25th November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Saturday
Brilliant day, but cold.  Did some writing, then set off to Tywford for Margery to buy a book token for Land Army Girl's birthday gift.   

Went on to Reading.  Reading Market shut yesterday – Foot and Mouth at Sonning and more in Warwickshire.  Very serious outbreak this winter.

For the last 2 mornings have had an unpleasant aching pain under the lower ribs on the right side, but it gives off on movement.

Had tea at the cinema café – enormous crowds everywhere.  Came on to rain very suddenly, and the wet streets full of people scampering for shelter.  A big flight of Forts. came over form the NE, flying very low in the rain, landing lights glowing. 

Looked into the Abbey Ruins, now almost completely covered with dirty ivy, and looking dreadfully desolate and dreary on this November afternoon. Air raid shelters have been dug all over the centre of the ruins and should have been most valuable from an archaeological point of view.

Left at 5, having failed to get any cakes for Margery.  Cycled quickly with a following wind, meeting a few stray Forts rumbling through the low drifting clouds.  Heavy traffic.  Got to Shurlock Row at quarter to 6, just in time for another tea.  Spent evening reading Thackeray.

Bright moonlight, and a lot of planes coming and going.

24th November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Friday
Dull, drizzle, but soon cleared off.  News headline in 'The Express' this morning “Strasbourg Freed”.  Uncle Jim said, “Seems strange to read about Strasbourg again.  I remember how we used to read about its bombardment in 1870.”

Lorries going up and down the manor drive all day – the naval agricultural camp is closing this week. 

Talking to Margery about village halls.  The old school here having been bought by the village, it is available for whist drives, dances, meeting etc. at 2/6 an hour with light and heat or 1/6 per hour without.  It is a dreadful dreary little place, the upper part of the walls a dirty cream, and the lower dark chocolate.  No attempt is made to make it attractive.  The local library (books supplied by County Library) is housed in a tall black cupboard.

A few years ago a builder living at the other end of the parish decided to build what is more or less a “community centre” on the lines now advocated, with a large hall, a bar, refreshment facilities, kitchen and even a swimming-pool.  This he did at his own expense, and hires out to all and sundry as a business proposition.  The first indication of the attitude towards this public spirited scheme was the refusal of the authorities to allow him to take water form the mains to fill the bath.  This he overcame by turning a small stream into the bath.

Next, the attitude of the villages was one of wrath, and indignation, as they considered it most unreasonable that this man should be “allowed” to open a hall in competition with the existing hall (re: - the old schoolroom).  The bath is popular with people from over a fairly wide area, who during the summer come over on cycles or in cars, while the village people ignore the whole thing.  The hall is used for dances, especially in connection with the aerodrome nearby, and also by some village festivities such as whist drives.  It seems interesting to record these points in view of the fantastic proposals now put forward for Youth Centres etc.

Every day the papers speak of more disasters caused by flying bombs or rockets.

Fine and cooler.  Moon tonight.

23rd November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Thursday
Drizzle, but warm soft wind.  Went into Maidenhead to get new ration card.  Cycled along slowly, went down to Waltham St Lawrence village, saw the old pound, presented to the parish by Lord Braybrooke, 1937, now rapidly falling into decay.  At each corner is a massive ancient oak, one of which has now collapsed into an empty blackened shell.

The great yew by the Lych-gate is still flourishing now only a few months short of 290 years old.  This living tree has seen every christening, marriage and burial in the parish for nearly 12 generations.  A tree that has seen so much joy and suffering must surely be different to other trees.  Went on through the pleasant park-like lands of Shottesbroke.  Water lies everywhere, on grass and arable, every ditch full and running.  This land is all very level and bad to drain.  Leaves falling slowly and gently thickly, like black snowflakes.  Lovely autumn day.

Decided to go along to the Thicket, so turned off at Heywood park and saw a plane trundling across the road from the aerodrome to its standing on the other side.

The Thicket looked very desolate and wet.  The unfinished road works deep in water.  Seems most unfortunate to have begun this new road, destroying so much of the trees and shrubberies, when the same result could have been achieved by widening the existing Henley Road.

