Miss Temple's Army
Miss Beatrice Temple
volunteered for excitement and adventure in the Auxiliary Territorial Service in the
second World War.
"I would volunteer for any organisation which wouldn't tell me beforehand what it was
all about," said Miss Temple, talking of her wartime service.
Miss Temple was living with a friend in Elgin, Scotland, in 1938, looking after lots of
children. At the time of the Munich crisis the Government asked for volunteers. She wanted
to join the Wrens. Candidates were required then to be immobile and live in a port.
"I wanted to stay in Scotland and be able to travel about," she said.
Miss Temple joined the A.T.S. instead. She wanted to drive lorries but she recalled sadly
that she never got behind the wheel.
"Only eight people enrolled in my unit at the time, five as cooks. The authorities
thought I could do paperwork, and I was made a captain straight away and given the job of
A.T.S. company commander attached to the Seaforth Highlanders.
"I had only five days to become an officer. I learned to drill with sergeants in the
Guards, studied military law but mainly administrative work."
Miss Temple's officer training cannot have been thorough enough, for when she received
the battle orders at the out-break of war, she promoted many sergeants and corporals
without first obtaining permission from the War Office.
"In accordance with orders there was a great increase in establishment, and we needed
far more sergeants and corporals, so we promoted them and paid them in their rank. Two
months later the paymaster pointed out that we had no authority to promote them.
Fortunately all the promotions were confirmed by Records Office."
Then in 1941 she volunteered to organise and man secret radio stations all over the
country. Three women were to live in concealed underground hideouts if the Germans landed
and send news of troop movements. The idea was to enable the War Office to keep far fewer
troops scattered all over Britain, ready for invasion.
Miss Temple interviewed almost a hundred volunteers for the auxiliary unit, in Harrods
fourth floor lounge. If they passed the interview, at which the candidates had to show
initiative and self-reliance, they went for a voice test at Hunton, Suffolk.
"They were always surprised by the instruction warrant. They had to take a train from
Liverpool Street station, change at Marks Tey and get out at Hunton. There they made their
way to the Rose and Crown public house where a car would come for them," she said.
Many of the 93 successful volunteers were dubbed "the secret sweeties" by the
male members of the army divisional headquarters near which they were stationed.
The secret stations were ingeniously constructed to be virtually undetectable. Even if the
Germans had walked on top of one, they could not have seen it.
To find one station you would have had to notice a knob in a tree-trunk. This would
release a catch, and a hatch would slowly rise up from the ground, disclosing a small
compartment with shelves. Only if you pressed a part of the shelving would a wall swing up
and reveal the real station.
Inside would be three beds for the women operators, rations, batteries for operating the
radio and a machine for purifying the air.
The aerial wires of the radio were concealed in grooves in the branches of the trees. The
sets were unusual in those days as they could not be detected by direction finders.
If the Germans had discovered the top compartment, the operators were to destroy the
codes and the equipment and try to escape through pipes.
"For fear of claustrophobia, I should not have cared to crawl along them, however
many Germans were after me." .Miss Temple said.
After two years. the threat of invasion passed and Miss Temple's unit was disbanded. She
spent the rest of he war in unexciting jobs in administration, finally reaching the rank
Chief of the Service and the equivalent of Lieutenant Colonel.
Adapted from an article in Lewes Evening Argus 22 March 1968
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