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 cafĂ© 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.

18th November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Saturday
Warm, fine and cloudy.  Up rather late.  Writing all morning.  Newspapers came at 10 o’clock. 'The Express' reports that Leigh-Mallory, Air Chief Marshall and his wife are missing.  

About midday heard 2 or 3 heavy explosions in the direction of London.  Perhaps rockets?  About half past 5 there was a great noise of bombers, and we saw many Stirlings coming over from the West and NW, at various height.  They finally made off to the S.E.  Before 7 some could be heard going back to the NW, and more came in between 9.30 and 10.

Had very bad heart pains this afternoon, after playing with the cat.  It was only for 5 minutes, but I was so exhausted I thought I should faint.  There must be something radically wrong.

17th November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Friday
Terrible storm all night and rain kept on all morning.

Wrote to Miss Bentley, paid more rent, and to Miss Lazell about the old man’s death.  Don’t know whether to write to Mrs Smallwood or not.

This afternoon Margery took me to the village “Library” in the school next door.  Took “The Changing Village” by F G Thomas.

Heard on 6 o’clock news that a new form of announcement is now adopted regarding V1 and V2 even vaguer than before.  In future we are to be told that in “the period of 24 hours ending at dawn there was enemy activity over southern England.  Damage and casualties were caused.”  Nothing more.  What more could be done to create alarm, fear and rumour?

Had a bath in the kitchen.  Bed 10.30.

16th November 1944 - Shurlock Row

Thursday
Brilliant morning, but cold.  Uncle out in the garden, working like a man of 50.  I sat indoors writing, but Marjery insisted I should take the WLA girl to Reading to the cinema.  The only film of any interest seemed to be “The Four Feathers”, so I suggested we should go there.  Enjoyed the film just as much as when I saw it years ago.  Much amused by someone in the stalls who clapped eagerly at every opportunity, whenever the gallant British Army shot the hell out of various natives, whenever the flag was shown or Lord Kitchener appeared.  

When we came out it was dark, and there was nowhere to get a drink except at a rather dirty milk bar down the road.  We had milk there, and then set off home very cautiously, as she had no front light and I no rear.  However, we got past the police at the junction near the Cemetery, but just after I tripped against the curb and fell down, putting out my knee and jarring my elbow.  Fog on the road, and we had to be very careful owing to the danger of traffic.

At last got onto the side lanes, and up the Straight Mile to supper after which heard the “Itma” show, which I much enjoyed, though I don't think the others did.  Margery told me that the Land Army girl had a very pleasant time, though I thought it must have been very dull for her.


Rain began this evening.  No alarms or explosions, though there are divers over every night.