Roath Women and the War: Part 6

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.

Public services in Cardiff. Lizzie Veal and Annie Sanders and Girl Guide Edith Carbis

Two of the most interesting photographs were of Lizzie Veal and Annie Sanders wearing the uniforms of the Great Western Railway and the Postal Service respectively. By the end of the war such sightings would have been commonplace in Cardiff as women stepped increasingly into roles previously monopolised by men.

Lizzie Veal

We cannot be sure but this could be Elizabeth Jane Veal from Adamstown. If so, there was a family link with the railway in that her brother, George, was a railway wagon builder. Although women had been employed by the GWR before 1914, the numbers increased rapidly from 1914 onwards to fill the gaps left by men called up for the armed forces. The picture of Lizzie Veal was featured in ‘The Roamer’ in April 1919 (Vol.54, p.2). At that time she would have been one of over 1000 women employed by the GWR as porters and ticket collectors.

Annie Sanders

Unfortunately, ‘The Roamer’ also tells us very little about Annie Sanders (Vol.51, p.5). She may well have been Annie Sanders of Treharris Street. If so, Annie’s husband George was a tailor and she would have been 29 at the outbreak of war. She was photographed, complete with sack of letters, in the blue serge skirt and coat and blue hat of the postal service, introduced for women in 1914.

Finally, mention should be made of the first and youngest woman to feature in ‘The Roamer’, Edith Carbis.

Edith Carbis

Edith’s photograph appeared in the January 1915 edition with the following commentary:

‘We do not want the RRR to develop into merely a Men’s Magazine and hope to vary our pictures at any rate, so far as the kindness of our friends will permit. This month it is our pleasure to present this photo of Miss Edith Carbis, who is a member of the 1st Roath, Cardiff, Patrol of Girl Guides. She is one of our scholars of course, although unfortunately the Patrol is not connected with Roath Road. Guide Carbis has been on ‘active service’ since the War began and has been in daily attendance on the Lady Mayoress at the City Hall. The remainder of her day’s routine has been devoted to making clothes for the Belgians’ (Vol.3, p.7).

Despite the good intentions, other than the references to Nurse Alice Williams later in 1915, it was not until March 1918 that ‘The Roamer’ began to feature, on a regular basis, the photographs and details of women from Roath. It had taken some time to accept that women could steps into roles previously dominated by men. Although for many the new opportunities were short lived, no one could doubt that attitudes to work and male and female roles would never again be the same as a result of the wartime experience.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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

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

Alfred Thomas Griffiths

Background

In February 2014 an article for Wales Online by Sion Morgan told the story of the photo-journal of a soldier, Alfred Griffiths, wounded in the First World War (http://bit.ly/1EXhG0c). The journal had been found in a charity shop in Cornwall by Robert Aindow. From the details provided in the journal and information in the 1911 census Robert Aindow identified the soldier as Alfred Thomas Griffiths, the son of David and Rosetta Griffiths of 13 Comet Street, Cardiff. An appeal was made for further information on Alf and, in a further article on 7 October (http://bit.ly/1K08QTM), it was confirmed that the Journal had been bought by a Cardiff historian, Derek Gigg, from Llanishen. Derek had been able to add to the detail on Alf’s war service with the Devon Regiment and again made an appeal for any further information.

The Roath Road Roamer

Copies of ‘The Roath Road Roamer’, published from 1914-19 by the Roath Road Wesleyan Church and held at Glamorgan Archives, have helped to flesh out Alf’s story. Drawing on letters and photographs from men and women in the armed forces and news gleaned from soldiers on leave, ‘The Roath Road Roamer’ tracked the war service of 460 men and 19 women from Cardiff. It was produced monthly, distributed throughout the area and sent overseas.

Alf Griffiths was a ‘Roath Roamer’ and the magazine follows his war time experiences, and those of the men from the Roath area of Cardiff who fought alongside him in France. It also tracks Alf’s personal battle to recover from the wounds sustained at the battle of the Somme in 1916 and his eventual discharge from the Army in 1918.

Alfred Thomas Griffiths first featured in ‘The Roamer’ in December 1914. His name was included in the Roll of Honour of those serving in the armed forces who were formerly on the Sunday School roll. The entry confirms that, at the outbreak of war, the Griffiths family were still living at 13 Comet Street and that Alf joined the 11th Battalion of the Devon Regiment (Vol.2, p.7).

