Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Women of the Barges.Aug 29th 1942

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‘Illustrated Magazine’. August 1942.                                                          

‘Illustrated Magazine’ was published throughout the 1940s /50s and was along with its great rival – ‘Picture Post’ a  very popular source of news and current affairs.
Of the three articles concerning Britain's canals in wartime published in these two magazines; the ‘Illustrated Mag’ shown above has a very early entry which might interest those interested in the origins of the ‘Idle Women’ and the wartime boat training scheme on the Grand Union.
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Caption reads - ‘Empty; the – ‘Heather Bell’  heads for the collieries to take on a load of coal’.                                                                    
The March family from Worcestershire had owned the ‘Heather Bell’ for some years before war broke out in 1939 when they decided to help the war effort by carrying with the boat. The photograph shows Daphne March (Daughter) and a crew member with the boat at Tipton.. Initially Daphne’s elder brother was involved with the running of the boat but after he entered the armed forces Daphne and her mother ran the boat alone.
The boat carried coal from the Birmingham area for delivery to canal side premises in Worcester with a return trip with flour to Tipton. Occasional trips were made elsewhere.
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L T C Rolt living on his boat ‘Cressy’ at Tardebigge on the Worcester & Birmingham canal during the war years would have known this boat and its crew well. He mentions  a boat passing him in the dusk and the ‘Roedean’ accents of the female crew members  floating back to him as the boat passed by.
    The boat started its run to Tipton in February of 1941 but after her brother left to enter the armed forces Daphne advertised in the Times for a new crew member. Molly Trail joined the boat and she in turn introduced Kit Gayford as a crew member.Molly left in the autumn of 1941 but Kit Gayford stayed on until the boat sank in an accident in December of that year
After leaving the Heather Bell, Molly Trail was one of those involved in planning the wartime female boat training scheme for the GUCC and the Ministry of War Transport and in the summer of 1942 Kit Gayford joined her and they both started training the women who applied to join the scheme.
The March family were thus early forerunners of the all women wartime crews  although it should be said that it was not unknown,from early times on, for a wife (after the death of her husband) to steer the family boat perhaps with the help of a daughter.
The subject of Daphne March,the ‘Heather Bell’ and the ‘Idle Women’ boat training scheme is dealt with in much more detail in a great item by Mike Constable in a current article in the Historic Narrow Boat Owners Club newsletter. . Mike has researched this subject very thoroughly and is able to deal with it in some detail.

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Daphne March and her mother.                                                                        

Daphne features in another wartime publication which I will review shortly.

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