Roath Women and the War: Part 4

Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road . Built around 1860 it was a substantial building reputedly able to seat 1000. The Roath Road Magazine was originally established as the magazine of the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School (DX320/3/2/i-iii). From November 1914 it was published monthly as the ‘Roath Road Roamer’ (RRR) to provide news on the war and, in particular, the fortunes of service men and women associated with the Roath Road Wesleyan Church, School and Congregation serving in the armed forces (DAWES6). It was distributed throughout the area and sent overseas to provide soldiers, families and friends with news from home and updates on colleagues serving in the forces. In particular, it featured photographs and letters from soldiers serving overseas.

From the outset the intention was that the magazine should feature the contribution made by the women of the parish and, in particular, those ‘in uniform’. Altogether, the magazine included details of 19 women from the Roath area. Many were sisters of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the magazine included photographs of 17 of the 19 and several letters. Referred to in the magazine as ‘our Lady Roamers’ the short pen pictures featured over the coming weeks provide an insight into how the war resulted in women moving into roles and occupations previously dominated by men.

At the outset of the war possibly the most obvious route for women looking to contribute to the war effort was to take up the call for volunteers made by both local charities and national bodies such as the Red Cross. Seven of the women featured in the magazine took this route. However, later in the War, as a result of the shortage of manpower following the introduction of conscription in 1916, opportunities opened up for women in many new areas of work. By 1918 Lady Roamers were also to be found in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Royal Air Force, the Land Army and local services including the railways and the post. Furthermore, from their letters we know that several served overseas.

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.  May Brooks, May Kear, Edith Townsend and Gladys Townsend

The formation of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1917 was a significant milestone in accepting that women could undertake roles within the Armed Forces other than nursing. While the Land Army, although organised on military lines, remained essentially a voluntary and domestic body, the WAAC was more akin to an army unit.

May Kear

Six of the Lady Roath Roamers were photographed in WAAC uniform. May Kear and May Brooks were in the distinctive brown gabardine coat frock  and round broad brimmed felt hat of the WAAC.  By 1918 the WAAC had become Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) and two sisters, Edith and Gladys Townsend, were pictured wearing the uniform of the QMAAC. Like many of the Lady Roath Roamers the sisters had a brother, Fred, serving in the Army.

Townsend sisters

Over 57,000 women enrolled with the WAAC. Life was far from glamorous but must have still offered the opportunity to travel and a degree of independence well beyond the expectations and horizons of many young women from Roath at that time. While some were employed as mechanics, for most, opportunities were restricted to roles such as cook, clerk, waitress and driver. The letters from Edith and Gladys in the June 1918 edition of ‘The Roamer’ provided a good flavour of their early months in the QMAAC:

‘Well we have done some travelling since we first joined up, spent the first three weeks at Kimmel Park as Mess orderlies, we felt like old soldiers, then we had a month at the training camp at Abbey Wood, near Woolwich, experienced three air raids there, no damage was done anywhere near us although we were very excited. From there we were sent to Newcastle, made a stay from the Thursday before Good Friday until Easter Tuesday, did two Church Parades, one on Good Friday to the Parish Church, the second one we marched from Bensham Workhouse to the Cathedral. We enjoyed both services very much. Bensham Workhouse is the hostel where we were stationed. Being holiday time we were able to have a good look around and enjoy ourselves, we thought Newcastle very much like Cardiff, so felt more at home there than we have at any other place. Arrived at this camp on Easter Tuesday afternoon about 4 o clock, just about fagged out after travelling all day. Felt very strange at first but now we have settled down and know the ins and outs of the different Messes and like the life very much’ (Vol.44, p.6).

We know from May Brooks’ service record that her life in the WAAC followed a similar pattern.

