The Scarlet Sisters: My nanna’s story of secrets and heartache on the banks of the River Thames

January 26, 2020 - Comment

‘Oh my goodness – another girl Mrs Swain!’ Clara’s normal iron composure broke and she screamed, ‘No! That’s not the bloody deal!’And that is how my nanna, Bertha Swain, entered the world. When Helen Batten’s marriage breaks down, she starts on a journey of discovery into her family’s past and the mysteries surrounding her enigmatic

‘Oh my goodness – another girl Mrs Swain!’
Clara’s normal iron composure broke and she screamed, ‘No! That’s not the bloody deal!’
And that is how my nanna, Bertha Swain, entered the world.

When Helen Batten’s marriage breaks down, she starts on a journey of discovery into her family’s past and the mysteries surrounding her enigmatic nanna’s early life.

What she unearths is a tale of five feisty red heads struggling to climb out of poverty and find love through two world wars. It’s a story full of surprises and scandal – a death in a workhouse, a son kept in a box, a shameful war record, a clandestine marriage and children taken far too soon. It’s as if there is a family curse.

But Helen also finds love, resilience and hope – crazy wagers, late night Charlestons and stolen kisses. As she unravels the story of Nanna and her scarlet sisters, Helen starts to break the spell of the past, and sees a way she might herself find love again.

Comments

Anonymous says:

I was hooked from the moment I read the ‘Look Inside’ One of my interests is family history and came across this book when trying to investigate my mother’s life story. It’s difficult for me to understand my mum as I was her youngest son born in 1944. I couldn’t ask mum myself as she died 40 years ago. And would she have told me her feelings rather than just the basic facts. I don’t think so. She was a very private person. So this book has been a tremendous help in seeing the lives of girls in the early 20th century. One of the most fscinating…

Anonymous says:

Very readable memoir – emotional in places This is a family memoir of one woman’s investigation into the lives of her grandmother and her sisters. The family aren’t particularly unusual or notable but they are a normal working class family and the book is stronger because of that. The author switches between her own life and that of her family and although her own struggles are interesting, at times sad, and often relevant it is the lives of the sisters, all of whom had red hair, in the early part of the twentieth century which are the…

Anonymous says:

Brilliant book! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and when I got to the end I was disappointed that it wasn’t longer, I wanted to hear yet more of the fascinating Scarlet Sisters!What a strong bunch of women they were! I really enjoyed seeing the few scattered photos, especially finding one of Clara right at the end. Also, at the end, is a photo of the five sisters in later life – I enlarged it, and it was fascinating to see that the author’s description of their characters really stood out in…

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