10th January 1940 - London in Wartime

Went up to London this morning to attend the first Royal Archaeological Institute Council since the war began. [Eric served on the RAI Council from 1939-1942].

The first thing you notice is that barrage balloons are up, and very beautiful they look too. The next is that the tremendous works for extending the Central London Tube are still going ahead, with many hundreds of men working on them, especially round Stratford way.

In London all the police now wear “tin-helmets” all the time, though why is difficult to see. The traffic looks, to me, quite normal, in the City at least. Sandbags are everywhere. Some big banks are actually having brick and concrete buttresses put over their basement windows as if they expect the war to last for a century. Perhaps it will.

Walked down to London Bridge, always a favourite spot of mine. Several Dutch and Belgian boats in, unloading bananas of all things. The usual crowd, nearly all workmen and office girls, feeding the sea-gulls. To see the British workman feeding gulls with part of his dinner is a pretty good sign that there is no food shortage in this country. While I was there a little Dutch boat slipped down the river, tooting her siren, the crew nonchalantly leaning over the rails, a brand new raft on the stern, a brand new lifeboat ready on the new davits. I uttered a prayer that she would get across the other side safely.

Had lunch in a milk bar, and then went to Burlington House. Dr R.E. Mortimer Wheeler was there in a Colonel’s uniform, and one man actually turned up as an AFS man, complete with tin-hat and axe, which made it very awkward for him to sit down. Apart from these our august assembly looked and behaved normally. I noticed that the President never spoke of the war: he occasionally mentioned “the present circumstances” or “the international situation”, but nothing more outspoken than that.

After all was over, I went to a News Cinema for an hour, had a meal, and came home on the 7.30, a dreadful journey, with only dim blue lights, the train packed full of soldiers going on leave, singing because they were happy, soldiers going back from leave, singing to cheer themselves up, and new young conscripts, too miserable to sing at all.

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