Novel celebrates Sunderland’s female shipyard workers

Women in the shipyards in July 1941
Women in the shipyards in July 1941
Have your say

An author who breathes new life into the story of Sunderland’s oft-forgotten female shipyard workers has released her second novel.

Amanda Revell Walton, who writes under the pseudonym Nancy Revell, moved back to her home city of Sunderland after winning a book deal for her Shipyard Girls series.

Scrapers and painters in July 1941

Scrapers and painters in July 1941

Inspired by her own family’s history working as platers in Sunderland’s once world-famous shipyards, Amanda began researching the women who stepped into the breach during World War II and carried out the backbreaking work while men fought on the battlefields.

The 48-year-old, who lives in Roker, felt so strongly about the contribution these women made to the war effort that she created fictional characters based on real accounts of the yards.

More than 700 women were employed in the yards at the height of the conflict, including 130 at Doxfords. Almost a thousand more found work in marine engineering shops.

Amanda said: “Learning about these women’s working conditions and the incredible work they carried out has been fascinating. They did all this under the constant threat of being bombed because the shipyards were a prime target.

Amanda Revell Walton

Amanda Revell Walton

“They would do this, then go home and look after their homes and children while worrying about their husbands and loved ones who were away at war.”

Amanda says the women’s role to play in winning the war, by working in the world’s biggest shipbuilding town, should not be forgotten.

“If they hadn’t have stepped in we wouldn’t have won the war,” she said. “If these ships weren’t produced then it would have had a domino effect, from the transportation of troops to food. The country would have been starved into submission.

“Moving forward, I would love for them to be commemorated in some way, perhaps with a plaque to mark their efforts.”

A former journalist who worked for national publications from her home in Oxford, Amanda moved back to her native North East with her husband Paul to focus on her writing and to research her novels, using first hand accounts as well as cuttings from the Sunderland Echo.

The first book in the series, released last year, proved a hit and Amanda says she’s been delighted with the success.

“I’ve been so taken aback by the response to the book,” she said. “The people of Sunderland have been so supportive and encouraging, especially places like Sea Road Post Office who have sold my books since the beginning.

“I’ve always felt a pride and loyalty about Sunderland and writing these books has exacerbated that.”

The second in The Shipyard Girls series, Shipyard Girls at War, transports the reader to 1941 where Rosie is flourishing in her role as head-welder while still keeping her double life a secret.

Gloria, meanwhile, is hiding her own little secret – one that if found out, could not only threaten her job, but her life. And, the shipyards are proving tougher than Polly ever imagined, as she waits for her man to return home safely.

•Shipyard Girls at War by Arrow Books is out now, priced £5.99.