The Forces’ Sweethearts by Rosie Archer: Period charm and nostalgia on every page - book review -

Singing troupe, the Bluebird Girls, are flying high as they tour the world with ENSA… but this is wartime and news from home is set to bring them crashing back down to earth.

Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 3:45 pm
The Forces Sweethearts
The Forces Sweethearts

Singing troupe, the Bluebird Girls, are flying high as they tour the world with ENSA… but this is wartime and news from home is set to bring them crashing back down to earth.

Welcome back to the rollercoaster lives of three young women from Gosport, the Hampshire town with a long and distinguished naval and maritime history which has become familiar to an army of readers thanks to the wonderful novels of Rosie Archer, one of its proudest inhabitants.

After a series of compelling novels featuring the resilient women who set to work on the south coast of England during the Second World War, Archer’s emotional Bluebird Girls sagas are following a group of singers whose fates and fortunes play out against real-life events of 1942.

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Brimming with nostalgia, romance, drama, friendships and the popular songs of wartime, this third gripping book is full of the author’s warmth and compelling storytelling, and the emotions and experiences that have shaped her own life.

It’s May of 1942 and the Bluebird Girls – Rainey Bird, Bea Herron and Ivy Sparrow – are at the height of their singing careers. They are touring with the forces’ entertainments organisation, ENSA, visiting army bases across the world and boosting the morale of the brave boys fighting in the desert and the jungle.

They are currently at an army base in Libya and finding the desert heat draining, the hours long, and the travelling across waterlogged ground uncomfortable, but the rapidly maturing young women wouldn’t be anywhere else for the world.

Rainey, who has always considered herself the most sensible of the trio, is in a relationship with their unofficial photographer Charlie Smith, quiet, dreamy Ivy is in love with Bea’s brother Eddie, and the volatile Bea doubts she will ever meet the right man for her.

With them throughout their travels are their loyal manager, Blackie Wilson, and Rainey’s mother, Jo, who acts as the Bluebirds’ chaperone and wardrobe assistant, but then tragedy strikes the group and their little showbusiness family.

Blackie and Jo find themselves with heavy new responsibilities, and the sudden change in circumstances makes the girls reconsider the course of their lives. For years, singing on stage has been their only dream, and they have made so many sacrifices to get where they are.

But now other possibilities – relationships and babies – are on the horizon. Could this be the end for the Bluebird Girls?

There is a gritty edge of harsh realism to all Archer’s wartime sagas and this thrilling new chapter for the tough and resilient young women is a stark reminder that wartime brings trials, triumphs and tragedies for those on both the battlefield and the home front.

It was a time when death was only ever a heartbeat away, and daily life in industrial cities like Gosport was under constant threat from bombing raids. But wartime also saw communities come together, and friends, neighbours and family became the solid bedrock which helped many through the best and worst of times.

The trio of gutsy songbirds, Rainey’s loving and supportive mum Jo, and the long-suffering Blackie have won the hearts of thousands of readers as they work hard to boost morale both at home and with the troops abroad and to keep smiling through the many hardships thrown at them.

With period charm and nostalgia on every page – whether that’s music, rationed food, the dreaded black-out or the wail of air raid sirens – Archer’s sparkling series delivers authenticity and entertainment in spades.

And the good news is that Victory for the Bluebird Girls, the last curtain call for our three songstresses, is set to hit the shelves in October.

(Quercus, paperback, £6.99)