Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Wartime Wednesday: Queen Elizabeth II's Wartime Service

Wartime Wednesday: 
Queen Elizabeth II’s Wartime Service

On September 8, 2022, after a reign of more than seventy years, England lost Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving British monarch, and the longest of any female monarch. Ascending the throne in 1952 at the age of twenty-five, she’d been married for five years and was the mother of two young children. At the start of her reign, she was queen of seven independent Commonwealth countries as well as head of the Commonwealth. By the time she passed away, she’d been served by 170 prime ministers.

She would never have been queen if her uncle, Edward VIII, hadn’t abdicated to marry the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Her father, George VI became monarch in 1936, and three years later would find himself at war with Germany. Princess Elizabeth was thirteen years old at the time, and her sister Princess Margaret was nine. Like millions of children in the city, the girls were evacuated to escape the bombing. The king and queen sent them to Windsor Castle located about twenty miles outside of London, but the royal couple remained at Buckingham Palace. The young princess saw her parents lead by example when they visited factories, hospitals, and military bases. Her uncle, the Duke of Kent, died in 1942 while serving as a staff officer with the Royal Air Force. Her aunt, Princess Mary, had served as a nurse during WWI and became chief controller of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) at the outbreak of WWII.

As a result, it’s unsurprising that the future queen insisted on being able to serve in some way during
Courtesy IWM
the war. While a teenager, she made radio broadcasts from Windsor and tended the castle’s victory gardens. At sixteen, she made her first inspection of the troops prior to a parade at Windsor, but it wasn’t enough, and when turned eighteen, Elizabeth joined the ATS, making her the first female royal to become a full-time member of the armed services. She was not given a special rank and entered the service as a second subaltern.

Her training began in February 1945 with a driving and vehicle maintenance course. Topics included mechanics theory, and map reading as well as how to service, maintain, and drive heavy army vehicles. The press was intrigued and dubbed her Princess Auto Mechanic. To pass her final test, Elizabeth made a solo journey in a heavy vehicle from Camberley in Surrey into London after which she was promoted to Junior Commander (the equivalent of Captain). By all reports, the future queen was treated no differently than other members of the ATS, with one exception: rather than sleep in the barracks with her colleagues, she spent each night at nearby Windsor Castle.

Courtesy SCS
When the war ended in May, the young princess donned her ATS uniform and took to the streets with the other revelers. In a 1985 BBC interview, she talked about that night: “I remember we were terrified of being recognized so I pulled my uniform cap well over might eyes.” She also shared about “unknown people linking arms and walking down Whitehall, and all of us were swept along by tides of happiness and relief. It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.”

Pictured behind the wheel into her 90s, the queen is reported to have diagnosed and repaired faulty engines. At the time of her death, Queen Elizabeth II was the last surviving head of state who served during WWII.


The Mechanic & The MD

All’s fair in love and war. Or so they say.

High school and college were a nightmare for Doris Strealer and being an adult isn’t much better. Men won’t date a woman of her height, and they don’t understand her desire to repair car engines rather than work as a nurse or a teacher. When her father’s garage closes, and no one will hire a female mechanic, she joins the Red Cross Motor Corps, finally feeling at home. Until she comes face to face with her past in the form of Ronald McCann, the most popular boy in school.

On the brink of a successful career as a surgeon, Ron's plans crumble when he’s drafted and assigned to an evacuation hospital in England, the last place he expects to run into a former schoolmate. The gangly tomboy who was four years behind him in high school has transformed into a statuesque beauty, but a broken engagement in college leaves him with no desire to risk his heart ever again.

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