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Plotting Planes

by LifeLink

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Ellen Dean
Location of story: 
Ipswich and others
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 October 2004

I volunteered for the ATS at 17 in 1942. Until then, I had been working in the Tyne Brand factory, which manufactured meat paste (costing, at that time, 2d a tin). I was posted to Edinburgh for training and then went into the City of London PO Rifles (known as the Terriers before the war). Only those from the original Territorial unit from the City of London were allowed to wear the red arrow on their shoulder.
I became a plotter. The pilots spoke to the lads on the searchlights and guns who gave us the numbers of the aeroplanes and we put the information on the board. We wore head and chest phones and had to work fast. Of course, the lads always made fun of us — they said “You couldn’t plot your way out of your own back yard”. Actually, Geordies were said to be plainer speaking than less broad southerners who wouldn’t drop their accents: people would say “Hi Geordie” to me but they never asked me to repeat myself.
I then spent a lot of time in Ipswich because there were loads of airports round Suffolk. My last posting was in Forest Hall (North Tyneside) but only for a month around the last Christmas of the war.
One day, I got on the train in London and my case was flung up on the rack but when I got to Ipswich, no one could find my kitbag. I phoned ahead and it turned out eventually that my bag had got muddled up with this other soldier’s. He brought my kitbag around to thank me personally, and then asked me out to a dance. We hit it off and eventually, we ended up getting married, but not until after the war when we were no longer in uniform. My sister-in-law was a reporter on the Newcastle Chronicle and she ran a report of the wedding under the heading: “Wrong Kit — Right girl”.
The ATS had a bad reputation (only because of a few people) and a lot of men didn’t like their relatives being in it, so husbands often stopped married women going in the Forces. My husband thought they were common. Some of the locals used to march up and down chanting: “ATS are officers’ groundsheets.” Another current saying was: “You never know what you might pick up in the blackout”.

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