Beryl Smith ATS

Service
  • ATS
DOB May 13, 1928
Surviving Today Yes

Beryl in ATS uniform in 1946

Beryl (nee Ford) was born in Newport South Wales on 13th May 1928 where she attended Maesglas School. As one of fourteen children she was required to leave school early (at the age of 13 years) to work in a sweet factory in order to support the needs of the family.

NAFFI (Navy Army & Air Force Institutes)

At the age of 16 in 1944 she went to live in Worcestershire with her older sister Dolly where she joined the NAFFI (Navy Army & Air Force Institutes). Her role here was to prepare, cook and serve food to active servicemen. The disadvantage for Beryl in her NAFFI service was that her mother would repeatedly bring her home to help look after the family and to prevent this from happening Beryl enlisted in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) in July 1946.

ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) - the women's branch of the British Army during the Second World War

When Beryl enlisted she had really wanted to be a driver, but she was ‘not tall enough’ and when she was sent to Leicestershire for 6 weeks of training as well as normal army procedures (specifically marching) she was trained in food hygiene and cooking skills (these latter skills were put to good use, as catering became Beryl's employment career in later life). After this she was posted to Southall Camp in Oswestry, where she was given the nickname of Bobby, owing to the number of Beryl’s already serving there. Here Beryl would get up at dawn to go to the cook house to start preparing a ‘very good’ full breakfast of bacon and eggs (there was no rationing for soldiers). Meals during the day would consist of stews or cottage pie and supper was always made up from all the food left over during the day. The work was long hours with short breaks and a full week’s work earned her 8/6d (8 shillings and 6 pence) compared to the 14/- (14 shillings) a week earned by a regular soldier.

Beryl’s stay at Southall (which was known as the "romantic camp") proved to be true when, in September 1946, she met a handsome young soldier called Jim Smith, (Smudger), who was serving with the South Lancashire Regiment. Beryl was sat on her own writing letters home to the family enclosing little parcels of sixpences or "tanners" for the children and a shilling or a "bob" for her mam all out of her 8/6d ATS wage. Jim threw her an orange, (a special treat back then), but she just threw it back, goaded on by his mates Jim went to talk to her just as there was a blackout caused by a mock raid (as training exercises were continuing). To save her from walking back to her barracks in the dark, he pushed her through an open window and escorted her back himself - in return for a date, - they were married 27th November 1946!

Jim stayed a soldier in the same camp until he was demobbed but because married couples were not allowed to stay in the same camp, Beryl chose to leave the army and wait for Jim staying with his family in Hulme, Manchester.

 

Beryl’s Service Record in the ATS is recorded below:

Ford is one of a large family. Her father is dead and she has always helped at home with looking after her eight younger brothers and sisters. Her civilian jobs have always been of an unskilled nature. She is interested in domestic jobs and is quite dependable. She would be best employed in a large dining room.
It was easy for the army to place servicewomen (and undoubtedly men as well) into set ‘categories’

Postscript

Beryl & Jim had their first child, James in September 1947 and when Jim was demobbed they went to live in lodgings with family - which was not ideal - but housing was scarce at the time. Fortunately, a local Manchester councillor, Alderman Richard Stephenson Harper was so impressed with Jim's war record that he personally sanctioned a move to a house on a new housing estate in Wythenshawe.

They had a daughter, Patricia in September 1955 and continued to live happily in this house for the next 65 years. Sadly, Jim passed away in 2015, at the age of 91, having celebrated 69 years of marriage.  Beryl is still thriving in the same house, surrounded by her family including a great, great grandson, making 5 generations.

Portrait of Beryl aged 90, taken by Allen Thomasson

Beryl talking to children at the IWM (North) August 2018