Went along the Bath Road into the town.  To the Library – papers still talking about “advances into Germany”, but according to the maps published the fronts are stationary, the Germans holding the full force of the British, American and Russian attacks.  If they can continue to hold, no-one can foresee what frightful disasters will overtake this country next spring (or even before).

Changed my ration card.  Strange how the Food Office are apparently prepared to do this time after time, and ask no questions.  It would seem that to be in the possession of a ration book at all absolves one from all suspicion of criminal intentions.

Everybody was hurrying about as the shops (and Library) prepared to shut for the day at 1 o’clock, so decided to go to Slough.  Tremendous amount of traffic on the Bath Road.  At Taplow the stacks of barbed wire are literally higher than the nearby houses.  At Cippenham saw a bus load of Catholic schoolgirls all dressed in grey, with 5 black gowned nuns, going into the Commodore Cinema to see the film “Song of Bernadette”.

At Slough saw a black-smiths just at the beginning of the main street, a large prosperous looking shop, no doubt a relic of coaching times.  Quite a lot of horses and ponies in Slough, whereas in Maidenhead there seems to be only a few scruffy ponies.  Yet both towns are flat, well laid out, and very suitable for horse traffic.  (NB – notes should be prepared of the suitability and actual use of horses in various towns).

Not far from the smith’s is a bomb-ruined house, and in the main street Woolworth’s is burnt out, although the lower part is repaired and in use.  Bought some cakes and apples for Margery.  Went into the Granada Cinema Café in Eton Road to get lunch, but could get no service from the rude pert little waitresses so came out again after quarter of an hour and went along to Eton.  The damage at the college is worse that I thought – a whole block burnt out, right up to the main gateway.  Wonder if it will ever be rebuilt.  The shelters on the opposite side of the road, which I saw being built nearly 6 years ago are now grass covered and settled down as if they intend to be part of the landscape for years to come, as no doubt they will be.  Eton boys, some in short jackets, some in tails, some bare-headed, some wearing toppers, were running in and out of the buildings and crossing the road with books under their arms.  The clock struck two.

The huge bulk of the Castle, the battlemented walls, the Curfew Tower, came into view across the river, just as it always was.  Somehow Windsor looks better, nicer, more pleasant that I had thought.  Went down to the river side, and watched the fast muddy stream swirling by down to London.  Some 30 swans, many this year’s signets, drifted down or held themselves against the current, and when I threw bits of bun amongst them they scrambled madly, with a flock of gulls joining in overhead and even sparrows twittering on the shore, hopeful for a few crumbs.

Wandered along past a row of bombed cottages near the railway bridge, and so up to the Castle, which is now closed.  Noticed that the “Nell Gwynne house” controversy seems to be ended – one half now claims to be “Nell Gwynne” and the other half has adopted the title “King’s Head Café” with a sign board showing Charles II.  The plaque on the house states “1640 Nell Gwynne lived here" or words to that effect.  Actually she was not born in 1640, and if it refers to the house I am afraid I must disagree there also – I’m sure the place was not built before 1670.

The Old “Market House” is still leaning over at a fantastic angle.  Went by the Royal Mews Gate, and could hear the clanging of a blacksmith’s hammer in the stable yard.

Fine and sunny afternoon.  Walked to the Park Gate and looked along the Long Walk, covered with orange and brown leaves, shining in the autumn sun.  Distant firing on a rifle range.

Walked back in the town and found a cinema advertising “Charlie Chaplin Films”.  Went in and saw three – “The Adventure”, “The Cure” and “Easy Street”.  Nostaligic.  These films are now historical.  Remembered as a child of 7 or 8 seeing “The Cure”.  Next to me was a little girl of about 8, yelling with laughter at the antics of people 30 years ago.

It becomes less and less of a pleasure to go to cinemas.  No matter how good the film is, the audience chatter and shuffle, walk in and out as they please, the attendants laugh and talk together loudly, leaving doors open with the wind sweeping in.  The sound apparatus is badly adjusted and roars, bellows and distorts.  I cannot understand why it is impossible to have small select cinemas, to which the audience is admitted at stated times only, where there is a good orchestra, well mannered ushers and only the best films.  If they charged 5/- a seat it would be worth it.

