Why Queen Elizabeth Was Once Known as ‘Princess Auto Mechanic’

During World War II, young people from all over the country came together to defend their homeland and defeat Hitler.

Queen Elizabeth came of age during this difficult time and while she could have escaped hard work because of her privilege, she saw the devastation around her and wanted to help. Here’s the amazing story of how Queen Elizabeth served her country in the war. 

Princess Elizabeth changing a car tire
Princess Elizabeth, future Queen Elizabeth II | Roger Viollet via Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth served as a mechanic in the war

Today, we usually see Queen Elizabeth as a rather stuffy old woman. She appears stern and serious with her polished dress-suits, pearls, and large hats. It’s hard to imagine her as a lively young woman, but almost 80 years ago, she was very different.

In fact, Queen Elizabeth fought against her father’s wishes to perform one of the dirtiest jobs for a woman at that time

In 1945, Queen Elizabeth, then known as Princess Elizabeth, served her country as an auto mechanic in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which is similar to the Women’s Army Corps in the United States. She learned to drive and maintain vehicles needed for the war effort, including engine repair.

During her time at the ATS training center, her family, including her father, the King, her mother and Princess Margaret visited her to see what she had been learning. A story in the Associated Press at the time reported on the visit and dubbed her “Princess Auto Mechanic.”

The King didn’t want Elizabeth to serve

A princess working with the military wasn’t a normal thing at the time. But when she turned 18 in 1944, young people all around the country were doing their part, and Queen Elizabeth wanted to help.

According to a report in LIFE Magazine published at the time, she advocated for herself to serve the way other young citizens had to. But the King wasn’t keen on the idea. He deliberated with his counselors, eventually coming to the conclusion that her training as a Princess was more important than the nation’s manpower shortages and that she should not join any military service or work in a factory. 

“But Betts [Queen Elizabeth] had other ideas,” the magazine printed. She refused to let the issue go and eventually was successful in convincing her father to allow her service. Queen Elizabeth is the first and only woman in the royal family to be an active service member.

Queen Elizabeth loved to get dirty as a mechanic

Queen Elizabeth’s role in the ATS wasn’t a symbolic one. This was not a case of her showing up to change one tire and then being called a mechanic. She received no special rank or privileges for being a member of the royal family.

The same training and subsequent jobs were given to Queen Elizabeth as all the other women in her position. She learned to drive several types of vehicles, including an ambulance, and how to deconstruct and rebuild an engine.

The work was wonderful to Queen Elizabeth. According to Mashable, Collier’s Magazine reported in 1947, “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.”

The Queen’s role in the war shows us what a strong and hard-working woman she is, and it certainly helped her prepare for the huge role of Queen.

We’d much rather have a queen that got down into the muck with her people to help in the effort than a leader who sat comfortably in her castle telling others what to do.

Sometimes it’s easy to judge people based on what you see at the moment, but the story of Queen Elizabeth’s determination to help her country reminds us that people aren’t always what they seem.