Staff Sergeant Major
Staff Sergeant Major Mabel Kathleen Twist served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War. She was born on 14th March 1914. Known as Kathleen Rolston before her marriage, she was a member of the Girl Guides at Megaine Memorial Church, Belfast. She progressed through the ranks there from Brownies to a Lieutenant in the Girl Guides. In her spare time, Kathleen enjoyed cooking, playing tennis, and golfing.
She enlisted in 1938 at a time before the A.T.S. in Northern Ireland had uniforms. Her service number was W.12 and on 21st October 1941, the Belfast Newsletter stated she was the first A.T.S. recruit in Northern Ireland and one of the first in the United Kingdom. She had worked in gas mask assembly at the Ulster Hall, Belfast before joining up to undertake more clerical work.
In 1941, she was the Assistant Supervising Officer at the Northern Ireland Division Military Headquarters. As well as holding this position, she was the only Staff Sergeant Major in Northern Ireland at the time. Some newspaper reports suggest she may have been unique in the whole United Kingdom.
On 22nd October 1941, War Office Photographer Lieutenant J.R. Bainbridge photographed Sergeant Major Twist in her A.T.S. uniform. The Chief Controller of the Auxiliary Territorial Service Jean Knox commended Twist’s impeccable appearance, referring to her as:
The smartest woman in the A.T.S. in Britain.
Chief Controller Knox honoured Mrs. Twist with the title after a parade in Northern Ireland on 20th October 1941. Mrs. O.B. Graham (Chief Commander of the Auxiliary Territorial Service in Northern Ireland) stated that Twist’s appearance was always impeccable and showed the Chief Controller around her quarters.
Staff Sergeant Major Twist’s husband Lance Bombardier Wesley Twist served in the Royal Artillery. Before the Second World War, he worked as an architect in the Ministry of Finance. With the outbreak of war, he enlisted in 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment. He later served in Gibraltar with the Royal Engineers. The couple married at Knock, Belfast in 1937 and lived at 9 Orby Road, Belfast.
On 22nd October 1941, Staff Sergeant Major Mabel Kathleen Twist took part in a parade at the Northern Ireland District H.Q. of the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Also present was her husband, a Lance Bombardier home on leave.
The photographs of the couple taken by Lieutenant J.R. Bainbridge capture the only occasion on which they saw each other during the Second World War. The A.T.S. granted the Staff Sergeant Major 7-days’ leave to coincide with her husband returning home for a week.
The couple had one son named Dewar Twist after moving to Omagh, Co. Tyrone in the 1950s. Kathleen and Wesley remained together for 67 years until his death in 2004. In that time, they were founder members of the Civil Service Branch of the Royal British Legion. Kathleen later became Chair of the Royal British legion’s Women’s Section and President of the Northern Ireland section. For her tireless work, she received an M.B.E in the New Year’s Honours list of 1998.
Mabel Kathleen Twist died on 28th November 2013, 3 months short of her 100th birthday at Harold McCauley House, Omagh, Co. Tyrone. On 7th December 2013, Reverend William Newell conducted a funeral service at Omagh Methodist Church, Omagh, Co. Tyrone. In his sermon, he told the congregation that Kathleen had donated her body to medical research at Queen’s University, Belfast.