Award-winning author Shirley Mann brings to life the Second World War women’s internment camp at Rushen in her latest novel.
Bridget’s War will be launched as part of the finale of the seven-day Mananan Festival at the Erin Arts Centre, where Shirley hopes to thank the Manx residents who helped shape the story in person.
She said: ‘I do hope this book – and the launch in particular – will be a celebration of the island’s determination to make so many people from so many different backgrounds – many of them considered aliens – welcome.’
The book centres on a policewoman, Bridget, who is sent home to the island to ‘babysit a pile of women’ at Rushen Internment Camp, as the book describes it. But when she gets there, she finds a simple arrest unearths a plot that brings the terror of war across the Irish Sea.
As a journalist, Shirley was determined that research would be at the heart of her book. Island Life ran a story in 2021 when Shirley, who lives in Derbyshire, was looking for people who had memories of the camp.
‘People on the island have been incredibly generous with their time and anecdotes about the camp, I couldn’t have written the book without them,’ she said.
‘I do think people were pleased that this little-known story might reach a wider audience and possibly even introduce people on the island to a part of history they might not be totally familiar with.
‘Many Manx are rightly proud of how they managed to achieve what could have been a logistical and a social nightmare.’
Shirley had long chats with the family of Millicent Faragher, a policewoman stationed at the camp, and the inspiration for the titular character of Bridget, although she adds: ‘I suspect she was nothing like Bridget.’
She said: ‘Then there was a policeman who took me through the details I needed for the policing work and a woman who worked at the secret radar station. I didn’t realise how secret it was until an early reader/checker said she had never heard of it.
Organisations including Rushen Heritage Trust, Culture Vannin and Manx National Heritage also provided support.
‘I’ve had people lurking around churches, road junctions, bus stops and railway stations to check details for me and I have to say, I was blown away by how willing people were to help,’ she said.
Some 4,000 women were sent to Rushen Camp when Churchill, at a loss of what to do with people living in Britain who might be a threat, ordered the police to ‘collar the lot’.
German Jews were forced to rub shoulders with German Nazis alongside prostitutes, conscientious objectors and fascists who were all housed in houses, hotels and boarding houses.
Bridget’s War is the fourth in Shirley’s series of books inspired by real women who served in the Second World War. Her first book, Lily’s War, was influenced by her parents’ wartime romance – her mother was a WAAF in Bomber Command and her father was in the Eighth Army.
The couple moved to the island when her father retired and they are both buried at Malew.
‘All my books have been inspired by real women and I feel so privileged that they and their families shared their stories with me and now it’s my duty to make sure their legacy isn’t forgotten,’ she said.
‘They’ve nearly all gone now but what those women in the Second World War did, moulded my generation and my daughters. Every time a book comes out I remember each one of them protesting: “I didn’t do much” -I beg to differ.’
Bridget’s War was due to be published by Zaffre in October last year but she said she was relieved when it was put back to this month.
‘I knew I could make it better, so spent the autumn re-writing loads of it,’ she said.
‘Since Lily’s War was published in 2020, I’ve done a book a year and I think I needed a little space between publications and now, I’m thrilled to bits with it especially as early reviews are unbelievably enthusiastic, so it seems it was worth it.’
The launch takes place at Erin Arts Centre, in Port Erin, at 2pm on Sunday, July 2. Shirley will be talking about writing Bridget’s War and signing copies thanks to a stand by Bridge Bookshop.
She will be joined by the Gobbag Groove Choir singing a mix of war and traditional Manx songs, and Pam Crowe of Rushen Heritage Trust, who helped to write the Friend or Foe? book that chronicled the internment years.
The event is free to attend but tickets must be booked in advance at www.ticketsource.co.uk/booking/select/xNJEoUZlGBOq