Women Conscripted First Time Ever

Women Conscripted in Great Britain

The first country in the Western world to conscript women

An Auxiliary Territorial Service spotter with binoculars at an anti-aircraft command post, December 1942. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

BBC: “In December 1941, the National Service Act (no 2) made the conscription of women legal. At first, only single women aged 20-30 were called up, but by mid-1943, almost 90 percent of single women and 80 percent of married women were employed in essential work for the war effort.”

Motor Mechanic Princess Elizabeth
WOMEN AT WAR 1939 – 1945 (TR 2835) Auxiliary Territorial Service: Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS, wearing overalls and standing in front of an L-plated truck. In the background is a medical lorry. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194945

 

WOMEN OF THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE VISIT A FACTORY, UK, 1942 (P 1092) Two women of the ATS watch a woman war worker welding during a visit to a factory, somewhere in Britain. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202761

The government avoided conscription of women as long as possible relying on what Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin called “voluntaryism.” Eventually that didn’t produce the large numbers of people required to keep the country at war. When conscription of women came about, it didn’t cause much comment. There was simply no other way to keep factories working. What surprised the men in charge, was how competent women were.

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‘ATS girls’ operate a mobile power plant on an anti-aircraft gun site at night. (photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Until the advent of radar controlled AA fire, which did not come until much later in the war, and radar equipped RAF night fighters, which took years, the ack-ack barrages during German bombing attacks didn’t shoot down many German planes but were a major boost to morale.

ANTI-Aircraft command faced critical shortage of personnel

Anti-Aircraft Command and its subordinate commands such as Balloon Command (barrage balloons) were a key component of the combined arms formation known as “Air Defence of Great Britain” which came under the operational control of RAF Fighter Command.

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 474) ATS girls operating the height and range finder. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188353

 

The British armed forces had been compelled to abandon an enormous number of their anti-aircraft guns in France after they fell back on Dunkirk and were lifted off by the famous “little ships.” (Actually, the Royal Navy lifted off 80% of British soldiers rescued at Dunkirk but the myth is more interesting and inspiring).

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 478) A battery of 3.7 inch anti-aircraft guns firing at night. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188356

 

As more and more anti-aircraft guns were manufactured and put in place to protect British cities from German bombers, a critical shortage of personnel developed in Anti-Aircraft Command. By the end of 1940, Sir Frederick Pile, Commander-in-Chief of AA informed the government he was short of more than 100 officers and almost 18,000 enlisted personnel or ‘other ranks’ as known in the UK.  (Wartime: Britain 1939 to 1945 by Juliet Gardiner)

“Something drastic had to be done. I suggested… that women should be employed in large numbers in an operational role…” Sir Frederick Pile, Commander-in-Chief, Anti-Aircraft Command, 1939 to 1945.

 

A member of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) serving with a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun battery, December 1942.

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 480) ATS girls using an identification telescope. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188358

Military and labour requirements of World War Two could not be met by solely by males or by women volunteers.  Great Britain thus became the first nation in the Western world to conscript women into both industry and support functions in the Forces.

Great Britain mobilized a larger percentage of its population, 55%,  for war-related work either in the Forces or in supporting roles than any of the Western powers including Nazi Germany. We assume that a totalitarian state such as Nazi Germany would be able to compel its citizens to work in a larger percentage than a democracy but that wasn’t the case. The National Service (#2)  Act became law on 18 December 1941 thus marking the UK as the first nation in the world to conscript women.

Because of their ideology that women belonged in the home raising the next generation of National Socialists, the Nazis hesitated to compel German women to work. Eventually they were forced to but nonetheless, they never reached the 55% civilian mobilization of the British.

Of course, the Nazis used slave labor conscripted at gunpoint from nations they had conquered and the British did not. The National Service (#2)  Act became law on 18 December 1941 thus marking the UK as the first nation in the world to conscript women.

