The Mill Girls by Tracy Johnson
|The Mill Girls by Tracy Johnson|
|Reviewer: Louise Jones|
|Summary: Four very different women tell their stories of life 'in mill', working in Lancashire's cotton mills during the war years and beyond.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 314||Date: July 2014|
|Publisher: Ebury Press|
The Mill Girls is a collection of true stories based on interviews with women who worked at Lancashire's cotton mills during the war years. Leaving school at the tender age of 14, the girls were thrown headlong into the world of work, at a time when jobs were plentiful and the benefits culture we know today was non-existent. The choice was a simple one: work or starve. Conditions were harsh, the mills noisy, dangerous and dirty and pay was low. Despite this, many of the women look back at their time 'in mill' with warm fondness and nostalgia.
We meet four women with very different personalities who each offer a unique perspective on mill life. Doris has an infectious enthusiasm and positive outlook and her memories of the mill are filled with happy recollections of friendship and camaraderie between women. Audrey's experience couldn't have been more different. A bit of a loner, she viewed the mill as a means to an end and thought that the work was beneath her. Unable to make friends, her time in the mill was unhappy, but she remained grateful that her weaving skills meant that she was never without work.
Marjorie went into mill life blissfully unaware of how difficult the working conditions would be. Her dad, who worked at the mill, tried to discourage her, but she was determined to go because her best friend worked there and enjoyed it. She soon came to earth with a jolt, but made the best of things and eventually formed solid friendships that lasted a lifetime.
My favourite 'character' was mischievous Maureen who dreaded the idea of going to the mill but ended up loving every minute of it. Known for her fun-loving spirit (she was sacked from her previous job for riding the conveyor belt in a cardboard box!), she was a popular and well-loved worker at the mill and I enjoyed reading about her romantic escapades at the Tower Ballroom.
The poverty faced by these women makes wartime Britain seem like another world. One of the women remembers living in a 'two-up-two-down' with a living room that only had two chairs. The family would stand up for dinner and still have to ask mother for permission to leave the table after eating! Another mill-worker recalls returning each night to a freezing house, with coats piled high on the bed for warmth. Christmas was an austere affair, with an apple, an orange and a few chocolate coins for gifts. Despite incredible deprivation by today's standards, the women all remember having happy childhoods.
Tracy Johnson has done a sterling job compiling these stories and memories, which are a perfect mix of humour, romance, loss and friendship. She has captured the essence of the era. The accounts were a delight to read and the different personalities shine through. I feel privileged as a reader to share the joys, trials and tribulations of these hardworking women through the pages of this lovely book.
Bookbag enjoyed The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day which is a fictional account featuring much of the same subject matter as The Mill Girls
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