Thank you for joining me on the blog tour for Secrets of the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell. I'm delighted to be sharing an extract today but first of all let's take a look at the description for the book...
As the world war continues the shipyard girls face hardships at home, but work and friendship give them strength to carry on.
Gloria is smitten with her newly arrived bundle of joy, but baby Hope’s first weeks are bittersweet. Hope's father is missing at sea, and with their future as a family so uncertain, Gloria must lean on her girls for support.
Meanwhile, head welder Rosie has turned her back on love to keep her double life secret. But her persistent beau is determined to find out the truth and if he does, it could ruin her.
And there is finally a glimmer of hope for Polly and her family when Bel and Joe fall in love. But it isn’t long before a scandalous revelation threatens to pull them all apart.
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We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.Winston Churchill
Monday 4 August 1941
Jack Crawford desperately tried to stay afloat.But as yet another angry wave of freezing cold sea- water washed over him, his flailing body was forced back down into the darkened, soundless underworld of the North Atlantic.
Jack fought back and seconds later he managed to battle his way to the surface, but the numbness presently creep- ing up his limbs told him his time was running out. As he gasped for breath, he inhaled salt water and started splut- tering. Choking. With his last ounce of energy he strained his head up to the skies, frantically trying to take in the fresh, pure night air. But his thick tweed trousers felt like lead weights dragging him back down, and, despite hav- ing freed himself of his jacket shortly after being thrown – or rather blasted – into the ocean, even his cotton shirt now felt like it was tailored with metal.
It might have been Hitler’s Luftwaffe that had caused Jack to be floundering around in a debris-strewn expanse of sea, with planks of wood from the ship’s deck bobbing next to him, and a smattering of lifeless bodies lolling aim- lessly face down on the surface of the water. It might have been their bombs that had successfully sunk the steamship which had been taking him back home to the woman he
loved, but, as Jack felt Nature close in – claiming him – drawing his body down into the quietness of its watery womb, his eyes closed.
Jack had lived and worked within a stone’s throw of the sea his entire life and he loved it with a passion – yet, after a lifetime of adoration, it had turned on him, and like a spurned lover baying for blood, it was trying its utmost to kill him.
And it was succeeding – slowly but surely.
As Jack opened his eyes to take one last look at life, he saw a bright, round, yellow light. It was the middle of the night – he was in the middle of nowhere – and, until this moment, the only illumination had come from the starry sky and the waning moon above.
Jack felt Nature close in – claiming him – drawing his body down into the quietness of its watery womb, his eyes closed.
Jack knew he was dying.
He felt his body closing down, but as it did so his whole being was flooded with the most comforting warmth, and all around him he could smell a sweetness; like jasmine on a sultry summer’s eve. As his grip on life loosened, the door of his mind’s eye opened and he was gifted with a wonderful vision – a beautiful, newly born baby girl. Her eyes were still cloyed with sleep, but as Jack stared in awe at this ethereal apparition, the baby’s eyes opened and looked back into his own with unguarded love.
A ripple of surprise – then recognition – hit Jack, and he smiled, for the wide, grey-blue eyes gazing back at him were a replica of his own.
And it was then he knew.
He knew who the child was.
And at that moment Jack’s world went black. And quiet.
And he knew Nature had won.
Death had come for him.
Three weeks later Wednesday 27 August 1941
‘Happy Birthday to you . . . Happy Birthday to you . . . ’Dorothy bent over the crib in the middle of Gloria’s neat front room and sang softly to the baby girl who was snug- gled up on her side, her little thumb just touching her tiny bud-shaped mouth. Hope was sound asleep, her breathing only broken by the occasional snuffle.
Gloria was putting a tray laden with two cups of tea and a plate of shortbread fingers down on the oblong wooden coffee table. As she sat down on the sofa she pushed her thick, slightly curly, brown hair back behind her ears, and pulled her favourite cardigan around herself. She’d given up trying to convince herself it had shrunk; the fact of the matter was it wasn’t only her waist that had expanded with this pregnancy, but just about every other part of her body.
