Latest Posts

Unsung Heroes and Heroines of the Home Front:

Working in Air Raid Precautions


Put that light out!’ Most of us instantly associate those words with life on the home front during the Second World War. Many of us probably picture Warden Hodges from Dad’s Army. Yes, the ARP wardens did patrol the blacked-out streets looking for slivers of light showing through tiny chinks in the curtains, but most people may not realise just how extensive the Air Raid Precautions work actually was.


ARP was an umbrella term for a range of different Civil Defence services, such as the wardens (like Mr Hodges); light and heavy rescue; demolition and decontamination parties; ambulance drivers and attendants; as well as the first aiders who either attended serious incidents or staffed first-aid posts.


Youngsters could join the messenger service, cycling at top speed through the blackout, sometimes while the bombs were falling (like young Noakes in The Home Front Girls), to deliver information from one ARP station to another. The official age for joining was 15, but a keen 13- or 14-year-old might well be allowed to join unofficially. It was a dangerous job, and the bombs did not make allowances for age.


The youngest ever person to be awarded the George Medal, which was instituted early in the Second World War, was 15-year-old Charity Ann Bick of the messenger service. Charity, who lived in West Bromwich, had joined when she was 14, having lied about her age. On the night in question she helped her father extinguish several incendiaries, after which, in order to pass vital information between ARP stations, she made several bicycle journeys of around a mile and a quarter. These journeys took place during the height of the air raid and several times she had to dismount and lie on the ground for safety. According to her citation, she ‘displayed outstanding courage and coolness in very trying circumstances.’


‘Very trying’ seems to me a distinctly British way of describing an air raid!


Going back to our friend Warden Hodges, what other jobs would he have done aside from bellowing ‘Put that light out!’? As well as being closely involved in communication during raids, ARP wardens supervised the public air raid shelters and helped to dig out the dead and injured from the ruins of bombed houses. In the clear-up afterwards, they put up UNEXPLODED BOMB notices, checked damaged buildings to see how safe they were, and contributed to the ‘bomb census’. The aim was to record every bomb that detonated by noting its position on a hand-drawn map known as a ‘tracing’, so called because of being traced from an ordnance survey street map.


Advertisements in newspapers and women’s magazines quickly recognised the role of women in the ARP. Lifebuoy Toilet Soap showed a picture of a grubby-faced woman with an ARP tin helmet and a bath towel, while Mrs Peek’s Puddings asked, ‘Can a Warden be a Good Wife?’ at the top of a comic-strip style story of Mrs X, who fears she might have to resign from the ARP because her husband is vexed at having yet another cold dinner served up. Fortunately for her, her friend advises the use of Mrs Peek’s tinned puddings. The tale finishes with the happy husband thinking she must have resigned from her position, but she hasn’t had to – thanks to Peek Frean.


Having taken over the traditionally male jobs while the men were away, thousands upon thousands of women spent long days at work, followed by going out again to perform their wartime ARP duties as wardens, air raid shelter attendants and ambulance drivers. Oh yes, and they were expected to do all the housework, the shopping and the cooking as well; and those who had kept their children at home, instead of having them evacuated, had to care for their families as well - something that readers of The Railway Girls series will be very familiar with.


When I say ‘ambulance drivers’, don’t necessarily imagine an actual ambulance. The standard ARP ambulance was a motorcar that towed a trailer with racks for stretchers. Part of the training involved two of these ambulances, complete with trailers, starting at different places about a mile apart with winding roads in between them. The new drivers had to negotiate this challenging route in the blackout and then pass one another safely.


When the air raid sounded, the only people who could officially be above ground were the various ARP services, the fire brigade and fire-watchers, and the police. The duty of the wardens was to patrol their designated streets and, as soon as a bomb fell, go to that place and determine the extent of the damage before sending for whatever other services would be needed.


And what were the rewards? According to a playground song of the time, ARP workers got their gas-mask free of charge.


Under the spreading chestnut tree

Neville Chamberlain said to me:

If you want to get your gas-mask free,

Join the blinking ARP.


A jolly little song, but also jolly misleading. No one at all had to pay for their gas mask.


Publication Day for Courage

Posted on 8th May, 2024




In Courage for the Home Front Girls, Sally is now the manager of the salvage depot and she's thrilled to bits. Good-natured Betty has reason to be thrilled too, because she's got a boyfriend at long last.


But someone who has no reason at all to be thrilled in new girl Lorna, who has been sent to work at the depot as a way of keeping her hidden away from all the journalists who would just love to add to the juicy stories they've already written about her.


* * * *


 Here is the link.


Kindle Unlimited Titles

Posted on 5th May, 2024

The Home Front Girls is proving very popular on Kindle Unlimited (151,000 swipes in the first two weeks) so I thought you might like to see which of my other books are on KU.


Let's start with The Home Front Girls.


If you don't use KU, the Kindle is £1.99 to buy. The link is the same.


Next up my first published novel, The Deserter's Daughter.


The paid Kindle is £4.99 (same link).


The one-line blurb I sometimes use on Twitter is "A secret is revealed and a family is changed for ever."


