Royal Maintenance

These past few days, the UK – and by extension the rest of the world – has been mourning the death of Queen Elizabeth II. With her 70 years on the throne, the 96-year-old queen is best known as the longest-serving British monarch. She will be remembered as a steadfast and dutiful monarch with a great love for corgis.

What most people may not know is that in her youth, she also served in the army as a mechanic. Princess Elizabeth felt the call to serve during World War II during her teenage years, and at the age of 18 finally started training as a mechanic in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). She commenced as a second subaltern and was trained as a driver and mechanic for six weeks. Her classes included mechanics theory, map reading, and she was taught how to change wheels, perform maintenance on engines, disassemble and reassemble them.  For her final test she had to undertake a solo drive in a heavy vehicle from Camberley (Surrey) to London. She was able to drive any type of army vehicle, including jeeps, trucks and ambulances. She became the first female member of the royal family to join the British armed forces on active duty and was also the last surviving head of state to have served in World War II.

Princess Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. April, 1945 – The International Museum of World War II

This “urge” to get her hands dirty to serve her people gained her the title of “Princess Auto Mechanic” in the press at the time. Although her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth had previously opposed her request to join the army, they paid her a visit at the ATS Mechanical Transport Training Section in April 1945. A few months later, she was appointed Junior Commander. When Japan surrendered in September, Elizabeth ended her army service.

Although her time in the army was relatively short, it still left its impact on the Queen. She taught all her children and grandchildren how to drive, and even regularly got behind the wheel of one of the many cars in the royal fleet herself. She is also said to have often taken the opportunity to check on engines herself in case of breakdowns.

View related footage from Imperial War Museums

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