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© 2013 Trinity United Reformed Church - Milton Grove, Wigan, WN1 2PG  

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© 2013 Trinity United Reformed Church - Milton Grove, Wigan, WN1 2PG  

Ellen Rotheram’s Story



The Second World War was declared on Ellen Rotheram’s 16th birthday, September 3rd 1939.  She heard it announced whilst attending a morning service at the Queen’s Hall Methodist Church, Wigan.  She and other helpers went home for dinner and then straight back to church to start blacking out the windows.

Ellen joined the ATS on 18th August 1942.

Ellen and Bill in uniform

Ellen and Bill both decided to put themselves forward for voluntary work and both had to complete exams according to their chosen area of work.  Being good at figures, Ellen opted for clerical work, in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the women’s branch of the British Army in WW2).   As there was a shortage of billets, volunteers were based in an area within travelling distance of their home.

Ellen and her friends were first assigned to work at the base in Preston.  After six months, they were moved to Black Lane Mills, Rochdale, where Ellen became a member of the Royal Army Pay Corps (RAPC), doing accounts for the Royal Engineers. It could be a very long day, especially when they were on Guard Duty. They would leave home at 7.00 a.m. and arrive back in the evening at 10.00 p.m. Their one treat for the week was to go to the pictures opposite the station, once a week.

Ellen (front row, first on the left) with the women of the ATS

Ellen and Bill after they were married

Ellen and her late husband Bill were already courting when war broke out.  When Haywood’s of Wigan, arranged Peace Concerts to be held at the Queen’s Hall on Saturday evenings, Bill and Ellen signed up as Air Raid Wardens to be on duty during the concerts.  They were paid 6 shillings a night - a lot of money in those days. Often Ellen and her friends also assisted with the tidying up at the large venue.

It was not long before air raid shelters started to be built, but since Ellen and her neighbours lived near Gidlow School, they were asked to use the school’s shelters. Many people took on duties in the locality to help the war effort.  Ellen’s father was already an engine driver, as were a number of the men in the family.  Her mother became a Fire Warden. This entailed checking for fires during and after air raids and calling on the fire services to put them out, especially when they were near oil and gas installations.

Whilst Ellen was sent to Preston, Bill was sent to Blackpool to be kitted out in his RAF uniform and was eventually sent to India, to the Maharaja’s private airport.

Ellen turned 21 on the 3rd September 1944 and after eventually collecting enough clothing coupons for her wedding dress and with much welcome help from the food shop next door to the Queen’s Hall, married Bill the following Saturday.

She was demobbed from Black Lane Mills on 10th July 1945.

(The outbreak of war meant ordinary life changed for everyone.  Many thanks for sharing your story with us Ellen.  Trinity URC Magazine Ed.)