‘Honestly, Dorothy, she’s only two weeks old. It can hardly be classed as a birthday!’ Gloria said, looking at the sugar-speckled shortbread before guiltily taking a piece and dunking it in her tea.
Dorothy straightened up and put her hands on the belted waist of her denim overalls that had been pulled in tight to accentuate her tiny waist and womanly hips. She
frowned at Gloria. Her friend. Her workmate. The mother of her goddaughter. She would never have guessed a year ago, when they’d all started working at Thompson’s ship- yard as trainee welders, that it would be Gloria with whom she would form the closest bond.
‘I swear, Glor, if I said something was black you’d argue it was white.’ She left the side of the crib and went to her holdall and pulled out a small present, which had been neatly wrapped in pink tissue paper and adorned with a white bow on the front. She had purchased the little pres- ent from Risdon’s, which had the reputation for being the best baby shop in town.
Dorothy handed the gift to Gloria.
‘You open it on Hope’s behalf,’ she demanded.
Gloria pursed her lips, a little embarrassed, as she took the present. ‘You should be saving your money,’ she reprimanded her friend. This was so like Dorothy, as frivolous with her money as she was about life. But, she also had a heart of gold. And, more than anything, she was one of the most loyal people Gloria had ever met. Take away all the bluster and showiness and you were actually left with a surprisingly solid and steadfast young woman, someone who would stand by your side, whatever the circumstances.
‘I told you . . . ’ Dorothy sighed dramatically, untying her headscarf and allowing her raven-coloured hair to tumble untamed around her face and over her shoulders ‘ . . . when Hope was born, I was going to be the best god- mother ever. That means spoiling her rotten – even if she’s not awake to appreciate it.’ As she spoke, she looked over at Hope to make sure she had not woken up.
‘Anyway . . . ’ she continued, ‘I didn’t haul myself all the way over here – from the other side of the town – after an entire day spent welding the hull of a great big bloody ship
together – to be told how to spend my hard-earned money!’ Dorothy pulled a comical ‘so there’ pout, sat down, picked up her cup, and took a big slurp of tea.
Gloria watched Dorothy nestle up in what had been Vinnie’s chair, and smiled to herself. The tatty brown arm- chair had always been her husband’s – or rather, her soon-to-be ex-husband’s. They must have had the wretched thing for almost twenty years: it was probably as old – and definitely as worn out – as their marriage. And during all that time, no one but His Majesty King Vinnie had been able to park their bum in it. Gloria could honestly not remember a single occasion when anyone else had used it. And now, even after she’d finally found the strength to chuck Vinnie out of the marital home at the end of last year – Gloria could still not bring herself to sit in it. It was almost as if by doing so she would feel him near – and that was the last thing on earth she wanted.
Gloria’s mind spun back four months, to when Vinnie had called round at the house after work and lost it with her; he’d smashed her so hard in the face it was a fluke her nose had not been broken. She had not seen hide nor hair of him since then and she had the sneaking suspicion that someone had put the frighteners on him. She’d heard through the grapevine that not long after he’d tried to rear- range her face, he had been given a right battering himself. He’d claimed he’d been mugged, but Gloria knew no one with half a brain would bother trying to rob Vinnie – espe- cially after he’d been to the pub. Even if he’d had any money on him in the first place, it would be safely tucked away in the landlord’s coffers by the time it was last orders. Seeing Dorothy sitting there now, drinking her tea, all cosied up and still in her dirty overalls, Gloria was glad she had kept the chair. She would love to see the look on Vinnie’s face if he were to see her workmate – and a woman,
at that – now commandeering his throne. His chair that no one had ever been allowed to use – not even their two grown-up boys. Seeing others sitting on it without a care in the world, especially someone like Dorothy, who, she knew, Vinnie would hate with a passion, gave her a sliver of revenge.
Gloria held her daughter’s birthday present for a moment before carefully tearing the tissue paper to reveal the cutest, smallest brown teddy bear she had ever seen.
