17th September 1944

Fine sunny day.  Delighted to find myself one hour earlier than I thought, as the clocks had been altered.  About 12 there was a tremendous explosion, but whether a ‘plane crash or a rocket difficult to say.

Went down to Nayland, and had tea at the Sissons who are staying there in a little house near the river.  Nowadays the feeling of going “over the border” when one goes into Suffolk is intensified, the Defence Regulations giving an extra spice.  The natives have endless troubles to put up with, and have always to remember to carry their identity cards and all that sort of thing.

In the evening cycled up towards Stoke.  Scotland Street looked lovely in the evening light, with the mellow ancient houses, dark green trees, and groups of swans flying slowly overhead.  Not a sound of a ‘plane anywhere.

Back to Boxted, had supper, and early to bed.  Lay thinking of what I am to say to Spivy tomorrow.

16th September 1944

Alarm at quarter to 6, as daylight broke.  Got up, went out to look round.  Three “divers” came over, but passed on.  Yet for days now the papers have been saying diver attacks are at an end.  All the launching sites are now supposed to be over-run – where can these come from?  They usually enter about N.E. by E. and head towards London.  Some still think they come from submarines.

‘All-clear’ at 6.30, had a cup of tea as Miss Bentley was now down.  Breakfast, and went in early.  Very busy morning.  This afternoon to Holly Trees and had a long talk with Poulter about my going back to the Museum.  He is very anxious that I should.  This evening went up to St. Clare Road and talked to Ald. Sam Blomfield.  He too wants me back, and says he will bring up the matter at the Committee next Tuesday, the proper course being that the Committee shall apply to the War Agricultural Committee for my release.  Feel sure that this can be arranged, without too great difficulty, but of course the Ministry of Labour must also agree.  Must go to see Spivy [at the Ministry of Labour] on Monday.  Have always helped him whenever I could, and hope he will help me.  Sam Blomfield was most kind, pressed me to stay to supper, which I did, and showed me some of his photo albums.  He has a remarkable selection of photos of about 1900, many of St Botolph’s Street and Corner, Osborne St. etc.  Sam’s intimate knowledge of these parts of the town is most valuable.

Left at 9, and went back to Boxted by way of Westhouse Farm.  The sun was setting, glittered red on the placid river.  Dark shapes of horses and cattle grazing in the meadows.  Felt too excited, worried, and nervous to sleep.  Dozed on the sofa until roused by sirens.  Went out into the fields, but nothing happened.  About 4.30am went to bed.

15th September 1944

Dull, misty morning, and no ‘planes about.  Saw Butterworth who absolutely denies any truth in the Elmstead Rocket story.  Did not tell him it came from Jameson, whom he knows well.  The mystery deepens – heard a girl in the cafĂ© say to two others – “I hear you have an unexploded rocket near you!”  They giggled and said “Shh!”

This afternoon, out with Maidstone, checking machinery.  Went to Glebe Farm, Abberton, found they were only now beginning to cut the barley, which was being carted without being stood up, with 2 motor lorries and 3 tractors.  This has been kept quite quiet from the office.  Fortunately the stuff is very dry.

Our waste on carting is enormous – nearly £200 was spent to cart corn at Salcott, about 50 acres in all, done by lorry.  Saw Baldwin, talked of the ploughing match to be held at Mersea next week.  Then went to Mersea and to Brook Hall, Fingringhoe.  The tide was full, and a barge came sailing silently up towards Colchester, past Brightlingsea Church on the hill behind.  Looks like another break in the weather, in fact we had a few showers during the day.  It will be terrible if the weather breaks again.  This has been a disastrous harvest.

All the afternoon there was heavy explosions to the SW, but may have been gunfire from the German guns shelling Dover and Folkestone. 

Saw Poulter this evening, and heard more rocket stories.  The rockets are getting smaller – only weighing a ton now, instead of 13 tons as they were last week.  However, they make a hole big enough to bury three trams – so they tell us.  Whether the trams are to be laid end to end or one on top of each other was not said, or whether they were single or double-deck.

Snowball told us today that he had picked up a man walking on the road who worked in Woolwich Arsenal, who said 6 had now fallen in London.  Poulter says Hull’s version is that 3 fell on London yesterday, and 8 had fallen in Essex, but he didn’t know where.

To the Post at 9.  Young Willsher, who was on with me, works at a garage at Elmstead, and says he heard the Dodge Plug works were destroyed on Saturday night.  What an amazing business this is.

Continual heavy firing all evening from the SW, probably Dover.  Early in the evening 14 Dakotas came over in formation, which in conjunction with the Air Borne Troops in the town, looks rather suggestive.  Heard that one of the ‘Bolts at Langham shed its bombs on the runway when taking off today.

Bed 11.30, after a lovely ride through an autumn scented night under a sky of brilliant stars.

