Ellinor Agnes Christison: the domestic science student who got an MBE

Ellinor Agnes Christison trained and worked in domestic science; a profession that took her to North Africa and Italy in the Second World War.

In Glasgow the family home was at 2 Kelvinside Gardens. The 1911 census listed the family at that address as:

  • George, 51, Manager of Cyanide Works, Bathgate
  • Isabel, 48, wife
  • Robert, 20, student
  • Donald, 18, school pupil
  • Margot, 11, school pupil
  • George , 8, school pupil
  • Ellinor, 6, school pupil

There were two visitors on census day:  Charlotte Grant, 60, dressmaker, and her aunt (Isabel’s sister) Christina Munro, 41, who was a teacher. And the family had one live-in servant.

Ellinor’s name in the 1915 list in the Supernumerary and Lady Members Book 3 1914 – 1919 (Glasgow City Archives TD965:102)

Ellinor joined the Baths as child.  She is listed in the Supernumerary and Lady Members membership book in 1915 when she would have been about 11 years old.

Her older brothers Robert, Donald and George were also members, with Robert and Donald becoming adult members in 1912 and 1913.

Both Robert (known as Bertie) and Donald served in the First World War. Bertie was killed but Donald survived. You can read more about both of them in our article Robert Colin Christison: rugby captain, reader and “the beau-ideal of a soldier”.

Her father George, also died during the War, in June 1917, leaving an estate of £19,298.

After the War, Donald got married but it seems that Ellinor, along with her other brother George – who was just a couple of years older than her – continued to live with their mother. By 1929 the family had moved to 16 Clarence Drive, also in Glasgow’s West End. Isabel died on 1 July 1933.

1921 prospectus description of the Institutional Training course at the Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science. (Copyright Glasgow Caledonian University Archives. Reproduced with permission).

We think that Ellinor then studied Domestic Science. The Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science, known as the ‘Dough School’ opened in 1919 when Ellinor would about 15 years old. In 1921, someone with the surname Christison is entered into the School’s fees ledger having paid £8 to undertake the Institutional Training course in cookery. It’s not clear whether she completed the course and got her certificate but the training was designed to equip people to run large kitchens in institutions.

There’s a photo of the Dough School building in Park Drive on the Glasgow Story website: it was just down Woodlands Road from the Arlington Baths.

She remained a member of the Baths until at least 1922-23 but her name is not in the 1930s membership lists and her number – 82 – was then assigned to someone else. George and Ellinor were still living at Clarence Drive in 1934 according to the electoral roll but it appears that Ellinor then moved to England.

In August 1937, her brother Donald returned to Southampton from Port Natal in South Africa aboard the Carnarvon Castle. He was accompanied by his wife, Edith,  son Colin, 8, and daughter Alison, who was six years old. Also on the passenger list was Ellinor, 32, whose profession was Domestic Science.  Her address was 3 The Embankment, Bedford, which is the address of a hotel, now called The Embankment, which has been on the site since 1891.

On 29 September 1939, just a few weeks after the Second World War started, Ellinor’s address was the Majestic Cardew Hotel, at 138 Sandgate Road inFolkestone, Kent. Her occupation was Domestic Science. The 1939 Register also records that she was single and her birth date was 23 September 1904.

Can we assume that she is working at each of these two hotels, perhaps as a housekeeper or managing the catering?

It seems a reasonable assumption because during World War Two Ellinor was in the Army running canteens for the soldiers in North Africa and Italy.

The Expeditionary Force Institutes (EFI) provided NAAFI facilities in war zones. NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes) ran recreational establishments, like bars, shops, restaurants, cafés and other facilities needed by the British Armed Forces, on British military bases and on board Royal Navy ships. By April 1944 the NAAFI had expanded from 600 canteens in 1939 to 7,000 canteens and had 96,000 personnel, up from 4,000 before the War.

Government Appeal to Women
Government Appeal to Women © IWM (Art.IWM PST 14536)

These new personnel were women who had joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) . This was the organisation that Ellinor served in.

The ATS was the women’s branch of the British Army during the Second World War. Established in September 1938, initially as a voluntary service, all women in the Army, (apart from nurses) were in the ATS. Women between the ages of 17 and 43 were allowed to join and 65,000 did so by September 1941. In December 1941 Parliament passed the National Service Act, which called up unmarried women between 20 and 30 years old to join one of the auxiliary services, which included the ATS.

The first recruits to the ATS were employed as cooks, clerks and storekeepers but later, in order to ensure as many men as possible were available to fight, women’s roles expanded to include jobs such as telephonists, orderlies, drivers, postal workers and ammunition inspectors, and then they operated radar and anti-aircraft defences.

Fill the Gap
Fill the Gap © IWM (Art.IWM PST 14528)

We’re not sure exactly when she joined up but she was mentioned as being involved with providing overseas canteens from summer 1943. She would have been 36 years old when National Service was introduced – six years over the upper limit for conscription – so she must have volunteered to serve.

Ellinor received a commission to the ATS rank of second subaltern on 15 April 28 July 1944, and it was listed in the London Gazette on 28 July 1944.

Second subaltern is the equivalent rank to a second lieutenant in the British Army. Her entry indicates that she was serving without pay and allowances.

Notice of Ellinor Christison’s commission in the London Gazette, 28 July 1944
Badge with initials ATS with a crown over them and surrounded by a wreath of leaves
The Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) badge

By 1945 she seem to have been promoted, either to junior commander or senior commander – senior commander is equivalent in rank to a British Army major.

Then in December 1945 she was awarded an MBE for her war work. She was recommended for the honour by Colonel W B Haysey from E.F.I. and by Major-General  A O Duff from the American forces’ Office of The Quartermaster General.

They wrote: 

Senior Commander Christison has been with the Overseas Canteen Service since 16.6.43 and since the innovation of civilian volunteers in North Africa has taken untiring trouble in the development of our activities in the changeover from EFI To ATS personnel. She has shown the greatest tact and sympathetic understanding in the handling of personnel under her command which has greatly contributed to the high standard of discipline and efficiency of ATS/EFI in this theatre.

The notice of her MBE appeared in the London Gazette of 13 December when she was now listed as a Junior Commander (Acting) in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (EFI)

Notice of Ellinor Christison’s MBE in the London Gazette, 13 December 1945

Ellinor returned to her profession after the War. In 1946 she was on the electoral roll at 9 Nicosia Road, Wandsworth, London, and then in 1949 was registered at the address of Wandsworth Training College in Trinity Road where presumably she was a member of staff. It is now South Thames College.

She remained single and, at some stage, moved to Richmond in Surrey, which was her address when she died at the age of 56 on 19 December 1960. The record of her death includes her MBE.

Probate notice for Ellinor Christison in the England and Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995

Researchers: Lucy, Kay


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