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The Windmill Girls
The Windmill Girls
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The Windmill Girls

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The Windmill Girls
Kay Brellend

A compelling wartime drama from the author of The Street, perfect for fans of Pam Weaver and Kitty Neale.The Windmill Theatre was one of the most famous clubs of the 20th century. Its heyday was during WWII when it famously ‘never closed’ and it became famous for its ‘tasteful’ nude performances. Dawn is a pretty and feisty blonde. Losing her job as a chambermaid, she goes to work as a dancer at The Windmill Theatre. Despite refusing to appear on stage naked, Dawn is taken on and soon gets a glimpse of London’s dark and seductive underbelly. She meets Olive, Renee and Rosie, women all with their own secrets to bear. Each of them will be have to draw on their courage to survive, not just Hitler and his bombs, but by the life they have chosen and the men that they cannot escape…

Copyright (#uc64c4289-e7d3-561b-b450-7ba6caccba8f)

Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

1 London Bridge Street

London, SE1 9GF (

First published in Great Britain by Harper 2015

Copyright © Kay Brellend 2015

Cover layout design © HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 2015

Photography by Henry Steadman; Background scene © Imperial War Museum (D 5597)

Windmill Theatre photographs © Getty Images; three girls in their dressing room © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

Kay Brellend asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.

Source ISBN: 9780007575282

Ebook Edition © January 2015 ISBN: 9780007575299

Version: 2014-11-22

Dedication (#uc64c4289-e7d3-561b-b450-7ba6caccba8f)

For Mum, who worked as a telephonist at Holborn Exchange during the height of the Blitz and went fire-fighting after shifts.

For Dad, who served in the RAF as a Leading Aircraftman, keeping the planes flying.

For all those people who didn’t see active service, but helped to win the war, working behind the scenes.


Cover (#u4797807f-2423-593e-8f06-5eb1f71fda3a)

Title Page (#u6264f3c2-90eb-5cef-bbcf-8f285f38c1d9)



Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three


Keep Reading … (#litres_trial_promo)


About the Author

Also by Kay Brellend

About the Publisher

CHAPTER ONE (#uc64c4289-e7d3-561b-b450-7ba6caccba8f)

‘You shouldn’t risk going out on a night like this!’

‘I must … I want to see how my mum is.’

Gertie Grimes blew a cautionary hiss through her teeth. ‘Take it from me, there’s going to be a bad raid tonight, I can feel it in me bones. And if that weren’t enough I’m getting a fright from that moon out there. It’s like a peeled melon.’ Gertie shook her head. ‘You know how Fritz likes to come over on a full moon. You should stay here, love, tucked up safe and sound.’

That remark earned Gertie a dubious frown.

‘I’ll look after you, Dawn. Don’t you worry about that,’ Gertie chuckled slyly. ‘I can see off a randy sod for you with one hand tied behind me back.’

Dawn Nightingale didn’t doubt the older woman’s promise to protect her virtue. Her wry expression was due to her understanding the reason behind Gertie’s mirth: the staff at the Windmill Theatre, where Dawn had just finished her shift as a showgirl, had been allowed to bed down on the premises since the start of the London Blitz. Some stagehands welcomed the arrangement as it provided opportunities for sexual shenanigans. The management insisted on segregated quarters and lights out after the theatre closed at eleven but a few men had been discovered creeping about to try their luck.

But Dawn wasn’t interested in any nocturnal visits from fumbling Romeos. She had a boyfriend in the RAF and though she hadn’t seen Bill for months, she would never be mean enough to casually two-time him.

‘Best get off now; don’t want to miss my bus home.’ Dawn whipped her coat from the peg and slipped it on.

‘You take care of yourself.’ Gertie watched her colleague doing up her buttons. ‘Get yourself down the underground sharpish if the sirens go off.’

‘Will do …’ Dawn gave a wave as she set off along Great Windmill Street.

She kept her head lowered as she walked, protecting her cheeks from the bitter late January night air, her mind preoccupied with thoughts of her mother. She hoped Eliza was feeling better, yet doubted she would be. If anything, her mother seemed to be getting worse. And Eliza could only blame herself for that.

