OBITUARY: Christian Fraser-Tytler

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The Independent Online
Christian Fraser-Tytler was Senior Controller of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the ATS, which later became the Women's Royal Army Corps) during the Second World War, a period of rapid growth and sensitive negotiation of women's roles in the Army. Her service life proved that a woman could exert power and promote progress in a man's world, combining efficiency with charm.

Having had experience in working for the Foreign Office at the peace conference that marked the end of the First World War, at Versailles in 1919, Fraser-Tytler was posted on the outbreak of the Second World War to the War Office. Her husband, whom she had nursed for some years, had died in 1937 and she had joined the newly formed Auxiliary Territorial Service, forming a unit in Inverness in her native Scotland.

Fraser-Tytler's abilities were soon recognised by the War Office, and she was appointed a member of staff to the Adjutant-General, General Sir Ronald Adam. Under his command, she established and ran AG16, the department that recruited and organised the ATS, in conjunction with the ATS directorate at AG15. This was no easy act: the Army was always increasing recruitment and finding new roles for women in the armed forces. ATS units sprang up daily, growing out of the sketchy Territorial Army structure which had been raised on a county basis between the Munich crisis in 1938 and the outbreak of war. AG16 was the conduit through which this rapid growth took place, so Fraser-Tytler and her staff had a mammoth task. Many bizarre and awkward questions were posed about the suitability of tasks and the placement of women within the armed forces. Postings and promotions had to be organised with speed and imagination.

Fraser-Tytler worked with two directors of ATS during this period, Jean Knox and Dame Leslie Whateley - very different in temperament and outlook, but she worked with them both harmoniously. She was poised between the wishes of her own embryonic service and the army chiefs - decision-making was a minefield politically and practically. Her role was critical but she achieved success at AG16, a success she repeated later at Anti-Aircraft Command HQ.

By 1943 AA Command's defences of Great Britain depended to a very great extent on mixed heavy "Ack-Ack" (anti-aircraft) regiments. The personnel of a mixed battery was approximately 200 men and 200 women. ATS personnel were also serving in Ack-Ack command with searchlight units - transport, centralised cooking, clerical, staff positions and every other role undertaken by women at that stage of the war. The numbers of ATS personnel in Ack- Ack command alone was far higher than the total of all other units serving at home and overseas.

Fraser-Tytler was promoted senior commandant and posted as Deputy Director ATS to AA Command HQ. Her commander-in-chief was General Sir Frederick Pile, surely the shortest full general in the Army and she quite the tallest senior ATS officer. She must have found life at AA command very different from the War Office but she won the respect of the staff there when women in the forces were not always either popular or acceptable. Her assistant, Chief Commander C.V. ("Woody") Woodburn and she made a wonderful team. Pam Duke, a junior member of her personal staff at the time recalls, "She retained discipline and efficiency while remaining aware of the personal problems of her officers, appreciating that service life was not the whole of their lives. Working for Mrs F-T was a pleasure, with never a dull moment."

After the flying bombs, V1s, started invading the south coast and Thames estuary, a special deployment of anti-aircraft units made it necessary to use mixed heavy Ack-Ack units. All the women concerned were volunteers but the political implications of having women under canvas on hastily prepared sites around the coast became a political football. The coalition government's time was drawing to a close and the press, egged on by a local Essex MP, Tom Driberg, were exhorting servicewomen to make complaints. Those of us who were responsible for their well-being but also aware of the importance of their role were under great stress, but Fraser-Tytler as usual showed great skill in handling this crisis.

Fraser-Tytler was always particularly proud of being appointed CBE (Mil) in 1941, which must have been among the first such awards for a woman. Most of us had to wait until much later for that kind of recognition, and towards the end of the war the cynical used to say of the CBE (Mil), "They were given out with the rations." It is splendid to know that Mrs F-T was so pleased to receive such satisfaction for her award. It was surely deserved and earned.

In retirement she returned to her family and her beloved Aldourie Castle, by Loch Ness, her husband's home, and worked for her local community organising the building of the village hall, caring for the district and founding her local branch of the Women's Rural Institute (the Scottish equivalent of the Women's Institute). Those who cared for her during her last eight years in a nursing home said she was "a wonderful person and a joy to nurse".

Christian Fraser-Tytler's service life and contribution to the formation of the women's forces, her wisdom, sense of fair play, and vital contribution to the war effort should be celebrated; and it seems appropriate to do so by remembering what she achieved and stood for in these days between the VE and VJ remembrance celebrations.

Mary Thomson

Christian Helen Shairp, wartime army officer: born Elie, Fife 23 August 1897; clerical officer, Foreign Office 1917-19; Senior Controller, Auxiliary Territorial Service 1943-45; CBE (mil) 1941; married 1919 Col Neil Fraser- Tytler (died 1937; two daughters); died 30 June 1995.