 Women producing bullets and cannon shells in an underground munitions factory on the Wirral, Merseyside, 1945
Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA

Land Army members sawing larch poles for use as pit props at the Women’s Timber Corps training camp at Culford, Suffolk, 1943.
Photograph: IWM/PA

There 5,000 women in the Timber Corps at it largest. They referred to themselves as “polecats.” Timber was an urgent wartime need of the British. Prior to the war, the Great Britain had imported a much of their wood including telegraph poles and pit props for use in coal mines. Pit props were especially critical because an adequate supply of coal was crucial since the country ran on coal.

Railroad engines, electric generating plants required immense amounts of coal. Further, combustible coal gas similar to natural gas was produced from coal and used for cooking and heating and for various uses by industry. Many householders and building owners used coal either in boilers or directly into coal burning fireplaces.

Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) plotters at work at Coastal Artillery Headquarters in Dover, December 1942
Photograph: Ted Dearberg/IWM/PA

While not well known, Great Britain had a number of heavy artillery pieces mounted in fixed positions along the coast of the English Channel. Some of these were meant to help repel a German invasion and others were used to fire on German ships using the English Channel. (Germans had coastal artillery on the French side of the Channel). Coastal artillery was never very effective.

Men and women at a war workers’ canteen watch lunchtime entertainment. Millions of women were conscripted into factory work. 

Comments Charles McCain: The British version of the USO was known as ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association) and had the responsibility of supplying entertainment of all types to the forces and the civilian workforce. Programs were of mixed quality and there were many who said ENSA was an acronym meaning “Every Night Something Awful”

HRH PRINCESS ELIZABETH IN THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE, APRIL 1945 (TR 2832) Princess Elizabeth, a 2nd Subaltern in the ATS standing in front of an ambulance. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124047

Now Queen Elizabeth II, she trained as a mechanic and was supposedly quite good at it.

 

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 452) An ATS spotter with binoculars at the anti-aircraft command post. A 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun can be seen in the background. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205123845

 

THE AUXILIARY TERRITORIAL SERVICE AT AN ANTI-AIRCRAFT GUN SITE IN BRITAIN, DECEMBER 1942 (TR 465) ATS girls working the Kine-Theodolite, which photographs the shell bursts, thereby checking the results of the Predictor crews. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188347

A Beautiful Englishwoman Prepares to Blast Nazis Out of the Sky

Englishwoman with the 1st Anti-Aircraft Division, which controlled the searchlight and gun batteries defending London.

An ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) ‘spotter’ at a 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun site in Britain, December 1942. On her shoulder can be seen the badge of the 1st Anti-Aircraft Division, which controlled the searchlight and gun batteries defending London. The ATS was established in September 1938, to provide for women volunteers to serve in non-combatant roles alongside the military. In 1941 it was fully incorporated into the British armed forces. As the war progressed conscription was introduced, and duties expanded from cooks, clerks and drivers to more varied and technical roles. The ATS reached a peak strength of 210,208 officers and other ranks in June 1943.

(Caption and photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

Winston Churchill’s daughter, Mary, served on a Anti-Aircraft battery during parts of the war.

 

 

Want to Know What War Is?

It isn’t the headline image. It’s the woman saying farewell.

A woman bids farewell at Paddington Station in 1942 as a train pulls away. This is one of the haunting images taken by Bert Hardy for Picture Post magazine in Great Britain.

How easily we talk of war and bombing people and being the greatest country in the world because we can beat the hell out of our enemies. We do live in a dangerous world and pacifism is not a rational alternative. But wars and armed conflict kill and maim and create emotional scars which never heal.

Look at this photograph. This woman knows she may never see her loved one again. He is off to war. Few photographs have this one’s emotional power to communicate the terrifying abyss into which war can lead us.

This is one of many striking imagines taken by photographer British photographer Bert Hardy for Picture Post magazine, a British version of America’s Life Magazine.

