Kathleen Tozer

Anti-aircraft gunner for the British Army's Auxiliary Territorial Service

Kathleen Tozer

Anti-aircraft gunner for the British Army's Auxiliary Territorial Service

Private Kath Tozer joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a gunner in January 1941 at the age of 17. She defended Anti-aircraft bases on the home front until the end of the war, defending the British public against German bombs.
 

Kath was injured on duty but carried on. Years later SSAFA fought for her to get a war pension.

“There was so much going wrong. It’s often forgotten civilians here were getting bombed as much as people on the front line and had little to defend them. And boats bringing food to the country were being bombed too. The public had a terrible time. It was dreadful.

I joined wanting to be a gunner defending the Ack-Ack bases. I wanted to do my bit for the country.

“We were up at 6 o’clock every morning, when the bugler would toot. We’d stand in the coat room, line up and they’d check we’d been in all night and that we hadn’t been on 24-hour pass. Then we’d go and do our duties.

“We used to do a 24-hour pattern, one day we’d do cook house duties, another day we’d do guard duty, then another day we’d do height finder, another day predictor [gun site location identification instruments]. If you been naughty you were put on jankers [punishment] and you had to scrub the kitchen floor. We’d have a break at lunch on the camp. We just worked all day.

“I loved the predictors and height finders. You don’t see those machines these days. We used them to tell where Jerry was and how high he was, using earphones.

“We were moved all over the country to different sites because there was so much to do. I had 16 transfers in 5 years.”

Defending the country

“We were defending the country against Hitler. It was quite incessant.

The German planes would come across the channel – over Dover – and we would get the fuses, put them on the shells and then the guns would fire up at the planes.

“Once we were stationed in New Brighton and there was a 7-pound gun down on the beach. The Germans came over and bombed it, and everyone on the site at the time was killed.  That was terrible.

“A lot of terrible things happened – like they do today. But you had to carry on and be and strong. You can’t just sit there and feel sorry for yourself.

"We just got on with it and hoped to see the next day”


New times, new people

“The war was different depending on where you were, and there were so many funny times too.

“I stayed in big Nissen Huts – with 26 girls in each one. You were never alone. You always had someone to talk to.

“It was so interesting meeting different people…the Welsh, the Scotch the Irish, French Canadians and Poles.

“We used to go to dances with the Yanks, they were good company. They’d send lorries for us and we’d all get in, and we went to their sites. They gave us snoods to keep our hair up. They had oranges and bananas, and nylon stockings with seams up the back. We never saw anything like that in civvy street. We always dressed up in those. The dances were gorgeous. You’d have your meal there and you’d come home about 10 o’clock."

 

Romance in wartime

Kath met her husband Bill during the war, while he was on leave from the Navy. Bill was working on Oerlikon guns, on ships that protected boats carrying food for the home front. Like millions of others he was young, (18) when he joined.

“He was torpedoed. But he survived and got back ok.

“It was awful being away from him when he was at sea. He was in Hong Kong fighting the Japanese. They went up the Yangtze from Mongolia. They had a tough time with the pirates there. They would go out with machine guns strapped to them.”

Kath and Bill got married during wartime and honeymooned in Torquay when he was on shore leave.

“I met the love of my life in a time that was harrowing. I found moments of happiness in that time. As soon as I saw him, I fell for him. He was like Steve McQueen.

“We went on to spend 70 years together. It was fate – everything happens for a reason.”

VE Day

On 8th May 1945, after nearly six years of war, Allied Forces accepted Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender of its armed forces.  Kath was one of millions celebrating.

“I was in Leeds on leave when the news came in that the Germans had surrendered. The announcement came over on the radio, we only had tiny little radios in those days.

“I went to the Town Hall, all the bands and drums were going – to think the war in Europe was over and we could all go back to civvy street. Thousands were on the street. It was packed all the way round. I never saw so many people.

“It was very exciting, everyone was screaming, shouting, laughing and making merry. It was wonderful. Shouting: “The wars over, no more killing”, “It’s over, it’s over” “We can go back home”.

“I used to drink then. It was so full it took an hour to get a pint. We drank in a pub called the Three Legs of Man.”

“I wish my husband had been with me on VE Day. He was posted in Hong Kong and so I had to wait until the war in Japan finished for him to come home. 

“At the same time as all the joy, I was nervous – I think most people were, wondering what was going to happen next. But we got over it. We had to push ourselves forward and look forward to another day.

“My dad had died when I was 2-years-old, so it was always just me and my mother. All I wanted to do was go back to her. Sounds pathetic doesn’t it… wanting to go back home to my mother!”

Post War

After the war, Kath went on to have a family with Bill. She heads up five generations, with 40 members of the family in total.

“I look at my family and think, ooh these are all mine! And I wouldn’t have them if it hadn’t been for the war. I would never have met Bill.

“75 years on from the war, that makes me feel old. To think I went through it all.

“I hope others now sit and think about that time and know that we tried to make it a better world.

“Us women often don’t get the recognition we deserve – even though the Queen was in the ATS. I would like it to be remembered that we did our bit.”

SSAFA

Decades after the war, Kath met SSAFA Divisional Secretary Harry Ellis. The pair quickly became friends and she shared her war stories with him.

“I told him about one day, when we were in a Nissen hut full of mustard gas. We had to go in with masks on and test it for the civilians. When we came out, I fell over something and injured my ankle. The pain went on for a while, but I never took much notice. I was excused boots, and Bill always said, “you walk funny with that leg don’t you”. Eventually it became a nuisance and I mentioned this to Harry.

“Harry told me that I should be eligible for a war pension, and so he set about helping me. He did all the paperwork and drove me back and forth to Plymouth, to doctors and to court. I got given a lump sum. You never get enough on a normal pension, so it helped.

“I think SSAFA and Harry are wonderful – they are people who give up their spare time to help people. I always wish I was in a position to help people more.

“SSAFA is marvellous.

“If anyone can help it is SSAFA and people like Harry. I think it is wonderful they look after the veterans and keep us in mind.”