My ATS service with the Royal Army Pay Corps
by Barbara Evans
I volunteered for the ATS in April 1943, I was nineteen. The unit I was in was rather unusual as most of us lived at home and commuted to the office every weekday. We wore uniform of course and we did drills - in Regents Park - and PT once a week in a local church hall and we had pay parades and saluted and occasionally we had kit inspections. This last was a real ordeal, having to lug an awkward full kitbag on a crowded rush hour tube train! Unlike most recruits, we didn't do a basic training course but were given a crash course in how to salute and how to form threes and we were inoculated against smallpox, tetanus and typhoid.
The work was in the Marylebone Pay Office with men from the Royal Army Pay Corps and we wore their badge on our uniform as well as the ATS one. When I applied to join up, I was told to come to an office in London where I was given a medical examination and pronounced fit apart from my poor eyesight. I was then given a Trade test to see whether I was suitable to be a Clerk Class III in the Pay Office, simple arithmetic, which I passed.
129-137 Marylebone Road
Marylebone Pay Office was in an office building which had previously been occupied by British Home Stores Head Office, opposite Marylebone Station. We kept the pay accounts of the King's Royal Rifle Corps and the Rifle Brigade, recording any event which affected pay or dependants' allowances and the actual amounts paid out. Each man had an individual pay record which were kept in large loose leaf binders and each clerk had one or more of these binders to keep up to date. One got quite attached to one's people including the men's families. The wife got an allowance when she was expecting a baby and the forthcoming birth would be quite looked forward to and the choice of name for the new arrival sometimes criticised. I remember one unfortunate child being named Alamein after the battle her father took part in.
When a paybook was finished it was sent to us for checking against the record of pay. The finish could be if the man had been killed and I remember paybooks coming with bullet holes through and even blood stains. Sometimes men on leave would come in to check their accounts. One came in who had a rather nasty history ( they were docked pay if they had VD ) , the girl who kept his account warned us that he was coming and we all kept away from him.
When the ATS girls were first brought into the Pay Offices, the senior officers doubted whether the girls could do the work in the way the RAPC did it and decided the work should be divided into small bits and a sort of conveyor belt system set up. However our Colonel soon found that his ATS clerks were as good as the regular RAPC and we went back to the full binder system. But this was unofficial and when the office was inspected by the high ups, we had to revert to the conveyor belt way! Next day, a circular came round to say that the inspecting officer was very satisfied with the Pay Office but had realised that we normally used the binder system because otherwise we wouldn't be up to date with our records and we were to be allowed to continue doing so!
There were not only ATS clerks and regular RAPC men but war time conscripts, men not fit enough to fight and conscientious objectors who were willing to support the war effort but not to take up arms. They were in the Non Combatant Corps. On Saturday mornings, the men "played soldiers" as we girls called it The NCC men did first aid, the others did arms training and drill. We girls worked as usual.
As we lived at home, got ration allowance and ration cards. I can't remember whether I got a travel allowance for the journey from home to the office but I know I had to buy my own lunch at a local café as we had no canteen. Weekends were spent as a civilian again with family and friends. My parents and I went to the theatre in London and locally - there were long periods without raids - and I belonged to a Youth Hostels Group and often went away for the weekend, walking in the countryside. Evenings were free, too, and the Group met several evenings a week for talks, play readings and listening to music.
While I was at the Marylebone Pay Office, the V1s - doodlebugs - started. During the 1940 blitz we had had to abandon our Anderson shelter as it got flooded and we used to sleep in the downstairs sitting room but now we had a soldier billeted on us and he was supposed to use a shelter if there was one. Luckily the Anderson no longer flooded so my parents and I and Fred the soldier slept there every night. We always referred to him as "Fred the soldier" because my brother was also Fred . He was also a soldier now - at the famous Bletchley Park though we of course didn't know it was famous then. We had a shelter in the basement at work but of course there was never any time to get there before the flying bomb engine cut out . So we had blankets under the long trestle tables where we worked and just dived underneath till we heard the explosion. One day we had a visit from one of our men who had been sent to France after D Day for pay duties over there. He visited us during his leave and was astonished when a doodlebug came over and those who had been chatting to him suddenly disappeared under the table, leaving him the only one still standing, "Does this happen often?" he asked. "Oh, about ten or twelve times a day." someone replied. "They're trying to hit Marylebone Goods Yard, we think." and got on with her work. I must admit I found the V1s frightening when outdoors, they seemed to chase one. Walking home from the station in an evening, I used to think "This is the time I'll get home and it won't be there." But thank goodness, it was.