 

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2300657/Bert-Hardy-From-womans-tears-Paddington-gravestone-jumping-street-urchins-Glasgows-slums.html#ixzz4jM76D4oB
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The featured image is Private Alfred Campin of the 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry during training in Britain, March 1944. (Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum).

http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/second-world-war/15-rare-colour-photographs-from-the-second-world-war

 

 

Underground Stations When Bombs Dropping

Taking shelter in the Underground stations wasn’t a great experience. Early in the Blitz there were few sanitary facilities and people who lived through the era often write about the stench of underground stations.

SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1568) Elephant and Castle London Underground Station Shelter: People sleeping on the crowded platform of Elephant and Castle tube station while taking shelter from German air raids during the London Blitz. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194638

 

While no more than 3% of Londoners used the tube stations as bomb shelters, photographs such as these became iconic images showing the determination of Londoners not to let the Nazis break their will.

SHELTER PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN IN LONDON BY BILL BRANDT, NOVEMBER 1940 (D 1571) Elephant and Castle Underground Station Shelter: The station performs a dual wartime role: travellers enter a train while, in the foreground, other Londoners attempt to sleep. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194641

(The sign in the window to the right of the tube car door informs passengers that this is a non-smoking car. In 1940)

THE LONDON UNDERGROUND AS AIR RAID SHELTER, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1940 (D 1677) One of London’s most popular shelters is that which is to be found in a section of the London underground system which has been converted by tearing up the tracks. The advertisements remain pasted on the wall. Hats and coats are hung on nails which have been driven in between the bricks on the wall. People sleep on the platform and on the space which was formerly the track, this part stretching fo… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205221918

This is probably a section of the Picadilly Line which was no longer in use when the war began.

THE LONDON UNDERGROUND AS AIR RAID SHELTER, LONDON, ENGLAND, 1940 (D 1678) Shelterers sleep along the walls of the passageway leading from the lifts to the platform at a London Underground station, probably Aldwych, in November 1940. The shelterers lie on thin mattresses and suitcases have been used to partition off areas along the tunnel to provide some privacy for shelterers. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205197856

London Underground Saved Thousands During Blitz

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a welcome sight to Londoners during the Blitz—- mainly heavy night bombing of London by Nazi Germany.

When someone is bombing you from the air then you instinctively want to get as far underground as you can and during the Nazi blitz on London the London subway system known unofficially as “the tube” and officially as the London Underground provided a safe place during the bombing. However, not all London Underground stations were very deep since they had been built by “cut and cover” method. This usually involved tearing up a street digging to the minimum depth required, putting in the concrete pieces of the tunnel then covering the “cut” with excavated soil.

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ARP warden looks over children sleeping in hammocks in the underground. ARP was the abbreviation of “Air Raid Precautions,” the government’s umbrella organization which organized a series of services to help people during and after German bombing raids. (The Italian Air Force also joined their German allies several times in bombing London).

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Playing cards to pass the time. What the photographs don’t show is the stench and dirt.

At the beginning of the Blitz few Underground Stations had sanitary facilities to handle hundreds and hundreds of people. Chemical toilets were hastily installed but that wasn’t a panacea. Most tube stations smelled like public latrines and were filthy. Rats were a common site and mosquitoes and other bugs flourished in the warm environment. All of these problems were addressed but it took time and money and only later in the war were the Underground stations capable of handling huge crowds and providing them with bathrooms, etc.

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In this photograph taken in the Piccadilly Underground station men and women have commandeered the passenger cars themselves and are using them as dormitories–albeit very uncomfortable.

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The lack of comforts in the early days is captured by this photograph of a platform in the Piccadilly Circus underground station. People are sleeping crammed together while others are just sitting on the dirty concrete platform. One of the reasons the platforms were dirty was the inability of London Transport cleaning crews to clean the platforms at night because of all the people. 

