A minor member of the peerage, through both her birth and her marriage, Frances B was one of the early recruits to the Auxiliary Territorial Service at the beginning of the Second World War, and died while on active service.
Born in Bermuda, while her naval commander father was serving in the area in the 1890s, Frances was the oldest of three children. Her parents had married in Malta, and Frances had by far the most exotic of her sibling’s births – the others occurring in Kent and Oxfordshire.
Despite her father’s position in the navy, which would have required him to be at sea for long periods of time, the family settled in Portsmouth while they were in England, and had a comfortable existence supported by domestic staff – including a nursemaid for the children.
Later on, as her father’s career was winding down, Frances’ family moved permanently to a village in Kent, to a house that her parents had returned to when they were between periods of service. By 1911 she was the only child left at home – her brother was at public school, and her sister was elsewhere. Frances, having left any education she was given, was at this stage of marriageable age, and would have been expected to make a good match.
Her brother was killed on active service in France in the first half of the Great War, and both Frances and her sister married the following year – her sister to a military musician, and Frances to a naval lieutenant in active service, so the pattern of traveling she experienced as a child continued into her adulthood.
Her husband saw service on many naval vessels, and their daughter and only child was born while Frances was based on the north-east coast of England at the tail end of the first world war.
In peace time the family settled in Cheshire. Her husband retired from the Navy on medical grounds, becoming a company director, and their daughter grew up and married. Frances led a comfortable existence during the early half of the 20th century.
However, the outbreak of the second world war ended that lifestyle. Frances’ husband was recalled into the navy. Frances herself, who had always lived alongside the military, joined the fledgling Auxiliary Territorial Service. This unit for women was attached to the territorial army, and members received two thirds of the pay that a male member of the TA would be given.
At the time Frances joined the ATS, the women in the service were employed as cooks, clerks and shopkeepers, helping to keep institutions and structures running during war time when men were getting scarcer. Some became telephonists, with more than 300 women sent to France to support troops in the very earliest part of the war. Frances, with her background in the military and high social standing, became a senior commandant – an equivalent to the male rank of major – and would have been in charge of many other women volunteering to help the war effort.
Later on, the roles of ATS members expanded to include orderlies, postal workers, ammunition inspectors and drivers. However, Frances did not live to see these changes. She died while on active service at a hospital in Oxford, during the spring of 1941. The hospital does not appear to have been part of the blitz, however. She was included in the UK Army Roll of Honour.
Frances’ personal effects and her money were given to her husband – who was also awarded during World War II – and her married daughter.
To submit a woman from your family for inclusion in The Women Who Made Me project, contact Lucy of Once Upon A Family Tree. If you don’t think you have anyone, she begs to differ and can help you discover your female relatives’ lives.