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A.T.S. Service Dress Uniform Buyer's Guide

In January 1917, a campaign was started to allow women to more directly support the war effort by enlisting in the army to perform work such as cookery, mechanical and clerical work and other miscellaneous tasks that would otherwise be done by men who could better serve their country in the trenches. On 7th July 1917, the British Army Council formally established the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) authorizing female volunteers to serve in non-combat roles in France during World War I. In May 1918 the WAAC was renamed as the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC). The QMAAC was eventually disbanded in September 1921. With war once again imminent, the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) was formed in September 1938.

The recruiting age limits for the ATS were 18 - 43. However, for ex-WAAC/QMAAC personnel who had previously served during the Great War the upper age limit was extended to 50, but there are reports of some ex-WAAC/QMAAC senior NCOs and officers serving in the ATS aged in their sixties! Evidently their previous military experience was considered far more important than their age.

This article is aimed at the re-enactor who wants to portray an ATS officer, NCO (non-commissioned officer) or OR (other rank). Initially, ATS personnel wore only the SD (service dress) style of uniform during WW2. Later in the war ATS NCOs and ORs who were employed as mechanics, drivers, or who served with Royal Artillery anti-aircraft units, were issued with khaki battledress, including matching trousers, as this was considered a more practical form of uniform for them. This guide will be confined to the subject of Service Dress only.

The ATS Service Dress tunic was originally a belted, button-fastened design with four flapped and buttoned pockets, and was very similar to a British Army officer's khaki SD tunic. It's important to note that ATS tunics always buttoned-up in the male fashion (left-over-right) rather than in the usual female style This was because campaign and decoration ribbons are always worn on the left breast and would be obscured by the usual female fastening. The main difference between ATS officers' and NCO/ORs' SD uniforms was the quality of the material. In 1941 a second 'utility' pattern of tunic was introduced which used less material. The breast pocket pleating was deleted, as were the lower external bellows pockets and the false cuffs on the sleeves. Subsequently the brass General Service Corps buttons were replaced by a substitute made of a green plastic substance. However, ATS officers who had their uniforms privately tailored still tended to retain the earlier tunic features so variations did exist.

The khaki skirt was a plain, straight, two-gore style of a length that finished between 14 and 16 inches above the ground. Later in the war the skirts became slightly shorter due to material shortages, but they always ended at or slightly below knee height. ATS skirts were never worn above the knee.

A note about medal ribbons: ATS personnel seldom wore medal ribbons during WW2 as they did not receive their war service medals until after hostilities had ceased in 1945. The only exception to this would have been more mature ATS personnel who had served in the WAAC/QMAAC in the Great War, as described above. After the Great War they would subsequently have been awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for their WW1 service. Upon their later enlistment in the ATS after September 1938, they would have been entitled to wear the ribbons of those earlier campaign medals. Therefore, more mature female re-enactors whose apparent age supports having originally served in the WAAC/QMAAC should seriously consider wearing the appropriate ribbons for the sake of authenticity.

I can thoroughly recommend several excellent books that have useful sections on the subject of the ATS, including World War 2 British Women's Uniforms in Colour Photographs by Martin Brayley & Richard Ingram, and Girls in Khaki by Barbara Green. These are listed in the Bibliography section of this website.


Service Dress  



The problems in obtaining original 1940s-period ATS service dress uniforms are three-fold: condition (items are often moth-eaten and literally falling apart at the seams), sizes (1940s-era women tended to have a different body shape to that of modern day female re-enactors) and price. Original period ATS uniforms very rarely come up for sale on ebay and when they do the prices are absolutely insane!

So the only choices left for the typical buyer are to either modify ('re-clock') a modern female British Army officer's uniform, or to obtain a good modern reproduction. We've never been convinced about re-clocking a modern female officer's uniform because the tunics suffer from the fatal flaw of buttoning-up the wrong way, and male officer's tunics rarely seem to come on to the market. This only leaves reproduction uniforms as a viable option. Unfortunately, unlike other Allied service uniforms, there are very few manufacturers or retailers of authentic reproduction ATS uniforms. In fact, at this point in time, I know of only one, and that is Soldier Of Fortune. Their 1939 Tunic is perfectly acceptable as both an ATS officer's and a pre-1941 NCO/OR's. Their matching 1939 Skirt is also authentically styled. Be aware that their tunics are a little on the large side and are possibly tailored for a man's figure as we had to exchange the first example we ordered for a smaller size and even then had to have the shoulders narrowed.

WARNING: Do not be tempted to purchase an ATS uniform from the Indian REPLICATORS company. Their website purports to offer an authentic ATS uniform at a very reasonable price but I can only say that their idea of authenticity is evidently a far cry from ours. Absolutely everything about their version is badly wrong including the colour and styling. Frankly it's not worth considering.


Rank Insignia  



ATS officer ranks were slightly differently titled to those of the British Army but the rank insignia was the same. Below is a list of the ATS officer ranks and their British Army male equivalents:

Company Assistant = 2nd Lieutenant
Junior Commander = Lieutenant
Company Commander = Captain
Senior Commandant = Major
Chief Commandant = Lieutenant Colonel
Controller = Colonel
Senior Controller = Brigadier
Chief Controller = Major General

Prior to 1941, ATS NCO ranks were markedly different from their British Army counterparts. But following an update of the ATS rank structure the rank titles were brought in line with those of the regular army.

ATS Officer's rank pips and NCO's chevrons are available from Soldier Of Fortune


Other Insignia  

The ATS had its own distinctive cap badge. ATS officers wore a bronze/black metal version whilst that worn by NCOs and ORs was in natural brass finish (see left and below).

