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The Railway Girls
by Maisie Thomas
Review

Tea, flowers and an open book on a table in the garden - Used to feature my book reviews

This beautiful paperback edition which I can see, touch and smell, was gifted to me out of generosity, by the author and beautifully inscribed by her with a personal message 🙂

THE RAILWAY GIRLS 

Cover image of the book 'The Railway Girls' by author Maisie ThomasIn February, 1922, at the western-most entrance to Victoria Station in Manchester, a massive plaque was unveiled. Beneath a vast tiled map showing the lines of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway network, a series of seven bronze panels recorded the names of the men of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway who gave their lives for King and Country in the Great War – a total of 1,460 names.

In March, 1940, a group of women of varying ages and backgrounds, stand in front of the memorial, ready to do their bit in this new World War. Under the threat of invasion, it will take strength and courage to rise to the challenge of working as railway girls…

Mabel is determined to make a fresh start as a railway girl where no one will know the terrible thing she did and she can put her guilt behind her… Or is she just running away?

Meanwhile Joan will never be as good as her sister, or so her Gran keeps telling her. A new job as a station clerk could be just the thing she needs to forget her troubles at home.

And Dot is further into her forties than she cares to admit. Her beloved sons are away fighting and her husband – well, the less said about him the better. Ratty old sod. She is anxious to become a railway girl just like her dear mam – anything to feel she is supporting the sons she prays for every night.

The three women start off as strangers, but soon form an unbreakable bond that will get them through the toughest of times…

Cover image of the book 'The Railway Girls' by author Maisie Thomas

MAISIE THOMAS

Cover image of the book 'The Railway Girls' by author Maisie ThomasMaisie Thomas was born and brought up in Manchester, which provides the location for her Railway Girls novels.

She loves writing stories with strong female characters, set in times when women needed determination and vision to make their mark.

The Railway Girls series is inspired by her great aunt Jessie, who worked as a railway clerk during the First World War.

Maisie lives on the beautiful North Wales coast with her husband and their two rescue cats.

They have enjoyed many holidays chugging up and down the UK’s heritage steam railways and their favourite is the Severn Valley Railway.

Follow Maisie on Twitter

Cover image of the book 'The Railway Girls' by author Maisie Thomas

FIRST LINES

CHAPTER ONE

FEBRUARY 1940

“‘I don’t care what war work I do or where I do it – as long as it isn’t here.’

Mabel perched on the wooden chair on one side of the acres of scarred that formed Miss Eckersley’s desk. There was certainly no need for such a huge desk. All it bore was a couple of ledgers held upright between bookends, and a card index in a box. A hole in the corner of the desk-top held a sunken inkwell, while a long groove housed two sharp pencils and a fountain pen”

Cover image of the book 'The Railway Girls' by author Maisie Thomas

MEMORABLE LINES

“Letitia stood up and Steven went to her, taking her hands and bending his head  to kiss her cheek, and Joan, as happened every time the man she adored walked into her sister’s arms, found it impossible to look away”

.

“Quite so,’ said Miss Emery. ‘Which brings me to the advice. It’s very simple. Be friends with one another – regardless of age or background or anything else that would normally come between you. You’ll be women in a man’s world and some of the men, I regret to say, aren’t keen on your being here”

.

“Didn’t it occur to Reg that she worried about things? No, it didn’t. If she expressed a concern, that was her sticking her nose in. And it wasn’t just Reg. She didn’t mean to sound whiney, but it seemed that nobody expected her to have worries of her own. She was the one you took your bother and worries to, not the other way round. If you needed tea and sympathy, a helping hand or a dollop of sound advice, Dot Green was your woman, which had always suited her just fine, but wouldn’t it be nice if once in a while someone realised she had something on  her mind, instead of her having to be the capable one all the time?”

.

“Mabel had nodded. She had thought – then – that the worst thing that could possibly happen to her already had. She had thought that losing Althea was her own personal worst thing and should have given her a kind of immunity to any other events, no matter how tragic. But it turned out life didn’t work like that. It wasn’t neat and predictable. It could rip your heart open from right to left one day, and from left to right the next, and there wasn’t a single damn thing you could do to prevent it”

.

