18th April 1944

Thursday
Very little rain last night.  Thin hazy cloud this morning, then a brilliant sunny day.  Felt better, cough not so violent.

Talking to Culley, Pests Officer.  He told me that his warreners were always having trouble with keepers, who would tear up rabbit snares wherever they found them.  Arnold’s man at Layer Marney has done this.  Yet dozens of acres of wheat have been destroyed down there, all by rabbits.  Another thing he told me was that when Lake, the Chief Pests Officer, is on Committee land, he always tears up any snares which have been set by Committee workmen, as he considers such snares to be “poaching”.  

Wasps and flies have begun to come out, and a chestnut tree in Winnock Road has leaves on it nearly 4” long.  At Boxted the fruit trees are a mass of bloom.  If there are any late frosts the damage will be terrific.

Saw Hervey Benham this evening.  Spoke of Mary Ralling.  He is very dissatisfied at the way she is neglecting her work [at the Essex County Standard] so as to look after her sister.  I told him what I knew about the business, but it was a horrible conversation.  There is something very dreadful in having to imagine “Miss Ralling of the ‘Standard’” as an unsatisfactory employee, as if she was a careless typist.  Wonder whether she has to rely on the job for a living.

To Holly Trees again, and had a long talk with Poulter about future policy, etc.  It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him I did not expect to be concerned in any future policy at the Museum, but I thought better of it.

When I came out, there was a very drunk American in High Street, who accosted me with “Hey, fella!  Which is the way to the camp?” I said “Which camp?”
“The camp, y’know, the ‘drome.  Which way is it?”
I said “Do you mean Langham?”
“I dunno, somewhere near Ipswich”.
I directed him to Ipswich Road, and left him wandering unsteadily in the middle of the road.

Lot of ‘planes flying out to sea, carrying riding lights.

At Severalls, saw an American truck on the footpath with no lights, while girlish squeaks and giggles came from within. 
 
Brilliant stars tonight.  Fear there will be a raid.  Papers full of “invasion” theories.  Hear that the Duke of Gloucester was in the town yesterday, inspecting troops.

17th April 1944

Monday
Felt dreadfully ill.  Awake all night.  Seems hard luck that on a night free of raids I could get no sleep.  Coughed for hours on end.

Dull and cold, but had a haircut first thing, before going to Birch Hall.  The town seemed empty and lifeless.  Did nothing at the office except Committee stuff.  Birch all afternoon but not such a long meeting as usual.  Got away at 5.30.  At tea, Joanna did not show up at first, but I suddenly saw her come out of her room with a plate and saucer, and go to wash them in the bathroom.  She waved her hand to me vaguely, and looked rather worried.  I wondered if she had had bad news, but at last she walked round the gallery to speak to us, and said in a very despondent manner that she was going away “for a month”, to take her baby to her mother-in-law in Berkshire.  I wonder if the Chairman has had a tip-off about something and is getting her away?  She seemed to be quite upset about it.

The only thing of any note mentioned at the meeting was the matter of Layer Breton Hall, which the Chairman brought up, and was very indignant about it.  This house was requisitioned by the Writtle people about 18 months ago, to use as a hostel, and was taken in a very high-handed manner which caused a lot of ill feeling.  Since then hundreds of pounds have been spent on it, and now, when it is almost ready, the Executive have decided that they don't need a hostel there after all.  Naturally, the blame for this scandal is laid against the District Committee, who had nothing whatever to do with it.  It is now suggested that the place should be used for workman’s flats, for which it is most unsuitable.

Got some more photos from Gall today, copies of a dozen taken in 1908 or 1909 for Moore & Roberts by old Stutter.   Quite good – High Street, St Botoloph’s, Lexden, Middle Mill etc.

