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  • A satisfying read

    Lynne Johnson, Wartime with the Tram Girls, hera books, 3 March 2021 I found the description of Wartime with the Tram Girls immediately enticing: a young middle-class woman with a suffragette past takes up wartime work as ‘clippie’ on the trams during the First World War. Constance Copeland is the daughter of a businessman who, having sold his Manchester business moved to The Potteries in 1909. Her mother had been a Workhouse Friend and has brought Alice from there into their home as a servant, together with a gardener, cook, and another young maid. It is now 1913 and Constance and her family are to travel to London in a first-class carriage to celebrate Constance’s nineteenth birthday at the Epsom Race Course. The planned treat begins an argument between Edwin and Agatha Copeland about money, creating the perfect tone to the theme throughout the novel, the roles appropriate to women and men. The dispute about the handling of finances impacts on Constance’s eventual entry to the world of paid work – Mr Copeland believes that financial matters are his province alone, despite his wife’s belief that ‘as a modern woman’ she should have some input. Staffordshire and the potteries provide a backdrop to women’s work choices pre-war, and the poor quality of life lived by many in such locales. In contrast, the Copelands are wealthy. Edwin Copeland is keen for Constance to marry well, and this provides the early debate around marriage and its importance to women, and their role in a marriage. Firstly, Constance’s romantic story revolves around a man deemed very suitable by Constance’s father; a later romantic storyline takes an intriguing turn when a possible suitor, like Constance, has a past that needs explanation. The dispute about Constance’s desire for paid work, and the nature of that work continues to highlight the broader debate about women’s role. On the domestic war front Constance is replacing, temporarily, the men who have gone to fight. At the Potteries Tram Depot she meets two women from an entirely different class and men who have suffered the ravages of war; experiences the precariousness nature of work for women who adopted ‘men’s jobs’; and the pleasure in earning wages. Although her activity with the suffragettes is behind her, as they changed tactics to support the war effort, some of the principles they imparted remain with Constance. She is prepared to adapt to changing circumstances relishing the way in which women and men’s roles are forced to change and questioning the expectation that she should fulfil traditional women’s roles at the cost of her independence. Constance’s demand for more freedom from pre-war ideas challenge her parents and past, and her choice opposes the dictates of class and gender. She shortens her name to Connie to hide her class background when she becomes a clippie. This has ramifications that she could not envisage, adding to the development of both the feminist and romantic threads of the story. Her friendships with two women who join the trams at the same time, bring into the novel details of their stories, past and present. The descriptions of the women’s work experiences on the trams are delightful, we can almost feel the heaviness of the money bag and ticket machine draped around the women’s bodies. At the same time as the difficulty of the work is shown, the joy of comradeship and developing new capabilities are as real. Romantic attachments are part of the experience and the way in which this is dealt with again shows Johnson’s solid research and understanding of the imperatives of women’s lives in a period where women’s paid work was temporary, limited in prospects and often a life of drudgery. Johnson also shows that romance can burgeon in the least likely of places with seemingly plain characters. Connie’s enduring relationships with women in service again emphasises the way in which the war at times broke down class barriers at home as well as on the battlefield. The melding of the various romances and the way in which women in this period deal with a different social environment requires clever characterisation, story line and writing. The deftness with which Lynn Johnson combines research about the suffragettes’ and suffragists’ interaction and the burgeoning white feather movement versus conscientious objectors, together with romantic alliances is a credit to her: she makes the reader looking for a feminist story as satisfied as one wanting romance. Where I think that the writing is less engaging is in the last chapters. These have a lot of superfluous detail. That criticism aside, I found this an appealing story, with well-drawn characters. Connie is a character who keeps the plot alive, with her early resentfulness at the boundaries that impact women, to her challenging them and finding a way to lead a resourceful and satisfying life on the trams.

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  • Deception, Secrets, Wartime, Romance

    WWI begins and the men leave to fight for their country and this now leaves a shortage in the jobs they left empty. The only people to fill these positions are the older men and the women. However, to the detriment of some of the men who are left behind for various reasons that are unable to serve or are back because they are injured are having to work side by side with the women there are Issues of getting along with them. Constance “Connie” decided to get a job and hide the fact she comes from a wealthy family. The job she chose to go after was as a “Clippie” a girl that took the money and tickets on the trams. She was assigned in a rougher area, but she felt she was up to the task. Her parents were not thrilled. Her secrets and other situations could jeopardize the relationships she finally was making with co-workers and maybe even a man. I have nothing but high praise about the characters! They were fun, serious, but relatable for the time period! The author kept the storyline moving forward so that you wanted to keep turning the pages! I definitely would recommend this book to a friend. I received a free advanced copy from NetGalley and these are my willingly given thoughts and opinions.

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  • Realities of War, Secrets, Love and Hope

    Beautiful Wartime with the Tram Girls is set in WWI Staffordshire. Independent and spirited Constance Copeland, a young middle class woman, wishes to earn her way and craves something different, something unique. She applies for and becomes a clippie, issuing tickets and collecting money on a tram system which is traditionally a man's job. At work Constance becomes Connie and becomes fast friends with Betty, Jean and Inspector Robert Caldwell. She loves what she does but her job is not without incident. She had also been a suffragette. Like most people, she has a secret. Not only do we get glimpses into the working life of a clippie but also into human nature, rights, effects of war and hope. The war itself is not described in detail; this book does not focus on the physical harsh realities. However, the author is inspired by true events. I really like the mix of nonfiction and historical fiction. The historical details such as the clippie uniforms make the scenes come alive. Historical Fiction and General Fiction readers ought to pick up this charming book. I recommend the first one as well as it deserves to be read. My sincere thank you to Hera Books and NetGalley for allowing me the pleasure of reading this delightful book!

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  • Women at work during the war

    Great read, again it shows just how much women did in the work place during the war years, plus trying to keep a home together

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