The Interesting Life of Hilda Fletcher – Part 3

By Talitha Organ Fletcher

Part 3 – The War Effort

Injuries were no excuse to not do your part during the war. Everyone had a job to do to ensure the country still functioned successfully and Hilda Fletcher (known as Hilda Morris at the time) was no exception.

After leaving the hospital, mostly recovered from the injuries she sustained during the bombing at the Vickers Aircraft Factory on September 4 1940, Hilda reentered the war effort in 1942. One of the first jobs the employment office offered her was actually at another aircraft factory based in an old theatre. She hesitantly took the job and managed to make it through her first day, just, but the memories and trauma caused by the rather sudden end of her last job at an aircraft factory proved to be too much. As strong as she was, as soon as she made it through the front door of her family home that night, the tears began to fall. “I told my dad as soon as I came home that I wasn’t going back. He just said to me ‘You don’t have to, we’ll find you something else to do.’”

Luckily, Hilda had a very useful skill that a lot of women her age didn’t at the time. During her lunch hours at the factory before the bombing, a friend of hers taught her how to drive, in the grounds of Windsor castle, no less! So armed with a driver’s license, she went back to the employment office and asked if there was something more suitable available. She went through a few different jobs for the next couple of years, from delivering groceries to making kettles before deciding to do something completely different in the winter of 1944.

Her previous job had ended and Hilda was back at the employment office looking for work. “The lady told me there were only one job going at the time. It was at Gilford and she told me I’d have to leave home and go into lodgings to take the job because there’s no trains and you have to start at four o’clock in the morning. So I asked her if she had any forms for the services and she said yes and so I joined the army as a driver, officially on December 29 1944.”

Hilda’s role in the ATS/EFI (Auxiliary Territorial Service – Expeditionary Forces) would entail supporting British and allied troops by supplying a variety of items to them whilst on duty, from her truck. She left from Edinburgh in February 1945 and was stationed in southern Italy. “I was lucky to be sent there because all of the fighting was already done in that part of the country. We stayed behind to make sure we kept a hold of the land, and to run the POW camps full of Germans. I was surprised that they quite often would send me out with an armed escort.”

Hilda (back row, 7th from the left) and her fellow ATS members on holiday in Rome 1946
Photograph courtesy of Hilda Fletcher

Hilda would drive her truck around to the different areas that soldiers were stationed and essentially acted as a mobile canteen for the troops. She had cakes, sandwiches, tea, coffee, pens, paper and a whole manner of other items on offer to help provide a small touch of comfort for the homesick fighters. She would even stop at prisoner of war camps.

“I stopped outside the gates and was quite friendly with the boys that were there. There was one lad there though that would always have a spare cup with him and he would get two cups of tea from me, then pass the second one through the wire to one of the prisoners.” Whilst she didn’t approve at the time, looking back now Hilda thinks that such a small gesture was a wonderful thing and that it was nice to see that just because they were at war, it didn’t mean the soldiers had to lose their humanity.