On a Teenaged Volunteer

Lili keenly felt the struggles of the British peoples during World War 2. She, like everyone in the nation, heard Prime Minister Winston Churchill call at the war’s outset for the people to fight the enemy on the beaches, in the hills, and on the streets if needed. And she, like many teens during the war, was extremely patriotic. However, women were expected to “keep the home fires burning” for the men, to look after the home and children, and, if needed, perhaps in the factories as well. It was the rare woman or girl who would become an air raid warden or perhaps join such as the Royal Air Force or even the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the UK version of the National Guard in the United States.

But that’s exactly what Lili did—she wanted to sign up with the Territorials. Her parents were aghast when she suggested it. Wearing a uniform and being a part of the military was not women’s work, they said. Let the men do that, they said. They, obviously, were of the old guard. Besides, her dad was already contributing to the war effort in his work.

But Lili insisted, gently and respectfully, and said that the nation needed all the volunteers they could get. She reminded them of Churchill’s words that all of Britain was needed. They, too, had heard the PM’s speech after all. She also appealed to their sense of fairness; after all, so many other girls her age were joining, volunteering, and working for the war effort. So, after much discussion, her parents relented, and the 19-year-old girl was given her uniform and sent to training.

The Territorials usually provided enlistees a choice of what they would do, and she was allowed the option to choose to be either an anti-aircraft gunner, a military driver, or a mechanic. Lili chose mechanic, and she was sent on a 6-week training course. Because she showed remarkable aptitude, Lili managed to gain certification as a military driver as well as a mechanic. But, after her training, she began repairing large military trucks—hardly the job for a young girl of 19. Yet, Lili—or, as her family called her, Lillibet—managed the job quite well and took to it as if she were born to do it.

Which is ironic, because she actually was born to do something else: Become Queen Elizabeth II.


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