Retro: Tears from a ‘Woman of Steel’

Heritage Open Days Women of Steel talk at City Hall
Heritage Open Days Women of Steel talk at City Hall
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Sheffield Woman of Steel Kathleen Roberts told an audience that she wept after she began her crusade to get a memorial for the city’s wartime women steelworkers.

Kathleen Roberts, now 94, described how she rang The Star to say that the women who kept Sheffield’s steel industry going during the war desrved recognition after seeing land girls being invited to meet the Queen.

Heritage Open Days Sheffield - the Star Retro at Montgomery Theatre. Linda Finnigan with Julia Armstrong talking about a death notice of her great uncle she found in one of the pages.

Heritage Open Days Sheffield - the Star Retro at Montgomery Theatre. Linda Finnigan with Julia Armstrong talking about a death notice of her great uncle she found in one of the pages.

But when she put the phone down she sobbed, fearing she’d done something stupid.

However, that call put the wheels in motion and Sheffield Cty Council launched a campaign, proudly backed by The Star, to raise £170,000 to build a statue in the city centre that now stands proudly outside Sheffield City Hall.

Kathleen spoke there last week at one of two Heritage Open Days events organised by The Star Retro.

In June, Kathleen was joined by 140 Women of Steel and their families to see their hard work pay off when they finally unveiled the statue.

That call put the wheels in motion and Sheffield Cty Council launched a campaign, proudly backed by The Star, to raise £170,000

Woman of Steel, Kathleen Roberts

A special medal was also struck by the city’s Assay Office to commemorate their role.

The campaign took them to the House of Commons and Downing Street.

Kathleen recalled the hard, heavy dirty work and the heat in a talk hosted by Star editor Nancy Fielder, who took that first phone call from Kathleen when she worked on Retro.

She spoke in awe of women who worked as swing grinders, clad head to toe in rubber suits, wielding heavy machinery in part of the steelworks that was partly open to the elements.

Heritage Open Days Women of Steel talk at City Hall

Heritage Open Days Women of Steel talk at City Hall

She also recalled the toll that war took on the men, like her husband, who went to fight and came back having to cope with the memory of the battles that changed them forever.

She frankly said it put a strain on their marriage, especially as their experience of work had changed women like her forever.

Kathleen also recalled walking through the city centre on her way home from a shift on the morning after the Blitz hit Sheffield city centre in December 1940.

Trams dangled above the street, caught up in their overhead wires.

The second Retro Heritage Open Day was held at The Montgomery on Surrey Street.

Just a few of the copies of The Star’s bound files dating back to the 1940s brought back memories for visitors who could flick through their yellowing pages.

Retro writer Julia Armstrong spoke about radical journalist, hymnwriter and social campaigner James Montgomery, after whom the building was named by grateful Sheffielders.

Many thanks to Kathleen and our hosts at both venues.