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Memories of an A.T.S girl, England and Mombasa 1941-

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Memories of an A.T.S girl, England and Mombasa 1941-

Postby Nevis » Tue Oct 04, 2016 4:36 pm

Elsie Allison, wife of Frederick Robert Mills 1946.jpg
Elsie

"I joined the ATS in 1941 at the age of 20. The government were calling up women to work in munitions, and I had no fancy for that. I did my training in Edinburgh and was then posted to Newcastle, Northern England. I had no particular vocation so I was sent to a polytechnic college, where I learned shorthand and bookwork. Later in my travels I saw army adverts for overseas work so I put my name down and promptly forgot.
I got an exchange posting with another female for a posting to Nottingham, there I was given a job handling the distribution of tools etc. I had my own little office where transactions were made. Workers were a mixture of civilian and military, we repaired the tanks and army vehicles coming over from France for repair.

Our camp was on a hill overlooking the B.S.A Chilwell Works, where once motorbikes were made. We had to march to and from work with a female officer at our head. One day, we were marching down the hill when the proverbial elastic broke, I whispered to the girl next to me to change places so that I could at least hitch up my pants. In doing so one of us kicked an empty tin can and it rolled in front of the officer, she turned and glared, and at the terminus, asked for the culprit. I told my sergeant what had happened and was told not to do it again. That same week I was notified of a transfer and to get my things together.
I was on the floor packing when in walked the same officer offering her hand saying “Congratulations, you are being sent overseas.” I really thought I was about to be told off again. I was so excited and remembering my application of a couple of years ago I wondered where I would be going and thought maybe I am going to France or something.

I was told to report to Paddington, London, and off I went. I do not know how I traveled that day my head was in the clouds. This was September 1943. In London, the army had taken over a block of flats and some were offices for orderly rooms and so on. 500 women in the flats, we were about 10 to a flat. Whilst there, we did a little marching and cleaning but nothing much, lectures and so on. We even escorted other military personnel to the air raid shelters, whilst others were continually coming and going abroad I kicked my heels wondering when my turn was coming. One night nearly all the girls were picked up by lorry and went where never knew until later in 1947. I was left with a few others and the place was empty again.

My turn came one day, or so I thought, I was told to go to Wales! I was so disappointed. I was in Wales a week when I was sent back to London, the message being that H.Q were never quite sure when we were going to be needed. This was after Xmas and still nothing much to do, we were allowed to go on complimentary tickets to operas and the like. These were free to the forces. One afternoon in January 1944 we were told to be packed and ready, royalty were coming. It was getting quite dark when the Princess Royal came (Mary) and she wished us all well and served out cigarettes and chocolates. There was a lorry waiting to take us, so we knew this was it. We were taken to Marylebone Station, London where we boarded a train and went on a shunting trip it seemed all round England.

As it was getting daylight we arrived at Liverpool Docks. We were ushered aboard, all 14 of us A.T.S and 3,000 men and 7 nursing sisters and traveled in convoy through the Bay of Biscay where we saw spouting whales, through the Suez and on down to North Africa where we stopped to let a few military disembark.
We were on the Reno Del Pacifico which was a fast ship and we were allowed to go from there down to Mombasa, Kenya, alone. We arrived in February and the short rains had just started. I shall never forget the sight of East Africa, the sky was so blue and the ground soil was red and the new grass so green. We saw Thomson’s gazelle, giraffe and ostrich in this lovely setting.

We 14 disembarked at Mombasa where we had to stay 3 days in quarantine and were given time to write home.
We got on a train for Nairobi and were given cabins 4 to a berth as on the ship. I should mention we were 4 to a cabin on board and we had 2 officers, the male officers thereon complained of our preferential treatment. We arrived at Nairobi Station and all the blacks were so friendly it was incredible. Again we boarded a lorry and went off to our camp which was situated in Nairobi, but soon to move to a new one specially laid out for female military. Next thing we had to so was learn the language, Swahili. We were given the incentive of higher pay. We mastered it. The next thing we did when allowed out was to sample the local ice cream, after the English rations we made pigs of ourselves.

Our job in East Africa was to take over the work done by soldiers, we were 500 and took over the distribution and work of supplies. There was a war on there too, in Addis, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Burma and. Our men were fighting Italians and Japanese, so we filled a much needed gap. We were given nice living quarters with an African servant to each hut of two women, the African was a soldier himself. Our toiletry was a bit antiquated with outside facilities. I had a channel running underneath to take the refuse away and some bright spark would drop burning paper in just to give you a fright. Insects were a nuisance, we were vulnerable to these, like jigger fleas which crept into your skin, toenails were a favourite place and you had to get an expert to pick them out as the flea also laid it’s eggs in a little sac which, if broken could lead to further poisoning.

We were also bothered by mosquitos and were supplied with nets. Night time was quite interesting sometimes, you either had hyenas laughing or lions roaring, however we had a very high fence and nothing could get in. There were also Italians working in Nairobi, they were in prison camps kept outside of Nairobi and were transported as were we in lorries. They made themselves a very good orchestra and would sometimes come over and entertain us. We had enforced barracks once a week and this was a night we had good entertainment. The Italians also built us a tennis court, they had never seen so many females and it must have given them nightmares. However it was forbidden to be seen talking to them even, one girl was sent back to the UK for naughties.

Whilst I was in the ATS I had to have my tonsils out, as I was over 21 by that time I was in hospital 3 weeks and had 2 weeks convalescent leave. This was spent up on a farm at a place called Naivasha, these places were run by colonials voluntarily, they looked after us very well and was open to any military personnel. I went horse riding for the first time in my life there. Another holiday I had was spent at a place called Ruaraka. There was a couple staying there called Adamson. Whilst there the room boy came to me for advice, as he’d seen my uniform he had assumed I might know what to do. He bought his baby to me, it’s back body had dropped and he was frightened, so was I, I did what I could, pushed it back, but he came back and said it had come out again, I pushed it back again and tied the baby’s legs together and told him to go to the hospital. Gave him some money hoping he’d not come back again, he did, but to tell me the Doctor said I’d done a good job.

We were invited out a lot by both military and civilian to social parties and invites to homes. One invite was to see rhino, we had to rise early, very early. The dawn was just breaking when we all piled into a lorry, we stood up in the back minus canvas for good vision. We were going along the Veldt trying to penetrate the early morning light when they called out, rhino and youngster up ahead, so I peered over the cab trying to hang on to the rib normally covered by canvas, when the driver had to pull up to avoid a hole in the track probably made by an ant eater, and down went the lorry with me shooting over the cab and two people hanging onto my feet. We did see the animals, mum and baby kept on ahead, normally she would have charged but this one kept on. I met my husband before we de mobbed so I opted to stay in Africa. However, I marched in the victory march and later got a job at a place called Nanyuki. The other girls, 400 odd, went home and I felt left for a little while. A number of girls married in Kenya, we kept in touch for a while but we all went our different ways. I had a daughter and because the country was changing and because of Mau Mau, we decided New Zealand was the best place for a family."
Elsie.

http://www.liverpoolships.org/reina_del ... ation.html
http://www.thingspostal.org.uk/eastafri ... intro.html


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