Alf’s family, therefore, almost certainly attended the Roath Road Wesleyan Methodist Church situated on the corner of City Road and Newport Road (previously known at Roath Road). Along with other families from Comet Street, including the Townsend family at 40 Comet Street, Alf would have attended services and Sunday School at the Church. Records for the Roath Road Wesleyan Church held at Glamorgan Archives confirm that up to 850 children attended Sunday School each week, supervised by 40 teachers and 50 helpers (DWESCR299). ‘The Roamer’ contains details of three members of the Townsend family who fought in the War – Fred, who joined the Army, and his sisters Edith and Gladys, who later in the War joined the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps.  It is likely that Fred and Alf were friends as ‘The Roamer’ records that they were both members of the Church Boys’ Brigade (the 14th Cardiff Company) and both enlisted early in the War with the Devon Regiment. However, in the photograph of Alf featured in ‘The Roamer’ in February 1915 (Vol.4, p.4) he is pictured alongside three other recruits to the Devon Regiment, Lance Corporal John W Laidlaw, Private James Brixton and Private Herbert J Morrisey.

Alf Griffiths group photo

Unusually ‘The Roamer’ does not record what happened to John Laidlaw. However, we do know that Alf, Jim Brixton and Bert Morrisey were also close friends. They had all attended the same class of the Roath Road Sunday School taught by Mr Haime (Vol.2, p.7) and had been members of the Church Boys’ Brigade. The picture in Alf Griffiths’ photo journal of the Boys’ Brigade parade is almost certainly a photograph of the 14th Company of the Cardiff Battalion – the Roath Road Company.

Boys Brigade

The Brigade was well supported with around 50 members at any one time. The boys were required to attend Bible Class on Sunday mornings with meetings every weekday evening for drill and band practice, gymnastics and first aid. As young men they had maintained their links with the Church and at the outbreak of the war Bert Morrisey was the Staff-Sergeant in the Boys’ Brigade (Vol.25, p.2). Given that they joined the 11th Battalion of the Devon Regiment it is very likely that they had taken the decision to enlist in Kitchener’s New Army together. It was with some pride that the Church magazine claimed the four as ‘Roath Roamers’ and the caption for the picture described the new recruits as:

‘Four Fine Fellows who have all done well in the 14th Cardiff Company of the Boys’ Brigade and who are now serving King and Country….’

The Brixtons were a local family from Treharris Street, Roath although, by 1914, Jim was living at Thesiger Street. All three sons served in the armed forces. Their sister, Dorothy, helped with the Sunday School at Roath Road (DWESCR299) and later joined the Land Army. She was featured in ‘The Roamer’ as one of the ‘Lady Roamers’.  It is likely that, after the photograph was taken, the four men were separated for, in May 1915, ‘The Roamer’ reported that Jim Brixton was with the 2nd Battalion of the Devon Regiment and had ‘…the honour of being the first Roath Road man in Kitchener’s New Army to go to the Front’ (Vol.7, p.6).

By April 1915 ‘The Roamer’ reported that Bert and Alf had both been promoted to Lance Corporal (Vol.6, p.8) and by November 1915 they were both ‘at the Front’ with Bert recently promoted to Corporal (Vol.13, p.8). In addition, they had transferred to the 9th Battalion of the Devon Regiment. In the build up to the offensive on the Somme in July 1916 Alf was promoted to Corporal and Bert to Sergeant (Vol.20, p.8). They may have been reunited with Fred Townsend who had returned to the 9th battalion after recovering from a wound (a bullet through the thigh) sustained in October 1915 (Vol.20, p.8 and Vol.13, p.3).  Jim Brixton was also at the Front at this time having returned to the 2nd Battalion of the Devon Regiment (Vol.20, p.5).

The Battle of the Somme opened on 1 July 1916 and ‘The Roamer’ reported that Alf was seriously wounded on the first day of the offensive when serving with the 20/1 Trench Mortar Battery. A month later, in August 1916, ‘The Roamer’ printed a letter from Alf written from his hospital bed in Aberdeen.

Vol22 p3

‘I am wondering if you have heard the bad news that I am lying in hospital wounded. The wounds are not of the worst. I had one bullet wound in the face and it has broken the lower jaw-bone. The second one is a bullet wound in the in the left foot…. I was wounded on the July 1st, the first day of the Big Advance unfortunately. I am very lucky to be alive as many young fellows alongside me were killed’ (Vol.22, p.3).

The photograph in Alf’s Photo Journal of Red Cross nurses, dated August 1916, was probably taken at Aberdeen. Reflecting on the launch of the offensive ‘The Roamer’ noted:

‘Of all months July of course has been the most anxious for us. The number of those actually in France at the time the Big Push started was as follows – Officers 8, NCO’s 18 and men 58. A total of 84. Why the run on the figure 8 we do not quite know but there it is. Some of those who profess to draw omens from such things can perhaps help us. The days have been dark ones for us from a personal standpoint , though bright and glorious enough with Victory. As we go to press not much news of our lads has come to hand, and while we might fear some may be bad enough when it reaches us, we hope and pray for the best’ (Vol.22, pp.2-3).

