From the Betjeman poem 'Henley-upon-Thames':

When(*) shall I see the Thames again?
The prow-promoted gems again,
As beefy ATS
Without their hats
Come shooting through the bridge?

(*) sometimes quoted as "Oh shall I see..."

It was written during (or around the time of) WWII, for context.

  • Is that a limerick? 'ATS' looks like initials...then it would be pronounced to rhyme with 'hats'.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 16:17
  • Not a limerick: but yes, Wikipedia does say it was often pronounced as an acronym. Like Wrens and Wracs, I guess. Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 17:09
  • Sounds like they are rowing on the Thames. Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


Most likely the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was the women's branch of the British Army during WWII.

  • 2
    Wikipedia even has photos of the hats.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 16:26
  • 5
    That would be 'ats on ATS then @StuartF! Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 16:41
  • 2
    @HighPerformanceMark 'At's it. Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 18:25
  • I agree, but I've never heard ATS pronounced as anything but the initials A T S. Betjeman, being contemporary with the WWII military, would know better than me but perhaps he was just joking. Also ATS was the name of the service not a plural noun for the members of the ATS, I've only heard members of my parents generation talk about "ATS girls".
    – BoldBen
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 8:18

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