The Scarlet Sisters: My Nanna’s Story of Secrets and Heartache on the Banks of the River Thames

Written by Helen Batten
Review by Julie Parker

The author paints a touching picture in this memoir beginning with the first chapter ‘Prologue: The End’ in which she visits her grandmother dying in hospital. When Helen’s marriage breaks up later, she remembers her grandmother’s words and ponders how events have been repeated through the generations. She decides to uncover more of her family history in order that knowledge gained will help turn her life into a more positive journey. The Scarlet Sisters of the title are her grandmother and four sisters, all having varying shades of red hair. The story begins with Helen’s great-grandparents, Charlie and Clara, as their life evolves against the backdrop of the First World War. The reader is introduced to some common themes running through the book: the death of a child; heroic husbands turning into failures; sibling rivalry; relationships between parents and children; pregnancy and childbirth.

As the story moves along with the next generation, the same themes recur during World War Two and the Blitz. Worth a read and gives an intimate portrait of life in London and Grays, Essex during the first half of the 20th century.