Obituary: Annie Smart, ATS veteran

Born: 10 March, 1924 in Blairgrowrie. Died: 21 June, 2015, in Kirkcaldy, aged 91
From rural Perthshire to ATS guard at war crimes trials in Hamburg  and back again. Picture: ContributedFrom rural Perthshire to ATS guard at war crimes trials in Hamburg  and back again. Picture: Contributed
From rural Perthshire to ATS guard at war crimes trials in Hamburg  and back again. Picture: Contributed

The contrast between the women in the dock could not have been greater: one was a pretty young Scot stoically doing her duty, ramrod straight in impeccable uniform; the other, hard-faced and defiant, a luxurious fur coat slung around her shoulders, had just been sentenced to death.

Annie Chalmers, as she was then, was a ploughman’s daughter who had set off for her military career carried on a tractor from snowbound Perthshire and subsequently served her country manning an ack-ack battery in Belgium. Carmen Mory, feared as the “Black Angel”, was a Swiss-born Gestapo agent and block elder in the notorious Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp.

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Their paths crossed in 1946 when, after the end of the Second World War, the young Scot became part of the military police and was detailed to guard hundreds of former SS women awaiting trial in Germany for unimaginable atrocities committed in the name of the Third Reich.

Smart had the unenviable duty of escorting Mory and six other women accused during the first of seven war crimes trials conducted before a military tribunal in Hamburg, following the liberation of Ravensbruck. The camp, once described as the most terrible women’s prison in history, was a place of unspeakable evil where medical experiments carried out on inmates included amputations, the injection of syphilis into the spinal chord and the sterilisation of children. Survivors’ testimonies were so appalling that the 23-year-old prosecutor was physically sick when he first read the statements.

The defendants had all worked at Ravensbruck, built in northern Germany on the orders of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and they included the brutal assistant chief warden Dorothea Binz and labour department head Greta Bosel, a trained nurse who is said to have maintained: “If they cannot work, let them rot. Mory, like two other accused, was both prisoner and SS functionary – the cruel and ruthless leader of a block of TB patients and mentally ill women. It’s thought more than 130,000 women passed through the camp and tens of thousands perished – starved, tortured and murdered.

In early 1947, all seven woman were found guilty of war crimes and, in the silent, black-and-white British Pathe news footage of the end of their trial, Smart, 22, is seen at their side as the sentences are delivered. The brutal Mory, who could not bear to face the noose, slit her wrists with a razor blade before she could be hanged by British hangman Albert Pierrepoint. Binz and Bosel were executed on consecutive days in May 1947.

By that time the young Scot’s duties were complete and she had been demobbed, returning home to the peace of rural Perthshire. From then on she spoke little of her experiences at the trial. However, she did reveal that she and her colleagues served in court on half-hour rotas due to the ghastly nature of the testimony they had to witness.

Born at Kinloch Farm, just outside Blairgowrie, she was the daughter of ploughman/farmer David Chalmers and his wife, Annie, a housekeeper. After they moved to Waulkmill she attended Milnathort School which entailed a three-mile walk each way in all weathers.

She was still just 17 when she volunteered to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service, enrolling at Kirkcaldy. On the day she was due to report to Cameron Barracks, Inverness for initial training, the road was blocked by a terrible snowstorm. The only way to get to the railway station was through the fields on a tractor.

She had hoped to be a driver but was persuaded to joined an ack-ack battery, replacing men going abroad to fight. After radar training at Oswestry in Shropshire, she was stationed in Kent and served in various places around the south of England before her battery was shipped to Ostend in Belgium.

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By this time – late 1944 – Europe was in the grip of a severe winter. In December the battery moved to Antwerp where the action was focused against V2 flying bombs. In her reminiscences for the ATS Remembered website, Smart recalled: “Food was quite often in short supply, I remember going round looking for crusts of bread and often wondered how the men managed.” She also described melting snow in her mess tin to wash her stockings.

After Victory in Europe Day in May 1945, she helped to demolish gun pits before those entitled to be demobbed were sent home. She was then asked to re-muster and, along with a friend, was sent to the British Army of the Rhine training centre in Sennalager to train with the ATS Provost – a military police wing. She spent a short time on patrol in Brussels before being posted to a civil internment camp at Neumuster in Germany.

She later recalled: “Our duties there were to look after and guard a few hundred ex-SS women awaiting their trials and at times going out with other sections of the police to arrest others still in their homes.

“During my time there we moved all the inmates by train, fixed with searchlights and armed guards, down to No 5 level internment camp at Paderborn.

“My last duty from there before being demobbed in April 1947 was to attend the war crimes trials in Hamburg.”

Despite the horrors of that last tour of duty, she said: “I had a most adventurous and memorable time during my service, enjoying the comradeship and would do it all over again if I had my time.”

Back home in Scotland she worked as a bus conductress in Kelty, Fife and met her husband Jim Smart, who was a bus driver. The couple married in August 1953 and settled in Perth, where she later was an assistant in several shoe shops and a clerk with General Accident.

After retiring she became involved in voluntary work with a number of organisations, including the Fife and Tayside branch of the Women’s Royal Army Corps Association, and was with the Women’s Royal Voluntary Service for more than 20 years, helping to run the tea bar at Perth Sheriff Court.

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During the 1990s she attended three parades as an ATS veteran at the Cenotaph in London and regularly laid wreathes during Perth’s Remembrance Sunday services. About ten years ago she enjoyed a long conversation with fellow ATS veteran, Her Majesty The Queen, who noticed her medal while attending a royal engagement in Perth.

Smart, a divorcee who loved interacting with different generations, was also a keen traveller. She had visited the Kenyan jungle, travelled coast to coast across Australia and America and enjoyed more than two dozen cruises – her last, a trip to the Baltic at the age of 91, just shortly before she died.

A strong woman who served her country with great pride, she is survived by her son, Colin, who has pledged to salute the Cenotaph one last time on her behalf, bearing her beret and medals.