Memoirs from the era typically mention the stench of the tube stations and the smelled of diapers or nappies suddenly filled by a scared child. That stank. People copulated and those around them looked away. Life-threatening events tended to increase sexual desire among people. It wasn’t a great experience and isn’t something most people of the time remembered very fondly. While photographs of Londoners sheltering in the tube stations became an iconic part of the history of the war, less then 5% of the population sheltered in the tube stations during air raids. Others sheltered in place or went elsewhere.

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Safe from bombs but hardly an ideal environment. Water for cleaning yourself was not available in the Underground stations in the first months of the Blitz.

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Happy Londoners in posed photo showing them receiving refreshments after the “all clear” has sounded. The woman with her arm around one of her children in the left side of the photo appears to be wearing trousers which would have been very unusual in that era.

German Blitz on London

The Germans complained when the British and later the Americans bombed Nazi Germany. These photographs are examples of what the Nazis did to London early in the war with their bombs. The Nazi blitz on London killed thousands of civilians and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Payback is a bitch.

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boy clutching teddy bear amid ruins after a German raid on London

 

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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspecting bomb damage in London,  September 1940. (Photo courtesy of BBC/Getty Images)

From the BBC World War Two History Site

the link is here: BBC World War Two History Site

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This smiling girl, dirtied but apparently not injured, was assisted across a London street on October 23, 1940, after she was rescued from the debris of a building damaged by a bomb attack in a German daylight raid. (AP Photo & caption)

“On 7 September 1940, the Luftwaffe unleashed a merciless bombing campaign against London and Britain’s major cities. Instead of breaking morale, however, the raids only galvanised the will of the British people for the rest of the war.”

Hitler targets London

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A Nazi Heinkel He 111 bomber flies over London in the autumn of 1940. The Thames River runs through the image. (AP Photo/British Official Photo)

On 4 September Hitler, frustrated by the RAF’s superiority over the Luftwaffe and enraged by its bombing of German cities, vowed to destroy the British capital and the spirit of its people.

In response, the Luftwaffe shifted its focus from attacking RAF Fighter Command’s bases and communications networks to bombing Britain’s cities. Hermann Goering, the Head of the Luftwaffe, had severely lost face over both the bombing of Berlin, and his force’s failure to defeat the RAF. He hoped that the intense bombing of British cities would both destroy public morale and draw the remaining RAF fighters into battle and annihilation.

The bombing begins

 

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Firemen spray water on damaged buildings, near London Bridge, in the City of London on September 9, 1940, after a recent set of weekend air raids. (AP Photo)

After a preliminary raid on 5 September, the bombing started proper on the afternoon of the 7th. Almost 1,000 German aircraft – over 300 bombers escorted by 600 fighters – crossed the Channel. It was the largest collection of aircraft ever seen. Fighter Command had not expected raids on London but now attempted to intercept the waves of bombers. A huge dogfight developed over London and the Thames Estuary.

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7 September 1940 view along the River Thames in London towards smoke rising from the London docks after an air raid during the Blitz. (US National Archives)

 

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Author Charles McCain: “I took this photo looking aft from World War Two museum ship HMS Belfast, anchored in the Thames in November of 2014.”

Convinced that the German invasion of Britain was imminent, the country was put on the highest alert. Signals of impending invasion went out – the code word “Cromwell” was sent to military units and church bells rang.

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A scene in central London, the morning after a bomb raid. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images). 1940

Some of the German bombs did fall on their intended target of the docks, but many fell on the residential areas around them. Substantial parts of East and South-East London were devastated, 430 civilians were killed and 1600 seriously injured. Firestorms ravaged the city, acting as beacons for the second wave of bombers that evening.

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill prepares to broadcast to the Great Britain and the Empire (Imperial War Museum)

After the raids Winston Churchill shared the public’s fury and defiantly announced: “He [Hitler] has lighted a fire which will burn with a steady and consuming flame until the last vestiges of Nazi tyranny have been burnt out of Europe”.

