Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Gentle Sex

Reading the Captain Marvel story, with the group of girl pilots from the Second World War, set something tickling at the back of my mind.

During the Second World War, Leslie Howard (best known for his roles as Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind, and The Scarlet Pimpernel, among others) made several films for propaganda purposes. One of these - in fact, the last film he ever made, before his death in a plane crash in 1943 - was The Gentle Sex, which was a look at the contributions women were making to the war effort. And it was a lot more than pouring tea in the NAAFI.
The film follows seven women of different backgrounds who meet at an Auxiliary Territorial Training camp. Leslie Howard provides the narration.

The scene from the film that I remember most vividly is where the women drive a convoy of trucks through the night to get them to where they need to be on time, while the men waiting for the trucks joke that they must have stopped to put their make up on.

Perhaps the most famous member of the ATS was Princess Elizabeth, now the Queen, who learned how to repair car engines, among other things. The ATS also manned searchlights (a very hazardous job, as the German planes would shoot down the searchlight beam to put out the lights). There's a famous picture of St Paul's Cathedral with searchlights in the "V for Victory" position behind it - I used to know the daughter of one of the women who was there, that night. Members of the ATS were also radar operators and manned anti-aircraft guns, as well as being telephonists and other support jobs.

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