To Holly Trees this evening.  Poulter told me that the money box at the Castle has been opened again during the past 10 days, twice.  No action is being taken.  There seems little doubt it is being done by someone inside, and Hull is now wondering if it is old Simon, the firewatcher, the last person I should have thought of.  Hull has also found a considerable number of the electric bulbs in the office have been stolen, and dud bulbs put in their place.  The office is always kept locked, but there is a key in the bookstall downstairs.  Only Butcher has a key to the bookstall, but of course it would be easy for him to leave the place open for Harding, whom Poulter suspects very much.  I wonder what Hull would say if he knew that I still had a key to the place?  Hull left the lights on in his office again last Friday and locked it, and as Butcher was not there in the evening the night duty men had to remain in darkness all night, with the mains off, as being the only way to put the light out.  He has done this literally dozens of times during the last 2 or 3 years, and nobody has ever said a word to him about it.

Still no letter from Mary Hulbert.  Don't know whether she ever received mine, or whether she does not want to reply.  Feel ill with worry, and wonder whether or not to send a telegram.
 
Rain tonight, at 11 o’clock.

16th April 1944

Sunday
Felt very bad this morning.  Cough terrible and very sick.

Rained hard all day, but went over to Dedham as I had decided in my own mind to do so in any case.  Went by Langham Lane, by the side of the aerodrome.  Vast quantities of bombs lying about, and several ‘planes standing with bombs ready fixed.  Nothing flying, but as I went by Birchwood Corner several ‘planes came in from the east, flying very low but still partly obscured by drifting cloud.

At Dedham found that the cafĂ© was shut, apparently for good.  Great disappointment.  Went on to Moorhouse’s, but he was out.  Back to Dedham, against head wind, and called at Sissons’.  Mrs. C.B still there, and felt myself de trop.  However, put some photos away, had a cup of tea and left quickly.

Lucky to meet Moorhouse by his buildings at the end of Pond Lane, and settled one or two points on which we needed his advice.  He showed me his bullocks, a lovely lot of shorthorns, but I could not appreciate them as I ought, the rain falling harder than ever, and I felt so bad.

Back to Boxted at 6, churchbells ringing across the dreary fields in pouring rain.  Assured of a quiet night, thank goodness.
 
Reading Halliday Sutherland’s “Finnish Journey” in which he mentions the phantasmagoria.  Most interesting, and I know exactly what he means.  When coming back late at night I frequently see the most extraordinary shapes, great animals, houses and buildings which do not exist, etc.  One night recently, on Boxted Straight Road, I suddenly saw what appeared to be a huge ruin, with a line of Gothic arches of great size.  As I approached nearer it gradually resolved itself in to a row of council houses.  I remember many years ago, when quite a child, cycling through Donyland Woods one sunny afternoon, and seeing through the trees what appeared to be a large Elizabethan house, with exposed timbering.  I turned towards it, believing it to be some house I had never seen before, but of course it was pure illusion.

15th April 1944

Saturday
No rain this morning, but very foggy.  ‘Planes began going out soon after 8.  Called at home, and was delighted to find that Father never heard the sirens yesterday, only the all-clear, so he never got up.

Willows at Bourne Mill all bursting out green. Rain began again this afternoon.

Saw Hervey Benham, and talked about ‘Essex Review’.  Don't think that anything will come of it, but it’s a delightful idea.  While I was talking to him, at the Culver St. Gate, the Mayor came by, with the Borough Engineer, the Borough Treasurer, the Town Clerk, the Chief Constable, and several gentlemen looking like Civil Servants, and I understand that a tall rather florid looking man walking with the Mayor was Col. Llewellin, the Minister for Food, who has been all over the town today inspecting the British Restaurants and the emergency feeding arrangements.  They all went into the new Public Library to see the Food Control Office people, and then went to lunch at the Town Hall.  Don't know what is behind this, whether it is merely a routine visit of the Minister’s or whether there is something special behind it.

Back to Boxted early tonight, glad of the pouring rain, which ought to guarantee a quiet night.

14th April 1944

Friday
Fine, sunny, and warm.  Miss Bentley said: “Did you hear the sirens? Just on a quarter to two.  I heard gunfire a long way off.”  But I had slept through both alarm and all-clear.  Wonderful!  How strange not to hear it when the siren at Mile End is less than 2 miles away.  At Higham the Ipswich siren used to wake me sometimes.