Came out into the moonlight dusky streets, got a cup of tea at a snack-bar at the foot of the Castle Hill.  The crescent moon hung low over the dark battlements, cloud-rack scudding across, and the Curfew Clock rang and chimed at 6 o’clock.

Cycled off along the Maidenhead Road, scurrying along because of no rear light.  Turned off at Holyport, past the Riding School, the same as when I came nearly 6 years ago, [for the Royal Windsor Show] the day I went to Winkfield for the thatcher. 

Water gurgled in the brooks, trees whispered, moon shone through thin drifting clouds.  Only one or two planes about.  Heard a clock strike 7, and found it was White Waltham.  Near Shurlock Row a row of slim ash trees, with fine lace-like heads, silhouetted against the moon.  The sound of distant trains, a barking dog, geese cackling.

Felt rather tired.  Bed 10.30. 

22nd November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Wednesday
'Essex County Standard' arrived today – last week of course.  They appear to have had divers over the town on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the 14th and 15th  November, when the sirens sounded here, and on the Friday before, the 10th.  No damage done.

Canon Curling is dead.  Another loss to local archaeology.  He did little for the Museum during the last 25 years, but he had produced some useful papers in his time.  He had only just been elected President of the Essex Archaeological Society for this year, and I believe he actually held the title of Honorary Curator to the Museum, although he never did anything in that connection.

Still a lot of talk about sirens, shelters and so on and efforts to get some lights in Colchester. Interesting case of a young fellow aged 20, lives in Irvine Road, sentenced to 3 months by Percy Sanders for leaving his work in the Cornish tin mines.  Claims with great sense and justification that he refuses to have anything further to do with the war.  Sanders sentenced him to 3 months “to give him time to reflect”.

A lot more rubbish about  “Youth Centres, “Community Centres” etc.  Hervey Benham is quite insane on this subject.  Also gives an article on housing, in which he claims, more reasonably than most talkers on the subject, that 500 families or married couples in Colchester. need new houses.  Councillor GP very worked up about the enormous difficulties in getting these built, but of course forgets to say (if he ever knew) that at the outbreak of war there were over 600 empty houses in the Borough.  Many of these are now “occupied” by army (although actual vacant) and will eventually be de-requisitioned.

See from a short paragraph that Leslie [formerly Executive Officer of the Essex War Agricultural Executive at Writtle] is now going to Edmundson’s Electricity Corporation as “Agricultural Adviser”.  Sounds rather a come down.  Some thought he would go into the Ministry.

Another letter urges that the New Public Library shall be put to its proper uses as soon as possible, suggesting that it is high time that the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Food should be invited to go.  Hervey Benham mentions it in his notes, and while cautiously admitting that we must not expect these Ministries to clear out the day that peace is declared they should at least be packing their bags.  Was there ever such fantasy?  Does no one bother to read papers or use common sense?  True the Government talk loudly of demobilisation plans, but this is only for propaganda purposes.  Moreover, even in their most optimistic prophesies they say that it is unlikely that there will be any demobs in 1945, and that the majority of the army in Europe will have to go East, after leave if possible.  The Far East war is not likely to end before 1947 or 48, and during the whole of that time men up to 25 will still be called up.  How then can anyone imagine that the Manpower Board will be moving out in less than another 3 years?  As for the food people, after the last war rationing continued until 1920, so that on the same basis, if the German war can be concluded by the beginning of 1946, which is extremely doubtful, the whole rationing organisation will be kept on until at least the end of 1947.  If anybody imagines that the Labour or Food people, having spent 5 years in the warmth and comfort of a large modern building, the best in the town, are now going to turn out into less convenient quarters for the next 2, 3 or even 4 years they are sadly mistaken, and it is sheer nonsense to talk about it.  In 1940 I suggested to Hervey Benham that pressure should be brought to open the new Library, which would have been a great gesture at such a time, but he was apathetic and old Sir W Gurney Benham came down strongly against such a proposal.  Within a short time the Ministry of Labour requisitioned most of the building.