‘Ah, Dorothy, it’s lovely. Thank you. She’s going to love it. Why don’t you give it to her yourself when she wakes up,’ Gloria said, helping herself to another finger of short- bread and taking a big bite.
Dorothy looked at her friend and laughed, ‘Eee, I see your sugar craving’s not left you then?’
Gloria popped the rest of the biscuit into her mouth and brushed the crumbs off her skirt. ‘I know. I’ve already used up all my sweet rations. Anyway, I vaguely recall you tell- ing me when I was in labour that you were going to buy me “the biggest cake ever” once I’d given birth!’
Dorothy let out a theatrical sigh at the mention of Hope’s birth, when Gloria had gone into labour in the shipyard in the middle of an air raid. It had been one of the most ter- rifying but also most wonderful days in their lives. They’d all run around like headless chickens, with the air raid sirens screaming out their warning for everyone to take cover, and bombs dropping just half a mile away in Fulwell. They hadn’t even had time to get to the yard’s shelter as baby Hope had been determined to make her entrance into the world in the middle of all the pandemonium.
‘God, I think I’ll remember every second of that day for as long as I live!’ Dorothy said, helping herself to a biscuit and casting another look over at Hope.
‘Same here,’ Gloria agreed, her mind immediately trip- ping back to Hope’s traumatic birth; it still made her feel incredibly emotional thinking of how Dorothy and all the other women welders had risked life and limb to get her to the relative safety of the painters’ shed that had ended up becoming a makeshift delivery suite.
‘Anyway, come on, tell me the latest gossip from the yard,’ Gloria demanded, pushing away the tears which had started to prick the backs of her eyes. She was annoyed at herself for being so overly sensitive but it was hard when she remembered Dorothy’s face after she had delivered her goddaughter, and the look of both relief and elation on the rest of the women’s faces.
‘How’s our “little bird” getting along?’ Gloria asked. ‘She still happy working in the drawing office?’
Hannah had been taken on as a trainee draughtsman just a few weeks before Hope was born. It had been her saving grace as she really was like a little bird, petite and fragile, and in no way cut out to do any kind of physical work, never mind something as gruelling and back- breaking as welding. They’d all been amazed she’d stuck it out for as long as she had, as she’d struggled from the moment she had first switched on her welding machine, but, much to their amazement, she had continued to slog it out for nearly a year.
Thankfully, Rosie had spotted some drawings that Hannah had done of one of the ships that was waiting to be launched in the dry dock and had taken it across to Basil, the head draughtsman. He had jumped at the chance of taking Hannah on, as not only were her sketches, in his words, ‘technically brilliant’, but, like just about every- where nowadays, his department was desperately short of workers.
Dorothy’s eyes lit up. ‘Oh yes, more than happy.
Apparently Rosie says she’s taken to it like a “duck to water”. She’s even got some colour in her cheeks, quite something for Hannah. I’ve never known anyone with such translucent skin . . . But, anyway, I digress –’ Dorothy sucked in air for added effect ‘– our little bird has not only got a few roses in her cheeks – but, more importantly, she’s got quite a sparkle in those big brown eyes of hers.’
Gloria almost choked on her tea. ‘No . . . Hannah? . . . Really? I can’t believe she’d have her head turned by anyone.’
‘Well,’ Dorothy said, grabbing a biscuit from the plate, ‘it would appear so, or at least Ange and I think so.’
Gloria chortled, ‘Oh, honestly, you two are terrible. Not everyone’s man-mad you know? I’m surprised either of you ever get any work done the way you’re constantly on the lookout for new talent. Hannah’s not like you two. The poor girl’s probably got a “sparkle in her eye”, as you put it, because she’s simply cock-a-hoop she’s not having to weld any more.’
Dorothy sat back in her chair. ‘Well, there’s something up. Every time I see this Olly he’s practically glued to Hannah. He’s obviously got the glad eye for her.’
