Mary Gwenllian Winifred Roberts, (Winnie), was born 28 June 1882 in Llwydcoed. She was one of the 53 girls and 89 boys who attended on the very first day of the Aberdare County Intermediate School on 29 September 1896. She arrived with her younger brother David Phillips Roberts1. They were the only children of William Theodore Roberts2 and his wife Mary Hannah, née Phillips3. Winnie’s mother died within a week of the birth of her brother in 1884, with the result that Winnie was sent off to spend her early childhood living with her paternal grandmother, Gwenllian Roberts, at Garth House, Llangynidr, Breconshire. Her extended stay with her grandmother resulted in the loss of her Welsh language, which she bitterly regretted in later life.
At some point during her elementary schooling Winifred returned to Aberdare, and like her brother attended the Higher Grade School, which at that time occupied part of the Town Elementary School, Clifton Street. In her second and third years at the County Intermediate School, at the ages of 15 and 16 respectively, she was awarded scholarships to cover the full tuition fees for her schooling. During the period when Winnie and her brother were at the Trecynon School their father was Headmaster at Blaengwawr Boys School, and he and his daughter lived at 343 Cardiff Road, whilst her brother was with a foster mother in Llwydcoed. Some years later, a cousin4 of Winnie arrived at the County School, and boarded with her father.
After spending three years at the school she gained her C.W.B. Senior Examination Certificate as well as passing the University of Wales Matriculation Examination in 1899, and after sitting the entrance examination was subsequently awarded an Exhibition of £10 a year for three years at University College, Bangor, as well as a scholarship of £30 a year for three years, awarded by the Glamorgan Education Board of Governors. Her name was the very first one on the School’s Honours Board that hung in the assembly hall.
At Bangor, she studied Pure Mathematics, Latin and French, graduating with an honours degree in French in 1903. Whilst there, she played hockey for the University Women’s team.
After university she returned to Aberdare and was employed as a teacher: at Aman school, 1903–05; and The Higher Standard Girls School, Gadlys, 1905–07. (later renamed Gadlys Secondary Modern School). During the summer of 1907, she decided to consider work in secondary schools and made the appropriate applications which were strongly supported by her former school headmaster W. Jenkyn Thomas, (by then a headmaster at Hackney Downs, London), and the Chairman of Governors at the Trecynon School, D.P. Davies, (Ynyslwyd). She was successful in gaining a post at the Ystradgynlais County School, where she was appointed as an assistant mistress.
During this period in Aberdare she visited France, (after the signing of the Entente cordiale agreements), Belgium and Switzerland either for holidays, (acting as translator for her uncle David Prosser Roberts), or for language summer schools. Also, in 1906, she was elected to the committee of the Aberdare Valley Teachers Association, and elected to be co-vice-president of the Past Student Society at the Aberdare County School. Ten years later, she used her language skills as a translator for Belgian refugees who had come to Wales.
However, by the autumn of 1909 she had decided to marry, and as was the custom at that time, she was obliged to relinquish her teaching post, which she did in December of that year. In a very complimentary farewell letter to her from the Chairman of Governors at Ystradgynlais she is referred to as being the Headmistress at the school. A former pupil of hers at this school spoke of her many years later as, “a tall reserved lady, very polite, most capable and a kid-gloved disciplinarian”.
Her marriage took place on 10 January 1910 at the Old Parish Church in Neath. The bridegroom was John Harris, MPS, (1874–1964), a pharmaceutical chemist in Ystradgynlais. He was a close relative of the Harris family who ran the Seven Sisters Hotel. Winnie had four children of whom just two sons survived into adulthood: David William Theodore Harris (1912–1993), who became a Consultant Psychiatrist; and Augustus John Harris (1913–1992 ) who after gaining a double 1st in Maths and Physics at U.C. Cardiff entered the Scientific Civil Service, serving with distinction at the Building Research Station, Bucknalls near Watford. Whilst there he worked on the destruction of concrete buildings—a study that was related to the subsequent wartime dambusters raid in 1943.
Winnie and John Harris enjoyed fifty-four years of married life in Ystradgynlais until
John died in 1964. Winnie died one year later in 1965.
CR 31 May 2020