“Althea deserved so much better. Mabel had tried to honour her memory and assuage her guilt by separating herself from the rest of the world, but the plain truth was that she couldn’t manage without other people, without friends and laughter and intimacy”

Cover image of the book 'The Railway Girls' by author Maisie Thomas

REVIEW

“The war has taken their men, but given them each other”

I didn’t want this one to end, as I am now left with a huge dilemma! Do I rush out and read parts two & three of this wonderful wartime saga, or do I content myself with having read such an amazing stand alone story and move on? Clearly the ending of this book begs the sequels the author has obligingly provided, however there are definitely no, what I would call, cliff hanging ‘loose ends’, to leave me frustrated and feeling as though I had read an incomplete story!

Over the years, I have read so many of these ‘homegrown’ wartime sagas, depicting life in Britain for the women and men left behind, when all those able to, had gone off to fight for their country. But never have I read such a story where the author has so obviously poured heart and soul into the telling of it. Maisie has clearly set this story in Manchester, because it is a place she knows well and she sites real and named local locations I could check out for myself, as reference points to the backdrop of narrative. The storyline revolves around the wartime work on the railway network of that city and as Maisie now spends much of her free time riding the UK heritage railway network, she brings an enthusiasm and research knowledge to the subject, which is really immersive and scene setting, without being overwhelmingly technical. Many of the local bombing raids and events surrounding the repatriation of the British D-Day forces depicted in the story, are tangibly based on true events, and a couple of the characters are based on people within Maisie’s network of friends and family. This wonderfully blended mix of fact and fiction, all adds up to an authentic and realistic experience, a story to escape into, which is told with true heart, a little humour and compelling honesty.

Maisie is definitely a consummate storyteller and the well constructed, perceptive, multi faceted, addictive storyline, was written with total confidence, passion and authority. The storyline flows along at a good pace, with the seamless chapter changes keeping things fluid. The narrative and dialogue was so visually descriptive, I could almost imagine myself sat in the station buffet, having tea around the table with Dot, Joan, Mabel and the gang, as they swapped gossip and offered moral support to one another if any of them were suffering with any aspects of their many wartime obligations, or of course, any ‘man trouble’ they might be having! They also offered one another a shoulder to cry on when the realities of war came too close to home; and when the absolute unthinkable happens, their combined strength, compassion and resilience gets them through the hard times together.

Maisie has created a cast of engaging, totally relatable, well defined and genuinely believable characters, who when thrown together in this constant state of change and flux, pull together and stand shoulder to shoulder together in the face of adversity. There are vulnerabilities, emotional complexities and those left bereft who are seeking a sense of belonging, but all are made easy to connect with, have complete empathy with, and invest it all the way.

As well as being a delightful story, this was also an important and detailed piece of social commentary, reflecting the tumultuous and far-reaching changes of the times. The evolving roles of women in society and the new respect they demanded and truly earned from their inveterate male colleagues, family members and friends alike; especially now that women took on work roles outside of the home, in what was traditionally a male dominated domain. Societal mores were challenged and toppled at an alarming rate; Oh! how lovely it must have been to be able to raise those restrictive hems to knee level, or to wear ‘slacks’ in public when you were out digging along the railway tracks, or loading the trains with parcels and packages. The long established conventions of the class divide were broken down forever; as women from all walks of life grouped together for the common good as the back-bone of the home-front, to help those who were giving their lives on the fighting frontline.

And, on a purely personal note, my own father, uncle and grandfather worked in the reserved occupation of building rolling stock to help keep the country moving, at the Swindon Railway Works, during WWII, and as they are no longer with us to talk about those times, Maisie’s meticulous research was extra special and appreciated, capturing as it did, that moment in time!

Cover image of the book 'The Railway Girls' by author Maisie Thomas

“Overcoming difficulties was what women did best”

A complimentary paperback edition of this book, was generously gifted to me by the author. No promotion or review was requested or sought after in exchange.

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!

 

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