There’s a Winston Churchill quote I love which reads, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
I came across it when I was doing the background research for my fiction series The Shipyard Girls (all set during the Second World War) – and I love it! How so few words can gift such wonderful pearls of wisdom.
I remember thinking how astonishing it was that someone in such a powerful position could say this during a time which was dominated by so much hatred and warmongering. To talk about giving when we were under a real threat of having everything we knew – everything we owned, everything we believed in – taken from us.
I suppose it just goes to prove that we’ve always been a charitable nation – and I hope always will be.
As I was writing my latest book Secrets of the Shipyard Girls I was struck by how relatively small acts of charity can often have quite wide-reaching effects.
One of the books’ main protagonists Rosie offers her old school friend Kate a cup of tea and sandwich after finding her begging in a shop doorway. As a writer, I tend to let the characters dictate what happens in the story, so it was interesting to see that Rosie’s actions led – not only to Kate finding a safe haven and a permanent roof over her head – but that it also enabled her natural flair for dressmaking to flourish to such an extent that by book three she has started up her own boutique.
That made me think about the domino effect of kindness to those in need. When the book’s ‘hard on the outside but soft on the inside’ matriarch Agnes Elliot takes Bel under her wing as a child after being abandoned by her ‘ma’, it gives Bel the chance of a normal life. Had Agnes not shown charity to that vulnerable five-year-old girl, she would have likely ended up in the workhouse.
The other thing that my characters have divulged to me is that there is an interesting side-effect of all this giving – and that often the person who bequeaths charity will receive an awful lot in return – sometimes more than they gave!
In this book I have mentioned The Salvation Army which I was amazed to discover started the first maternity hospital for unmarried mothers back in the early 1900s. That really was, in my opinion, the epitome of charity. Women were volunteering to help other women who were viewed as the lowest of the low, having committed the ultimate sin of getting pregnant outside of wedlock – women who weren’t even allowed to enter a normal maternity hospital due to their unmarried status.
I was so taken aback by this that I wanted readers to know that the place, Ivy House, where one of my characters ends up, did actually exist – so at the back of the book in the ‘History Notes’ section there is a black and white photo of the front page of The Deliverer which shows the real Ivy House in Hackney, East London.
If people could be so charitable back then, in times that were hard and often very judgemental, then we surely can be equally so in this day and age.
Personally I can vouch for the fact that we are, for I have been on the receiving end of what I would class as genuine charity, made more special because it was given to me by relative strangers.
When my husband was diagnosed with head and neck cancer and our lives were turned upside down, both emotionally and financially, there were a number of people who treated me with a kindness and compassion that I will never forget - people who were not obligated, or felt like they had to help.
So, I guess for me charity is about the giving of ourselves, our love, our care and, most of all, our compassion to those who are in need.
All my books have underlying themes, the first two in the series had love and hope at the heart of them so naturally, it follows that for Secrets of the Shipyard Girls it’s ‘charity.’ All three themes, however, run throughout all the books, just like they do in life – both past and present.
Love, hope and charity, I believe, are essential in our everyday lives and are as important now as they ever have been – possibly even more so.
Secrets of the Shipyard Girls by Nancy Revell is out now published by Arrow priced £5.99