Wren Jane Beacon on the Cut

Wren Jane Beacon on the Cut

D J Lindsay
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
This is the fourth and seemingly final book in a series of Adventures of a young Wren set during the Second World War. After the excitement of her posting on the Thames, and before she is headed to help set up training courses for Wrens becoming boat crew, she is sent to investigate and report on whether it might be possible for Wrens to be posted to help with the shortage of men working to deliver goods by Canal. The Second World War was the Last Hurrah of the use of canals for delivery of heavy goods around England, and manpower was short due to conscription. Using trained women to fill the gap was a possible solution.

It’s a fascinating insight into life for the Canal Families, whose children started working from the age of four, and mostly married within the community, so everyone knew everyone, formal education was limited, and the great skill and knowledge needed to run a boat and its butty well and safely were absorbed early and unappreciated by folk living ‘on the bank’.

Wren Beacon finds this a major culture shock, particularly the roles of women and men in this society, but as in previous books, she finds a way to make it work for her, and to make her contribution, earn respect and help the War Effort. Unlike the previous books, there’s no adventure in terms of military action, bombing, etc., but a few exciting events happen along the way and it’s a cracking read, with a real insight into life on the Canals at the time. The bibliography shows the amount of research the author undertook, and my own knowledge from visiting canal museums has been increased greatly.

This book is particularly slim, and there is not much room for any of the other parts of Wren Beacon’s story. It’s a little disappointing that the book ends as soon as she submits her report. Much could have been made of the contribution of the IDLE Women (so named due to their badge displaying ‘IW’ for Inland Waterways). to the working of canal deliveries of coal, steel, and other raw materials for industry.

If this is indeed the final volume, I’d have expected some conclusion to the threads of Jane’s life story. For example the love interest found in the second volume, still at sea or waiting for his ship to be repaired during this one, what would happen there? Would they resolve the social class issues of upward and downward snobbery? How would they deal with the lecherous older brother? What happened as Jane became an Instructor and designed courses to train other Wrens as Boat Crew? Why was she constantly denied promotion, and still a Petty Officer at the beginning of the story when the author first met her? Why did she stay in the Royal Navy long after 1945, obviously unwanted by authority? I feel a little let down, as if there is so much more to come, but the author has perhaps lost interest.

This book is full of interesting characters, well researched and written to be easy to read. It really does leave one wanting to know ‘what happens next.
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