May Brooks

May was 18 when she enlisted, and living at Elm Street, Cardiff. A clerk at a confectionary firm in Cardiff she applied for the WAAC at the Cardiff Labour Exchange. The Exchange’s records confirm that they saw her as a very suitable candidate. However, enrolment was conditional on passing a medical and the provision of two character references. From her war record we know that on this score, May passed with flying colours with a reference from a neighbour on Elm Street describing her as trustworthy, reliable and industrious. She also received a glowing testimonial from the Editor of the ‘Roath Roamer’, W. E. Clogg:

‘I believe her to be a steady, honest, straightforward girl and a capable one too. I have every confidence in thoroughly recommending her’.

Uniform and accommodation were provided free of charge but from the weekly wage of 24 shillings paid to lower ranks, 12 shillings was deducted for food. Although women serving in the WAAC did not have full military status, discipline was strict. There was a particular concern at how best to manage men and women working and living alongside each other in military camps. In ‘General Rules’ it was stipulated that:

‘Members of the WAAC will not whilst off duty associate with Officers and other ranks of the Army without the written permission of a Controller or Administrator’.

May Brookes worked at a number of army bases in the south of England. Like thousands of others she contracted influenza during the epidemic that swept the country in 1918, spending a week in hospital. She was discharged on compassionate grounds in June 1919. As with many advances made by women in 1914-18, the WAAC was seen as primarily a response to the war and in 1921 its successor body, the QMAAC, was wound up.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Roath Women and the War: Part 3

Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road . Built around 1860 it was a substantial building reputedly able to seat 1000. The Roath Road Magazine was originally established as the magazine of the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School (DX320/3/2/i-iii). From November 1914 it was published monthly as the ‘Roath Road Roamer’ (RRR) to provide news on the war and, in particular, the fortunes of service men and women associated with the Roath Road Wesleyan Church, School and Congregation serving in the armed forces (DAWES6). It was distributed throughout the area and sent overseas to provide soldiers, families and friends with news from home and updates on colleagues serving in the forces. In particular, it featured photographs and letters from soldiers serving overseas.

From the outset the intention was that the magazine should feature the contribution made by the women of the parish and, in particular, those ‘in uniform’. Altogether, the magazine included details of 19 women from the Roath area. Many were sisters of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the magazine included photographs of 17 of the 19 and several letters. Referred to in the magazine as ‘our Lady Roamers’ the short pen pictures featured over the coming weeks provide an insight into how the war resulted in women moving into roles and occupations previously dominated by men.

At the outset of the war possibly the most obvious route for women looking to contribute to the war effort was to take up the call for volunteers made by both local charities and national bodies such as the Red Cross. Seven of the women featured in the magazine took this route. However, later in the War, as a result of the shortage of manpower following the introduction of conscription in 1916, opportunities opened up for women in many new areas of work. By 1918 Lady Roamers were also to be found in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Royal Air Force, the Land Army and local services including the railways and the post. Furthermore, from their letters we know that several served overseas.

The Land Army. Dorothy Brixton and Nellie Warner

Two of the Lady Roath Roamers, Nellie Warner and Dorothy Brixton, were pictured wearing the distinctive uniform of the Women’s Land Army.

Dorothy Brixton

The Brixtons were a local family from Treharris Street, Roath.  Dorothy helped with the Sunday School at Roath Road Church and had three brothers who all fought in the First World War.  James Brixton was awarded the Military Medal in 1917 for bravery while on service in the field in September 1916. It was later confirmed that this included bringing in a wounded officer under heavy shell fire (Vol.27, p.3 and Vol.43, pp.3-4). The award was made at a public presentation in Cardiff on 26 November 1917. Her brother, Alfred, was also awarded the Military Medal later in the same year (Vol.38, p.8 and Vol.39 p.2). It was perhaps not surprising that, with her brothers in the armed forces, Dorothy took up the opportunity to enrol in the Land Army.

