And so this year ends, a year which began so well and ended in such tragedy. However, whatever happens, nothing can take away the joy and pleasure I had at the Royal Show in July [when Eric staged a historic farming exhibition - click here for more information]. I don’t suppose I shall ever have such a chance again, but I have had it once.
What will be the outcome of the present terrible state of affairs I cannot imagine. Some people think the Germans will attack in France at any moment, although considering that this is the worst winter for a quarter of a century I should not think it very likely. Meanwhile we carry on with our ordinary work as if our lives still stretched before us. There are no air raids, as we were so faithfully promised by the Government. The ARP workers are very despondent.
My only personal worry is that I shall be taken for the army. If that should happen I really don’t know what I shall do. However, it seems that only men under 25 are really wanted and I am still in a reserved occupation as a Local Government Official.
The general atmosphere is gloomy. Most people hope the war will be over next year, although they don’t really believe that it will be. A few think it will go on for ten years, and will involve every country in Europe. Some hope that the Russians will join with the Germans in a military sense, as they believe the Russians to be so incredibly incompetent that their aid would be a liability rather than an asset, but I cannot see why an additional 170,000,000 enemies should be an asset to this country. At the moment the Russians are pilloried in every paper for their attack on Finland, and there is a great agitation for an expedition to help Finland.
The weather is quite amazing. I have never seen such snow since 1916. What must it be like in France? Many villages round Colchester have been quite cut off.
Russian troops had marched into Finland in November 1939 on the pretext that this would strengthen the Soviet Union's borders and act as protection against possible German aggression. After resisting the Russians for some months, the Finnish Government finally had to accept Russian terms in March 1940.
The National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939 had imposed a liability to conscription on all men aged 18 to 41. However, the call-up proceeded slowly at the start of the war with conscription being determined by age and occupation. As Eric remarks, only those aged between 20 and 23 were called-up initially. Local Government officers, such as Eric, were considered to be in reserved occupations at first although they often undertook Civil Defence duties in addition to their full-time jobs. By 1942, however, all men between 18 and 51 and women between 20 and 30 became liable to call-up.
Eric's fears that he might be drafted into the army were compounded by his support for pacifism and concerns about the state of his health. As he wrote, with characteristic humour, to his friend Hervey Benham in 1940:
I am not at all keen to see the inside of the army, because I know that being unfit for general service I should only be put on peeling potatoes and cleaning out the lavatories, occupations which I think would soon pall.