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Molly Green


Published by AVON

A Division of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

1 London Bridge Street

London SE1 9GF


First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2021

Copyright © Molly Green 2021

Cover design by Stephen Mulcahey © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2021

Cover photographs © CollaborationJS (figure), Shutterstock.com (background)

Molly Green asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

Source ISBN: 9780008332501

Ebook Edition © March 2021 ISBN: 9780008332518

Version: 2021-02-09


To my dear sister, Carole Ann, who for two pins would live on a narrow boat!

To all the women and girls who worked on the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company Ltd during the Second World War, taking their narrowboats filled with cargo such as wool, steel, coal, timber, cement, sand, iron, shells for explosives, and even dates used for sauce (!) on scores of trips from London to Birmingham and back.

In 1948 they were finally acknowledged for their valuable contribution in the war and given badges with the initials IW (Inland Waterways), and thereafter jokingly became known as the Idle Women. Nothing could be further from the truth!



Title Page



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two


Reading List

Keep Reading …

About the Author

Also by Molly Green

About the Publisher

Chapter One

Downe, near Bromley, Kent

October 1943

The lights dimmed in the cinema until the auditorium went dark. The chattering audience stopped with one accord. All Ronnie could see was the swirl of cigarette smoke and the silhouette of the heads and women’s hats in the rows in front of her. She felt her friend, Lois, give her a nudge.

‘Not long now ’til the film.’ Lois was breathless with excitement.

‘It’s Pathé News first,’ Ronnie whispered.

‘That’s the bit I hate. It’s always more bad news. I just came to see the main film.’ Lois pulled a small bag of boiled sweets from her handbag and handed one to Ronnie. ‘Joan Crawford is my favourite. She always plays good parts – makes mincemeat of the men.’ She gave a giggle.

‘Shhhh!’ A man with a large head, and boxer’s shoulders, who was sitting in front of them, half turned, waving his hand towards her. ‘Some of us would like to hear the news.’

Ronnie recoiled. ‘It hasn’t actually started yet,’ she said, feeling a rise of annoyance.

‘This is Pathé News.’ The newsreader’s voice cut across any further argument. ‘Today, the 13th October, Italy has declared war on Nazi Germany, just one month after Italy surrendered to the Allies.’

The audience sent up a roar of approval and several people clapped, Ronnie and Lois amongst them.

‘Best news we’ve heard for ages,’ Lois said, turning to Ronnie. The light from the cinema screen showed her eyes dancing with excitement.

The newsreader continued a few moments longer and then switched subjects.

‘Women and girls are taking over more and more of the men’s jobs. Here are some of the girls in the Land Army doing a marvellous job keeping food on our tables … just look at this young lady actually driving a tractor!’ The newsreader’s voice rose in disbelief. ‘These girls are certainly wearing the trousers.’

There were a few male chuckles. One man in the audience called out, ‘Not in my house, they’re not.’ More laughter.

Ronnie watched the film intently. Three Land Girls dressed in jodhpurs, their jumpers tucked into their waists and belted, were working on a farm. Ronnie immediately slumped back in her seat. She’d applied three weeks ago to join the Land Army – actually, three weeks and two days to be precise – convinced they would grab her. Several posters she’d seen pinned up in the library and the village hall hoping to persuade girls to join, especially one colourful poster, had really caught her eye. It showed a smiling Land Girl with dark curly hair, a little longer but not unlike her own, her hand resting on a horse’s neck, and an amiable pipe-smoking farmer looking on. The message along the top of the poster read: ‘We could do with thousands more like you …’ and underneath the picture was a yellow banner with black writing: Join the Women’s Land Army.

She’d dashed home, breathless with excitement that her chance had come, and filled in the application form without telling her mother. What would have been the point? Ronnie had mentioned it a couple of times to her sisters and although Raine and Suzy had cautioned her about the hard, monotonous work, which didn’t worry Ronnie one jot, Maman had shot her idea down in flames. She couldn’t bear the idea that one of her daughters had dirty, broken fingernails and wore men’s clothes while working on the vegetable plot at home, let alone milking cows and mucking out sheds for some unknown farmer.

Every morning when she’d heard Micky, the postboy, rattle the letterbox, Ronnie had flown downstairs, followed by an exuberant Rusty barking his head off. This morning she’d been certain that today would be the day she’d hear. But there had been nothing … until the second post at noon.

‘Chérie, you have

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