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Apr 20

Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways by Milly Adams

 

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Worcestershire Poet Laureate Heather Wastie and writer/performer Kate Saffin will be recreating the Idle Women’s journey from London to Birmingham, and back to London via the Coventry coal fields.
This double bill will be touring the canal between Saturday 15th April – Saturday 5th August 2017

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The nickname Idle Women relied on the initials IW, or Inland Waterways. Once a trainee on the Wartime Inland Waterways scheme had completed her training she was presented with an Inland Waterways badge. So – the nickname – fair or foul?

And what was the scheme anyway? And why am I particularly interested in this particular wartime endeavour, and this production?

The scheme was designed to train women to support the indigenous ‘boaters’ narrowboat and butty carrying of wartime cargo.

My interest? I have written the first in a series of novels for my publisher, Arrow, about three women on the wartime waterways women’s trainee transport scheme. – The Waterway Girls.

Why? Because I wanted to share their experiences amongst others, having heard about them through an elderly friend. Another then revealed that she had taught canal children, and opened my eyes to a culture, which has now gone, just as the commercial freight is gone from the waterways.

I particularly wanted to produce the first in the series of my novels in 2017 in order to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the launch of the Women’s Training Scheme as they journeyed to and from Birmingham.

These crazy and gallant girls, (bloomin’ filthy too, by the end of their trip through the coalfields) kept going, come hell and high water, come driving snow, and searing sun. They actually had to physically haul the ‘butty’, which was the motorless narrowboat, through the Bottom Road’s short pounds (stretches of water between locks) and through the locks themselves, much as the horses had to do in days gone by until towards the end of the war they were allowed a better route.

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The Bottom Road was hellish, and fragile, hence the authority’s refusal to allow the butty to be towed by the motorboat as it approached, used and left the locks. Idle Women they were not.

Day after day they slogged up and down the cut, or canal to you and me, carrying 50 tons of cargo in the motor narrowboat, which pulled the butty with a similar weight of cargo.

Where did they live? In a tiny cabin about 9’ by 7’, and the loo? Don’t ask, but the word bucket comes to mind.

So I was thrilled to hear of this enterprise, and will be going to see it on Monday 24th April with our drama critic, Paul Vates, and Frost’s staff photographer, Cire Simone of Cire Simone Photography

Worcestershire Poet Laureate Heather Wastie and writer/performer Kate Saffin will be recreating the Idle Women’s journey from London to Birmingham, and back to London via the Coventry coal fields.

This double bill will be touring the canal between Saturday 15th April – Saturday 5th August 2017

Isobel’s War is a solo play written and performed by Kate Saffin based on the experiences of the wartime trainees. Isobel doesn’t think that rolling bandages and serving tea in the leafy suburbs of Oxford counts as proper war work, then she spots an advertisement and encounters a world she didn’t know existed. Idle Women and Judies is written and performed by Heather Wastie – it started as an audio piece (commissioned by the Canal & River Trust) based on the wartime memories of three women. Wastie has now added a collection of short poems and songs celebrating the work and adventures of the women.

On completion of their training they received their national service badge imprinted with the letters IW – Inland Waterways. After the war they were nicknamed the Idle Women and they have been known as such ever since.

Kate Saffin comments, The stories, or at least the existence, of the trainees are known to many boaters and waterway enthusiasts but few beyond the towpath know they even existed never mind what they did. We are recreating this journey to celebrate their achievements, recognise their contribution to the war effort and explore their relationships with the indigenous boaters. We think it’s important to make this journey with these local stories so that we can share the history that is on the audience’s doorstep – or at least the nearest bit of towpath or the pub.

Accompanied by an historic narrowboat ‘Tench’ crewed entirely by women, Wastie and Saffin will tour our canals this summer, stopping to perform this inspiring double bill at waterside pubs, village halls, gardens, an historic pumphouse and even a community wood.

Supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

alarum_theatre, #TheIdleWomen

Check out ‘2017 Dates’ on http://www.alarumtheatre.co.uk/

Frost will be publishing a review of Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways next week – can’t wait.