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

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