Sidmouth RBL stalwart Nancy recalls victory march

PUBLISHED: 11:35 05 June 2016

Nancy Bowstead (middle) and two other officers being inspected by Major General Moorhead at Preston Barracks in May 1946, with a chief commander

Nancy Bowstead (middle) and two other officers being inspected by Major General Moorhead at Preston Barracks in May 1946, with a chief commander

Archant

The war finished in Europe with the 1944 invasion of France. The enemy rapidly started to withdraw back to Germany.

The official programme of the victory celebrationsThe official programme of the victory celebrations

However, we heard that small pockets decided they could hold us back and did not retreat immediately.

Peace in Europe at last, but not in the Far East as the Japanese did not surrender until August.

Troops in England were moved to areas where they were needed, such as the Army Pay Corps, for troops coming home would need any back pay, plus their demob allowance.

Sometime during late 1944 or early 1945 someone in a high place had the idea of celebrating the end of the war — in other words ‘victory’ - and so plans were set in motion. Of course, only the privileged few knew of these discussions and, while it must have taken many months to plan, I can tell you now it was fantastic.

A victory parade in V formationA victory parade in V formation

The date set was June 8, 1946 – almost two years since D-Day.

Every country, territory and island that had supported the war effort in any way was invited to send a contingent to take part; the representatives came in their thousands.

England was divided into areas and each would send representatives of men and women still in uniform.

We became very excited to go to London for any reason - it did not happen every day.

Afternoon tea for Nancy Bowstead an RBL member for 70 years. Ref shs 6853-21-15TI. Picture: Terry IfeAfternoon tea for Nancy Bowstead an RBL member for 70 years. Ref shs 6853-21-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife

And to march in a parade would be something to tell our families.

I had little hope that I would be one of the lucky ones, as I was not particularly well known, having spent most of my service days in Wales and then moving around north and south of the country, and was now stationed with the Army Pay Corps in the north west.

Whether other ATS officers had been asked if they would like to go and had said ‘no’, I will never know, but, out of the blue, I was told that I was going.

I have a photograph that shows the officers – all three of us – being inspected by Major General Moorhead at Preston Barracks in May 1946.

Afternoon tea for Nancy Bowstead an RBL member for 70 years. Ref shs 6838-21-15TI. Picture: Terry IfeAfternoon tea for Nancy Bowstead an RBL member for 70 years. Ref shs 6838-21-15TI. Picture: Terry Ife

The other two ATS officers were a subaltern and a junior commander.

I did not know them and never saw them again.

I am in the middle of group.

On the general’s left was a chief commander, our highest-ranking officer.

A detachment of other ranks was also inspected by the general.

When the ATS mustered in London, there were 30 ATS officers and each officer had marching beside her 10 other ranks, making a total of 330.

The saluting base was on our left so we could not salute the King, but the chief commander saluted for all and we just did ‘eyes left’ without taking our heads from the troops in front of us.

I vividly remember the saluting base: King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

Queen Mary was sitting, but as regal as ever, and beside her, and slightly to her rear, was Winston Churchill.

The parade was the longest the world had ever known or ever would so, it was said.

And I was there, 70 years ago. I was 23.

Difficult to remember everything that happened so long ago.

Many questions I ask myself, such as transport from Lancashire to London must have been by train, not all 300-plus ATS were from the north west. But there would be men from the Army, Navy and Air Force contingents.

Another question – did we go the day before?

As muster was early on the day, if so where did we stay?

And, as officers, we did not clean our uniform buttons.

Were we accommodated in Bushey Park?

Those two words keep rushing in.

If we went the day before, where did we sleep?

And what about food and drinks, and don’t forget toilets – for thousands of men and women.

I remember having a drink after the parade in what I was told was an ‘officers’ bar’ and the drink would be non-alcoholic.

I was standing beside women in navy blue; they were Wren officers from New Zealand.

They told me they had been in London for a few days with time to look around and were astounded at the fashions and the clothes shops.

They wanted to buy everything they saw, but we still had clothing coupons and they were limited to space.

With the drink, we were probably offered packets of sandwiches, told where to be later in the afternoon, put on the trains back to our own areas.

And so, on June 8, 1946, as a young ATS officer, I was in London taking part in the Victory Celebrations, or as we always referred to that day as the Victory Parade.

My area included Bury, Burnley and Oldham and when asked for an officer to lead the ATS detachment, they were told: “Nancy will do it; she loves marching.”

True, I did, it was no punishment and today I still march in the remembrance parades, wherever I happen to be.

A brass band, military music and my feet just won’t stay still.

This record of that parade all started because I wondered how many of the 30 ATS officers are still alive today?


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