This page includes all the material we have come across in our research as we developed the stories we tell in Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways. The sources don’t agree on exactly how the scheme came about or even whether it started in 1942 or 1943. Like many good ideas it probably had a number of different influences, but we know from her letters that Daphne March was a key player as were Molly Traill and Eily Gayford.
Idle Women Susan Woolfitt
Maiden’s Trip Emma Smith
The Amateur Boatwomen Eily Gayford
Troubled Waters: Memoirs of a Canal Boatwoman Margaret Cornish
There are also references to the trainees from the point of view of a woman born and bred on the boats in Ramlin Rose; the boatwoman’s story Sheila Stewart
And on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal…
Memories of a Wartime Canal Boatwoman Nancy Ridgway (ed Mike Clarke and Timothy Peters)
The TUC Women’s History Network: Boatwomen Training Scheme
Molly Traill’s report on NB Willow’s blog
And an account of Molly Traill’s involvement with the trainees and boating by her grandson
When Evelyn died her stepson, Tom Monnington, found her wartime diary among her possessions and donated it to Stoke Bruerne museum in 2008.
There were a number of newspaper and magazine pieces in 1992 when there was a reunion at Batchworth and 2008 when the women’s work was formally recognised with the installation of a plaque at Stoke Bruerne.
In 1944 David Scherman made a journey with Audrey Harper, Evelyn Hunt and Ann Blake and took several hundred photographs for LIFE Collections. Until recently a limited number of these could be found on the Waterways archive but in June 2017 a French radio station released over 70 of them. You can see them here.
There is a collection of pictures of Daphne March working with her mother on Heather Bell on her niece’s blog (copyright Imperial War Museum).
Longevity seems to be a feature of these remarkable women, two are still alive and several lived into their nineties or beyond. At least one, Miranda, reached her centenary, dying in January 2017, aged 100.
Emma Smith (1923-2018)
Author of Maiden’s Trip, Emma died on April 24th 2018. All the major broadsheets carried obituaries for her:
Sonia Rolt (1919-2014)
Sonia stayed involved with the waterways after the war for the rest of her life. She married a boatman, George Smith, although sadly that ended in divorce. She then married Tom Rolt, the author of Narrowboat, and a founder member of the Inland Waterways Association. All the major newspapers carried obituaries; rather than try to select we suggest you search ‘Sonia Rolt obituary’.
An interview with Sonia Rolt
And more about her life and work on the Tom Rolt website
Here is a link to some colour footage of Sonia working with George shortly after the war.
Audrey Williams (nee Harper) 1921-2013
Audrey was part of the crack trio known as AudreyEvelynAnne who worked together for three years. After the war she married and moved initially to South Africa and then to Tasmania where she spent the rest of her life.