Great excitement at the brothel over the way this morning – one of the numerous babies fell out of the bedroom window, about 15 feet, but was not apparently very much hurt.  Polly Browne and Mrs Smith rushed over the road, and there was a rare to do.

Now stated in the press that over 600 French people were killed at Lille last Sunday.  These vile outrages are committed without any comment in our allegedly “free” press.  I see that the Americans have had to pay 1,000,000 dollars compensation to the Swiss for bombing Schaffenhausen in broad daylight, but the wretched French, who are every bit as neutral as the Swiss, get nothing.

Rain began about 6, and kept on quite hard until after 8.  Hope it will be a thoroughly bad night. 

In the Essex County Standard this week is a photograph of a wedding at Lawford, at which the two little Nichols children were bridesmaids.  This was headed “Queen’s Relatives as Bridesmaids” and the account stated that the similarity between the Nichols children and their distant relatives, the two Princesses, was remarkable.  As I believe the relationship is that the children’s aunt (Mrs Nichols' sister) married a Bowes-Lyon, a distant relation of Queen Elizabeth, any resemblance would be pretty remarkable.

Notice that the fire danger seems to be lessening, no doubt thanks to the tremendous efforts of firemen and fireguards.  Until recently there were posters out all over the place saying “A Thousand Fires a day are Helping Hitler!”  Now new posters are out which simply say “There is a Fire every Two Minutes – Help to Prevent Them”. As there are 1440 minutes in a day, these means 720 fires, an improvement of 280.

The Essex County Standard this week is also making a great point about the demolition of Middle Mill, to my mind wrongly.  Very little of the existing building is old, and the larger part of it was built after about 1905.  The whole of the machinery except the wheel was destroyed by the Corporation about 10 years ago, and the amenities of the place have been so altered in recent years there is nothing left to make a fuss about.  However, Alderman Blomfield and Duncan Clark are to examine the place next week.  It is very typical of Colchester methods to allow a good place to be destroyed piece-meal, and then to kick up a row at the very end, when it is too late.

Called today at a little cycle-repair shop at St. Botolph’s Corner, opposite the ‘Prince of Wales’, and was much struck by the pathos of the old man who owns it.  His little stock was carefully protected from the sun by sheets of brown paper, which he removed to get me a bottle of oil and then replaced with great care, and I thought how sad it seemed, that in his old age he should have to rely on selling these odds and ends for a livelihood.

Still raining hard.  The weather has broken at last.  Not a sound of planes anywhere.

13th April 1944

Thursday
Still warm and sunny.  Birds singing very loudly soon after 6.30.  Small attack on London last night, but nothing in this district.

Went up town and met Hervey Benham.  He asked if I would take on the Editorship of the “Essex Review”.  How delighted I should have been a few years ago.  I could make it a fine thing, with editorials on the current affairs in Essex, especially with regard to archaeology, town-planning, amenities, etc., exposing the evils of Borough Engineers and Town Councillors.  Then give the book an entirely new make-up and a new cover and get articles from every part of the county so as to spread the local interest and secure the maximum number of readers.  Plenty of illustrations, of course, and sell it in every town and village of any size.  We could also include reviews of local plays, books and good films.  But what’s the good, when I shall probably be away from here long before another number appears.  Suggested Rickwood, who I’m sure could do it well enough to keep up the present standard.

Brilliant sunshine all day, and ‘planes going over in droves.  Took Daphne to tea in Culver Street, and as we were going in saw dozens of heavy bombers coming back, glittering in the evening sun.

This afternoon a company of soldiers came past the office, marching back to the barracks from the ranges, all singing and whistling the “Marseillaise”.  Wonderful tune.

There was a fire at Old Heath Laundry yesterday evening, but not much damage done.  Daphne and I went down to look at it, but there was nothing much to see.  It was in the last remaining of the old buildings which escaped the bombs in 1940.