Bombing continues for the next 76 nights

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People shelter and sleep on the platform and on the train tracks, in Aldwych Underground Station, London, after sirens sounded to warn of German bombing raids, on October 8, 1940. (AP Photo)

Although no-one knew at the time, this was the beginning of the Blitz. With the exception of one night, when the weather was bad, the bombing continued for the next 76 nights consecutively, with daytime raids as well. Liverpool, Manchester, Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol, Southampton were also targeted.

Now that the Luftwaffe’s resources were directed into bombing civilians, Fighter Command had an opportunity to repair its infrastructure and attack anew. As well as their own lives, the pilots were now battling to protect their homes and loved ones all over the country.

Britain Prepares for Life Under German Bombs

Life During the Blitz

(photographs and captions and article courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 

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“A fire-watcher on duty at a factory in Upper Norwood, South London, 1944. German bombers usually dropped a combination of high explosive and incendiary bombs. Incendiaries would quickly start fierce fires unless they were extinguished immediately. To combat incendiaries, people were encouraged to volunteer as fire-watchers and to draw up rotas with their neighbours. Air raid wardens issued stirrup pumps and trained people how to use them. Factories and other work places also needed fire-watchers, and at the end of 1940, fire-watching duty became compulsory. D 17934.”

How Britain Prepared for Air Raids 

During the late 1930s, the British government began to prepare the civilian population for war.

As well as the widely expected and feared bombing raids, it was also thought that poison gas might be used against civilians. Gas masks were issued in 1938, and over 44 million had been distributed by the outbreak of war in September 1939.

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“Air raid wardens were issued with steel helmets. These helmets were similar to the steel helmets issued to soldiers in the First World War and protected the wearer from falling shrapnel or debris. Steel helmets were also issued to firefighters, police officers and other members of civil defence services, and soon became a recognisable symbol of authority.” (caption and photo courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The Air Raid Wardens Service was set up in 1937. Wardens were responsible for reporting incidents, reassuring the public and providing Air Raid Precautions (ARP) advice. They were also expected to extinguish small fires, administer first aid and investigate reports of unexploded bombs. The Women’s Voluntary Service was set up in 1938 to involve women in ARP.

The first air raid shelters were distributed in 1938. People without the outside space needed to put one up were encouraged to use communal shelters instead. The government was initially reluctant to allow London Underground stations to be used as shelters, although they were later forced to back down.

 

 

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From 1938, in response to fears that air attacks on Britain might include the use of poison gas, the entire British population was issued with gas masks. Most people received the standard civilian pattern respirator. Air raid wardens, by contrast, received a higher grade of respirator. This is a civilian duty respirator. Unlike the standard civilian model, it features separate glass eye pieces, an exhalation valve and could be adapted to accept a microphone. Although poison gas was never used against Britain during the Second World War, masks like this became another common symbol of wartime life. Though masks were potentially lifesaving pieces of equipment, they tended to make their wearers appear terrifyingly alien and dehumanised. (Photo and caption courtesy of the Imperial War Museum)

 

 

From 1 September 1939, ‘Blackout’ was enforced. Curtains, cardboard and paint were used to prevent light escaping from houses, offices, factories or shops, which might be used by enemy bombers to locate their targets. Householders could be fined if they did not comply.

Messengers, ambulance drivers, Heavy Rescue teams and firefighters all proved essential to ARP – from 1941 officially termed Civil Defence – especially during the height of the Blitz.

Almost 7,000 Civil Defence workers were killed during the war.”

 

 

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This is a stirrup pump and hose, used to put out small fires. It would be used by two people – one working the pump, which stands in a bucket of water, and a second holding the hose and nozzle, to point a jet of water onto the fire. During the Blitz incendiary (fire-starting) bombs were used in large numbers. A warden might be the first person to respond to an incendiary attack and would use a pump like this to fight the fire. Wardens would also train others in the use of stirrup pumps like these. (photo and caption courtesy Imperial War Museum)

 

 

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