Formed in March 1917, the Land Army was a direct response to the need to boost food production by providing additional labour for farms throughout Britain. Over 20,000 women volunteered for a minimum of 6 months. Volunteers were assigned to one of three sections – agriculture, timber cutting and forage. It is likely that Nellie and Dorothy lived at home and were in the agricultural section. If so they would have tackled the full range of farm work from milking and looking after livestock to planting and harvesting of crops. While nursing was seen as natural contribution for women to make to the war effort, the Land Girls in their breeches, knee length tunic and felt hat were seen as a very different proposition.

Nellie Warner

Very little information is provided in ‘The Roamer’ about Nellie Warner.  Like many Cardiff women, Dorothy and Nellie would probably have worked each day at farms surrounding Cardiff. The Land Army was not an easy option. With the glamour of the uniform came the prospect of long hours and back breaking work for 18s a week.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Roath Women and the War: Part 2

Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road . Built around 1860 it was a substantial building reputedly able to seat 1000. The Roath Road Magazine was originally established as the magazine of the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School (DX320/3/2/i-iii). From November 1914 it was published monthly as the ‘Roath Road Roamer’ (RRR) to provide news on the war and, in particular, the fortunes of service men and women associated with the Roath Road Wesleyan Church, School and Congregation serving in the armed forces (DAWES6). It was distributed throughout the area and sent overseas to provide soldiers, families and friends with news from home and updates on colleagues serving in the forces. In particular, it featured photographs and letters from soldiers serving overseas.

From the outset the intention was that the magazine should feature the contribution made by the women of the parish and, in particular, those ‘in uniform’. Altogether, the magazine included details of 19 women from the Roath area. Many were sisters of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the magazine included photographs of 17 of the 19 and several letters. Referred to in the magazine as ‘our Lady Roamers’ the short pen pictures featured over the coming weeks provide an insight into how the war resulted in women moving into roles and occupations previously dominated by men.

At the outset of the war possibly the most obvious route for women looking to contribute to the war effort was to take up the call for volunteers made by both local charities and national bodies such as the Red Cross. Seven of the women featured in the magazine took this route. However, later in the War, as a result of the shortage of manpower following the introduction of conscription in 1916, opportunities opened up for women in many new areas of work. By 1918 Lady Roamers were also to be found in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Royal Air Force, the Land Army and local services including the railways and the post. Furthermore, from their letters we know that several served overseas.

The Soldiers’ Rest – Muriel Ingram

The Red Cross was just one route for those looking to volunteer during the War and many worked for local charities. In Volume 49, ‘The Roamer’ featured the story of Muriel Ingram – another Roath Roamer from Richmond Road. In 1918 ‘The Roamer’ reported:

Muriel Ingram p1

Muriel Ingram p2

‘On Friday 12th July last, in the Council Chamber of the Cardiff City Hall, amongst other local ladies who received a beautifully designed Badge in appreciation of War Services rendered on behalf of ‘that splendid fellow, the British Soldier’, was Miss Muriel Ingram, the sister of the Roamer who appears on our first page.  Miss Ingram has done excellent work in connection with the Soldiers’ Rest, St Mary Street, and we are exceedingly glad that her services have been recognised. The badge was granted and presented by Lieut-General Sir William Pitcairn Campbell, Commanding-in chief the Western Command’ (Vol.46, p.2).

The brother referred to was Geoffrey Ingram who served with the 14th Battalion of the Welsh Regiment and was wounded in the latter months of the War.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Roath Women and the War: Part 1

Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road . Built around 1860 it was a substantial building reputedly able to seat 1000. The Roath Road Magazine was originally established as the magazine of the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School (DX320/3/2/i-iii). From November 1914 it was published monthly as the ‘Roath Road Roamer’ (RRR) to provide news on the war and, in particular, the fortunes of service men and women associated with the Roath Road Wesleyan Church, School and Congregation serving in the armed forces (DAWES6). It was distributed throughout the area and sent overseas to provide soldiers, families and friends with news from home and updates on colleagues serving in the forces. In particular, it featured photographs and letters from soldiers serving overseas.

