And they told us that we were going to Paris. And then we should march across Paris from one station to another one, called Montparnasse. And there we would be told where we were going, which we did. And we eventually arrived at Le Mans and...
Marching across? Did you actually march across Paris?
We marched across Paris.
Presumably to the curiosity of the onlookers because the women, uh, the French didn't employ women in the army or the armed forces did they?
And they [the French] marched by the side of us.
'Why are you coming? Why are the women going?' There were some men with us too, because some of them had been on leave, the ones that have been there from the September.
And, 'Why are they sending women?' We were an absolute laughing stock.
'Are you going to be cooks?' No.
'Are you going to be to telephonists?' No.
'Ah! Comforts for the troops!' they thought. [laughing]
And it was the same when we got to Le Mans. We were the first, there were about 15 ATS already there, five officers and ten who had been to get the billets ready for the first lot arriving and we were headquarters, number one, lines of communication there. And we had, uh, we were a group and our group included the company or the platoon, which was already at Nantes and one which was already in Paris and then our platoon there, that was our company of 101 group 8 ATS.
We were billeted in the most dreadful, dreadful accommodation. Although Dame Helen [Gwynne-Vaughan], in her speech to us when she said goodbye to us at Saltdean, had said that the accommodation had all been inspected and she had been over and looked at it, and it was all supposed to be super, but we had no bathrooms, we had four wash basins, two on one landing and one on another. And this was a [unclear] which was between, in a little street, between Place de la République and the market square, and which normally the farmers, who brought things into sell in the market, would...
Would stay or had their meals. I have never seen so many cockroaches. You put the light out in the kitchen and you could hear them. Nevertheless, there we stayed.
This transcript is from a 1995 interview with Mary Coomer. (NAM. 1995-06-56)
Mary served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service from 1938 to 1945. She was one of the first to be selected to go to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). After evacuating back to England in 1940, she served on the Home Front for the rest of the Second World War.