14th September 1944

Up early.  Very thick fog, like November.  Butterworth not in today, so could not ask him about Elmstead.  Captain Folkard denies any rocket rumours at all.  Busy all day, dull uninteresting chores. 

At Boxted tonight Miss Bentley says she has heard “several” rockets on London today.  Had supper, then went to Lt. Rivers.  The Wards were there.  Hattie has been very ill indeed, but is now better.  Not a word about rockets.  Left at 10, feeling very depressed and nervous.  Cycled around until after 11.

Saw USA Airborne troops in the town today.

13th September 1944

Cycled slowly along the starlit roads, and heard faintly the Town Hall clock strike midnight.  A ‘plane came in from the East and dropped an orange flare, and then a red one.  As I neared the post great masses of Lancasters and Mosquitoes came in from the sea, heading NW, nearly all carrying lights.  There was a continuous stream of them for nearly an hour.  When I started duty other posts were trying to plot them, but we let them all go by.  After that, all was quiet except for an occasional Mosquito.

Once or twice we heard heavy distant explosions, and sometimes a long low rumble, which we thought might be guns across the water.  Several of our men are convinced that these explosions are undoubtedly the new German rocket, [V2] although the Government still only threaten that it is a danger which may happen.

The moon rose at 3, a thin silver sliver.

Carter was on with me, and told one or two more good stories.  One was about Boxted Hall.  He said a man named Hobbs used to live there, and that he was the nephew of an old wizard who lived on an island off the Essex coast.  Could this be the famous “Cunning Murrell” of Canvey?  Have somewhere a very interesting article on him.  Anyway, this wizard, dying, left his nephew all his books of magic.  By the use of these books Hobbs accumulated 132 little pots full of sovereigns, which, in due course, he left, together with the same magic books to the son of a servant named Fisher – (was he the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”?)  This young man, under the name of Hobbs-Fisher, farmed the Boxted Hall land for many years.  On one occasion, by means of the magic books, his servants are alleged to have “raised the devil” while the old man was in church, and he had to be sent for “to talk the devil down” again.

Another story – a little Boxted boy was last year sent to the Catholic School at Colchester.  He was very delicate and wasting.  One day, according to Carter, one of the nuns said she could see a “halo” round his head.  Within a week he was dead.  His name was Briggs.

Bed 5.30am, very sleepy, but got up very cheerfully after 3 hours sleep.  Busy morning fine warm day.  Heavy explosions between 11 and 12, shaking the building.  At one particularly violent explosion a girl opposite called out to a man painting the next house “Whatever was that?”  Culley came in this afternoon to say Bounds, his foreman, had ‘phoned from London to say several huge rockets had fallen in London and the London area.  When I got back to Boxted, Miss B. told me she had heard from Jameson of the County Council Land Agency Office, that a rocket fell at 12.30pm at Elmstead making “a hole big enough to bury 5 houses.”  (EJR later notes: ‘This was absolutely false’). 

Went to the Repertory workshop to see Diana, and advised her on Victorian furnishings.  Then had tea with Di and pretty Yvonne Coquelle.  Much theatrical chatter.  After that took Di for a drink at the “Stockwell Arms”, and sat for a time in St Martin’s Churchyard, talking.  About 8 she said she was hungry, so we went to have supper.

Papers today give us warning that “V2 is probable and possible” – the absurdity, when half England knows they are falling already.  Some in the Government say “the Germans may make a last kick” – last kick be damned – this is a new campaign, and probably an unbeatable one too.

12th September 1944

Brilliant morning, rather warmer.  Great flock of seagulls swarming over the ploughlands.  ARP shelters on Mile End Hill being demolished – yet some Boxted people only now putting shelters up!  Are we all mad?

This evening smallholders along Accommodation Road working in the dusk.  Had supper, wrote some letters and to Observer Post at 1am.  Wrote to Miss Biggam, and to Meg MacDougall, definitely promising to be in Scotland by Michaelmas Day.

11th September 1944

Up early.  Smith going out to plough with his pair of Suffolks, the stubbles behind the house turning brown.  Sound of a tractor, ploughing away beyond the wood.  In spite of being up still failed to be early at the office.  I so often fail.  Nott in this morning, still labour troubles all over the place, violent quarrels, disputes.  Rumours now that if the war really looks like ending the Land Army will desert in bulk.

Had lunch with Daphne, who had been down to Maidstone.  She tells me that Maidstone has really been shelled by long distance guns, but find this very difficult to believe – at least 70 miles from Calais.

Between 9.15 and 10pm tonight a huge mass of bombers went out to the south east with a horrid noise.  Bed at 11pm but felt bad and did not undress.

Announced now that no more men are to be conscripted into the Home Guard, but men will be accepted as volunteers, although very little more work is to be done.