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Maidens' Trip by Emma Smith


Maidens' Trip by Emma Smith

In 1943 Emma Smith joined the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company under their wartime scheme of employing women to replace the boaters. She set out with two friends on a big adventure: three eighteen-year-olds, freed from a middle-class background, precipitated into the boating fraternity. They learn how to handle a pair of seventy-two foot-long canal boats, how to carry a cargo of steel north from London to Birmingham and coal from Coventry; how to splice ropes, bail out bilge water, keep the engine ticking over and steer through tunnels. They live off kedgeree and fried bread and jam, adopt a kitten, lose their bicycles, laugh and quarrel and get progressively dirtier and tougher as the weeks go by. Maidens' Trip is a classic memoir of the growth to maturity of three young women in the exceptional circumstances of Britain at war.


'It must have been an astonishing imposition for the canal people when war brought them dainty young girls to help them mind their business, clean young eager creatures with voices so pitched as to be almost impossible to understand. So begins this joyous and rare memoir of a time when a group of girls `in the deep sea of adolescence'
work the barges in England during World War Two. One envies Emma Smith

's precise and sly humour in her portrait of life on the canals, the details on the opening of a lock, and most of all the catching of that era and that adventure that now will live forever' *

Michael Ondaatje * `It's wonderfully written, humorous and humane, and beautifully evocative of the time' * Independent Summer Reads * `Hope and energy radiate from every sentence of this lovely volume as it emerges into the light after its long sojourn in the cemetery of forgotten books' * Daily Mail * `Smith's writing exudes wisdom and humour, and her descriptions of the main activities involved [...] and of the accidents and frustrations, as well as the moments of teenage revelation, exhilaration and joy - are vividly drawn' * Times Literary Supplement *'

About the Author

Emma Smith was born Elspeth Hallsmith in 1923. Maidens' Trip was first published in 1948 and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. The Far Cry, a novel, was published the following year and was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 1951 Emma Smith married and moved to Wales, where she published children's books, short stories and, in 1978, her novel The Opportunity of a Lifetime. In 2008 The Great Western Beach, her memoir of her Cornish childhood, was published. Since 1980 Emma Smith has lived in the London district of Putney.

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Book Info

Publication date

18th July 2011


Emma Smith

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Bloomsbury Publishing PLC


240 pages


Narrowboats & canals



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