We all know Queen Elizabeth II has devoted her life to her country. But what many people might not realize is that ten years before she became queen, she was an active duty member of the British Armed Forces, serving during World War II.
While the then-princess could have easily have avoided an active role in the war effort, she was determined to play her part. Having seen the devastation all around her, Elizabeth knew she couldn't sit back and not participate.
As WWII broke out in 1939, King George worked hard to bolster the morale of the British public. Prior to the war, the king had struggled to lead as he was managing a combination of ill-health with a frustrating stutter which made public speaking very traumatic for him.
He refused to leave London even while Nazi planes were carrying out repeated aerial attacks, leaving the city devastated and in ruins. When an attack in September 1940 damaged a portion of Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, famously said, "Now I can look the East End in the face."
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, right, enjoys a joke with her father King George VI. (AP/AAP)
When the threat of a German invasion became very real, the British government urged the Queen to leave London with her two daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret. But she refused, saying "The children won't go without me. I won't leave without the King. And the King will never leave."
In 1940, the sisters made a public address via a radio broadcast especially for British children and they eventually did leave London for some time, spending much of the war at Windsor Castle.
Elizabeth was always very eager to do her part for the war effort. But she was in a very unique position – while she was keen to participate, her parents wouldn't allow her to enlist. There had never been a female member of the British royal family in the military but Elizabeth, who was very strong willed, wouldn't accept her parent's decision.
Princess Margaret (left) and Princess Elizabeth (right) during Children's Hour public broadcast from Windsor Castle on October 13, 1940 (Getty)
According to a report in LIFE Magazine, Elizabeth advocated for herself to serve the way other young Brits were required to. The King wasn't happy about her plans but he deliberated with his counselors, eventually deciding that her training as a princess was more important than the nation's manpower shortages. The decision was made; Elizabeth would not be allowed to join any military service or work in a factory.
But she refused to back down, so determined was she to play her part in the war effort. Eventually, she succeeded in changing her father's mind; he finally backed down and gave her permission to serve. In 1945, at the age of 19, Elizabeth was given the green light to join the military.
That February, she joined the Women's Auxiliary Territory Service (registered as inductee No. 230873). Known as "Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor", she wore a pair of overalls and trained in London as a mechanic and military truck driver.
Princess Elizabeth changing the tire of a vehicle as she trains as an ATS Officer during World War II. (Getty)
The purpose of the ATS was to provide crucial support during the war, with its members serving as radio operators, anti-aircraft gunners, drivers and mechanics. No longer seen as a "sheltered princess" Elizabeth took to her new role with great enthusiasm, beginning with a six-week auto mechanic training course in Surrey.
At the end of her course in July, Elizabeth had risen from the rank of Second Subaltern to Junior Commander. By that time she was able to deconstruct, repair and rebuild engines and change tires, as well as being able to drive including trucks, jeeps and ambulances.
In 1947, a Collier's magazine article described Elizabeth's early time in the military, writing: "One of her major joys was to get dirt under her nails and grease stains in her hands, and display these signs of labor to her friends."
Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) towards the end of the Second World War, working as a car mechanic in an auxiliary army unit. (Mary Evans)
It was a historic period for Elizabeth, as it was the first time she'd ever had a reason to work alongside "ordinary" British people. Of course, she was allowed some concessions which set her apart from her colleagues: she was allowed to eat her meals in the officer's mess hall, apart from other enlistees.
And she wasn't required to spend the night with her colleagues – she had the luxury of being driven home each night to the safety and comfort of Windsor Castle. Though she wasn't exactly like an ordinary citizen, it was still a huge advancement in royal protocol to allow Elizabeth to take such an 'unglamorous' role in the first place.
The British media playfully named Elizabeth "Princess Auto Mechanic", but beyond the great photo opportunities, the princess took her ATS duties very seriously. Her war efforts made newspaper headlines around the world, with journalists praising her for her commitment and hard work.
Princess Elizabeth at the wheel of an army vehicle while serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. (PA)
And while the king and queen had initially frowned upon Elizabeth's desire to join the military, once they saw how much pride she took in her work, they showed their approval publicly by visiting her ATS unit in April 1945. They were joined by Princess Margaret, along with a large group of photographers and journalists, keen to document the historic moment.
When the war was almost officially over on May 8, 1945, Elizabeth, who was still an active member of the ATS on the day Germany surrendered, left the palace with Margaret to join tens of thousands of people celebrating in the streets of London. Elizabeth's military service officially ended later in the year when Japan surrendered.
And while most of us know of the Queen's love of horses and dogs, there's at least one love from her teenage years that she has carried with her for her entire life: her love of cars.
Queen Elizabeth II driving her Range Rover around the Windsor Horse Show on May 13, 2017. (UK Press via Getty Images)
It's been said the Queen has been known, over the years, to relish the opportunity to repair faulty engines and machinery, drawing on the lessons she learned during WWII. Most importantly, the queen is still the only living head of state who served in World War II and the only female member of the royal family to have entered the armed forces.
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