Flo (nee Ditchfield) was born in Stockport on 18th January 1923 and attended Alexandra Park Council School, leaving at Easter 1937. She attended Cale Green Evening School where she learnt Pitman’s Shorthand whilst working at a warehouse, making up orders and in 1939, when war was declared, she was 16 years old. In common with many young women, Flo became a wartime bride, marrying her childhood sweetheart (James Platt) in October 1941, before he was posted to Singapore where he was captured by the Japanese.
There is a sense of irony in Flo’s enlistment, in that she volunteered in 1942 because she had a row with the foreman & walked out of the warehouse. The situation in March 1942, when this happened, was that Flo could have been directed where to work through industrial conscription, and consequently had been directed to work (on nights) at Vickars munitions. She refused & was told that she had no choice, to which she replied: “Oh yes, I have. I’ll go into the ATS first.” A childhood friend had joined up the week before and when the ATS & WAAF were shown on the cinema it was portrayed as a glamorous life (driving trucks, etc) and Flo had an ambition to be a driver. Consequently, she volunteered in March 1942 at Dover Street, Manchester.
The ATS training, billeted in the castle at Lancaster, involved what she described as ‘square-bashing’ for 6 weeks & then the women were tested on admin, typing, office procedures, business letters & army procedures, since all the ATS trainees went into an office-related jobs. Hundreds of women were drilled, but Flo was one of 24 selected to be sent to Wandsworth Technical College for a further 6 weeks training by Non Commissioned Officers who were commandeered in (Flo had a Hussar sergeant) who trained her in touch typing & office procedures, with an army test at the end of the course. At the end of the training, and with her shorthand knowledge, the Colonel in the regiment directed Flo to an office job at HQ (north west) at Preston, along with three others. Flo went to work for DAQMG (District Assistant Quarter-Master General) in Q branch which dealt with the movement of troops and all supplies, liaising with the Movement Control department to move troops around the country. Flo. like all the ATS women who came into the offices, was taking over from roles previously undertaken by men (who were probably B2 fitness, but who were now released to be sent overseas as their jobs were filled at home).
Flo’s group was one of the first to arrive & were initially billeted in civilian ‘digs’, but as the men moved out the ATS women were moved into Army billeting. ATS officers were a first line of command for administration, but the male officers the ATS women worked for were responsible for their ATS staff, and this later included Americans were also working at HQ who were also involved with Movement Control.
The Normandy Campaign
Play to hear Flo’s suspicions about troop movements surrounding the secrecy of the D-Day operation
About a month before the Normandy Invasion, it became obvious to Flo, dealing as she was with the movement of troops and supplies, that they were being moved to the south coast so she got the impression that :
“there’s something coming off. I couldn’t put a definite figure on the numbers but obviously units were moving from A to B and all going down south. We had no idea where they were going, we just passed them on to Southern Command but we began to think ‘That’s funny’ and we just got the idea that something was coming off. But we didn’t know anything definite and we couldn’t have said ‘Oh the invasion’s starting’. For a start, we weren’t allowed to talk about it, and we didn’t, but for us in the north west it wasn’t that obvious. The Invasion came as a surprise even though we’d got this inkling that something was going to come off, so when we read the news we were just as surprised as everybody else really.
We had to keep moving troops and supplies down south but we didn’t notice it as much once the invasion had started. I suppose that most of the movement had taken place prior to the landings.”
Flo assets that wouldn’t have wanted to missed experience of being in the ATS. “I met some lovely people; we had laughs and the company was lovely. There were sad times but good times as well and I really believe that it was the making of me. Previously, I’d never been away from home but the army teaches you to stand on your own two feet and stick up for yourself and it gives you the opportunity to make lovely friends and a few of us would take leave and go away together”.
Since Flo was a married woman she was able to be discharged early (in July 1945) with 2 months leave in which she was expected to find a job. (If she had not found a job within the 2 months then the army had to right to recall her back into the army.) Flo started a job in the Post Office in Stockport. Her skills as a touch typist were used as telegraphist – following 3 weeks training in electric typewriters. In the meantime, James Platt had died in Mach 1945 although Flo didn’t receive the news of his death until September 1945. She had been processing telegrams from returning POWs, letting their family know that they were alive & she had hoped to process her own whilst on duty. It was not to be. Whilst she was at work her mother came to the office with an official letter informing her that he had died.
She continued working at the Post Office until she met Bert Viggars, who was still serving in the RAF, at a dance at the Town Hall in Stockport. As the relationship developed, the shift work hours, working from 7.30 am until 9.00 pm, were a constraint, and Flo moved to work at Henry Simons (where she stayed until the birth of her daughters). Flo and Bert married in 1947, had two daughters, and celebrated 57 years together before Bert died on 18th March 2004.