For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Kate Breslin, historical romance author with Bethany House Publishers to talk about her latest release As Dawn Breaks and the women who worked in Britain’s WWI munition factories.
Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!
Without further ado, please tell us interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.
Hello friends! I’m Kate Breslin and I write WWI and WWII historical fiction for Bethany House Publishers. Being an avid traveler, I’ve had the privilege of visiting fourteen different countries, touring Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice, Athens, and Pompeii to name a few, and I love being able to include some these destinations in my novels so that my stories take you places.
Can you tell us about your latest novel?
My newest release is As Dawn Breaks, a historical romance set in Scotland and I’ve included the book’s back copy below:
Amid the Great War in 1918 England, munitions worker Rosalind Graham is desperate to escape the arranged marriage being forced on her by her ruthless guardian and instead follow her own course. When the Chilwell factory explodes, killing hundreds of unidentified workers, Rose realizes the world believes she perished in the disaster. Seizing the chance to escape, she risks all and assumes a new identity, taking a supervisory position in Gretna, Scotland, as Miss Tilly Lockhart.
RAF Captain Alex Baird is returning home to Gretna on a secret mission to uncover the saboteur suspected in the Chilwell explosion, as Gretna’s factory is likely next. Fearing for his family’s safety, he’s also haunted by guilt after failing to protect his brother. Alex is surprised to discover a young woman, Miss Lockhart, renting his boyhood room, but the two eventually bond over their mutual affection for his family–until Alex receives orders to surveil her.
Rose squirms beneath Alex’s scrutiny while she struggles to gain her workers’ respect. But when her deception turns to danger, she and Alex must find a way to put their painful pasts behind them and together try to safeguard the future.
What made you choose women in munitions in Great Britain during WW1?
To date, I’ve written five novels set during the Great War of 1914-1918, and in my research I’ve always been fascinated to discover how the women of Great Britain (and later in America) left home and hearth to take up jobs formerly held by men while their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons fought the enemy overseas. In each of my stories I’ve showcased women serving in one particular field or another and while I admire them all, I was most impressed with the women working in munitions. These brave, patriotic women daily risked their lives working with explosives and making ammunition to aid Britain’s “fighting Tommies” at the front.
Can you tell us more about the women who worked munitions during the war?
These women of WWI were called “Munitionettes” and had various responsibilities. Some worked in foundries rolling and welding steel to make the shells which were then sent to a shell-filling factory, where other women packed them with TNT. Because most wore inadequate protection, the sulfurous TNT powder caused their skin and hair to change color. They were affectionately known as “Canaries,” for their yellowing skin and bleached hair. Women also operated forklifts and overhead cranes, loading the filled shells onto railcars that would ship the munitions to the nearest seaport.
In my novel As Dawn Breaks, I feature the young women working at HM Factory Gretna in Scotland, Great Britain’s largest munitions plant for making ammunition propellant. The girls hired on at fourteen or fifteen up into their twenties, and they were from all over the British Empire. One of their jobs in making propellant was to combine nitroglycerin with nitrocotton to form a doughy paste, which WWI war correspondent Sir Arthur Conan Doyle coined as “The Devil’s Porridge,” watching them mix with bare hands the highly caustic substance. These women too were exposed to chemicals that changed their skin and hair color and cause other health problems, not to mention accidental factory explosions. In my view they were “mighty girls,” proving themselves equal to the tasks set before them. It was their work and those of many others during WWI that put women on the fast track to achieving the right to vote.
What research was required to write about a munitions factory?
I wasn’t able to visit a vintage WWI British munitions factory, but I did find two key resources that were absolute gold—the first was Canary Girls of Chilwell, by British historian Maureen Rushton, offering me insight into the lives of the women working at the #6 Shell Filling Factory at Chilwell in Nottinghamshire, England. The book included interviews with actual witnesses to one of the most deadly munition explosions in Great Britain during WWI. The second key resource was a 2001 PhD thesis by Chris Brader entitled, Timbertown Girls: Gretna Female Munitions Workers in World War I, which not only chronicled how propellant is made, but also gave me great detail into the variety of women who worked at HM Factory Gretna, both their work and social lives. These offerings really helped me to get my head into writing their story!
How has munitions changed from a century ago to now?
Surprisingly, as of 2020 the US Army was still producing ammunition much as they did during WWI and WWII. Because of several munitions worker fatalities however, they’ve been pushing Congress to fund new automated production and the use of robotics. Robotics seems to be the growing trend globally for making munitions.
Did you include a dialect in your story? How did you go about making it authentic?
I did include Scots dialect for my story hero and other characters in the novel, and accents for my Irish and London characters. To make it authentic I usually research old slang phases for the particular dialect I’m writing and check the dates to make sure it’s accurate. I also prefer “flavoring” the story with the dialect rather than adding in too much and distracting my reader.
Do you have another book in the works? What can you tell us about that book?
My sixth novel, In Love’s Time, will be available December 13th and I’ve included below from the back of the book:
In the summer of 1918, Captain Marcus Weatherford arrives in Russia on a secret mission, with a beautiful ballerina posing as his fiancée. He’s there to find the Romanov tsarina and her son and glean information about a plot to assassinate Lenin. As the danger intensifies, Marcus’s sense of duty battles with his desire to return home to Clare, the woman he truly loves, before it’s too late.
Military hospital orderly Clare Danner still suffers from Marcus’s betrayal after learning he’s engaged to another woman. Clare also fears losing her daughter, Daisy, to the heartless family who took her away once before. Only Marcus can provide the critical proof needed to save Daisy, but when an injury leaves him powerless to help, Clare’s fate–and the fate of the top-secret mission–hangs in the balance.
In Love’s Time will bookend my five WWI standalone novels, so I included some of the original cast from my first WWI novel, Not By Sight, which I hope my readers will enjoy!
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Kate, thank you for joining us today!
If readers would like to purchase a copy of As Dawn Breaks where might they be able to do so?
Please visit www.katebreslin.com and click on the Books page, where you’ll find buy links for As Dawn Breaks and the rest of my novels. Or visit your favorite brick and mortar or online bookstore!
If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?
I hope you’ll visit me at www.katebreslin.com and sign up for my newsletter, send me an email, join me on social media, or learn more about my books!
Over Sunday Dinner next week, Love Inspired author Jill Kemerer will be joining us. See you then!