The role of women in World War One has been brought to life thanks to an exhibition at Margam Abbey staged to mark 100 years since the end of the conflict.
The exhibition, which has been put together by Margam’s Cwm Brombil Ladies WI, will run over the next six months until November.
It charts the effect of the conflict on the women of Port Talbot with local history, personal stories and pictures on display through a series of exhibition boards and stands.
The idea for the exhibition began just over a year ago when members of the newly formed WI decided that it would be nice to do something to celebrate the centenary of World War One and even better to look at the role of women during the conflict.
Led by Bev Gulley and Mari Goldsworthy, members of the 35-strong group which has now grown to 50, soon set to work researching local history, collecting stories and oral anecdotes, making costumes and doing artwork such as cutting out poppies.
Bev, who is general secretary of Cwm Brombil Ladies WI, explained, “Often the contribution of women during the conflict is unrecorded or anecdotal. Ask most people what women did and they will generally say oh a VAD nurse or they have a vision of women dealing with the dreaded telegram. Both of which are of course true. But women did so much more.
“They covered all manner of male roles, broke through barriers and contributed more than ever thought possible. Female munitions workers, rationing and Land Girls were not only part of World War Two but a huge part of World War One.
“In fact, there was a large training establishment for Land Girls on the Margam Estate, with the ladies making the newspapers. But when they visited Aberavon town they were met with shocked stares, and blinds being pulled down. Their crime? Wearing trousers! Which hugely challenged long-held beliefs of femininity and the role of women, much of which changed forever.
“Secondly, the WI in Britain was formed in 1915 as a direct result of the need to grow and preserve food and involve and raise the profile of rural women. The lack of food was a great concern in 1916 when Britain was two weeks away from running out of food, so reliant were we on the supply of wheat from Europe, being lost through the success of the U boats.
“The preservation and increase and supply of food was successful and the WI is of course a legacy of World War One, going from strength to strength, an organisation which seeks to inspire and educate women, and we hope that our members have been educated and inspired by this project.”
The exhibition which was officially opened with a special service at Margam Abbey at which the Venerable Peggy Jackson, Archdeacon of Llandaff, preached, explores these themes of women taking on male roles and their contribution to the war effort.
Funding for the project was provided by the Margam Community Fund, and Newlands Community Fund.
Father Edward Owen, priest in charge of Margam, said, “As we commemorate those who fell one hundred years ago this exhibition offers a fascinating glimpse into the role women from this area played during World War One. We hope that visitors from far and wide will take the opportunity to visit the Abbey over the coming months to see the exhibition.”
The exhibition at Margam Abbey is open daily from 10.30 to 3.30pm (unless there are services in the Abbey).
Pictures show exhibition and (left to right) Bev Gulley, Archdeacon Peggy, Father Edward and Anne Evans (president of Cwm Brombil Ladies WI).