On 3rd February 1943 Chotie was posted
to 236 Os.F.C.T. Regiment at Oswestry in Shropshire
to train for Anti-Aircraft work.
From ‘Chotie’s Story’:
“I had been sent from Northampton to Oswestry – an enormous camp – to train to be a radar operator. We did full military training with a Sergeant Major on the parade ground. God, it was just like prison. Food so awful and the tea implanted with bromide to stop us getting passionate. I lived on grub from the NAAFI and Andrews Liver Salts to make the water palatable. Life was grim. George visited me once and took me for a meal in a pub ‘heaven’.”
Women had joined men in mixed batteries on the anti-aircraft sites to cover an acute manpower shortage in the summer of 1941 at the request of General Sir Frederick Pile, the Commander-in-Chief of Anti-Aircraft Command in the Royal Artillery. The ATS carried out all the duties the men did except the actual firing of guns. About 74,000 ATS ‘girls’ were in the Ack-Ack at any one time.
At Park Hall Camp they learned to use radar, ‘spotter’ telescopes, sound detectors, height and range finders and predictors to calculate where the gun would need to fire to explode near enough to the plane to knock it off course, or score a direct hit. They were trained in aircraft recognition and ‘shooting’ – how to call the firing orders to the men on the guns. It was “very secret work requiring slightly higher academic grades than usual”.
(From ‘Girls in Khaki – a history of the ATS in the Second World War’ by Barbara Green, published by the History Press 2012 and 'History - Gunners'. For another first-hand account of training for radar location at Oswestry see 'Life on the Anti-Aircraft Gun-sites' by Joyce Stott in 'People’s War' on the BBC website. 'WW2 People's War' is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC.)
The famous SOE spy, Violette Szabo, had also been stationed at Oswestry during her brief time with the ATS (September 1941 to April 1942). With her husband away in the French Foreign Legion she wanted to take an active part in the war.
“She had heard of a plan for using women in anti-aircraft batteries, not on the guns, but to aid and direct the guns by operating predictors, height-finders, and other instruments…
There was no hardship the men faced that the girls weren’t prepared to endure…They had Nissen huts to live in, the girls segregated in one group, the men in another. But in the general canteen there was no such separation…after supper, if a mobile film unit or ENSA entertainers were not visiting them, they danced or put on an improvised show. The exaggerated hip movements of the girls on parade were corrected and they were sent out on long route marches. All wore trousers and lipstick was only allowed off duty.”
Violette was selected to work as a Vickers predictor and went on to work on the Mersey anti-aircraft defences at Sutton Weaver, where the alarm went almost every night.
“At times the action lasted for three hours or more. The girls at the instruments had no cover at all and were liable to be hit by a falling bomb and by shell splinters.”
Violette left to give birth to her baby daughter, Tania, but when her husband was killed at El Alamein she joined the SOE (Special Operations Executive). She spoke fluent French and was trained as a spy while nominally an officer in the FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry). In April 1944 she was parachuted into France to help re-organise the Resistance network around Rouen. Working with the Maquis in Limoges, to co-ordinate sabotage activities during the Normandy landings, she was captured, interrogated and tortured by the Gestapo. Having refused to talk she was sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp near Berlin and executed there in February 1945. (From ‘Carve Her Name With Pride’ by R J Minney.)