THIS summer marks the 75th anniversary of the Idle Women, the rather disparaging nickname given to those who worked canal boats during WWII.
These waterborne sisters, in a branch of the better-known Women’s Land Army, volunteered for heavy and dirty work moving crucial coal, steel and other cargo on the canals between London, Coventry and Birmingham.
They were issued with a badge bearing the initials IW.
Did it stand for Inland Waterways or, as some misogynist bystanders suggested, for Idle Women? This show has much to say on that subject.
Heather Wastie, (with accordian) once Worcestershire Poet Laureate, along with writer and performer Kate Saffin are recreating the wartime boat women’s journey with over 50 performances along the route in canal side pubs and other venues.
Their two-hander brings alive the stories of the brave young women who took on the challenge to navigate a pair of boats and 50 tons of cargo.
Saffin’s Isobel’s War is based on the memories and writing of the wartime trainees, while Wastie’s Idle Women and Judies also draws on memories, this time of three women with added poems and songs based on what the author calls “found words” in a work covering northern barges as well as southern narrow boats.
The two performers use simple staging but the enthusiastic performances bring alive what is still a far too little-known aspect of the war that defeated the nazis.
Touring the show along the very waterways where it all happened will surely draw appreciative audiences and that was certainly the case when I saw it at The Braunston Historic Boat Gathering.
Tours until September, details: alarumtheatre.co.uk
This review first appeared in the Morning Star 12 July 2017