From 1941 onward all unmarried British women aged 20 to 30 were required to join one of the Auxiliary services, which included the ATS. One of the most dangerous and exciting ATS roles was to be selected for 'Ack Ack' duty, manning the Anti-Aircraft guns known for their distinctive ack-ack sound as they fired. The idea to use women in gun crews was first proposed by British engineer Caroline Haslett and was eagerly approved by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Churchill's own daughter, Mary Soames, was one of the first Ack Ack volunteers and served at a gun site in London's Hyde Park.
As a royal proclamation forbade women from operating deadly weapons, Ack Ack Girls worked as part of mixed-gender squads where men would load and fire the weapons with the women's support. The three main roles of the women were Spotters who used binoculars to find enemy planes, Range-Finding teams who calculated the distance a gun shell would have to travel to hit the target, and Predictor teams who worked out the length of the fuse necessary to make sure the shell exploded at the right height.
Women were subject to the same intensive training as men and had to undergo rigorous testing in terms of fitness, hearing, eyesight and nerves in order to be accepted. This was essential for enduring the hard conditions at the gun emplacements and to keep on task while bombs fell all around them. When the Germans deployed V1 flying bombs against Britain, 369 Ack Ack Girls were killed in just 3 months. Their sacrifice and dedication proved invaluable to the war effort, as well as providing a boost to civilian morale, the sound of the Ack Ack guns becoming a well-recognised symbol of British resistance.
Read a personal account of Ack Ack Girl, Vee Robinson, here.