"My name is Mary Hymers and I was born in the year 1927. My Mother’s maiden name was Thomasina Gilfillan; after she married my Father Norman Hymers she took his surname and became Thomasina Hymers. I have one elder brother Alexander who was the oldest of us, then my sister Barbara, then me; Mary, and the baby of the family was my brother Norman..."
With these words, at the age of 74 and never having written anything longer than a letter before, Mary Hymers began to write her life. Sixteen years later, she's still writing. A Dance with Romeo is the first volume of her memoirs to be published and details her childhood and teenage years agains the backdrop of the second world war.
Born in Winlaton, a small village in the north-east of England, Mary Hymers describes growing up in the 1930's, the traditions, community (and gossip) of a close-knit community whose way of life that had remained unchanged for almost a century and which, with the advent of the Second World War, was soon to disappear forever.
When war was declared in 1939, Winlaton was transformed by the influx of troops billeted there before being shipped off to fight abroad. The transformation of the village coincides with the end of Mary's schooldays at the age of thirteen and the beginning of her working life at Sinclair's tobacco factory on Newcastle's Westgate Road. As she writes “War was declared, and life really began.”
For Mary life had indeed begun. Working long shifts in the cigarette factory and out dancing every night, Mary's war is backlit by the searchlights, incendiaries and tracer fire of the overhead air battles lighting her way home. Whether she's inadvertently getting engaged to her penfriend, enduring (with an ill-grace) the steadfast devotion of Ginger Duffy - her brother's best friend, getting her sister into trouble for smoking cigarettes, holidaying in London or avoiding becoming a GI bride, Mary dances her way through the War and in doing so gives an honest and often funny account of daily lives of ordinarily people during that extraordinary time.
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