The Women’s Royal Army Corps was founded in 1949 to act as a permanent replacement for the wartime ATS. As with all military units, fitness was an important part of the regiment’s ethos from the very start and women who joined were expected to take part in physical training, just like men. In order to take part in sport, they needed a set of PT gear and in accordance with the times women were issued with a gym skirt and aertex blouse (shorts were less common for sports back then!). In design these shorts mirrored what was being used contemporaneously in schools and this example dates from the 1970s or 1980s:
It is a very simple garment with a zip fly:
And a pair of buttoned waist adjusters on either side:
As usual a stores label is sewn inside with sizing:
This example is a ‘size 10’- whether this is the civilian size 10 or an army specific sizing system like that used in men’s clothing of the era is unclear. Earlier examples actually included the designation ‘WRAC’ on the label, this one does not however. Women were issued the skirts on a scale of a single skirt per WRAC and an identical skirt in grey was issued to the QARANC.
The book ‘Fit to Fight: A History of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps 1860-2015’ gives some details of the PT offered to women of the WRAC:
The WRAC PT Wing was established at the ASPT Aldershot, with Junior Commander Tebbit as Commandant; she was supported by an administration officer and two WO1 Instructors, Jackson and Newbold. The PT Wing would run AI and Advanced courses; from 1956, it would also offer Leaders’ courses in major games, fencing, athletics and dancing, seeking to promote recreational sport in the WRAC. Staff shortages were an issue and WRAC PT in the Commands (notably the extensive AA Command) and Territorial unit training was often delivered by part-time WRAC PTIs.
Perhaps the most famous former WRAC involved with sport is Dame Kelly Holmes who joined the WRAC as a lorry driver aged 17. She trained as a WRAC PTI and served for 10 years before going professional as an athlete in 1997. Sport wasn’t for all though, Marie Hemmings joined the WRAC in the 1950s and recalls:
You see, I wasn’t very sporty – I played hockey once and had to stop and sit down and have a smoke!