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

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