Suddenly decided to go over to Wokingham, where I had never been.  Went along the mile.  Saw four young gypsies, 3 girls and a youth of 17 or 18, gathered round a little London type green grocery cart, with a smart chestnut cob in the shafts, much silver mounting on the harness, eating sandwiches and apples.  The youth called out as I cycled by “Know the right time, govnor?” so I shouted “just gone 2.”

Pair of shires ploughing in a field near the end of the mile.  The land here looks very trimmed and neat, yet not truly agricultural.

It all looks as though it were done by people who did not know very much about it.  Saw one farm where every stack heeled over at a different angle and those which were thatched were done in such a way that the thatch looked like the hair on a village idiot.  The roads and yards were knee deep in thick black mud, with a few filthy pigs rooting about in it.  The house was red brick, very derelict looking, and the buildings were mostly falling down.  The fields next the house were poor grass, much poached by cattle.  Yet a few miles further on was a beautiful place, clean, well kept, stubbles ploughed, and the stacks beautifully thatched, stood up on saddle-stones in the proper old-fashioned way.  This district, leading down to the Hampshire border, tends to become more and more thickly wooded, mostly sombre plantations of firs, pines, larch etc, now deeply embedded in fallen leaves.

Got to Wokingham Church at 2.30, passing a fine farm outside the town, the buildings all brick, the house restored, clap-boarded and with a fine 16th century chimney stack.

Wokingham is a dull little town, the oldest part consisting of 2 parallel streets running from the parish church to the centre of the town.  The most northerly, Rose St. is mostly pale-red brick tiled houses, some 18th century but poor stuff with one or 2 blocks of 16th or early 17th timber framed and plastered houses, all in very bad state, giving a desolate derelict sort of “deserted village” appearance which was increased by the fact that this is early closing day in the place.

There is a big vacant plot in the E. end of the street, not far from the church, where I understand was until recent years a good block of 16th century cottages.  This was destroyed soon after the beginning of the war by the local ARP for exercise purposes, in the same way we nearly lost the hall in Culver Street.

Interested to note one or two buildings where the upper storey was covered by hanging tiles, as one sees in Sussex and Surrey.  This form was introduced into Essex during the last 25 years and looks hideous, especially when the lower floor is rough cast.

Public house names – “The Redan” and “The Metropolitan”.

In the main street is a black-smith’s shop, apparently very busy, and just behind a small cinema showing “Gone With the Wind”.  In the centre of the town is a hideous red brick Gothic fire station, with police-station and offices behind it, built as an island at the junction of the Aldershot and Reading Roads.  Felt as if I were on the border of a new country – the road stretching away to Basingstoke, Winchester and Salisbury, and the remote counties of the west right down to far Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly beyond.

Near the Fire Station is a very nice late 18th century house, now the Wokingham Club, with a good porch, and close by the ‘Old Rose’ Hotel, quite interesting front 18th or early 19th century.

Went down the Aldershot Road a little way, to the railway bridges.  In several places in the town there are notices on the walls on sheets of tin, urging the public never to give food or money to beggars, signed by the Hon. Sec of the Berkshire Vagrancy Cttee, at Maidenhead on Jan 1st 1911.  By the first bridge is a huge furniture repository, with both motor and horse pantechnicons in the yard nearby.

Went back by the station saw Southern Electric, bright green, come in on its way from London to Reading.  The Southern Electric always gives one a curious feeling of suburbia.  Noticed more furniture repositories – (staple industries seem to be wood yards and furniture stores) and came into the Reading Road, where the sidewalks are at a height above the wide road, lined with several very good 18th century fronts.

The town clock struck 3 as I went to the church but found this was mostly modern restoration and it was completely ‘blacked out’ by painting the windows so did not go in.  Could here the sounds of floor scrubbing in the chancel.

Noticed in the churchyard 2 old wooden grave boards, one just discernably dated 1847, in memory of Mary Sergeant.

Heard the rumble of a flight of bombers passing over above the clouds, going N. and then 3 biplanes came over in V formation, looking very old fashioned.  A horse and trap trotted by the little brick houses opposite, and we might have been in 1920.

