Maud MacLellan, OBE

Corps Commander, Women's Transport Service (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry)

Maud Lilburn MacLellan was born on 6 October 1903 at 37 Athole Gardens, Kelvinside, Glasgow. Maud was born one of three children to Walter Thomas MacLellan, a partner in the iron conglomerate P and W MacLellan Ltd, and his wife, Jane Adair Whyte.

Maud’s grandfather Walter MacLellan was a founder member in 1839 of P & W MacLellan, one of Scotland’s most successful engineering and iron merchants which employed over 3,000 people. The firm supplied iron and steel all over the Empire, specialising in bridges and large scale iron structures, before diversifying into manufacturing. Amongst the firm’s most notable Glasgow structures are the first steel bridge across the Clyde and the roof of Glasgow Central Station.

The company, which eventually ceased trading in 1979, produced munitions, railway carriages, lighthouses, nuts/bolts, machine tools and even diversified into teak import, in a deal with Wallace Brothers, Britain’s main importer. The deal gave P & W MacLellan control of the sale of all Bombay Burma teak on the Clyde and 2.5 per cent commission on the eight to ten thousand loads a year. Maud’s father held the position of Deacon of Incorporation of Hammermen of Glasgow in 1920.

In the year of her birth, Maud’s family moved to Sinclair Street in Helensburgh, the town where she was to remain in for the rest of her life.

Maud was to grow into a small but very strong woman who had a passion for fishing and outdoor activities.

In 1929 MacLellan, known as Mac, joined the Glasgow section of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, the FANY. FANY was created in 1907 as a first aid link between front-line fighting units and the field hospitals. During the First World War, FANYs ran field hospitals, drove ambulances and set up soup kitchens and troop canteens, often under highly dangerous conditions. By the Armistice, they had been awarded many decorations for bravery, including 17 Military Medals, 1 Légion d'Honneur and 27 Croix de Guerre.

As a self-financing and therefore independent organization, the FANY had survived the mass disbanding of women's units which followed the armistice.

Despite the prevailing mood of disarmament and appeasement, the FANY continued recruiting and training throughout the twenties and thirties and was thus well placed to supply the first 1500 driver–mechanics for the newly formed women's Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1938.

Although promised administrative independence within the new service by the War Office, the hostility of the ATS director, Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, forced the FANY drivers within months into choosing between enrolment in the ATS or abandoning the fledgling organization altogether.

Many FANYs were outraged at this breach of agreement and feelings ran high. Maud MacLellan, by then a senior officer and known by her peers as ‘wee Maudie’, in what she saw as the best interests of the country at such a critical time, led by example and in November 1938 accepted command of the 4th Scottish Motor Company, ATS.

She became group commander of the Scottish Motor Transport Companies in August 1940 and established excellent relations with the military commanders of Scottish command, overcoming much hostility towards the new women's service.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Corps was called upon to form the nucleus of the Motor Driver Companies of the ATS. Another section was attached to the Polish Army, and a Kenyan unit formed in 1935 also joined the war effort. A spirit of independence led yet others to join the FANY in the Special Operations Executive. These women worked on coding and signals, acted as conductors for agents and provided administration and technical support for the Special Training Schools. Members operated in several theatres of war, including North Africa, Italy, India and the Far East. In all, 54 names of Corps members who died on active service in the two World Wars are recorded on the FANY memorial at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, London.

In May 1944 Maud MacLellan took command of the Motor Transport Training Centre at Camberley. It was during this period that Maud would teach the future Queen Elizabeth II how to drive. Maud later described this episode in detail in an interview given in 1952 to the Inverness and Northern Counties People’s Journal.

In the interview, Maud recalled how she had been instructed by the War Office in March 1945 to make arrangements to train a very important person as a motor car driver and in motor mechanics.

Maud later received an order to go to Buckingham Palace to be interviewed by the Queen and to personally manage a programme for the training of the ‘very important person’. Having discussed the contents of the programme in person with the King and Queen, Maud devised a schedule for the Princess which included 3 weeks initial training in Windsor Great Park, followed by a period where Princess Elizabeth joined a senior N.C.O. class at Camberley.

Driving herself, accompanied by an instructor, J/C V Wellesley, each day from Windsor Castle, the Princess attended classes in maintenance, map reading and A.T.S. administration. Treated simply as a normal junior officer, the Princess served with the Number 1 'Beaufront' Company, Auxiliary Territorial Service, and learned to drive three different vehicles a utility, an ambulance, and a saloon.

This episode is also recalled in detail by M.T. Sergeant Eileen Hall, nee Heron, who served at Camberley for three years.

“In early March I and two other girls from Mulroy were told to go and see our Commandant (Maud MacLellan) at 6.00 pm. I presumed it was for an overseas posting! On arrival we found eleven other girls, three from other companies. The Commandant informed us that we were going on an N.C.O.’s course that included H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth who would be an honorary Subaltern. We were not to tell anyone, preferably including our own families until after the event. 24 hours later we were installed in a Nissen hut at Beaufront. After the presentations next morning we soon settled down to work and lectures which included A.T.S. administration, map reading, Highway Code, military law, theory of mechanics and practical mechanics. This latter often involving, dressed in dungarees, getting underneath the vehicle or changing tyres, cleaning spark plugs etc.”

Eileen wrote at the time “Princess Elizabeth is quite striking. Pretty, short brown hair, crisp and curly, lovely grey-blue eyes and an extremely charming smile. A beautiful skin and small hands”.
“Apparently Princess Elizabeth had wanted to join up at 17 and half years, but Churchill would not allow it.”

MacLellan returned to the FANY at the end of the war, and in September 1947 became Corps Commander on the retirement of Mary Baxter Ellis. In the early post-war years the FANY faced an uncertain future.

On the one hand, its involvement in so many theatres of war, and especially with the Special Operations Executive, was becoming public knowledge. On the other, the decision of the War Office in 1947 to establish a permanent women's service, the Women's Royal Army Corps, seemed to leave no role for the FANY.

However, MacLellan believed that their future was dependent on their own interpretation of what patriotism demands from the individual and that their best hope lay in cultivating a number of specialist skills and powerful patrons. Maud was described as a woman of vision and believed that the Corps should remain available to serve the country and she pursued this belief vigourously.

Maud MacLellan was made an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 1957, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the FANY corps.

Maud retired in 1965 having never married, and used her time to pursue her love of fishing. She died on 21 May 1977 at 9 East Abercrombie Street, Helensburgh, where she had lived since the age of three and from where she had tirelessly commuted to Surrey, of arteriosclerosis, and was cremated at Cardross crematorium.

Since 1999, when the Commandant in Chief, HRH the Princess Royal, gave the Corps permission to use her title, the Corps has been known as FANY (The Princess Royal's Volunteer Corps). The organization has continued to provide specialist communications for the civil and military authorities. It has remained an independent, all-women voluntary organization.

Images: Copyright FANY (PRVC) and used with permission