‘Mm.’ Gloria took a sip of tea and got up to check on baby Hope. ‘Well, if that is the case, and you and Ange are right, then you’d better make sure she’s all right. She’s far too young for any kind of shenanigans . . . And I don’t want you and Angie encouraging her. The next thing we know, she’ll have had her heart broken, or worse still, have gotten herself in the family way.’
Dorothy spluttered with outraged laughter. ‘God, you’re a right one to talk! . . . Anyway, Glor, “that girl” is the same age as Ange and me. Hannah’s not far off nineteen. She’s a young woman not a child!’
‘That may well be,’ Gloria pursued her point, ‘but
she’s different to you two. She’s had a different upbringing. And she’s so naïve. And on top of all of that, she hasn’t got anyone around her – apart from her aunty Rina, who, by the sounds of it, is a lovely woman, but she’s getting on a bit and she’s not very – how can I put it – worldly-wise?’
All the women knew Hannah had had a sheltered upbringing in her native Prague; that her middle-class Jewish upbringing in Czechoslovakia couldn’t have been more different to being raised in an industrial, working- class town like Sunderland. The only reason she was over here, instead of sat at a desk studying Latin, or learning to play the piano, was that Hitler had decided Hannah’s homeland was to be a part of his Third Reich.
‘Hannah’s got us,’ Dorothy reassured her friend. ‘Anyway, don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on her – and this lovelorn work colleague of hers.’ Dorothy stood up and noisily put down her teacup, causing Hope to stir. Dorothy smiled; she had succeeded in waking the baby.
‘Hurrah! She’s woken up . . . wants to see her fairy god- mother,’ Dorothy said as she strode over and picked Hope up out of the cot, cradling her in her arms and cooing.
Gloria shook her head at Dorothy as she pushed herself out of the sofa. Last week when Dorothy had popped in to see Hope, she’d used similar tactics to wake the baby.
‘Well now, seeing as we’re all up and awake I’ll make you some sarnies,’ Gloria said. ‘You must be starving. I know I’d be after a day’s work at the yard. Bring Hope into the kitchen and you can keep telling me all the news.’
Gloria plodded into her little kitchen, which, as always, was spic and span. Since she had got shot of Vinnie, she had enjoyed keeping her newly built council house pris- tine and well ordered. There wasn’t room in her life for any more chaos.
‘So, Glor, have you made up your mind when you’re
going to get this little one christened?’ Dorothy asked, fol- lowing behind her with Hope cradled in her arms.
Gloria sighed. Dorothy had asked her the same question last time she came round. She wasn’t quite sure whether it was because Dorothy genuinely thought her daughter should be baptised, or because it would be a good excuse for a bit of a social – and one where she would be the centre of attention.
‘Not yet,’ Gloria said, slapping two slices of white bread down on the wooden chopping board. ‘So, how’s everyone else doing?’
‘Well . . . ’ Dorothy paused, looking down at Hope and pulling a funny face. The baby’s little clenched hands reached up and tried to grab at some imaginary object in front of her godmother’s face. ‘ . . . Polly’s just got a letter from lover boy, so she’s all happy.’
‘Oh, that’s good,’ Gloria said, genuinely pleased. Polly’s fiancé, Tommy Watts, who she’d met and fallen in love with when he was working as a dock diver at the yard, was now removing limpet mines from the bottom of Allied ships. Being on the list of reserved occupations, Tommy could have stayed at home, but he’d been determined ‘to do his bit’. Gloria couldn’t work out if he was a brave man, or a mad one. Probably both. But regardless, Polly adored the lad, and every time she got a letter from him she’d read it out to them all.
‘He still based in Gibraltar?’ Gloria asked.
Dorothy nodded. ‘Polly says she can’t see him being moved anywhere else. They can’t risk losing the Rock. If they do they’ll lose control of all shipping in and out of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Then we really will be done for.’
Any talk of the Atlantic or the war being waged on the sea made Gloria anxious. Thoughts of her own two boys, who were also in the Royal Navy, pushed themselves to the fore, as well as her increasingly desperate worries about Jack. It had now been three weeks since his ship had gone down and still there’d been no word as to whether or not he had been one of the lucky few to survive.