Women’s Royal Air Force
Synopsis of Civilian and Military Life
Kathleen was born in Appleton, Berkshire on 30 August 1892. Her father Charles William Wells was a Hay Merchant and the family appear to be reasonably comfortable as census returns show that they employed domestic servants. Sadly, Kathleen’s mother Martha Eliza Wells died in 1907.
At some point during the war, keen to contribute to the war effort, Kathleen joined the Women’s Legion. This was set up in 1915 by the Marchioness of Londonderry, Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart. All volunteers, the Legion wore uniforms and undertook various duties including agricultural, canteen and motor transport work. By the end of the war there were more than 40,000 members.
She joined the Women’s Royal Air Force on 20 April 1918. She is listed as ‘Immobile’ which means she lived at home and worked at her local depot. In Kathleen’s case she became a driver at the Motor Transport depot in Kennington. It’s highly likely that it was here that she met Norman Wreford Birkett, a Lieutenant who had been wounded at the Western Front, who she later married.
She married Norman on 25 November 1919 at St Stephens Church, Ealing, Middlesex. They subsequently spent some time in Africa, travelling out to Mombasa, Kenya on the Grantully Castle on 15 January 1920. Norman’s profession was given as farmer so they may have left the UK to start a new life. They returned home on the Usambara from Durban on 31 October 1923 with a young son. They returned to Mombasa on the Guildford Castle on 30 January 1924 but this time Norman had gone back to his career as an engineer.
By 1939, they were back in the UK living in Kent. However by 1943 they had moved to Cornwall and Kathleen was working in a hospital in Newquay. On 22 June that year, Kathleen’s son John was killed in a flying accident in Canada where he was a Pilot Officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Three years later in 1946 her husband Norman died in Droxford, Hampshire. Kathleen remained in Droxford until she died in 1984.
Kathleen was born at Appleton, Berkshire on 30 August 1892.
Her family is shown as follows :-
- Husband – Norman Wreford Birkett, born 30 August 1893 at Chislehurst, Kent.
- Son – John Evelyn Wreford Birkett, born 27 March 1922 at Kenya.
- Son – Carryl Wreford Birkett, born 31 December 1925 at Nairobi, Kenya. Died 15 August 2017.
(It’s believed there were two other children but so far have been unable to identify them with any confidence).
- Father – Charles William Wells, born c.1859 at Worcestershire.
- Mother – Martha E. Wells, born c.1867 at West Hanney, Berkshire, died 1907 at Brentwood, Middlesex.
- Sister – Dorothy Wells, born c.1891 at Appleton, Berkshire.
The following addresses have been ascertained for Kathleen Birkett :-
- 1901 – 31, Argyle Road, Ealing, Middlesex.
- 1911 – 45 Argyle Road, West Ealing, Middlesex.
- 1939 – Symnells Cottage, East Ashford, Kent.
- 1943 – Benson House, Truro, Cornwall.
Kathleen was not eligible for any campaign medals.
Kathleen Birkett is not honoured and remembered on any memorials.
Links to Additional Information
- Imperial War Museum – Lives of the First World War – Women’s Legion
- Imperial War Museum – Lives of the First World War – Kathleen Wells
- WW1 Lives – Husband, Norman Birkett
- 1901 England, Wales & Scotland Census.
- 1911 Census for England and Wales.
- Find my Past: Ealing Gazette November 29, 1919.
- 1939 Register.
- Canadian Virtual War Memorial.
- Not in any current groups.
- Trevor Torkington