Courage of the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell
This series about a group of women on the Home Front is a well written testimony to the strength and mutual support of women under pressure. The author points out that seven hundred women worked in the Sunderland shipyards during the Second world war, doing vital work to manufacture and repair the ships needed to maintain the naval presence to the war effort. This book tells the stories of a group of women who mainly do the actual welding on ships, as well as work in the drawing office and organisation of the shipyard’s output. It is dirty, dangerous work in its own right without the added challenge of bombing raids when the planes are aiming for the shipyards. These women, like so many others, were also missing their male loved ones who were on active service, as well as encountering those whose service kept them in Sunderland. The group of women in this book represent so many real people. This book is part of a series, but such is the quality of the writing and the construction of the story it would be perfectly possible and indeed enjoyable to read it in isolation.
This book begins with a Prologue detailing the discovery of a letter addressed to Polly which announces that her fiance Tommy is missing on active service as a diver. She has already read it and is fleeing to J.L.Thompson’s shipyard where she works as a welder. The letter is given to her mother Agnes and Tommy’s grandfather Arthur, who pursue Polly to the shipyard to check on her. Once there they realise that she is with her friends and working in the job she is determined to do. Rosie is the chief of the work gang, Gloria being her slightly older deputy. Dorothy and Angie are younger women with a busy social life, while Martha is the solid worker. Another young woman, Helen becomes the other focus of the novel, as she has to cope with news that plunges her into a decision that has to be made by many women. Helen has traditionally not got on with the women who work in the yard, but has secretly been meeting Gloria and her baby Hope. Having got the reputation for unpleasant behaviour towards the women, especially Polly, when she has to cope with a succession of challenges she finds herself alone and having to deal with her thoroughly unpleasant mother and grandfather. Many other characters appear and affect the lives of the shipyard girls, who seek to manage their lives in the most difficult of circumstances.
This is a moving and extremely well written which celebrates female friendship and genuine affection. The sense of place, the noisy, dirty shipyard and the terrace houses become real in every sense in Revell’s skilful writing. The individuality of the women is well drawn so it is easy to become involved in each woman’s emotions, from the confident to the insecure, from the loving to the necessarily defensive. I found myself completely drawn into the book, with its surprises, twists and incredible climax. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in the roles women played in the Second World War, as despite being presented as fiction it has a centre of reality. I found it a vivid read, and I am looking forward to reading others in the series.