Called at the Holly Trees for a few moments, then to Boxted, to see Whiten at Homedale, and then to Lt. Rivers.  The baby has been ill again, and Dodo is very worried.  The Pickard boy is worse than ever.  He showed a curious side of his nature the other day, when he wrote a very good pacifist poem.  Even Stuart, who can’t bear him, admitted that it was quite good.  He is only eleven.

Had to leave early, as they all wanted to go to bed.  It is one of my grievances now that I can't find anybody who wants to sit up all night and talk.

There was a thick haze, and I had hopes that it would be a dirty night, but by 11.30 the stars were glittering bright and clear.  Walked through the back lanes to the “Queen’s [Head Pub]”, and then through the foot path at Harrow Corner.  Got lost among the fields, but found Horkesley Plantation, and followed the edge of it until I came to the line of aerodrome light poles, which I know run just past “Woodside”.  Dragged the cycle through hedges and pushed it under fences.  Wonderful feeling to be quite alone in the dark fields, under the stars, nothing to be heard but the sound of a distant train or the rustling of little creatures in the hedges.  Once an owl flew out of a tree, and whirred away into the plantation, hooting.  At last reached the back of the house in time to hear midnight striking, very faintly, from Mile End Church.  Wished it had been later, as the moon does not rise until 2 am.  How mad anybody would think me, if they knew I was wandering about the fields in the middle of the night. 

12th April 1944

Wednesday
Another brilliant day, fine and warm, all sign of rain gone.  Wind backing towards S.E.  In the early morning there was quite a thick fog, but it soon cleared away.

Wrote to the Adjutant of the Royal Observer Corps tonight, asking for an interview [to work on one of the outposts].

Still thinking about going [to Shrewsbury].  Nothing from Mary Hulbert yet, but of course there has hardly been time.  Went into my finances again, and although I am afraid I owe between £40 and £50 (including income tax, £33) my balance is pretty good, and absolves me from money worries for at least a year.  Went to the library tonight, and worked out a route to Shrewsbury, in case I had to cycle there.  Roughly 200 miles, so could do it in 4-5 days.

Lovely still evening, very quiet until ‘planes began night flying about 9.30.  All the landing lights were on at Boxted, looking like the lights of a town as we used to see them.  Planes cruising about very low, red and green lights glowing like coloured stars.

Nice little paragraph in the ‘Evening News’ tonight, stating that paper bombs have been dropped on Baghdad by Iraqi planes during some sort of ‘war weapons week!’  General  Nuri al-Said is recorded as saying “These bombs are a reminder of the air-raids suffered by the people of Britain, and of the hardship and suffering caused”.  One would have thought that the Iraqi needed no such reminders, considering the sufferings caused to them by the RAF in the 1920s.  Many of the senior officers of the service, who now organise the bombing of German and neutral cities, went through their early training out there when they had the exquisite satisfaction of dropping high-explosive bombs onto Arab villages and tents, knowing that retaliation was impossible.

William Scawen Blunt, in his diaries, shows how our Prime Minister has been able not only to achieve his early ambitions but to go far beyond them in this direction, when he records that Churchill told him (21/10/1912) that the Government “would be obliged to take some action against the Mullah, (in Somaliland) not an expedition, which was too expensive an affair, but they would send aeroplanes to drop bombs into the Arab camps.”  He then went on to describe how his regiment had speared the wounded Dervishes at Omdurman.  Blunt says “How like his father!”

Miss Bentley’s sister is up from Hove on a visit.  Strictly speaking she has no business to come into this Defence Area at all, but no attempt is being made to stop people yet, either at Liverpool St or at Colchester Station.  Told Miss Bentley that is was improbable that she would be troubled unless she attempted to get her ration book changed, and this is unnecessary as she has brought her rations with her.

Felt nervous tonight and expected an attack.  Sat up until the moon rose at 1a.m., but nothing happened.  Few planes about, and signal searchlights.