Roath Women and the War: Part 5

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.

Women’s Royal Air Force. Annie Whyte

Perhaps one of the most striking photographs is that of Annie Whyte in the uniform of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF).

Annie Whyte

The WRAF was formed late in the war in spring of 1918 and over 30,000 women enrolled, many transferring from the WAAC and its naval equivalent the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Two Roath Roamers were photographed in the uniform of the WRAF, Annie Whyte and May Hancox. From her War Record we know that Annie Whyte was 24 years of age and although living in London when she enrolled, was from Mill Road, Ely. Her father and brother were riveters at the Channel Dry Dock and during the war her brother, John, served on HMS Suffolk. In March 1918, ‘The Roamer’ printed a letter from John saying that he taken copies of the magazine to:

‘Canada, Africa South and West, Spain Portugal and Mauritius, Ceylon, Jamaica, Bermudas, Adaman Islands and Straits Settlements. Can any Roamer beat it?’ (Vol.41, p.4).

Two months later he added Japan and Russia to his list (Vol.43, p.4) and in the last edition of ‘The Roamer’, in September/October 1919, he was once more in Russia:

‘We are about 3,000 miles inland on a river that runs into the Volga…. I have all the Roamers up to date. I see my sister Annie’s photo in one of them. I suppose most of the Roamers are home now. I don’t know when I shall arrive’ (Vol.57, p.6).

As with many women in the services, Annie’s horizons were much more limited. She joined the WAAC initially and transferred in April 1918 to the newly formed WRAF. She worked primarily at the Royal Flying Corps Armament School at Uxbridge as a waitress and was later promoted to forewomen waitress. Annie’s experience would have been similar to many others, with work options limited, initially, to clerical work and household duties. However, to release more men the number of opportunities open to women, including technical trades, was steadily increased. Annie would have served in Britain given that it was not until March 1919 that the first group of WRAFs went overseas. The WRAF was disbanded in the latter half of 1919.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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