Eliza Nightingale liked a little nip, as she called it, and had done so for very many years. By anybody’s standards, the woman had had a run of bad luck that might send her to the bottle. She’d lost her husband to pneumonia when her daughter was just five, then her intended second husband had scarpered, leaving her pregnant with her son. But according to Eliza she felt unwell not because she drank too much but because of the weather. It was too hot or too cold, too dry or too damp, for a body to be healthy, she’d mumble while stacking up the empties under the sink.

Dawn and her brother knew why their mother vomited and looked like death warmed up on some days. Dawn tried to be tolerant but often lost her temper and shouted at her mother to leave the booze alone. But Eliza continued to empty a few bottles of gin or port a week, saying she needed a drop of medicine to steady her nerves.

Dawn was startled from her worries by the whine of an air-raid siren. She came to an abrupt halt, cussing beneath her breath. She’d just passed Piccadilly tube station and pivoted on the spot, wondering whether to hare back and shelter there. If the planes passed overhead she’d be safe enough in the open till the all clear sounded and she could get on her way home. Her mother and brother, of course, might not be so fortunate in Bethnal Green as the East End had been taking a dreadful hammering. But they had an Anderson shelter in their back garden that had done its job so far during the Blitz.

A hum of engines grew louder, making Dawn instinctively shrink back against a brick wall. Her eyes scoured the inky heavens and she was relieved to see that the moon’s milky surface was patterned with stringy cloud, hampering the Luftwaffe’s mission to obliterate London. Dawn attempted to count the swarm of aeroplanes but found it impossible to separate them, there were so many. She jumped in fright as an early explosion rocked the pavement beneath her feet. She skittered sideways into a shop doorway and crouched down, arms instinctively coming up over her head to protect it from any shrapnel.

The sound of a person sobbing nearby reached Dawn’s ears, as did the crash of falling masonry and shattering glass. She jerked upright, peering into the flame-daubed darkness. Finally she located a young woman hobbling along on the opposite pavement. At first Dawn thought the stranger might have been injured but then noticed that her uneven gait was due to her having one shoe on and one in her hand.

‘Here! Over here!’ Dawn called out, feeling sorry for the girl and hoping to comfort her.

The young woman swivelled about. Removing her shoe she pelted over the road in stockinged feet, breathlessly collapsing onto her posterior in the doorway.

‘It’ll all be over soon.’ Dawn crouched beside her.

An abrupt blast made them huddle together, heads so close they were in danger of cracking foreheads.

‘I thought I’d have time to get to the underground shelter.’ The newcomer swiped her wet eyes with the back of a hand.

‘Me too …’ Dawn returned in a soothing whisper. ‘Passed it by only moments ago. Unlucky, eh?’

‘Them planes came out of nowhere …’ the girl complained. ‘Warning came too late. Don’t think those damned Jerries will swoop down and strafe us, do you? Gonna get killed, ain’t we?’ she rattled off, peering up fearfully at the sky.

Suddenly a pane of glass on the opposite side of the street fell in smithereens from its frame to the pavement.

‘Told me dad I didn’t want to go out tonight, but he made me do some deliveries.’

‘Hush … we’ll be alright … the bombardment’s over there …’ Dawn hoped she sounded convincing because she wasn’t at all sure they were safely out of harm’s way.

‘We’ll get cut to bits if we stay here! I’d sooner have a bomb land on me head than get me face all scarred up.’ The girl agitatedly eyed the glass doorway of the shop in which they were sheltering, pressing her flat palms to her cheeks to protect them from any imminent flying shards.

‘The planes usually head towards the East End; perhaps just a couple of stray bombs have landed over this way.’ Dawn prayed that was so and that her mother and brother were safely inside their Anderson shelter. A burst of flames illuminated the street and Dawn got a better look at her companion. The girl was fair and pretty and about eighteen, three years Dawn’s junior.

‘What’s your name?’ Dawn hoped to calm the girl down by chatting to her. ‘What were you delivering for your dad at this time of the night?’

‘I’m Rosie Gardiner and it’s none of your business if I was running an errand or not …’ she snapped then broke off, listening.

Rosie started to rise but Dawn pulled her back into the shadows, sensing something was amiss.

She realised now why the window opposite had shattered despite no other premises having been affected by tremors: a brick had been thrown through it. Another missile hit the outfitter’s shop, demolishing what remained of the pane.