Eric Rudsdale's WW2 Diary - Events to date

Eric’s diary blog begins on the day war was declared 3rd September 1939, when he experienced Colchester’s first air raid alarm.

The early months of the war were relatively quiet and became known as the period of the ‘Phoney War’. Nevertheless, preparations for war continued apace. In Colchester excavations for air raid shelters led to many archaeological discoveries and Eric was kept busy with these new artefacts being brought into the Museum. The Roman Vaults underneath Colchester Castle had been converted into a public air raid shelter and Eric was sworn in as a Special Constable to superintend the shelter.

January and February 1940 were to be dominated by the onset of the severest winter for 45 years, which added to wartime hardships. However, despite the bad weather, the war was drawing ever closer to Essex with the coastal areas putting up a defence against enemy aircraft.

14th February 2010 marked the Centenary of E J Rudsdale's Birth on 14th February 1910.

Events in the war now began to escalate as Eric recorded the German invasion of Norway and Denmark on 9th April 1940 and on 30 April 1940, the crash-landing of a German minelaying plane at Clacton caused the first civilian deaths of the war on mainland Britain.

The German invasion of Holland and Belgium on 10th May 1940 and the subsequent invasion of France brought the war closer to Britain's shores, especially as the evacuation from Dunkirk took place. Air raids over Colchester now began in earnest.

Early exchanges in the Battle of Britain were evident in Colchester's skies from 11th July 1940 and Eric witnessed the aerial battles that took place that summer. Meanwhile, Eric took time off from Colchester Museum during August 1940 to help with the harvest at Shirburn Mill, Lawford.

The 7th September 1940 marked the start of the Blitz with devastating air raids on London and air raids grew ever more frequent over Colchester. The expectation that the country was about to be invaded led to the evacuation of Colchester from 10th September 1940.

The autumn of 1940 witnessed many serious air raids and Eric recorded the resulting damage to Coggeshall Church and witnessed the destruction of Little Horkesley Church.

In January 1941, Eric was seconded from his post at Colchester Castle Museum to become Secretary of the Essex War Agricultural District Committee (Lexden & Winstree). Eric was able to continue his links with the Museum, however, because the War Agricultural Committee took over office space at Hollytrees Museum in Colchester Castle Park. Eric also continued his duties as a firewatcher and air raid shelter superintendent at Colchester Castle at night.

From his vantage point at Colchester Castle, Eric watched and recorded the air raids over East Anglia. The increased air raids over Harwich in February 1941, led to speculation that an invasion might soon take place. By the end of March 1941, preparations were being made to evacuate the civilian population of Colchester in case of invasion and in April 1941 the army constructed a secret dugout in Castle Park for the use of saboteurs in the event of an invasion.

Eric's work for the War Agricultural Committee led to his involvement in the National Farm Survey from July 1941. This Survey provided a comprehensive record of the condition of farms in England and Wales to enable wartime food production to be maximised.

The summer and autumn of 1941 continued to see regular air raids over Essex, which Eric witnessed from the roof of Colchester Castle such as a German plane being shot down near Clacton on 16th September 1941. However, Eric's firespotting duties also allowed him to see the Northern Lights when they appeared in the sky over Essex on 18th September 1941. He also recorded the arrival of the Indian Army in Colchester from mid-October 1941.

The threat posed by air raids to Colchester's historic buildings led Eric to start a photographic collection as a record of the town's architectural heritage in the autumn of 1941. He called this collection 'The Prospect of Colchester' and it now forms part of the collections held at Colchester Museums Resource Centre.

As 1941 drew to a close, Eric viewed the damage caused by a German air raid attack on the Great Bromley Pylons, which formed part of the Chain Home Radar Defence System. He was also listening to the radio on 11th December 1941, when it was announced that the United States had entered the war.

January and February 1942 brought harsh winter conditions, which were made worse by the wartime restrictions on fuel and food.  In April 1942 the 'Baedeker' air raids on British cultural towns began and left Eric wondering if Colchester's Castle and historic buildings would be the next targets to be attacked.

In May 1942, Eric decided to move to Shirburn Mill, Lawford to lodge with the farm's owners, Matthew and Joy Parrington, although he continued to work in Colchester and to undertake weekly shelter duties at Colchester Castle. 

With the arrival of American troops into Colchester in the summer of 1942, work began on building aerodromes for the American bases.  This work was closely monitored by the German Luftwaffe and led to increased air raids over Colchester.  On 11th August 1942, Colchester experienced its worst loss of civilian life during the war when bombs were dropped on Severalls Hospital.  Another serious air attack was made on residential streets in Colchester on 28th September 1942.

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