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25th Oct, 2021

Set sail for a time when women kept Britain's canals open and running

AN all-female boat-based theatre company is set to come to Tardebigge, Alvechurch and Alcester to tell the tales of the extraordinary, and often unknown, women who managed the waterways during the Second World War.

Alarum Theatre’s ‘Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways’ will tell the stories of women who took on the challenging job of operating canal boats when there was a shortage of crews.

They’re at the Boat & Railway in Stoke Prior on tomorrow, Saturday, Alestones in Tardebigge on Thursday, Rowney Green village hall next Friday, Finstall village hall next Saturday and Alcester Town Hall on April 17.

The show features poems and songs by former Worcestershire Poet Laureate, Heather Wastie, and a solo play by Kate Saffin, which has been created using first hand accounts, diaries, archive material and audio interviews.

The cast will be following, by boat, the route worked by a Worcestershire woman, Daphne March,who carried flour on her family-owned boat ‘Heather Bell’ from Worcester to Tipton, and coal from Cannock to Worcester, throughout the war.

Heather said: “The women whose stories we tell don’t get the recognition they deserve.

“By quoting from firsthand accounts we bring to life what the women went through when they left behind their ordinary middle class lives in favour of long hours, hard labour and having to spend a lot of time in close proximity to other women in very cramped and challenging conditions.”

Where possible the theatre tours by boat and after putting on more than 60 shows in 2017, they will be joining The Ring celebrations, which include the publication of Heather’s book of poems about the restoration of the Droitwich Canals.

Kate Saffin added: “Daphne proved that women could handle a working boat and she also holds the record for length of service. “On one occasion the ‘Heather Bell’ was hit by a bigger commercial boat and sank but Daphne got her raised and repaired and carried on.”

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