REVIEWED BY KAREN BYROM
“Beauty Is Our Duty” is the patriotic call to the women of Britain in the dark days of WWII. And no one takes the slogan more seriously than the girls of the Yardley’s Stratford factory in London’s East End.
Food and clothes may be rationed, but girls like Renee Gunn, her sister Lily and Jewish refugee Esther work hard all day to ensure shop shelves never run out of bright red lipstick!
And don’t they have fun on the way, with make-up parties, beauty competitions and trips to the West end for a make-over in Yardley’s flagship store.
But of course the shadow of war looms large. Boyfriends and husbands disappear overseas, while German planes fly overhead and the Blitz begins to bite.
Fun contrasts with hardship
The atmosphere on the factory floor, the fun, the flirting and the banter contrasts with the hardship of life in the East End, where women survive the daily grind of poverty, deprivation, and in some cases domestic abuse.
Fortunately Renee and Lily’s mother Nell is always on hand to sort things out for her neighbours.
But it seems she can’t sort out her own family. Lily is hiding secrets; so, too, is Renee.
Meanwhile their harsh father is determined to “make a man” of their little brother, with devastating consequences.
Author Kate Thompson balances both sides of the coin beautifully in this gripping saga. Humour and warmth, friendship and family ties are the lynchpin of this story. Yet she never shies away from the horror of war.
Laughter and the smell of lavender…
Feisty as the East Enders are, they take the brunt of the Blitz. You can almost hear the bombs falling, see the buildings crumbling and smell the fires burning as the enemy planes return again and again.
But just as strong is the sound of the laughter of the girls, the smell of lavender as the factory continues to operate and the atmosphere of Keep Calm and Carry On – the motto of the stalwart characters that people the pages of The Secrets Of The Homefront Girls.
The Secrets Of The Homefront Girls by Kate Thompson is published by Hodder in paperback, RRP £6.99, and available from Amazon