Have you ever heard of the Girls’ Training Corps?

Girls Training Corps members at West Bank School in Bideford in 1943.Girls Training Corps members at West Bank School in Bideford in 1943.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War thousands of young women volunteered for the Forces or the Womens’ Land Army.

Girls below 18 years old were too young to volunteer yet they also wanted to serve and so they collected together into small units to train themselves in what might be required when called up.

In January 1942 these units joined together under the umbrella name of the Girls’ Training Corps with membership being open to any girls between the ages of 16-18 and a smart uniform was developed – which members had to buy for themselves.

Once enrolled they learnt Morse code, aircraft recognition, map reading – and how to drill when singing their marching song which began

‘We’re here to help our country

Shoulder her heavy load

This is the way to victory

This is the surest road.’

The organisation was so successful that it continued after the war eventually, in 1964, amalgamating with the Women’s Junior Air Corps to form the Girls’ Venture Corps.

During the war, six groups or sections were established in North Devon each being allocated a corps number.

The 1st North Devon, for example, was Barnstaple (No.753) while the 2nd was Bideford (No.803) with the other four groups being based at Combe Martin, South Molton, Ilfracombe and a second Barnstaple group.

Records of them are very scarce but some photographs and ephemera from the Bideford group have survived.

The first photograph shows the girls at their HQ in the old Westbank School at Belvoir in 1943.

The second photograph shows the girls parading on Remembrance Sunday 1944 in front of the Bideford Amateur Athletics Club building on the Pill.

All these come from the collection of the late Dorothy Cole who was herself a leading light of the Bideford group.