Alf would also have been in Aberdeen when the news arrived that Bert Morrisey was missing and later reported as killed in action on 4 September at the Somme.  He was 21 years old and, at the time, the 13th Roamer to be killed in action (Vol.25, p.2 and Vol.26, p.6). He was also one of the 22 former members of the 14th Boys’ Brigade Company killed during the war (DWESCR302). In the same month Jim Brixton had been recommended for the Military Medal for ‘…some very plucky work as a stretcher bearer one night on the Front, in the open facing the German machine guns ….’.

Alf’s wounds were more serious than portrayed in his letter. On January 10 1917 he was still in hospital at Aberdeen.

Vol29 p6

‘Instead of that operation I told you about, the doctor through the X Rays, has found it necessary to put the splint back in my mouth and cement it. That means I shall have to go through the cure again. It is very disappointing but I intend to have the proper cure. I expect to be here some little time yet. Am anxiously waiting for the Roamer’ (Vol.29, p.6).

It was not until May 1917 that ‘The Roamer’ reported that Alf was home in Cardiff – ‘…his patience has been rewarded at last’ (Vol.31, p.8). By July 1917 ‘…he was back at the Front again’ (Vol.33, p.7) but reported as wounded and in hospital in September 1917 along with his Boys’ Brigade Pal, Jim Brixton (Vol.35, p.5). ‘The Roamer’ took a dim view of Alf’s treatment by the Army:

‘As we expected Corporal Alfred Griffiths (9th Batt Devon Regiment) is back from France and is in hospital in London. He was badly wounded in the jaw on 1st July 1916, but after nearly 12 months in hospital was sent out again before he was right’  (Vol.39, p.4).

‘The Roamer’ continued to keep a close watch on Alf’s progress. In July 1918 it reported:

‘Corporal Alfred T Griffith (Devon Regiment) who was wounded on 1st July 1916, on the first day of the Big Push of two years ago, had been hospital most of the time since except for a short revisit to France. At present he is in London and he has recently undergone another operation on his jaw, which we trust will be more successful than the previous ones’ (Vol.45, p.8).

Alf never fully recovered from the injuries sustained at the Somme and two months later ‘The Roamer’ noted:

‘Corporal Alfred T Griffiths after a long and trying time in hospital, as mentioned in previous issues (it is two years and two months ago that we was wounded) has been fortunate in getting his discharge from the Army’ (Vol.47, p.8).

Of Alf’s pals both Fred Townsend and Jim Brixton survived the War. However, Fred was badly wounded at Ypres in November 1917. In a letter to ‘The Roamer’ he set out the details:

‘I was rather unlucky for we had been through two attacks and we were being relieved that night. I was sent back to guide the relief up when I got hit. It made a bit of gash from my shoulder down half way to the elbow, and cut the artery, and so made me lose a lot of blood’ (Vol.38, pp.2-3).

After a lengthy period in hospital he was discharged from the 9th Battalion of the Devon Regiment in November 1918 but, as a result of the damage to his left arm and shoulder, his arm was ‘still unfortunately not much good’ (Vol.48, p.7). Lance Corporal James Brixton featured in the Roamer’s ‘Page of Smilers’ in March 1919 – those who had been recently demobbed. He was awarded the Military Medal in 1917  for bravery 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. Jim’s brother Alfred was also awarded the Military Medal later in the same year (Vol.38, p.8 and Vol.39, p.2).

‘The Roamer’ held its first ‘Welcome Home’ reunion for demobilised servicemen in April 1919. Jim Brixton was one of the first to write to ‘The Roamer’ setting out his hope that the magazine and regular reunions be continued (Vol.54, p.5). We know from records held at Glamorgan Archives that although the last edition of ‘The Roath Road Roamer’ was in October 1919, the Church continued to run a series of reunion meetings including regular meetings for former members of the Boys’ Brigade (DWESCR302). There is no evidence but it is just possible that Alf, Jim and Fred were able, therefore, to get together to reminisce about their days in the Boys’ Brigade and their war time experiences.

If you want to discover more about the 460 men and 19 women from the Roath area who served in the First World War, Glamorgan Archives holds copies of the 57 editions of ‘The Roath Road Roamer’ produced from November 1914 to October 1919 (DAWES6).

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer