21st April 1945

Cold and blustery.  Heard ‘planes going out early and a lot more after breakfast.  

Essex County Standard came by the second post, and has reports of two cases of raids on bogus “clubs” to stop illicit drinking.  In one case the “stoolpigeon” was an American army captain, who went in with two police-women.  This is quite a new departure in dirty tricks.

At lunch-time young Mrs. Jewson called at the Swifts’, and said she was expecting to hear any moment that her husband had been flown home from Germany.

20th April 1945

The weather still fine, hot and summery, a wonderful spring.  A little cloud came up this afternoon.  

All black-out restrictions are to be lifted next week, except for a 10 mile belt round the coast, where lights might help submarines to take a bearing or to shell a town.  (There is a rumour going round that a sub: shelled Liverpool recently).  In “event of a raid” lights are to be extinguished, but as gas-lamps can't be turned off, (as we know full well here after last month’s experience) there seems little point in such an order.

Cooler towards the evening and a heavy shower at 7, then about 10.30 a tremendous thunderstorm for an hour and a half.  Spent the time talking to Dorothy Brewer about my “Fox One” manuscript.  She seemed to like it and thought it had a good chance for publication.

19th April 1945

Fine and warm.   Very odd thing – an auction sale in the Market Place of the furniture and fittings from Jackson’s old office.  Amongst them were sold several dozen deed-boxes, with the names of old Fen families and estates painted on them.  One had belonged to the Revd. Caliphronas of West Walton, the Greek who was a friend of Chauncey Hare Townshend, and another had the name of Ald. Girling’s father.  There is quite a lot of chatter about this, as it was felt to be rather indecent to expose private boxes, even through empty, to a public sale.  People have of course no idea of the way in which the firm had treated the contents of those boxes.

Spent most of the day sorting and listing the MSS and other material which we recovered on Monday.

18th April 1945

Yet another fine hot day.  Press hard put to find a reason for the postponement of Churchill’s “end of the war”.  It seems (reading between the lines) that two or three factors have been overlooked, viz:
1)                  The Germans
2)                  The Americans
3)                  The Russians

All the papers make a great deal about the air manoeuvres over London last night, or rather couple of nights.  First the Americans spent several hours flying bombers over the city, very low, then the RAF came over “in force”, dropping flares.  Apparently everybody was much alarmed, and there have been some curious references to the affairs in Parliament.  This morning, between 11 and 12, about a hundred Forts and Liberators circled at 4000 feet or so, S.W. of the town.  Are these “demonstrations”?  If so, whom are they directed against?

17th April 1945

Glorious cloudless day, very hot.  Penny came up from the Control Room and said he had “found” one of our tables in the ARP depĂ´t in Barton Road – the County people have made very free with anybody’s property which they wanted.

Mrs. Munday called, and left her scrap books for me to see.  Spoke of knowing Col. Manson of Walpole St Peter, who is said to own descendants of the Shales.

Writing nearly all day.  Little Miss Torey came in, and I showed her the Dickens autographs, which she enjoyed.  Saw Woodgate, who emphasised the need for absolute secrecy in the matter of the Jackson Diary and other MSS.  Regret that I mentioned the matter to Curtis Edwards, who came in this morning and was most anxious to know where I had been all yesterday.

The six o’clock news announced that Churchill had “postponed” his end-of-the-war statement for Thursday.  No reasons given, but this morning’s papers say that Eisenhower has made a statement that he will say when the war ceases, and nobody else.  Great to-do in Parliament today because MacIntyre, the new Scottish Nationalist member refused sponsors when he entered the House, and the Speaker, (most enthusiastically backed by Churchill) refused to allow him to take his seat.  Without doubt Nationalism in Scotland and Wales is going to be a force to reckon with.  Interesting to see results of the Caernarvon election on Thursday week.

Wrote to Ann tonight, and arranged to go to Inverness on 12 May.  How I am to afford all this I have no idea.

Cycled to Elm in the cool of the evening, and talked to Mrs. Coulter and her sister-in-law for an hour or so.  Ought to have worked.  More air manoeuvres tonight, the sky a mass of search-lights, with a pale watery crescent moon, and red and yellow flares falling.

16th April 1945

Glorious hot sunny day.  GMG Woodgate came very early, and asked me to go at once with him to Friends’ junk yard.  It seems that the old firm of solicitors, Donald Jackson & Jackson, whose office for more than a century has been in Hill Street, have suddenly been evicted by the Town Council to provide room for the Food Office.  Old Donald Jackson is over 80, and takes no active part in the firm, so his chief clerk calmly sent the whole of the contents of the private boxes to the waste paper merchants.  Quite by chance Woodgate met him in the street and learnt what had happened.  He then arranged with Friend that we should go round there today and see if anything could be saved.  The first thing noticeable in the junkyard is a huge stack of iron railings, many of them 18th century, from houses on the Brinks, which were stolen from the owners 3 or 4 years ago, and then never used.

