Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Great Britain, Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS)

Women's unit of the British army that provided ancillary and support services. The ancestry of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) can be traced to the World War I Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), a quasi-military female support unit created in January 1917 with the aim of freeing more men for fighting. Its 57,000 members served in clerical positions and as telephone operators, cooks, and waitresses, but its women "officers" were not granted military commissions or titles. It disbanded in 1921.

In September 1938, as European war seemed ever more likely, the British government decided to establish a women's auxiliary army to be attached to the existing territorial army. The new ATS incorporated the venerable First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY), formed by Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener in 1907, whose members constituted most of the ATS Transport Section. ATS recruits received two-thirds of the pay of men. Initially, numbers were small, and most new enlistees served as cooks or storekeepers or in clerical positions. In spring 1940, 300 volunteered to accompany the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France, and ATS telephonists were among the last British service personnel evacuated from Dunkerque, France.

With the April 1941 introduction of national civilian or military service for all childless and single British women aged between 18 and 30, ATS numbers rose dramatically, reaching 65,000 within six months. Only women between the ages of 17 and 43 were eligible to enlist, a provision waived for female WAAC veterans of the previous war. In July 1941, ATS enlistees were granted full military status, although no woman could be compelled to serve in situations where she might be subject to physical attack nor to operate a weapon without her prior consent. The range of ATS duties also expanded enormously. Among other duties, women functioned as mechanics, drivers, stevedores, orderlies, dental clerks, masseuses, photographers, munitions inspectors, and military police. They administered postal services and operated antiaircraft batteries, guns, and radar installations. Women were banned from active combat duty, but their ancillary functions were often physically hazardous, especially when they took part in overseas campaigns in Egypt, North Africa, Italy, France, and Asia. A total of 198,000 women joined the ATS, of whom 335 were killed on duty. Another 302 were wounded, 94 went missing in action, and 22 became prisoners of war, a rate proportionately higher than that in either the women's naval or aviation auxiliary services. In part, these figures reflected the fact that appreciable numbers of ATS women were recruited as agents for the dangerous Special Operations Executive (SOE), which mounted covert operations in occupied Europe and elsewhere.

Although the ATS continued in existence after 1945, its numbers fell precipitously as all British armed forces experienced substantial postwar demobilization. In 1949, the ATS was disbanded and its remaining members were absorbed in the new Women's Royal Army Corps, which in 1992 finally amalgamated completely with the British army.

Priscilla Roberts


Further Reading
Birdwell, S. The Womens' Royal Army Corps. London: Leo Cooper, 1977.; Cowper, J. M., comp. The Auxiliary Territorial Service. London: War Office, 1949.; Dady, Margaret. A Woman's War: Life in the ATS. Lewes, UK: Book Guild, 1986.; Gooding, Joan B. They Gave Us Khaki Bloomers. London: Avon, 1996.; Roy, Terry. Women in Khaki: The Story of the British Woman Soldier. London: Columbus, 1988.; Truscott, Lucian K., Jr. The Twilight of the U.S. Cavalry: Life in the Old Army, 1917–1942. Edited and with Preface by Lucian K. Truscott III and Foreword by Edward M. Coffman. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989.
 

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