English Nursing Sisters Critical to Victory in World War Two

 Establishing a field hospital in normandy days after Dday
THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORMANDY, JUNE 1944 (B 5859) A cheery party of Sisters of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service with their baggage at No 88 General Hospital at La Delivrande, Normandy. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205129366
THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN 1944 (B 9222) A nurse attends to wounded soldiers in a field hospital, 15 August 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202480

 

ROYAL AIR FORCE: 2ND TACTICAL AIR FORCE, 1943-1945. (CL 310) The interior of one of the tented wards at No. 50 Mobile Field Hospital in Normandy. Sister M Griffiths helps one of the patients into his dressing-gown (right). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205211654
THE BRITISH ARMY IN THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN 1944 (B 5803) Royal Army Medical Corps nurses and women of the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS) carry a wounded soldier out of the operating tent at the 79th General Hospital at Bayeux, 20 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205202025

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORMANDY 1944 (B 5847) Women of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMS) queue for their lunch at No 88 General Hospital at Douvres-la-Delivrande, 22 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205924

 

THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORMANDY 1944 (B 5841) Women of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMS) pose for a group photograph at No 88 General Hospital at Douvres-la-Delivrande, 22 June 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205205923

 

nursing british wounded in france during german invasion of june 1940 before dunkirk

 

WOMEN AT WAR 1939 – 1945 (TR 2163) Nursing: Half length portrait of a nursing sister of Queen Alexandra?s Imperial Military Nursing Service outside a field hospital in France. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125325
nursing british and commonwealth troops in egypt
ROYAL AIR FORCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST, 1944-1945. (CM 6260) Airmen and n.c.o. patients resting on the balcony at No. 5 RAF General Hospital, Abassia, Egypt, attended by PMRAFNS Sisters Lindsay of Montrose (left), and D’Hondt of Hindhead, Surrey (right). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205209137
ROYAL AIR FORCE MEDICAL SERVICES, 1939-1945. (CM 2410) Recently-arrived nursing sisters of the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service gathered on the balcony of No. 5 RAF General Hospital, newly established at Abassia, Egypt. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205126790
Reykjavik Wasn’t the warmest POSting
PRINCESS MARY’S ROYAL AIR FORCE NURSING SERVICE, 1939-1945. (CS 330) Nurses relaxing in the Sister’s Mess of the RAF Hospital at Reykjavik, Iceland. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205207860
lots of snow in Reykjavik
ROYAL AIR FORCE COASTAL COMMAND, 1939-1945. (CS 354) Snowed-up technical huts and airfield at Reykjavik, Iceland, during a lull in the blizzard which hit the island between 21 and 27 February 1945. Consolidated Liberator GR Mark VIs of No.53 Squadron RAF are parked on the airfield. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205207862

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.

bbc.co.uk Women Conscripted

‘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