We spent the whole day in the wastepaper store, emptying and sorting some 40 sacks of stuff from Jackman’s Office.  What a scandal that a lawyer, may, with impunity, destroy material of this kind – court rolls back to Edward VI, rentals, releases, terriers, estate maps.  Most of these relate to West Walton and the Walpoles.  Everything was mixed with modern letters, bank books, old cheque-books, law journals, old newspapers, in filth and confusion.  Quite late in the afternoon I discovered what seemed to be the best find of the day – the diary of the Revd. Jeremiah Jackson, Master of the Grammar School, Vicar of Elm, President of the Museum, covering the period 1812 to within a few days of his death in 1857.  It is contained in 63 little notebooks, each with a synopsis of the contents inside the cover.  He refers to many public events – Peace Celebrations of 1814 and 1815, the Coronations, the new railway, races at Peterborough.  Interesting to note that he expresses the hope that Napoleon will be tried by a military commission and shot.  In 1815 he records with some surprise that the morris-dancers have appeared at Guylin.  He writes too of his work as Grammar-School master, and the dirtiness of the boys.  This very fascinating diary does not begin until he was 38, when he considered the best part of his life was already over, and continues to within a few days of his death at 83 in 1857.  I hastily removed all these books to Clarkson Avenue for careful study.

Had a bath as soon as I could, being very filthy from this work.

15th April 1945

Glorious warm day.  Had determined to write to Ann, when Jessie Swift came in and asked Dorothy Brewer and myself to go to a picnic at Walton Dam.  The orchards at Walsoken were a mass of blossom.  Dorothy Brewer and I went on ahead along the Sea Bank to Walpole, which she had never seen.  Took a much greater interest in buildings in the light of what O’Neil had told me yesterday.  Noticed the “tumbled” gable a very common feature.

A large brick tower-mill stands near the Seabank and by Walpole Church are two high mounds, most curious, cannot see what they are.  The rectory is a fine house of ancient beautifully weathered brick.  As we went into the churchyard an Italian prisoner came out, saying “good afternoon” very cheerfully.  Walked slowly round the outside by the passage which runs under the chancel, paved with slabs and cobbles, and covered by vaulting with finely moulded bosses and corbels.  In the east wall of the passage there are still two or three iron rings to which horses are tethered, and it was here, one Sunday, more than 150 years ago, that the great Shales was foaled to the sound of the prayers and singing overhead.  Can his owner have had any idea that the wet smelly little thing laying on the cobbles would achieve such fame that years later, when old and stiff, men would raise their hats to him in Norwich market? Felt strongly that some memorial to the “wonder horse” ought to be placed in this passage.

We saw the figure of Hickathrift on the N. wall of the chancel, and then went into Walpole Church, which has a beauty quite unsurpassed.  The absence of coloured glass (except in the E. window) fills the great arcades with cool, clear light, and the building has a wonderful feeling of repose and quiet silence.  The passage under the chancel makes it necessary to elevate the altar about 6 feet, so that it is approached by a flight of steps which are covered with a rich blue carpet, the altar itself bearing a pair of tall candlesticks and a crucifix.  The choir is lined with richly carved stalls and stone sedilla behind them, as if it were some conventual church rather than that of a small simple parish in the Fens.  There are no less than 7 beautiful brass chandeliers, 6 small ones in the choir and one large one just in front of the chancel arch.  The pulpit, most of the pews, and the great arched screen at the W. end are all of the early 17th century, and are in beautiful preservation.  Near the porch is one of those curious little sentry-boxes, used by the parson when taking a funeral service in wet weather.  Went up into the ringers’ gallery in the tower, and looked down the glorious vista of the nave, with the sun streaming in through the windows.  The space between the tower and the screen is as large as the whole of any normal church, with a wooden screen in one corner serving as a vestry.  The church is a national monument.

In the graveyard are several 17th century stones.

We then had to hurry back to Walton Dam for the picnic, which was really rather fun.  Little Mrs. Jewson was there, whose husband was probably released from a prison near Brunswick yesterday.  Her little boy was with her, aged 6, who was 3 when he last saw his father.  He borrowed my glasses, to look at some “forts” coming in from the sea, crying “That’s a German!  That’s a German!  Bang! Bang! Bang!” with greatest enjoyment.  Belinda looked on with astonishment.

Glorious evening and a golden sunset when we all cycled back to Wisbech, a crescent moon hanging in a deep blue sky.

Most of the papers say that Churchill will make “an announcement of utmost importance” on Thursday if not before.  One succulent piece of news, to delight the British as they eat their Sunday dinners, is that old von Mackensen has been “captured” by the Yankees.  What a triumph!  He is well over 96, and long since retired from the Army, but the Yankees are photographed hauling the old fellow from his home, and taking him away in a car.  However wicked an old brute he may have been, one would have wished him to be spared this last indignity.  What an end of the young officer who galloped through France in 1870.

Some of the papers now imply that we are in danger from radio-controlled ‘planes filled with explosives, some of which have already been used on the Continent.