Shipyard Girls at War by Nancy is published by Arrow, and out now.
MEET THE SHIPYARD GIRLS…
The Shipyard Girls saga series is set in World War Two when many of the shipyard workers in Sunderland, County Durham have gone off to fight for King and country, and it has fallen to the womenfolk to step into the men's steel cap boots and get to work building ships.
Each of the women in the novel has their own story, their own reasons for choosing to work in the yards on the River Wear. They are all different and they all have their own personal struggles. As they learn to weld, their friendship grows, and we learn more about their lives, their loves - and their secrets.
POLLY is driven by her need to follow in the footsteps of her family’s shipbuilding heritage and to be a part of the war effort. Not long after she starts as a trainee welder, she falls for dock diver, Tommy Watts. She lives in the town’s east end with her widowed mother, Agnes, and her sister-in-law, Bel.
ROSIE is the welding instructor who leads a double life. By day she works in the shipyards, and by night she sells her body in an upmarket 'bordello' called Lily’s. Her parents died in a car accident when she was younger and since then, she has been desperately trying to earn enough money to keep her little sister, Charlotte, at an all-girl’s boarding school in Harrogate – and, moreover, out of the notoriously harsh and abusive children's home.
GLORIA is the mother hen of the squad. She signs up to escape her brutal husband, Vinnie, but finds she cannot run from her problems. Her two sons are in the Royal Navy and she lives in one of the newly-built council houses on the town’s Ford estate. Gloria purports to be working at the shipyards for purely financial reasons, but really it is to escape her cold and abusive marriage. Gloria enjoys her work at the yard and her verbal sparring with the group’s youngest welder, Dorothy, but she is troubled when she meets her old flame, yard manager Jack Crawford. There are obviously still feelings there. Will their love be resurrected? And will Gloria be able to break free from Vinnie?
DOROTHY lives for today and is the 'entertainer' of the group who loves nothing more than being the centre of attention and having fun. She left her job as a sales assistant in the town’s main department store to become a welder as she is obsessed with one of the riveters, Eddie. Dorothy gets her man but she has to learn the hard way that he is a no good womaniser. There is more to Dorothy than meets the eye, though, and it becomes apparent that underneath her ditzy, shiny exterior hides a more thoughtful and astute young woman.
HANNAH is the group’s ‘little bird’. She is just 19 and one of only a hundred or so Jewish immigrants living in the town. Her parents sent her to live with her Aunty Rina just before Hitler invaded Prague. She is small and fragile and struggles with the physical labour of welding. She comes from a well-educated Czech family, and like all the girls she too has her own reasons for working in the yard.
MARTHA is the squad’s gentle giant. To start with she rarely speaks, but gradually she starts to come out of her shell. She develops a fierce loyalty for the women who have accepted her for the person she is.
TOMMY is a deep-sea diver and has been brought up by his granddad, Arthur. The only love in his life has been the deep waters of the River Wear and the North Sea - until he meets Polly and falls hopelessly in love with her. But he is torn. He is desperate to go to war and use his skill to combat the Italian ‘frogmen’ who are putting limpet mines on Allied ships. He knows their love will be forever tainted by regret if he does not leave the shipyards for the war raging in the Atlantic Ocean.
JACK is married to Miriam Havelock, the daughter of one of the town’s richest families. She tricked him into marrying her twenty years previously when he was in love with Gloria. They have a daughter Helen. When Jack sees Gloria working in the yard it has far-reaching consequences.
LILY is the madam and owner of Lily’s bordello. She is a colourful character, with a heaving bosom and bird’s nest of orange hair. She loves all things French and tries to speak the language, but her cockney roots always prevail. Despite her eccentricities she is a successful business woman. She has a soft spot for her ‘favourite girl’ Rosie and worries when her Uncle Raymond turns up at the bordello. George is Lily’s friend/companion who is a decorated First World War veteran and spends most of his time at Lily’s.
HELEN is a raven-haired beauty - and knows it. Her father is Jack Crawford, the yard manager, and her mother is Miriam, who is from one of the town’s richest families. Helen works in the shipyard offices and uses her starlet-like looks to her full advantage. Most of her life she has succeeded in getting just what she wants. Now she wants dock diver Tommy, but realises he is falling for the new girl in the yard. She is a jealous and manipulative character, who will do anything to stop Polly from being with Tommy.
BEL is Polly’s sister-in-law and best friend. She is married to Teddy Elliot and lives with Agnes and Polly. She works as a bus conductress and has a two-year-old daughter called Lucille. When she was a child she was taken in by Agnes due to her own mother’s drinking and neglect. Bel is an entertainer and loves nothing more than regaling her adopted family with tales and gossip. All she has ever wanted in life is to have a close-knit family.
AGNES is Polly's mum who has turned her home into a day nursery to help look after a small army of local children whose mums have had to go out to work. Her twin sons, Teddy and Joe, are Desert Rats fighting in North Africa. She was vehemently against Polly’s decision to work in the yards, as it is a dangerous place to work as well as a target for Hitler’s bombs. Agnes is a widow (her husband Harry never came back from the First World War). She is a strong maternal character, who has had to bring up her three children single-handedly in one of the poorest areas of the town.
ARTHUR is Tommy’s grandfather, who used to also work as a dock diver when he was younger. Arthur brought up Tommy after his mother, (Arthur’s daughter), committed suicide when Tommy’s father was killed during the First World War. Arthur’s wife, Flo, died when Tommy was just a nipper. Arthur and Tommy live together in the Diver’s House on the south dock.
In ‘Shipyard Girls at War’ two new characters are introduced: Pearl – Bel’s no-good mother, who turns up on the door step out of the blue. And Joe, Polly’s brother, who has been medically discharged after being blasted with shrapnel while fighting out in North Africa.