National Army Museum displays Queen's wartime ATS uniform in Jubilee exhibition

By Culture24 Reporter | 23 May 2012
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a photo of a khaki uniform with cap on a female mannequin
© NAM
Among the many roles and duties performed by the Queen, one of the first came during World War Two, when as an eighteen-year-old Princess she joined what was then the woman’s branch of the British Army – the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS).

After a long battle with her father George VI she eventually became an ATS subaltern in February 1945 and trained as a mechanic and truck driver. Promoted to honorary junior commander she went on to hold the honorary commission of Brigadier.

At the National Army Museum they are exploring and commemorating this wartime service - and the last remaining head of state to have served in uniform during World War Two – by displaying the Queen’s ATS Brigadier uniform as part of a Jubilee exhibition surveying the wider role of the Monarch and the armed services.

The wool barathea tunic made by Saville Row tailors Sandon & Co. is adorned with The Queen’s own medal ribbons including Royal Order of Victoria and Albert; King George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935; King George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and the British War Medal 1939-1945.

At the time a debate as to her suitability for the role rumbled on between royalty and government, but it was a propaganda coup for the press and the Ministry of Information who made good use of this late war morale booster via the Pathé newsreels. 

From these it seems like the ATS was a role the Princess enjoyed. An apocryphal tale from the time even had her joyfully driving a camouflaged army truck through the gates of Buckingham Palace - as the King, Queen and Minster of Labour earnestly discussed whether a future monarch should take the final ATS driving exam through the dangerously busy streets of London.

The Queen’s ATS service was the beginning of a long relationship with the Forces. One that has since been cemented by her traditional role as the Head of the Armed Services. The National Army Museum’s exhibition Jubilee: 60 years of the Sovereign and her soldiers explores this role through personal and official photographs and artefacts - and a timeline that plots where it all began in the ATS.

a photo of the now HRH Queen Elizabeth during wartime working on a truck engine
HRH Princess Elizabeth working on a car engine whilst in the ATS, 1945.© Royal Collection
  • Jubilee: Sixty Years of the Sovereign and her Soldiers at the National Army Museum from May 25 2012
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