A book to keep you gripped from the prologue to the last page. My rating ***** 5 star
During the second world war, everyone was encouraged to 'dig for victory' and allotments sprung up in the most unlikely places. In Kate Thompson's enthralling book, Annie, Rose, Pearl and Millie all have a story of their own that will tug at your heartstrings, but together, they become a force to be reckoned with when Annie persuades the manager of Byrant and May, the factory where they work, to allow them to cultivate an allotment in the factory grounds.
The allotment becomes their saviour, and yet, embodies their fears as a tragedy plays out that leaves the girls in a dangerous situation.
But these are girls with mettle, and are supported by strong East End women, Elsie and Maureen, who both hold secrets from the girls, that when known will change everything, and yet, bring understanding.
A novel that captures you and takes you back in time. To when the blitz destroyed much, but couldn't, destroy the spirit that was the heartbeat of the East End of London - the strong women, the 'look after our own' mentality, and 'we're all in this together' comradeship. THE ALLOTMENT GIRLS has all of these elements and more. And who better than to bring it to us than an author who has a genuine love of the area and its folk. And an understanding of what makes them tick. A compelling, gritty read. Highly recommend.
A powerful novel, that well deserves its number 1 rating on Amazon - click on book to buy:
It must be said, nowhere does a funeral quite like the East End. This one, taking place on a bitter Monday in January, quite surpassed anything the poor folk of the parish of Bethnal Green had ever before seen. Even in the depths of his guilt, he had to acknowledge this fact.
The entire funeral route was lined with thousands of people, a respectful crowd largely, all dressed in their best clothes and washed for the occasion. The sea of black bonnets, shawls and caps was chequered with the odd cluster of bright colour from the hats of assembled factory girls.
Even the weather had put on its funeral best, with scrawls of black cloud dirtying the sky and a rattling wind hammering the windows like sts. The police had been deployed in great numbers, but their presence was not required, he noted, as he tried to blend into the sea of faces.
He had never seen so many people before, sitting on walls, clinging to gas lamps and perched on sills, all craning their necks for a better view.
‘Almost be worth being burnt to have such a handsome turnout,’ muttered a man in the crowd next to him, before his wife slapped him into silence. ‘Wash your mouth out,’ she hissed. ‘The cortège is coming.’
A hush fell over the crowd. A painful lump lodged in his throat as the first notes of ‘Dead March in Saul’ drifted over the cobbles. The cortège was led by the Wapping Gas Workers’ brass band, the dramatic clash of their instruments driving deep into his heart.
And then came the bodies. A mixture of horror and awe settled over the crowd. For once, no one was looking at the lavish wreaths or the magnificent black horses, resplendent in their rich purple plumes and velvets. All eyes were fixed only on the coffins, growing gradually smaller in size as they passed by.
‘Just children,’ wept the woman next to him, pressing a broad black handkerchief to her mouth in dismay. But to him they had names, and he murmured them quietly, like an undercover priest, as each coffin led past.
Eliza, fifteen. Mary, twelve. Alfred, ten. Beatrice, nine. John, seven. Margaret, five. Marie, three.
By the time baby Emily’s body passed him, he could no longer hold back his anguish, and a strange cry escaped him. In comparison to her parents’ coffins, Emily’s seemed absurdly small, and he longed to reach out and cradle her, to save her the journey into the cold, dark earth.
But they were already gone, one step closer to the closing scene of the mass burial that would be discussed in every public house in the borough for months to come.
And then came the mourners. And how! Conveyances of all descriptions, filled with anyone who had a connection to the dead. Mourning carriages, hansom cabs, broughams and even three omnibuses, willing to take passengers, mainly women it had to be said, to the final resting place for a shilling each way.
This was less of a funeral, he thought wryly, than a day out. But you could hardly blame East Enders. It was, after all, their generosity, sparked by an appeal from the vicar of St Bartholomew, that had paid for this whole funeral. Rumour had it they had arrived at the undertaker’s to leave their subscription by foot and on trap, some from as far a field as Romford and Chingford.
He hadn’t expected to see her, but suddenly he caught a dash of that unmistakable red hair, as rich and deep as brandy, between the broad black handkerchiefs uttering at a coach window.
‘Pol!’ he called before he could stop himself.
The handkerchief slid away and their eyes met as the coach paused. Her face was as pale as eggshell. The look between them hung suspended in the frozen air.
Love. Grief. Guilt.
Oh, Polly. What a thing we did.
The coach jolted and moved off. She was gone from sight, the foot mourners quickly swallowing the gap in the cobbles behind her coach. He would not see her again for another forty-four years.
The Allotment Girls published by Pan Macmillan, out Thursday 22nd March or available now on e-book. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Allotment-Girls-Kate-Thompson-ebook/dp/B076TGF6P5/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
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