Tuesday, 2 November 2010
Wartime Ephemera. 'The War Illustrated'. April 1944.
'War Illustrated' was published weekly throughout the second world war and was a popular morale raising magazine of war events and news.The cover illustration shows a butty belonging to the Grand Union Canal Co with two of the famous 'Idle Women' posing for the photographer. During the early days of the war the GUCC ran a recruiting campaign aimed at attracting female workers to man the boats in their fleet as many of their male employees had enlisted in the armed forces. The National Service badge that these women wore had the initials I W (Inland Waterways) as part of its design, but this was soon given the derogatory title of 'Idle Women' and the name stuck
The recruiting campaign started in 1942 and was organized by Eily (Kit) Gayford who went on to write about these years in her book 'The Amateur Boatwomen' published in 1973. Emma Smith's 'Maidens Trip' and Susan Woolfitt's ' Idle Women' , both published in the immediate post war years are books based on the authors experiences whilst working on this scheme.
The caption underneath the cover photo reads ' Handling her boat hook like a professional bargee is this girl now training under a Ministry Of War Transport scheme designed to make still greater use of our inland waterways for carrying vital supplies when the Allied Western Offensive opens. Barges work in pairs, with a crew of three each; six pairs of boats on regular runs are now operated by women. An average round trip takes 16 days, and crews sometimes work a 16 hour day'. Those looking for an article inside the magazine will be disappointed but if you do come across the item it looks very good mounted and framed and provides an unusual topic for conversation!
In recent years the invaluable war work of the 'Idle Women' has at long last received the recognition that it so justly deserved. Talks, interviews with the survivors and even the unveiling of a commemorative plaque in their honour has ensured a place in the history of Britain's canals and in the wider context of our countries war history.
The two ladies shown in the photograph are believed to be Audrey Harper (holding the shaft) and Evelyn Hunt (in the cabin doorway). The obviously posed photograph was one of a series taken at the end of March 1944 when there was a big press call to back the recruiting campaign. I am indebted to Mike Constable for this information (his information on the I W's is truly encyclopedic).