The life of an ATS 'Ack Ack' Girl
27th December 1942: How many young women found themselves on the front line even as they served in Britain
Sometime during December 1942 the War Office photographers were out with their colour film again. Given the difficulty of their subject matter, including gunfire, they made a pretty impressive job of it.
From 1941 all unmarried women between 20 and 30 years old were called up to join one of the auxiliary services. These were the Auxilliary Territorial Service (ATS), the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and the Women's Transport Service. Later this conscription was extended to some married women.
They were not intended to serve in the front line of battle - but for much of the war the front line was indistinguishable from the home front, especially with regard to Anti Aircraft gunnery. 731 women died serving in these Auxilliary units during the war.
Mary Latham1 was just one of hundreds of thousands of young women who suddenly found their lives completely transformed:
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 the King's Shilling. Two weeks later we were notified to go to Lancaster. We were met at Preston station by a sergeant, taken to Lancaster and fitted 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 at the double. Each one was assessed for:
* Nerves (in Ack-Ack action)
It was necessary to pass all the tests.