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.
Emma Smith was born Elspeth Hallsmith in 1923 in Newquay, Cornwall, where until the age of twelve, she lived with her mother and father, an elder brother and sister, and a younger brother. Her book, Maidens' Trip, was first published in 1948 and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. Her second, The Far Cry, was published the following year and was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In 1951 Emma Smith married Richard Stewart-Jones. After her husband's death in 1957 she went to live with her two young children in Wales, where she proceeded to write and have published four successful children's books, a number of short stories and, in 1978, her novel The Opportunity of a Lifetime. Since 1980 she has lived in the London district of Putney. In 2008 she published The Great Western Beach, her memoir of her Cornish childhood. Once again, it gained widespread critical acclaim.