Saga Saturday - Please welcome Hodder & Stoughton author, Kate Thompson...

Secrets of the Homefront Girls 

'Come along and meet Eileen,' I said to Ann. 'You never know, you may have worked together.' It was a long shot, but when I found two ex Yardley workers from Stratford, East London to interview as research for my new book, I thought I'd take a punt and interview them together.

Research is so much more fun when you can actually meet with people who inhabited the world you’re writing about. Archives are all well and good, but what about speaking to the women who lived through the war and listening to their first hand memories?
I’m passionate about documenting the lives of working class women born into brutal poverty, but also steeped in rich and vibrant communities, women whose social histories we can learn so much from.

          Women like Ann Roper, 86 and Eileen McKay, 91, who both worked at the famous Yardley factory along Carpenters Road in 'stinky Stratford', along with over one thousand other young women.

          ‘I don’t mind,’ shrugged Ann, as she parked her shopping trolley. ‘I’m an East Ender, I’ll chat with anyone.’
          In walks ebullient Eileen - 91 years old but with sparkling brown eyes and soft skin that make her look a good decade younger.
          ‘It’s you isn’t it!’ gasped Ann.
          ‘Oh my days,’ exclaimed Eileen, instinctively reaching across the Formica tabletop and clutching Ann’s outstretched hands.

          Turns out, not only did they work together, they were close pals who both worked on the same conveyor belt packing Yardley's famous creams. They lost touch after Ann left the factory to get married in 1950 and hadn't seen each other for 68 years, until now.
          Stranger still, they had both brought along the same photograph of the two of them aged 15 and 19, two ravishingly-beautiful, spirited young girls, enjoying a moment of fun on a tea break, larking about with Eileen’s arm slung round Ann’s neck.

          ‘You look just the same,’ marvelled Eileen, shaking her head, ‘I always thought about you.’
Our interview quickly turned into a lively reminiscing session. We even recreated the photo they took as carefree young girls, taking a break from the conveyor belt. The hair might be a little greyer, but look at those faces!

Eileen and Ann were two cogs in an enormous production machine. During the Second World War, Churchill declared that ‘Beauty is your Duty’ and Britain’s oldest cosmetics firm, Yardley, rose to the challenge, rivaling the big American companies like Max Factor. A memo from the Ministry of Supply pointed out that make-up was as important to women as tobacco was to men. Women who wore red lipstick went from being regarded as risqué to patriotic.

When war came along, Yardley turned to war work and told the nation’s women to ‘put their best face forward and always honour the subtle bond between good looks and morale’.

A Limitation of Supplies Order cut production of perfume and soap but paradoxically, production of those goods that were permitted, meant sales of lipstick, creams and powders increased by many hundreds percent overnight. And because men and older single women were drafted into the war effort, it meant the factory was entirely staffed by older men and younger girls…. girls who found themselves catapulted into a dangerous – and in some cases, thrilling new life.

I hope my new novel does justice to the real life Yardley girls.

Secrets of the Homefront Girls is on sale July 25th through Hodder & Stoughton.

Blurb & Amazon Link:

Stratford, 1939.

Britain may be at war, but on the home front keeping up morale and keeping up appearances go hand in hand. For the young women working on the lipstick production line at Yardley's cosmetics factory, it's business as usual.
Headstrong Renee Gunn is the queen of the lipstick belt - although her cheeky attitude means she's often in trouble. When Esther, an Austrian refugee, arrives at Yardley's, it's Renee who takes her under her wing and teaches her to be a true cockney.
But outside of the factory, things are more complicated. Lily, Renee's older sister, has suddenly returned home after six years away, and is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile Esther is finding life in England more difficult than expected, and it's not long before Renee finds herself in trouble, with nowhere to turn.
In the face of the Blitz, the Yardley girls are bound together by friendship and loyalty - but could the secrets they are hiding be the biggest danger of all?
'Kate Thompson is a skillful and humane storyteller who lights up the sooty face of the old East End with tales full of drama and human interest.' Annie Murray

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