Idle Women and Judies

A collection of poetry and music about the women who worked on the boats during World War II. The women later nicknamed the ‘Idle Women’ worked on the Grand Union; the Judies worked on the boats around Liverpool.

Heather has collected snippets of speech from Canal & River Trust archive recordings and recollections from books by and about Emma Smith, Nancy Ridgway, Eily (Kit) Gayford and Susan Woolfitt, combining them into a series of entertaining poems. She has also composed two songs: one about Molly Traill, who took narrow boats Willow and Ash on a trial run from Ellesmere Port to Birmingham, and the other dispelling the myths about how the Idle Women got their name.

The first piece I wrote, Idle Women and Judies, is based on the wartime memories of Emma Smith, Nancy Ridgway and Daphne March (Daffy). Emma is the author of Maidens’ Trip, A Wartime Adventure on the Grand Union Canal and Nancy worked on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal where the women were known as ‘Judies’. Originally created as an audio recording, the piece includes the voices of Emma and Nancy, demonstrating the range of women who took over the working boats while the men went off to war. Snippets from Emma’s book are also woven into the piece, as are some of Daphne’s words taken from an article she wrote after the war (shared online by her niece, Kathryn Dodington). In performance, I take on the voices of Emma and Nancy.


Idle Women and Judies on YouTube

The 6-minute recording and slideshow broadly tells the women’s story, from recruitment to redundancy, using their own descriptions, condensed into the form of a poem performed by the author. Because of the war, these women had “crossed a line” into a completely new world and the piece takes the listener into that world, enhanced by the sound of narrow boat engines. The engines were recorded at the 2014 Etruria Canals Festival. I am grateful to Martin Fuller (Clematis) and David Lowe (Swallow) for running their engines so that these recordings could be made and also to Glyn & Rosemary Phillips and Teresa & Roger Fuller for advice as to which were the most appropriate engines!

 Heather Wastie

May 2016