When cataloguing a collection of short-stories, articles and other writings of Winifred [sometimes referred to as Winnie] May Darter of Cromwell Road, Caversham (1920-2000) [ref. D/EX2722/1], one autobiographical story stood out for the insight it provided to Winfred’s career, personality, charming writing and the anecdotes it included.
The manuscript entitled ‘The Wide, Wide World’, takes the reader on a journey through Winfred’s career as a typist and her apparent inability to escape the profession, as she states “It is comparatively simple to become a typist; it is far more difficult to stop being one.”
Winifred's career as a typist began after she completed her school certificate examinations. Despondent with the idea of further study or starting a teacher training course, she applied for a job as a typist after a letter was read out at school from a local firm of electrical engineers offering vacancies for short-hand typists to school leavers.
She got the job and describes the engineers’ office as very pleasant stating “I remember very little about it expect skirmishes in the corridors with office boys, adoring crushes on the young male clerks, staff parties and so on.”
After two years at the firm, she applied for a job at a local government office. It was here that she formed a branch of the staff association and subsequently met politically active staff members. Winifred became a long-standing member of the Reading Labour party (joining in 1948), a voluntary social worker and a member of the Reading-Dusseldorf Association.
Her first opportunity to break away from being a typist came when joining up for the war effort. There was a considerable shortage of army cooks, and they were offering places on a training course. Whether it was the lack of cooking experience or fear of the unknown, Winifred actually decided against attending the cooks training course and enrolled in the clerk’s course instead.
Later, she recalls how she had second thoughts when she was told stories that made her believe the trainee cooks had 'far more fun', stating “I did hear, for instance, of a recruit who found army life too much and threw her frying pan at the cook sergeant. I never did hear of any typist hurling a typewriter at anyone – it's too unwieldy to be a useful weapon of war.”
Winifred appeared to use her ability to type to create stories, though it is unclear whether any of her fiction or autographical stories were actually published. Examples of her writing can be found in her unpublished biography of Phoebe Cusden (1889-1981; Mayor of Reading, 1946-1947), entitled 'The Honourable Feeb' (ref. D/EX1485/27/1). She also helped to produce the ‘Caversham Bridge’, the church newsletter for St. Peter’s church, and some of her writing appeared in local newspapers.
In ‘The Right Type or How to Remain British Amongst Aliens’ we discover that upon her return from Germany as a volunteer, Winifred saw an appeal by the BBC for a typing supervisor for foreign broadcasts and applied. However, she was offered a diction typist job instead. It would seem that despite her best efforts, Winifred was destined to always be a typist as she stated: “like so many other Britishers I finished up doing precisely the same kind of work as I’d always done – in my case, typing”. Not that there is anything wrong with that - it's just that we get the impression that Winifred wanted more.