ATS NCOs and ORs wore a brass ATS device on the epaulettes of their service dress tunics. ATS officers wore a miniature version of their cap badge in bronze/black on the collar lapels of their SD tunic.

ATS officer's cap badges, ATS NCO/OR's cap badges, ATS officer's collar badges and ATS NCO/OR's epaulette badges are all available from Soldier Of Fortune.

In addition to their corps and rank badges, ATS personnel who, by reason of their trade, were permanently attached to British Army regiments and corps, such as Royal Artillery, Royal Signals, Royal Army Ordnance Corps and REME, were permitted to wear the cap badge of their parent regiment or corps above the left breast pocket of their SD tunic (see images below).

Royal Artillery, Royal Signals, RAOC and REME cap badges of the correct WW2 pattern are all available from Soldier Of Fortune.

ATS personnel who served in the Royal Artillery's Anti-Aircraft Command as part of mixed-gender AA batteries also wore the appropriate cloth divisional insignia on both tunic sleeves just below the shoulder (see below right). These AA Command patches are also available from Soldier Of Fortune





ATS personnel wore their own distinctive lanyard on their right shoulder. This was braided from their service colours of dark brown, beech brown and green (see left). This lanyard is available from Soldier Of Fortune.

ATS personnel who served in mixed AA batteries of the Anti-Aircraft Command were awarded the privilege of wearing the white lanyard of the Royal Artillery (see below). This was worn on the right shoulder in place of the ATS lanyard.

Unfortunately Soldier of Fortune don't appear to stock the white RA lanyard, but these are available on ebay.

Lanyards are worn around the shoulder and under the epaulette. The free end is attached to the button of the right breast pocket beneath the pocket flap.

Service Cap  





The ATS cap was similar in style to that of the WAAF and was made of khaki woollen fabric. The only real difference between officer's caps and those of NCOs and ORs was the quality of the fabric, officer's caps usually being made of fine barrathea whereas the caps issued to NCOs and ORs were usually made from slightly coarser khaki serge. However, some ATS NCOs and ORs privately purchased their caps (and occasionally SD uniforms) from military tailors.

There were several variations of cap issued to ATS personnel during WW2. The original pattern had a soft peak reinforced with lines of stitching and a cloth chin-strap (see top left). The later pattern had a hard peak without reinforcing stitching and the cloth chin-strap was replaced with a leather one (see centre left). In the case of the officer's version of this cap, the leather chin-strap was usually the same wider, higher quality type worn by British Army officers on their SD caps. However, a third pattern is often encountered which combines the hard peak with the cloth chin-strap. All three patterns are acceptable for ATS re-enactors.

It was the custom for ATS Despatch Riders to wear their caps with the chin-strap across the crown of the cap rather than around the front.

Soldier Of Fortune do stock a soft-peaked ATS cap with leather chin-strap (not a standard combination) but the example we obtained needed a bit of work to make it usable. It does have the advantage of perfectly matching in colour and fabric with SOF's ATS uniform. The best reproduction cap we have found so far is from ATS FANY Uniforms who make both soft and hard peak ATS caps to order from original WW2 templates. The only thing that lets them down somewhat is the rather inferior leather chinstrap which was stitched on rather than being attached by buttons in the usual manner. However, it was a simple job to sew on a pair of suitable khaki buttons and to source a good quality brown leather chinstrap from ebay.

Original WW2-issue ATS caps do often appear on ebay. The prices vary considerably, but undamaged moth-free examples can be obtained for fairly reasonable prices from time to time. We initially had to resort to purchasing an original cap in the absence of any suitable reproduction.

On completion of their training, ATS personnel were permitted to privately purchase a side-cap in the ATS colours (see left). They were also authorised to wear the side-cap of their parent regiment or corps such as the Royal Artillery, Royal Signals, RAOC and REME. Soldier Of Fortune stock an excellent replica of the ATS side-cap. Regardless of which regimental or corps pattern side-cap is worn, the ATS cap badge is the correct one to wear with it.




The ATS shirt issued to Officers, NCOs and ORs was a pale khaki collar-less style which was provided with spare separate collars and studs. There doesn't currently appear to be any supplier of an authentic replica (other than the aforementioned Indian company) so the only available alternative is a modern British Army female issue shirt. These can be easily obtained from ebay.





The ATS tie was a plain khaki-green woollen pattern for both officers and NCOs/ORs. Soldier Of Fortune do stock this item but frankly it's a bit skimpy and not terribly good quality. Original ATS ties are easily found on ebay and usually at a lower price than the reproductions.




ATS NCOs and ORs were issued with pairs of beige cotton lisle stockings. Officers were issued with better quality skin-tone rayon stockings. There are still plenty of original unworn pairs of silk, rayon and lisle stockings to be had on ebay and Etsy at fairly reasonable prices. 




ATS-issue shoes were a plain brown Oxford pattern (see image at left). These do occasionally turn up on ebay, but invariably in very small shoe sizes and always at very high prices. Soldier of Fortune stock ATS leather shoes which are authentically styled at a reasonable price for re-enactors portraying ATS officers, NCOs or ORs.



ATS personnel were all issued with the same pattern of khaki canvas shoulder-bag, which was zip-fastened and had an adjustable brown leather carrying strap. Some sources have claimed that these bags were only issued to NCOs and ORs, but I recently came across a period photograph of HRH Princess Elizabeth taken during her wartime service as an ATS officer and which clearly shows her carrying the standard issue shoulder bag (see below left).

The best source for an ATS shoulder-bag is Soldier Of Fortune. They stock an excellent replica of the original at a reasonable price. Do not go trawling through ebay trying to find an original WW2 shoulder-bag as they will be expensive and usually not in very good condition as they will have been used for all manner of other purposes since the war.