on night work; we went back to camp to sleep and later that afternoon my friend Ivy took me to visit her home at Holloway London. Her mum made me very welcome and gave us a nice meal. We had to go back to camp early in the evening because we were working again that night.

I took Ivy home with me to meet my parents on a weekend pass. She also met my brother Vic who was home on leave; after that first meeting she came to see Vic and they later married and she became my sister-in-law.

In July 1943 I heard that my boyfriend Charlie would be speaking on BBC radio from Calcutta. Although I was working in the depot, I was given permission to walk back to camp and listen on the radio there, it was lovely to here him.

I was put forward for promotion and went before a selection committee of officers but declined the offer of a stripe. I could not imagine myself giving orders and I didn’t want the extra duties an NCO had to perform or to be moved from my friends. When we were unable to get home at weekends we would go into Harrow and on one occasion saw the film star, “Richard Green” live in, “Arms and a Man”. On another occasion, when we were coming home, Joan Creagh, Ivy and I accepted a lift to Park Royal station from some Americans in a jeep, it was a case of “hang on to your hat”, but it was a laugh and kind of them. Sometimes on the journey home there would be a raid and the train would stop at the nearest station. I remember this happening at Mansion House station and having to get out and wait; you never knew how long a journey would take. On another occasion the three of us came home on a weekend pass and decided to travel back to camp early on Monday morning instead of Sunday evening. Joan, who lived in William Street Grays, spent the Sunday night with us, so that we could get the first bus to Upminster. This we missed by a few seconds and had to run all the way to Grays station from Lodge Lane. The porter at Grays station practically threw us in the compartment and we were still out of breath when we got to Barking but we did get back to camp on time.

On January 20th 1945 Ivy and Victor were married and I had seven days leave. I missed her after she was demobbed.

Chapter 3 — move to Donnington

I had another leave in April 1945 and was then posted to Donnington Shropshire Section 92 E Company ATS Camp. Audrey Hale, who was also at Greenford, came too, along with other girls from the depot. The camp at Donnington was mainly a men’s camp and we were crowded into Nissan Huts with very little room but later we were transferred to a new housing estate. This was luxury, there were orderlies to keep the houses clean and we only had to worry about our own personal things. I worked in an office on an industrial site the army had taken over and once again there were civilians too and I made many friends. We were about eight girls to a house and we were all good friends, Irene, Audrey, Dorothy, May, Doris, Joyce, Rene and myself. Whilst posted here at Donnington I attended a Housewifery course, I enjoyed this very much; we were shown how to do everything in the home from window cleaning, polishing, washing-up, cooking; everything you would have to do in your home. We finished the course by cooking a meal. I passed and did get a certificate but cannot find it now. I did get to meet Billy Wright, who played football for Wolverhampton Wanderers; his desk was in front of mine; he later married Joy out of the Beverly Sisters. I could only get home on a long leave as my army pay was 26/- (£1.30) and it would have taken all that for my fare. So on weekends Audrey and I went to Wellington, Shrewsbury or Derby and stayed in YWCA. Audrey had two maiden aunts who lived in Birmingham and we had a weekend with them, which was very nice, on the Sunday we went to Church in the Bull Ring.

In December 1945 when Charlie came home from Burma, I borrowed Dorothy Stapleton’s engagement ring and pretended I was engaged, in order to get twenty-eight days compassionate leave.

Audrey met her husband Sam at Donnington. They were married in August 1946 and I was one of her bridesmaids.

I enjoyed my ATS days and in 2005, still write to some of my friends.

I was demobbed in July 1946 and married Charlie on the 26th October 1946.

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