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Life of an ATS girl on anti-aircraft dutyicon for Recommended story

by AAAJackie

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Mary Latham
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29 December 2003

The year was 1942. I was a hairdresser in Chorley, Lancashire. As hairdressing was considered to be a luxury trade in wartime and I was 18 years old, I was given the choice of munitions work or joining one of the forces.

My friend May and I travelled to Preston to sign up in the forces and received 禅he King痴 Shilling・ Two weeks later we were notified to go to Lancaster. We were met at Preston station by a sergeant, taken to Lancaster and 遡itted out・with our uniforms.

How different my life changed in the next 4 years. We moved from Lancaster to Arborfield, where we did 6 weeks of intensive training ・all 双n the double・ Each one was assessed for ・
* Fitness
* Hearing
* Eyesight
* Nerves (in Ack-Ack action)

It was necessary to pass all the tests. Fortunately I passed as a 叢redictor operator No.3・which involved looking through a telescope, keeping the target on the horizon line. This demanded steady nerves under gunfire and we needed a lot of practice. At the end of the day, we were mentally and physically exhausted. We lost our voices as all orders were shouted as loudly as possible.

The procedure was as follows ・
The predictor (善erry・・called after its inventor) passed the information we put in on to the guns (3.7) then the gunners fired the shells. We worked in 2 groups ・A and B. I was in B group ・5 on the predictor, 3 on height-finding. Spotters were on duty for 24 hours underground. The plotting room was always ready for any aircraft flying overhead.

We were well looked after with health inoculations every 3 months, regular dental care, F.F.I. (素ree from infection・ each Friday.

We (14 girls in each hut) were confined to our billets on Friday nights. We had to clean all our equipment, even to the studs on the bottom of our boots.

After 6 weeks practice in Arborfield, we were sent to Bude in Cornwall. This was our first Gun-Site ・this was not operational, but it gave us a taste of what was to come. The only description of the gunfire (4 guns firing in a semi-circle with the predictor 20 yards away) was like 蘇ell let loose・ However, we got used to it.

Our battery was moved to 36 different sites along the East and South coasts of England.

Our entertainment committee provided us with good entertainment during our off-duty hours ・concerts, dancing, table-tennis, darts in the canteen and various sporting events outdoors.

During our time in Hull we shot down one of our own aircraft (a Wellington). The crew gave us the wrong signal. Fortunately they landed safely ・just the tail missing. We were commended for our accurate firing but the crew were not impressed. Hull was badly hit at the time.

At Caister, near Yarmouth, 25 A.T.S.s were killed by machine-gun fire. The enemy aircraft flew over in the early morning at sunrise ・when it was impossible to see them ・and peppered the coast with gun-fire. It was a frightening sight to see Focke Wulfs diving down while we tried to pay our respects ・standing to attention during the playing of the Last Post ・to those who had been killed.

In 1943 ・44 we were posted to Southern Command. The Batteries at Plymouth were fully operational with search-lights and 4.5 inch guns. Here we saw a lot of action as the German planes bombarded Plymouth and Devonport docks.

The American soldiers were billeted nearby at Crownhill (they were in a castle ・we were in a field). They were so impressed by our work under-fire they put on a big party for us. What a treat we had ・I致e never seen such food. Tommy Dorsey and his band were visiting and we were invited ・something I will never forget.

While we were at Plymouth there was a 全alute the Soldier・parade in which I took part. The people gave us an extra cheer: they did appreciate our presence there.

Our next move was to Loughton Essex, 15 miles from London. Here we encountered the Buzz Bombs (V1), which were terrifying to see. We had no defence for these and also for the V2s which followed them. A lot of defenceless civilians were killed during these raids.

Eventually things began to ease off and we ended at Brighton and Hove. It was a terrible winter ・washing ourselves with snow. There was no running water. We were even glad of the route marches to keep ourselves warm. We marched into Brighton for a weekly bath ・in 5・of water.

We were granted leave every 3 months. But as D Day approached all leave was cancelled for 9 months. At last D Day arrived. We were aware that something was a-foot because we were inoculated for over-seas. However, that never materialised ・batteries all over England started to 船emob・
When our turn came I didn稚 know whether to be glad or sad. I had made some good friends in the A.T.S., sadly we never kept up our correspondence.
I returned home in February 1946 and took up my old job as a hairdresser ・older and wiser.
I met and married my husband (who was in the R.E.M.E.) in 1949 and have 2 sons.

I still remember some of the people in my Battery. I wonder if any are still living. Here are some of their names:-

Corporal Jean Johnson
Pte. Joan Glasgow
Staff Sergeant Ian McPhail
Captain Richard Larkin

I received a medal (1939-45) but I often wonder why 羨ck Ack・never got a defence medal ・I think we merited one!

On holiday in Yarmouth recently I was telling my husband what it was like there during the war. A lady nearby heard our conversation and said how pleased she was to meet someone who had helped defend Yarmouth ・it was nice to be appreciated after such a long time.

That is my story of the war years ・some sad and some happy memories.
Mary Latham (nee Jackson)

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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 - Life of a girl on AA duty

Posted on: 29 December 2003 by John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443

Hi Jackie.
I was positive that there must have been some of you left who served in mixed Heavy AA it is really good to hear from you. Although I was not in Heavy AA (too dangerous for me, too handsome!). But I served in many of the places you did Arborfield,Bude, Plymouth etc.. If on your personal page you could give people an idea of your Batteries or Regiments and the times you were at various places during the war you may well find some response from people who were in the same units or at the same places at the same time. I have an idea that you are entitled to the Defence Medal it might be worth inquiring. Just to give you an idea of how you can meet people by putting information on your personal page I am in touch with a person who contacted me to say that he was now living in the same house as I had been in 1939 and he also went to the same school. There has been very little written about AA and the tremendous work that gulls did both on the guns and on searchlights. With luck we may get more girls telling of the experiences in ADGB.
Best regards
John Absolon


Message 2 - Life of a girl on AA duty

Posted on: 21 February 2004 by timelkington

Only a snippet of her life in 537 AA Battery - but a bit unusual?

Bude is spoken of. So - after I was shot down in August 1940, I went to stay with my grandparents in Bude.
At the same time, my (now) wife was moved to Cleeve Camp, just north of Bude. A driver.
To fill in time, while recovering from wounds, I managed to fly a Henley target towing aircraft for the Battery. Uneventful - BUT, one of the a/c was, I believe, shot down by their guns. Thankfully, not me!
It wasn't until 1946 that I caught up with her in Scotland. = Tim

Message 1 - AA Command and Defence Medal

Posted on: 05 January 2004 by Ron Allen

Hallo Mary

I was very interested in your contribution on your time in the ATS as I was also in AA Searchlights during the Battle of Britain.

This is just a brief note to suggest to you that you should be entitled to the Defence Medal. I was under the impression that everybody who served in the armed forces was entitled. My wife, who served throughout the war in the WRNS, certainly has hers as well as the 1939/45 Star. I don't have the address immediately to hand for granting medals, but if you wish, will dig it out for you

All the best


Message 1 - Finding lost friends in the ATS

Posted on: 21 April 2004 by Joan_eggleton

i'm researching my a relitives time in the ATS and trying to find out about some of her lost friends. She served in Crystal Palace in 1942 and is eager to know if anyone still remembers this year also.
Thank you.

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