Then we have the first in the 1920s Surplus Girls series - The Surplus Girls 


The paid Kindle is £2.99 (same link).


And the last one at present is Surplus Girls book 2 - The Surplus Girls' Orphans 



Another of Those Wonderful Boxes

Posted on 26th April, 2024

It's not long since I was here showing off my brand new author copies of The Home Front Girls. Guess what! This week I received my author copies of book 2 in the series, Courage for the Home Front Girls.




Courage will be published on May 9th and can be pre-ordered here.


A bit about the story...

Sally is thrilled to bits at her recent promotion. Betty is thrilled to bits because, at long last, she has a man in her life. And new girl Lorna is anything but thrilled at being packed off to work in a grotty salvage depot.


* * * *


Meanwhile, book 1 is riding high in the Family Saga charts and has been at number 2 for most of the past week.




Happy Book-Birthday - and Happy New Cover!

Posted on 19th April, 2024

When I invited Jan Baynham to appear on my blog to celebrate the book-birthday of her debut novel, Her Mother's Secret: the Summer of '69, neither of us knew that we'd be overtaken by events and the book would be reissued with a new title and a gorgeous new cover.


So let's begin by showing you the lovely new cover and sharing the Amazon link.


And now let's share some of Jan's memories of being published during lockdown....


Happy Book Birthday to 'Her Mother's Secret'

On 21st April 21st 2024, my debut novel, ‘Her Mother’s Secret – the Summer of ’69’ will be four years old. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. Becoming a published author was something I’d only ever dreamed about and there I was, sending my novel out into the world to be read by others. I had a feeling of excitement yet I was nervous too. How was it going to be received? What if it was a real flop? I knew I’d worked hard to get it as good as I could make it and I was lucky enough to be working with a super editor but… I was thrilled (and relieved!) once the early reviews started to come in.


Publication day was at the height of the COVID pandemic with all its restrictions on travel and as my novel is partially set on a fictional Greek island, the book soon became an escapist read. I began receiving messages from readers about how they enjoyed travelling to beautiful Greece via their armchairs, soaking up the sunshine and sampling the Greek food and drink, and for a few hours at least, forgetting about the dire situation we were all in.

Being my first published novel, ‘Her Mother’s Secret’ will always be very special for me. I loved writing it as I was able to reminisce about holidays spent in my favourite country while, at the same time, exploring the more serious themes of family secrets, the bond between mothers and daughters, forbidden love and a sense of identity.


* * * *



Previously published as Her Mother's Secret: The Summer of '69 by Jan Baynham.

A secret diary. Love lost. And love found . . .

Greece, 1969. Reeling from a devastating loss, free-spirited Elin Morgan escapes to a sun-drenched Greek island. She seeks shelter among the blue painted shutters, bobbing fishing boats and lanes lined with olive trees.

Up the hill from the taverna where she’s staying, Elin rekindles her love of painting at a tiny art studio and, with the help of handsome wood-carver Stelios, unlocks hidden passions.

But their carefree summer isn’t to last. Elin leaves, taking with her a shocking secret that will span decades.

Wales, 1991. Art student Alexandra is unmoored by the death of her beloved mother Elin. She doesn’t know what to do when she learns she’s been left a beautiful old diary.

Elin’s journal tells of the summer she spent on a Greek island in 1969 and gives Alexandra her blessing to find out the truth about her past.

With just an old diary to guide her, she seeks the answers to long-buried secrets. And as Alexandra begins to see the world through her young mother’s eyes, she realizes that some love stories have no ending . . .

This captivating and unforgettable story about the bonds between mother and daughter, set on a Greek island decades apart, is perfect for fans of Fiona Valpy, Louise Douglas, Kate Frost, T.A. Williams, Mandy Baggot, Francesca Catlow or Chris Penhall.


Publication Day for The Home Front Girls

Posted on 15th April, 2024

April 16th saw publication of The Home Front Girls, book 1 in my new Second World War saga series. I hope you are all going to love meeting Sally, Betty and their families.


That's Sally in the green pullover, and Betty in the patterned.


The story starts in the summer of 1940 when the Battle of Britain is raging n the skies. Steadfast, hardworking Sally and Good-natured, well-meaning Betty are both sent to work in a salvage depot - what we today would know as a recycling plant.


The trouble is they have already met - when Sally caused Betty to lose her job.


The Home Front Girls is available on Kindle and in paperback.

Cover Love... with Kirsty Dougal

Posted on 11th April, 2024

This week I'm delighted to welcome Kirsten Hesketh back to my blog, this time innher new guise as saga author Kirsty Dougal. She's here to tell us why she loves the cover of her first Kirsty novel so much.


* * * *


Cover Love for Wartime on Sanctuary Lane.

Kirsten Hesketh/ Kirsty Dougal.


What a treat to be back on my friend Susanna’s lovely blog – thank you so much for inviting me to say a few words about the cover for my debut saga written as Kirsty Dougal and called Wartime on Sanctuary Lane.


