Shropshire Star

The historic day women served pudding to the Shropshire regiment

Tuesday, June 27, 1939 – a historic day for the Shropshire regiment.

Men queue up for their historic meal.

This was not the date of some great and glorious victory on the battlefield.

If you're a feminist, look away now, because it was in fact the day that women cooked for the men of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry at their depot at Copthorne in Shrewsbury.

A day of such significance that our sister paper the Express & Star – the Shropshire Star was not born until 1964 – sent along a reporter and photographer to record the occasion.

"Under the supervision of Company Commander Mrs R H Cock – a daughter-in-law of the county town's first woman mayor – a band of happy women worked in the hot kitchen to serve a meal to the whole company and, by doing so, made history in the annals of the regiment," the Star reported the following day.

Men queue up for their historic meal.

Incidentally Shrewsbury's first woman mayor referred to was Mrs Marion Cock, who took office in November 1934.

"This is the first time I've had my pudding served up by a smiling girl," commented one cheerful (male) recruit.

If you're outraged by the sexism of it all, you'll probably not be assuaged by the knowledge that the men did help with the washing up.

The men helped with the washing up.

The background was that the women were from the ATS, the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was the women's branch of the British army and at the time was a relatively new organisation.

Specifically they were members of the 40th Shropshire Company of the ATS.

Our "special correspondent" said: "An officer told me that these women members of the 40th Shropshire Company were showing wonderful enthusiasm for training, for they attended the barracks at least once a week. 'They undertake duties as clerks, mess orderlies and storewomen, and some of them are excellent cooks,' he added."

The officer continued: "Altogether there are just over 50, with two officers. On mobilisation the ATS will cook for the militiamen. Their duties are entirely voluntary. We have 17 civilian cooks in the barracks undergoing training, and these will eventually go on to the new huge camp at Oswestry."

ATS women get cooking.

The pictures were taken as war clouds were gathering, and the barracks at Copthorne was gearing up to take Territorial Army recruits, or militiamen, as the article put it. As part of the preparations for the influx a hutted camp was to be got ready next to the barracks.

"Militiamen who are booked to undergo their training at Shrewsbury are going to be exceptionally well looked after – especially if they can persuade the commanding officer to let the women cooks experiment in the kitchen on as many occasions as possible, and, of course, wait at the tables," our special correspondent wrote.

Copthorne barracks was naturally a hive of activity when war broke out a few months later but for recruits there was a dreadful alternative prospect of being posted not to Copthorne but to the Maltings, aka the Flax Mill, at Ditherington, which took on the role of a barracks early in the conflict.

Among those who were sent there was Frank Morris of Bishop's Castle, who was called up in December 1940 and joined the Royal Engineers.

After a couple of nights at Copthorne, he was marched down to the Maltings.

In a 1999 interview Frank, who was then 82, told us that they slept on the wooden floor using their boots as pillows and, with no heating or drying facilities, the only way to dry their socks was to put them under the blankets they slept on.

“The food at the Maltings was fit only for pigs," he said.

“It was a terrible place. The barracks from hell is an accurate description.”

Today of course the building is considered an architectural and historic jewel, a pioneer of all modern skyscrapers.