The ATS proved similarly emancipating for many young women of the Queen’s generation. Formed in 1938 initially as a volunteer service, by 1941 it was granted full military status (even if women were prevented from taking on combat roles) and in December of that year conscription was extended to all unmarried women between 20 and 30 years old.
As well as servicing and driving vehicles, ATS roles included telephonists, radar operators, cooks, clerks and anti-aircraft gun operators. Their work was, at times, fraught with danger. According to the IWM, in total 335 women who served in the ATS lost their lives during the war.
One of the Queen’s contemporaries was 98-year-old Ada Chell, who grew up in Belfast and signed up to the ATS in 1941. She was posted to work alongside a detachment of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in Northern Ireland. When news spread that they had royalty in their ranks, she says, “the Queen was an inspiration to all of us”.
Her duties included supplying transport and being in charge of dispatch riders across Northern Ireland – a fiendishly complex logistical task due to the shortage of petrol meaning not a single mile could be wasted. “I found the work very interesting and the uniform wasn’t too bad but the shoes were unbearably uncomfortable,” she says.
Chell, who lives in Bangor in Northern Ireland where she is an ambassador for the Royal British Legion, also recalls a close bond between her fellow recruits and heading out to dances in between the long hours of service. “I had a wonderful time and remember those days with a lot of pride and happiness,” she says.