From the outset the intention was that the magazine should feature the contribution made by the women of the parish and, in particular, those ‘in uniform’. Altogether, the magazine included details of 19 women from the Roath area. Many were sisters of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen and the magazine included photographs of 17 of the 19 and several letters. Referred to in the magazine as ‘our Lady Roamers’ the short pen pictures featured over the coming weeks provide an insight into how the war resulted in women moving into roles and occupations previously dominated by men.

At the outset of the war possibly the most obvious route for women looking to contribute to the war effort was to take up the call for volunteers made by both local charities and national bodies such as the Red Cross. Seven of the women featured in the magazine took this route. However, later in the War, as a result of the shortage of manpower following the introduction of conscription in 1916, opportunities opened up for women in many new areas of work. By 1918 Lady Roamers were also to be found in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, the Royal Air Force, the Land Army and local services including the railways and the post. Furthermore, from their letters we know that several served overseas.

The Nurses – Alice Williams, Lilian Dove, Rose Crowther, Beatrice James, Harriet Thomas and Florrie Pearce

During the course of the War over 90,000 men and women responded to the call by the Red Cross for volunteers. Each county set up Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADS) made up of volunteers. The VADs undertook a range of work including nursing, transport and organisation of rest stations. Six of the Lady Roamers volunteered for the Red Cross. The most dramatic stories were provided by Alice Williams and Lilian Dove both of whom served overseas as nurses.

Alice Williams joined the Red Cross is 1915 and was one of the first Lady Roamers. In November 1915 the Roamer included a photograph of Alice with the following caption:

‘Miss Alice Williams, who has a lifelong connection with Roath Road, is a Red Cross Nurse in a French Field Hospital, where the wounded are brought in straight from the trenches for immediate attention. Our only lady at the Front!’ (Vol.13, p.6).

Alice Williams

Two years later, in June 1917, it was reported:

‘Miss Williams has been in the thick of things – as a nurse for two years, and this is the first time she has left France. Much of her time she has spent within three miles of the German trenches so she knows something about things and has an interesting story to tell. She kindly showed us a bit of a Zeppelin that she saw brought down outside Paris. We believe that she is going back and wish her every success in the splendid bit of work she is doing’ (Vol.32, p.6).

Like Alice, Lilian Dove had quite a story to tell. Lilian, from Richmond Road, Cardiff was 25 at the start of the War. In Vol. 41 the Roamer reported:

‘The many ‘Roamers’ by whom our former Minister, The Rev C Nelson Dove, is still held in such affectionate regard, will be thankful to hear that his daughter, Nurse Lilian Dove, who was ‘mined’ off Alexandria on 31st December last, was rescued and is apparently none the worse for her unsought adventure and the exposure, shock and explosion, except that she unfortunately lost all her belongings’ (Vol.41, p.8).

Nine months later the Roamer reported that she was still in Alexandria. The information was provided by Driver George Notley, a fellow Roath Roamer, who was also in Egypt. He had sent Lilian a card signed ‘Notley one of the RRRs. She recognised the ‘Freemason’s sign’ and they had a cheery interview’ (Vol.47, p.2).

Rose Crowther

Photographs of two other Lady Roamers, Rose Crowther and Beatrice James, were provided in their Red Cross nurses uniforms. It is likely that Rose was the sister of Charles Crowther who was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers. We know from Red Cross records that Rose joined the Red Cross on 3 June 1916 but no details were provided of where she and Beatrice were stationed.

Beatrice James

Two others, Harriet Thomas and Florrie Pearce, are pictured in overcoats and caps.

Harriet Thomas

It could well be that when the photographs were taken they were working at one or more of the Auxiliary hospitals set up by the Red Cross during the war.

Florrie Pearce

In total the Red Cross set up 49 Auxiliary hospitals in Glamorgan alone. Often using large houses made available by their owners, the hospitals provided rest and recuperation for servicemen recently discharged from the large military hospitals. However, as with Alice Williams and Lilian Dove, service was not limited to the Home Front and Florrie Pearce certainly served with the Red Cross overseas and probably in France.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer