1st March 1945 - St David's Day

Had a good breakfast, left at 9, and caught a bus on the Horkesley Road.  To the Museum and saw Poulter.  Spoke about a Mr Kitchen who lives at Bures and who is an official at the Ealing Film Studios.  Might be a useful contact.

Went to see Diana, and took her for a coffee.  She spoke about a woman who said she wanted her daughter trained for dancing, especially for the ballet.  The woman said: “She’s only eight, but she ballets beautifully!”  Diana said she wished I was back in Colchester.  Called at the Town Hall and spoke to Harvey about the ARP troubles at Wisbech.  He advised me to see the County Controller at March, or, failing him, the Regional Commissioner’s Office at Cambridge.

There was a small excavation just outside the Albert Hall, and a few fragments of Roman tile and Septaria were thrown up.  It is approximately where the north boundary wall of the Roman main street might be expected.

The station was full of conscripts and troops, with notices all over the place – “Recruits for Mecanee Report Here”, “All Returning BLA men Report RTO on other Platform” etc.  Saw old Sim the horse-loader, who asked about Grubb.  On the way down to the station, looked in at the North Castle Stables, but there was no sign of Robin.

The train was made up of decent, clean, comfortable coaches, most unusual.  Surprised to see Mrs Seymour and Anne get in, on their way to Ipswich.  Anne looked very pretty.  Her likeness to Alan in both appearance and mannerisms, as he was as a boy, is quite remarkable.

Train ran well on time, past all the old places – Ardleigh Station and the little gate lodge, the Land Settlement, Birketts Wood, the long meadow.  Humberlands among the trees, (What of the General?), then Sherbourne Mill, the house, and the buildings, with some washing hanging out.  At Manningtree the tide was full, and little sparkling waves glittered all over the estuary.

On the other side of Ipswich, up the green Gipping valley, the deep auburn coloured Suffolk horses were cropping the sparse grass under a pale eggshell blue sky.  The trees and hedges were just tipped with green, and the winter corn is beginning to show in the dry sandy fields.  The great timber mill looked very fine.  Here and there the landscape is spoilt by harsh lines of Council houses.  In many places horses were at plough. 

Got to March at 4.20, and found no train to Wisbech until 5.40.  Spent the time making sketches for an  Art Club competition “March” – they mean of course the month, but I can't resist a feeble pun.  Noticed what a common thing it is now for officers to carry their own luggage.  

Away at last, home at 6, and feel ready for a quiet night.  Called at the office, but disappointed to find no letters at all, nothing from Edinburgh, nothing from Ann.

28th February 1945

Another lovely day.  All Boxted busy on the land, work everywhere.  Bus into town.  Went to see Les Watts about clearing up the stables – heart breaking job.  Sold him my lovely horse-rug, the one Bob always wore, and two bits for 25/-.  He also gave me 50/- for the timber I bought 10 years ago to build the two loose-boxes.

Back to Museum and saw Poulter again.  Museum Committee meeting yesterday, so no sign of Hull, no doubt in his usual post-Committee temper.

Home for tea, stayed until 7, then went up town, got a taxi, and was driven to Boxted Cross for 6/-.  Called on the Roses’, and stayed talking until 10.30, then walked home.  A pleasant evening a lot of delightful but inconsequent chatter which I much enjoyed.  Walked back down the Straight Road under the glorious blazing moon.  Not many ‘planes about. 

27th February 1945

Caught the 11.15 to Colchester.  A lovely day, and had a most enjoyable journey down the Stour Valley, past the great Bartlow Hills, Haverhill, Stunmer and its barrow, lovely Long Melford, Sudbury with its magnificent scene of towers, roof spires and red buildings across the green water-meadows and so at last to Colchester by 3 o’clock.  Went up town on a bus, called for Diana and took her to tea at Last’s.  Left her at 6, went to Holly Trees to see Poulter.  

Out again at 7, and walked through the ghost ridden moonlit streets, through the crowds of Americans, soldiers, and girls to Winnock Road.  Father very well, and very glad to see me.  Let Miss Payne make a cup of tea, which I did not really need, and stayed chatting until after 9. 

Walked back up town, got a taxi out to Boxted, and found dear Miss Bentley waiting for me with a “snack” of plum-cake and glass of milk.  Bed at midnight.

26th February 1945

Fine day, warm, brilliant sunshine.  Alas, lacked the energy to rush for the early train to Cambridge, so caught 11.10.  To Museum, and found the Essex County Standard had arrived.  A paragraph describes how young Thorpe, son of the butcher at Langham, who is now in Germany, found a pig in a German dug-out in Holland, and killed it expertly for his mess.  Odd to think that I saw him in 1940 when he came over to Sherbourne Mill with the meat-van, full of excitement because a bomb had fallen in their yard at Langham.  He was then 14 or 15.

Cambridge at one o’clock, had a sandwich, and went to the Fitzwilliam for an hour.  Then to the lecture rooms in Mill Lane to hear Armstrong address the Cambs: Antiquarian Society on his discovery of the “goddess” at Grimes Graves in 1939.  It was the most remarkable archaeological lecture I have ever attended.  The brief facts are these: - it had been decided to open one of the pits so as to expose half the section of the filling, so that persons descending by a ladder would be able to see the stages by which the pit was filled.  This was done, but unfortunately, as soon as the job was finished, there was a heavy shower which caused the entire section to collapse.  Nothing daunted, Armstrong at once began on another pit, reaching the bottom of which he observed the usual layers not filled in so tightly as usual.  Pulling out some of the blocks of flint and chalk, he flashed in a light, and there, sitting on a ledge, was the little obese “goddess”, sitting quietly in the black silence where she had sat for 10,000, maybe 20,000 years.  When the slide of the “goddess” came up on the screen, the audience burst into applause.

Further digging, under great difficulties, revealed an altar of flint blocks, on top of which were broken antler-picks and some burnt substance.  Nearby was a huge chalk penis, pointing towards the “Goddess”, with a line of quartz pebbles, representing the semen, leading to her on her ledge.  Armstrong’s theory is that this pit proved unproductive, as the floor-stone was not of the right quality.  Before beginning another pit, where they hoped for better luck, the miners had gone through the ceremony of “fertilising” their little goddess, in the hope of “breeding good stone elsewhere”.  In the discussion after the paper, one speaker mentioned that in India similar belief in the breeding power of stones and the existence of male and female stones exists until this day.

Another speaker, discussing why Grimes Graves pits were every dug with such labour, when the floor-stone out-crops in the little valley a few hundred yards away, suggested that as this valley was obviously of glacial origin perhaps the pits were actually pre-Ice Age!

The “goddess”, penis and other relics were shown on the table.  Old Dr Margaret Murray was there.  Spoke to her, and reminded her of our talks about the Easthorpe “shiela-na-gig” many years ago.

Had tea, and went round to see Lambeth at the Folk Museum, where he offered me a bed for the night.  Showed me a complete bowl of dark grey ware, with wide mouth, rolled rim, plain moulding and slight cordon at foot, found at Priory Farm, Swaffham Prior, about 1942.  It was discovered by a Land Girl, Miss King, when tractor ploughing.  Several others were found at the same time, but were broken by the plough.  All were cinerary urns – this one has never yet been emptied.  Miss King took the urn to the Archaeology Museum, but Miss O’Reilly refused to see her or to accept the urn as a gift, so the girl took it to Lambeth’s place and left it, not wanting to carry it all the way back to Swaffham.  Lambeth promises to see if he can get it as a gift for us.  A most interesting find, and the nearest Romano British urnfield that is recorded near to the Fens.

Spent the evening talking museum-world scandal, had one of Mrs. Lambeth’s delightful vegetarian meals, and so to bed, hopeful that this is not to be a night when one of the occasional ‘divers’ or rockets reaches the Cambridge district.

Lovely moon tonight, the town looking exceptionally grand.

25th February 1945

Rather cold.  High clouds, and a lot of aircraft swimming about, very high and remote.

At lunch a party of four came in, a tall grey-haired man with glasses, wearing a tweed coat and cords, a dark woman, an obvious Fen farmer in breeches and a violent black and white check riding coat, and a Jewish man in a green jacket, blue serge trousers and thick horn-rim glasses, talking in a German accent.  The conversation was loud and interesting, the tall man and the Jew both apparently being something to do with the Agricultural Research Station at Cambridge.  Apparently they had been having some trouble or other with Engledow, father of the little wretch at Writtle, and one or other of them had either left or been dismissed.  The Jew kept talking loudly about “Sir Guy” who “never did anything worth doing”.  The whole  incident was a nice warning of the danger of talking too loudly in public places.

This morning, sitting in my bedroom, looked out onto the river and the Brinks.  A young girl came along North Brink on a bicycle, riding swiftly beside a black pony, clipped out, on which a tiny child was bobbing up and down.  The black and white nuns came out of Old Market, passing three Italians, who drew aside to let them go by and then stood staring after them.  A milk float appeared from the town, with a big smashing cob, head up, feet up, the name Hardy on the cart, going over the bridge and away along the Brink at great speed.  A good, well-made beast, but dirty and uncared for.

The American lorries came rushing over the bridge, then a pony trap, driven by a girl, came from Old Market.  In the distance was the sound of a very noisy band, bugles all off key, and along came a pathetic looking Boys Brigade, followed by a dozen children.  The noise was excruciating, and as they came down South Brink there seemed to be a sort of echo to the left, which increased until it revealed itself as the band of the Grammar School Cadets, marching full blast in the opposite direction.  It was an exquisite moment when both bands passed each other just outside the police station, the noise making the windows rattle.

Next over the bridge came a lorry with a dead blown bullock on it, one stiff leg waving above the side of the buck.  Then people appeared coming out of church and chapel, and the Cadets Band was dismissed just outside the Rose and Crown yard.  The river was running out swiftly, like thick grey oil, the tide-gauge showing 7 feet.  Another milkfloat, with a thick set brown cob turned into Old Market.  Quite a number of horses about in the town, but not a single smart turnout anywhere.  This morning when I went out to get a paper, a rough-looking man came riding out of Somers Road on a very useful looking Arab, unclipped and very dirty.  It played up at a noticeboard, but the man edged it past very expertly.  Looked like a good set of harness.

In the lounge this afternoon, conversation was about hanging this Welsh girl of 18, who was convicted with an American in murdering a taxi driver.  Everybody very anxious indeed that she should swing, particularly the old women.

Tonight called at the Swifts, and much pleasant chatter for an hour.

24th February 1945

Brilliant morning.  Regretted I had not gone to Colchester after all.  Crowds in the streets, even at 9 in the morning, and no hope of getting a badly needed haircut.  Am beginning to look more and more like a gentleman of the 1840’s.  At ten o’clock, the siren made its weekly trial, not having sounded in earnest since the beginning of January.

Got my agenda out for next Monday week, so as to have nothing to worry about while away.  Ald. Girling came in, in answer to a note of mine, and settled for Edwards’ typewriter, for which we are paying him £15.  Rather startled when he told me that Edwards has been co-opted onto the Committee – which I think is most unfair to me.  How can I make reports or suggestions with the former Curator sitting by my side?  Had occurred to me that the old chap ought to be elected an Hon. Life Member of the institution, but it is almost indecent to put him on the Committee.  Girling I find a very harsh and unsympathetic character, and dear old Guy Pearson is really beyond very much work.

Early lunch, the cafĂ© packed with farmers and their wives, squalling children everywhere, adolescent girls with Americans.  

Went out and bought the week’s rations – second week I have managed to get, as the “White Lion” people apparently don't need my book.

This evening went to Swift’s.  Showed him two maps of the Wash in 1824, a town-plan of Wisbech, 1853.  Back in moonlight, one or two ‘planes going over low, with navigation lights.  Crowds coming out of the pubs, Norfolk Street a solid mass of screaming drunken hooligans.

Alone in the lounge for an hour and then to bed.

Very odd dream in the early hours of this morning – confused figures, and then a voice saying very clearly “Ring Wisbech 58”.  Who is Wisbech 58?  Very much tempted to ring up and ask.

23rd February 1945

Dull damp day.  Began to rain.  Had an excellent night.  Dull roar of ‘planes all morning, going out above the rain-clouds.

Am becoming more and more engrossed in the Library, but managed to break away to write a few letters.  Edwards in again, talked vaguely of how many years ago he either destroyed or sold (he didn’t seem to know which) a lot of novels – “hundreds” he said.  Found a lot more novels today, at least 50, including another set of Dickens.

Rain kept on.  Have arranged to go to Cambridge on Monday, and was going to Colchester first.  Weather so miserable have now decided to go down to Colchester on Tuesday, after Cambridge.  Wrote cards to this effect, and ‘phoned Mary Ralling tonight for her to tell Father.

Going in to dinner tonight, saw six heavy lorries (civilian, not army) going along South Brink full of either shells or bombs, each flying a red flag on the bonnet.

Noticed tonight that the clock in Bridge Street was now lighted for the first time for 5 and a half years.  Unfortunately it was not going, so the effort was rather wasted.  First time I’ve seen a clock lit up since 1939.  Another gas-lamp has been put on in the Crescent, on one of the old original wall-brackets of 100 years ago, and the light now sheds a gentle radiance along the grey-green brick facades.  How important lighting is to architecture, and how very little considered – everywhere hideous and unsuitable lamps put up against the very best buildings.

Worked until 9.30, then to Art Club Room in Old Market, with a note for Mrs. Swift about my moving.  Met Mrs. Day Shuker and her young daughter coming out on their way to the Caldonian dance, and walked back as far as the church-yard with them.

Back to “Lion”, had the lounge to myself for half an hour, so listened to the music of Les Sylphides with great delight.  News at 10 said that Turkey had declared war on Germany and Japan.  The great fat Smith, the potato buyer came in, very drunk, talked filth, and gave me a couple of eggs.