Set off along the London Road, through modern housing estates, “good class”, several very modern suburban looking pubs.  And so in 3 miles to Bracknell, one long dull street, also closing day, another little cinema, also showing “Gone With The Wind”  Who in these little towns goes of an afternoon to sit through 4 hours of film show?

Turned off here towards Winkfield going by parks and pleasure grounds, mostly grazed by ponies, very little ploughed.  Saw Italians chopping out cabbages, and a gang of Women's Land Army with a threshing set.  No sign posts in this area, where the innumerable lanes and side turnings make them most necessary.  In Bracknell the name of the village is still carefully removed from everywhere  - P.O. pillar boxes, shops, even the War Memorial.  Very noticeable how people struggle to retain restrictions which give them the excuse to be awkward and unpleasant to others – “why should we name our village? or show the way to the next?  We know, if others don’t, let ‘em stay away.  We don't want nosy strangers here.”

However at last found Hawthorn Hill, and turned back towards Wokingham, past the Agricultural Research station, with Women's Land Army hostel in front of it or so it seemed to be at Jealotts Hill and so by delightfully named Tickleback Row and up the lanes to Allenby Park turning and so home.  Noticed that the church clock, then striking 6, indicated 10 past 3, the time actually being quarter to 5.

More rain tonight, but some bombers went out.

21st November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Tuesday
Wakened several times during the night by aircraft.  Woke again at 8, and listened to the soldiers next door, calling on short wave radio – “Able, George, Baker, Victor, Fox, Zebra, can you hear me? Over.”

Wrote to the Biggams today, a poor letter.  Felt very “homesick” as I posted it down the village street, and saw the address “16 Glengyle Terrace” slide into the letter box.  Within 48 hours or less that letter will be 400 miles away.

A lovely day, the birds singing everywhere.  Felt rather weak and sick, so stayed in this afternoon and read some of Carlyle’s “French Revolution”.  Soon after 4, as the sun sank in a golden mist, a great mass of bombers came over.  Stood and watched them and then went into tea in the warm cosy room, while they went on across the sea to bring death to some poor devils who were still alive and well as we ate new bread and apricot jam.

This morning I suddenly heard a shrill shrieking whistle, high in the blue sky.  There was nothing in sight but I wondered if this is the sound of a rocket which had already passed over.

It came over foggy this evening.  Situation must be serious indeed to send them out in this weather.  Gen. Eisenhower is now talking about shortage of ammunition, when about a week ago the press announced the closing of some munition works as the present stock of shells would last ten years, fired day and night.

20th November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Monday
Heavy showers but then cleared up.  Margery brought me a cup of tea and I wished her many happy returns and kissed her.  She must be about 40 now, but does not look it.  Uncle kissed her, and said he was sorry not to be able to give here the usual box of chocolates.
 
Hundreds of heavy bombers went out in the dawn.  The papers speak of great fighting in the West.  Bonn and Trier are both in frightful danger.  Some accounts say Bonn has already been utterly destroyed.

Set off with Margery, on cycles to Twyford and caught 1 o’clock bus to Reading.  Seemed curious to go into a cinema at half past 1 in the afternoon.  Saw “Fanny by Gaslight” First time Margery had seen it.  I enjoyed seeing it again, as it gave me a chance to see details missed before.  Thought the Islington set looked rather artificial, but Belgrave Square and the Yorkshire House were excellent. I insisted we had tea so we went into a café in Broad Street.

Bought evening paper – “French Reach Rhine”.  Caught 5.30 bus, and got seats on top.  The street lights were coming on.  Margery had not seen lights for 5 and a half years but was not very impressed.

Had to cycle back from Twyford in heavy rain and Margery hates cycling in the dark.  Said she had enjoyed her outing enormously.  Poor dear works far too hard, and has very little fun, but always keeps happy and cheerful.

Had birthday tea in the front room tonight, did not finish until 8.

19th November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Sunday
Strong wind again, and pouring wet day.  Spent the whole day indoors, reading and writing.