Women in the army

This guide was last updated in 2009

Hundreds of thousands of women served during the Second World Wars. Conscription was introduced for women in 1941.

Territorial Service (ATS) 

In the army, women generally served in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) as clerks, drivers and mechanics, in radar stations and decoding units and operated anti-aircraft guns. In June 1943, there were 210,308 officers and women in the ATS.
Their service records are in the same Glasgow MOD office as their male counterparts. Most ATS members served on attachment to other units, so you’ll need to find the War Diaries from the units they served with, though there are some War Diaries specific to ATS units throughout the main series. You can search on TNA’s catalogue using ‘Auxiliary Territorial Service’ as the key search term.
The Women’s Royal Army Corps Museum collection has passed to the National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, London SW3 4HT.
Tel: 020 7730 0717
www.national-army-museum.ac.uk.

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY)

A small volunteer organisation formed before the First World War, the FANY formed the basis of the first ATS Motor Driver Companies. Other FANY were attached to the Polish Army. Many FANY joined Special Operations Executive (or were commissioned into FANY as cover) serving as cipher clerks, radio operators and administrative assistants. Many of Special Operations Executives’ women agents were FANY.
Records of FANY members are at:
FANY (PRVC), TA Centre, 95 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 2DX.
There may be a charge for finding records.

Nurses and the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD)

The army nursing service was provided by Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Nursing Service. Service records are held by the MOD in Glasgow. A few hospital War Diaries are available at TNA. A specific medal awarded to military nurses is the Royal Red Cross. There are Registers for awards covering the Second World War in WO 145/2 and WO 145/3. Medal citations are in WO 373.The VAD was part of the Red Cross, running hospitals and convalescent homes as well as helping staff military hospitals, acting as support staff to nurses, administrators, ambulance drivers and cooks.
VAD service records are held by the Red Cross in the form of record cards, information on which may include dates of service, the nature of duties performed, the detachment belonged to, the institutions and places where they served and any honours awarded.
You’ll need to write to: British Red Cross, Museum and Archives department, 44 Moorfields, London EC2Y 9AL.
Provide as much information about the individual as possible. In particular it’s useful to include: any known addresses, middle names, maiden or married names, date of marriage, any known service details and date of birth. Though no formal charge is made for information, a donation would be polite.

Commonwealth servicemen
previous Step
Second World War RAF ancestors
next Step
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here