About the end of 1944, I was moved to a new section. When P.O.Ws were captured, any cash on them was taken, recorded in triplicate, one copy given to them and the other two and the money sent to our office for safekeeping till they were repatriated. The money arrived in bulk and then we made up individual packets for each man and an index card with the number of the packet before they were put into the safes. There was always more cash than recorded on the receipts and we were allowed to take any surplus coins but not notes. I had quite a collection of occupation coins including kopeks but didn't keep them after I left the service. A pity really.
Because I had learnt German at school, I was put in charge of the index and made out extra cards if I thought the original spelling on the receipts was wrong. When the men were released , I was given the list and had to take out the relevant index cards - if they could be found which didn't always happen. I remember one list came from the Russian Embassy, but it was in Cyrillic characters so we couldn't read it to get the money out. "Doesn't matter," we said. "The poor blokes wouldn't get it anyway." But we didn't know their probable fate would be death sentences or Siberian labour camps if they were "lucky". As well as the girls like me transferred from the main Pay Office, we had some transferred from other ATS units and I made friends with one who had been in an A.A. battery. There were also some girls from the West Indies who we got on very well with. This was of course years before the immigration in the 50s and 60s so they were quite exotic visitors.
VE Day came in May and soon afterwards we heard we would be leaving London. There was another Pay Office in London which was based in the offices of the Bank of England which had been evacuated to Whitchurch in Hampshire. Now they wanted their London office back but the Pay Office was too big to go into the Whitchurch office and there were no other premises in the village for the extra staff, so they were to take over our office and we were to go to Whitchurch. There was consternation all round amongst the ATS girls as nearly all of us had expected to continue living at home till we were demobbed. That was why we had volunteered for that work. But we had to go unless we had very good compassionate reasons to stay in London. We were all to go except the West Indian girls which incensed us but they said they had specifically volunteered to be in London so could stay. Now I wonder if it was thought best to leave them behind as we were to be sharing accommodation.
Anyway, in June 1945 we went off to Whitchurch. Some of the girls were accommodated in the Manor House as were the A.T.S. officers but most including me were in a prefab block of rooms which had been single bedrooms for the Bank staff but were shared by two of us. They were so small that we had to take turns to barrack (fold) our blankets while the other one went out into the corridor.
Hurstbourne House Whitchurch
The prefab offices, dining hall and men’s quarters were about a quarter a mile away across the park. The food was awful, we were eating up the remains of the tinned food supplied for the D Day invasion.
Temporary Camp at Hurstbourne (from BoE Archive Collection)
As often as we could afford it, we walked down to the village to one of the cafes for supper. There was a cinema there, twice weekly programme, and I think I saw more films during my 18 moths at Whitchurch than either before or since. We also had a weekly film show in camp.
As in London, we had weekends off from Saturday midday, and I usually went home, but sometimes a friend and I went to one of the nearby Youth Hostels for the weekend, often to Winchester but also to Southampton and once to Ryde in the Isle of Wight. We spent all Sunday on the beach and I got badly sunburnt (no suncream then) and it was agony putting on uniform with collar and tie again for the journey back to camp
Because I was taking a promotion exam once I got back to my civilian job with the London County Council, I was allowed to go on a four week course in August 1946 at a services college at Swindon for people soon to be demobbed. My course included lectures on English literature, Current Affairs and Government and Politics, and as part of the last we had a mock parliament in which I was Home Secretary and we visited the actual Houses of Parliament (which had been partly destroyed by bombs) and Church House where the House of Commons were temporarily housed. It was not very long after the Labour victory in July 1945 and we sang the Red Flag in our mock parliamentary session! It all made a nice change from from my index cards!
My demobilisation number covered a six week period and I wasn’t released until the last day, October 15th 1946 after three and a half years in the A.T.S. I was sent to A.T.S. Guildford for Release, was issued with clothing coupons and allowed to keep some items of my kit, which was useful as clothes rationing was still on. Men got actual clothes, women money and coupons. I remember one of the shops in Winchester had a window display of what demobbed Services girls could get with the coupons.
My three and a half years in the A.T.S. was an experience I am glad I had, though not always at the time!
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Archive List > United Kingdom > London
Contributed by Barbara Evans
People in story: Barbara Evans
Location of story :Marylebone, London and Whitchurch, Hants.
Background to story: Army
Article ID: A5046644
Contributed on: 13 August 2005