As soon as I saw the cover, I fell in love with it. Believe me, this has not always been the case with my previous novels. Although all my publishers have always been very supportive in trying to get things “right,” it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle matching my vision to theirs. I was thrilled and relieved that this was not at all the case here.



I love the model the design team chose for Ruby. She looks exactly as I imagined her – determined and thoughtful – exactly like Ruby! She also bears more than a passing resemblance to my lovely 22-year-old daughter – which can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned.


The background is spot on too – in the book, Ruby leaves service during WW1 to return home to a terraced street in the East End of London to do her bit at a local munitions factory. I love the way the design team have the factory bearing down on the street and whole scene – much as it dominates my characters’ lives. And, of course, this is a book about setting up an animal hospital, so the cover wouldn’t be complete without some of our four-legged friends. The dog – who plays a huge part in the story – is appropriately centre stage, but can you spot the little cat in the background?


I’m so proud of this story, which was inspired by my grandparents and by all the wonderful pets in my life, and I really hope that some of you might enjoy it.


What do you think of the cover?


Lots of love,




Wartime on Sanctuary Lane - link to Amazon


That Special Delivery...

Posted on 4th April, 2024

I've said it many times before - as regular visitors to my blog will know - but it's true: no matter how many times it happens, receiving and opening up the box of author copies and seeing my books 'in the flesh' for the first time is always a wonderful moment.


It was especially exciting to receive my box of The Home Front Girls as this title is not only the first with a new publisher but also is my first Susanna Bavin book since The Poor Relation came out in 2020.




The girls on the cover are Sally (hands on hips) and Betty. I hope you're going to love meeting them and their families.


Here is the Amazon link to the paperback and here is the link to the Kindle. Both editions are published on April 16th. Not long to go!



A question writers are often asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ The answer is that they come from all over the place – a snippet of overheard conversation, something on the news, a picture, a song…


I once got a terrific plot idea from listening to a talk given on a training day at work!


That idea subsequently added an extra layer to the scene in The Poor Relation when Mary, Nathaniel, Alistair and the men of the local community work through the night to get the clinic ready for business.


When I was writing The Surplus Girls' Orphans, there had to be a series of crimes going on, and these crimes had to fit in fully with the story and in particular with the children in the orphanage.


I gave it a lot of thought. Then, one morning, when I was listening to Today on Radio 4, a certain news report gave me exactly what I needed. It had to be adapted, obviously, for my book, but the idea was there.


That's the way it is with ideas - they don't get transferred onto the page unchanged. When a writer gets an idea, it doesn’t just mean using that exact snatch of conversation or that particular detail from a photo. What happens is that the original thing, whatever it was, blossoms and expands into something bigger and completely different inside the writer’s mind.


Before I had even thought of The Sewing Room Girl, I was told about something frightening that had happened to someone... and that's where the book originated - though nothing in the story bears any resemblance at all to the original event.


The wedding day details in The Railway Girls in Love were inspired when I saw two wartime wedding photographs in Bombers and Mash by Raynes Minns.


One photo was a close-up of three women – the bride and two bridesmaids. The bride was wearing a suit and hat, as many wartime brides did. As the war wore on, it became increasingly difficult to find new wedding dresses and many dresses were passed from bride to bride. So what was it about this photo that made it special for me? Well, it was the hats worn by the bride and one of her friends. Each hat had a frothy decoration attached to it, a cross between a flower and a pompom, to make the hats more suitable for a special occasion. The moment I saw these, I knew that knitting-mad Mrs Grayson would love to add the coordinating touch of knitted flowers to the wedding hats in my story.


The second picture was a group photo showing the bride and groom, an adult bridesmaid, two men and three child bridesmaids. It was the way the three little girls were dressed that gave me my second idea. I’m not going to say here what it was in case you haven’t read the book yet, but you may well work it out when you get to that part in the story.


Looking at the two wartime wedding pictures (which you can see for yourself in Bombers and Mash – they appear on page 177 in my paperback copy) didn’t just provide me with ideas for wedding clothes. Suddenly I was able to see the whole of the wedding day happening in detail from start to finish inside my imagination, complete with everything that would make it into the very special occasion that I loved putting on paper, including the flood at the church hall that meant the reception had to be moved at short notice into the station buffet.


The basic idea that started me off writing The Deserter's Daughter, my first published novel, came from seeing boxes of bits and bobs at an auction. If you fancied something, you had to buy the whole box.


That idea never got used in The Deserter's Daughter....


.... but it did get used some ten years later in The Surplus Girls.


It might take longer than you think, but ideas always get used in the end!



I'm celebrating publication day not just with a brand new book out there but also with four books in the Top 100 of the Saga Chart.


The Kindle and paperback editions of Springtime with the Railway Girls, plus the Kindle editions (on pre-order) of the first two Home Front Girls books are all there.


And don't these two make a lovely picture side by side?




If you are interested in reading Springtime, don't forget that you aren't going to find it in any of the UK supermarkets. You can get it online at Amazon or you can order it at any high street branch of WH Smith's or Waterstone's or at any independent bookshop.


Or you can of course request it at your local library.


I hope you all love reading it and finding out what happens next.