Clements Hall
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Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

Clements Hall Local History Group

Exploring the Scarcroft, Clementhorpe, South Bank and Bishophill areas of York

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Stella Grieves – A WAAC from York

It is exactly 100 years since the founding of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1917 and Pauline Alden has been researching one of our local women who was a pioneer in the First World War.

Stella Grieves was one of the first volunteers in 1917 to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps at the age of eighteen. This is her story:

At this stage in the War the Army was running short of men because so many had been injured or killed on the front line. The War Office decided that women could replace male soldiers in offices, canteens, transport roles, stores and army bases. Many women volunteered to join the new Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) which later became known as the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC). 

WAAC members wore green or ‘khaki’ uniforms like male soldiers. This included long skirts and caps. At first they were stationed in this country and on the front line in France and Flanders.

By the end of the war in 1918, more than 57,000 women had joined the WAAC, some working in war zones in France, Belgium, Italy and Greece. The volunteers did a variety of jobs. These mainly fell into four categories: Cookery, Clerical, Mechanical and Miscellaneous Cooking.

One of the jobs the women did was to cook and serve food for men in camps and hospitals. The food they provided was often better quality than the food eaten by men back home. The women cooks worked hard to make the food more varied and nutritious.

Many women were asked to undertake administrative tasks in the War Offices. They received 24 shillings for unskilled work but up to 48 shillings for jobs which required specific skills like shorthand or typing.

After two years of service, a driver in the Army Service Corps received 10s/6d per week and a skilled fitter 12s/10d. As such, a typist on 48 shillings (£2 and 8 shillings) was earning far more than some men. Women also answered telephones and passed on messages to soldiers.

The women in the Mechanics Department were given the task of repairing motor vehicles which had broken down. They worked with mechanics to identify what was wrong and learnt how to fix many problems themselves. They repaired trucks on the roadside and built new ones in factories. Women undertaking this type of work had been an unthinkable idea prior to the outbreak of war.

WAAC members also faced danger and in Abbeville, France on 29-30 May 1917 a German Bomb fell on a trench and killed eight workers outright and another worker died later from the blast. The women were given a full military funeral. WAAC members were also awarded medals.

A search of the data held by the Imperial War Museum revealed eight WAAC members born in York. Stella Grieves was the only one who lived in the area covered by the Clements Hall Local History Group. Stella lived at 18 Dove Street and was one of eight children. She had four sisters who went into service and three brothers. Stella was born in 1899 and her father was a coppersmith working on locomotives at the GNER carriage works. Her brother Henry also worked in the railway carriage works as a carriage body worker and was probably exempt from military service. Edward was an instrument maker, probably working at Cooke’s in Bishophill. James Edward was a Sapper in the Royal Engineers Reg. No. WR. 269289 Railways. He survived the war.

Stella’s family did suffer from a real tragedy. Stella’s brother Edward enlisted in 1914 for short military service and joined the Durham Light Infantry as Private No. 18/755. He disembarked on 22nd Dec. 1915 for Egypt and by the 1st July 1916 was missing presumed dead. Edward was only 21 years old when he became a casualty of the war. He is commemorated on the Serre War Memorial in France.

Joining the WAAC gave Stella and her sister members the opportunity to do something completely different with their lives. Stella would have probably been destined to a life in service like her sisters if she had not taken on this challenge. Stella must also have wanted to contribute to the war effort like her brothers. She married Richard Edgar Scale in 1931 in Brighton and died in 1978 in Chichester. She was one of the millions of women who contributed to the war effort in the First World War.

Janet L has added in these references from the Lives of the First World War website