On the 21st May 1918, Nesta Mary Looker enrolled in the Women’s Royal Air Force. She was twenty-one years old at the time and although she had been born in Glastonbury, she had recently moved down to Poole along with her family. Her father John Looker ran Lookers’ the printers and stationers at 82, High Street. The 1915 Kelly’s directory lists him as being a bookseller, printer, stationer, news agent, account book manufacturer and circulating library. Unfortunately, we do not know what role his daughter Nesta was assigned to within the WRAF; all we can do is theorise.
The WRAF was initially founded to provide female mechanics so that male mechanics could then be ‘freed up’ for service. However, because of the number of women who enrolled in the WRAF the roles available soon expanded. These roles were divided into four sections: Clerks and Storewomen, Household, Non-Technical and Technical. This last section included highly skilled trades such as welders, fitters and tin-smiths.
‘Behaviour was strictly monitored with the WRAF constitution and rules laid-out in an official booklet. The published Standing Orders included a ban on smoking on duty and in the street, as well as uniform requirements and the procedure for complaints. The high standards achieved by the WRAF led them to being viewed as the most professional and disciplined of all the women’s services.’ (Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) 1918 – 1920, Online.)
It wasn’t until 24th March 1919 that the first group of WRAFs were stationed overseas. Nesta never would have the opportunity to go with them. She died, aged 22, in the February of 1919 as a result of appendicitis.
We know that her family went on to have a near-miss on 21st August 1940 when the shop next door to theirs’, the Fifty Shilling Tailors, was hit during Poole’s first bombing raid. No. 82 High Street continued to be a printers and stationers under the name Looker’s until at least as late as 1975, although it’s uncertain as to whether it was still a family business at the time or whether it simply retained their name. It is entirely possible that John Looker’s younger children, Harold and Phyllis, became involved in and later took over the running of the shop but it is equally as likely that, on the outbreak of world war two, they followed in the footsteps of their sister and went into the armed forces.
Sources: – Ancesty.co.uk (Censuses)
– Kelly’s Directory of Dorset, Poole Extract, 1915.