EJ Rudsdale on Twitter from 3 September 2019

31st March 1940

Went to the Castle all day from 10.30 - 7 while Mr. Gold [the organiser of the art exhibition] tried to hang the exhibition. It did not occur to me that this was almost entirely modern art. Some of the pictures were utterly formless, just shapeless blobs of dirty coloured paint, thrown haphazard on a canvas. Two are “surrealist”, one showing a dreadful tree with hands growing on it, springing from a horrible pit in the ground, the sort of thing one might see in one’s more unpleasant nightmares.

One of several by Ruskin Spear is really lovely, just a little country lane, so live that you expect to see people come out of the cottage in the foreground.
There are several by John Nash, whose brother Paul is also well-known. He prices his works high £65-£75. They are nearly always simple park scenes done on the Suffolk Border, very nice too.

My friend Blair Hughes-Stanton has four little woodcuts, rather like William Blake in style, beautifully done. He only asks about £2 or £2.10 each.

The artist, Blair Hughes-Stanton, was then living not far from Colchester at Stratford St Mary.

30th March 1940

Went to the [Colchester] Repertory Players tonight to see “Tobias and the Angel”. Very well done, well acted, well dressed, and good scenery.

28th March 1940

Still very cold, and a fall of snow this morning, which did not lay.

26th March 1940

Heavy rain all day. I had to go out to buy hay this evening, and got soaked right through. Very miserable. I noticed in passing the old Quaker Burial Ground in St. Helen’s Lane, next St. Helen’s Chapel, that it is being broken up for allotments, and two headstones, the oldest there, “RD 1699”, have been uprooted and stood against the side wall. This seems rather a pity.

24th March 1940, Easter Sunday

In former years I should today have been getting ready to go to Regent’s Park tomorrow [to take part in the Van Horse Annual Parade]. This year all will be empty there. Never mind. It’s such an early Easter the horses are still in winter roughness.

The London Van Horse Parade was founded in 1904 and was held annually on Easter Monday at Regents Park. Eric and his horse Bob were regular participants in the 1930s but the Parade was not held during the war years.
The Van Horse Parade is now known as the London Harness Horse Parade and is still held on Easter Monday although the venue is now the South of England Showground. This year's Parade will be on 5th April 2010 at South of England Centre, Ardingly, West Sussex, RH17 6TL. For more details click here.

23rd March 1940

My Father’s Birthday, 68 years old. Still keeping as well as he can, and seems to take a bright interest in things. Gave him the usual tobacco, etc. and a silly little box of fancy matches. He knew more or less what was coming, but was just as quietly satisfied as always, dear old man. I do so hope he can see this war out.

Gas Masks in Wartime

Amongst Eric's 1940 papers is the following observation, which he recorded in May 1940 on the extent to which people were carrying their gas masks:

On May 15th there was a meeting of an archaeological society in this town, attended by about 30 ladies. The majority of these were between 50 and 60 years old, and wore hats of what might be called the “bird-cage” type. Three or four in their early 40’s sported those curious little bandeaux which are now so popular, and these were the only ones to carry gas-masks, thus making it quite clear the “bird-cages” are not going to be hastily removed in the public streets under any circumstances whatever.

I should think about 50% of the public carry their gas-masks during the past month. I have never yet seen a farmer bring his mask in to market with him, nor do you ever see them carried at farm sales, or anywhere in the country except by children.

14th March 1940

Just to set off the spring-like day yesterday, the temperature dropped rapidly last night and there was a heavy fall of snow, but it did not lay very long, although it kept on all day. I felt very ill with the change.

13th March 1940

Lovely warm spring day today. From the general news, it looks as if the Finn-Russian war is now about to end, so Thank God there’s one place in the world where killing is stopping instead of starting.

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.

12th March 1940

Everybody except Poulter went up to London to hear Christopher Hawkes read a paper on “Camulodunum, ten years excavation 1930-39” before the Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies at the Antiquaries’ rooms.

Hull, Laver and I all went up in the same carriage. It was a crowded morning, because before catching the 12.10 Hull and Laver had to get in a Special Committee meeting at which it was decided to allow an Art Exhibition of Modern work in the Castle in April. The result was the Committee came into the Castle in a body for the first time for years, and had a chance to see the Tudor Hall, at which I must say they seemed impressed.

Laver kept up a continuous conversation with all the other passengers the whole journey. Hull went to sleep. I tried to read. The paper, I thought, was good. Hawkes seemed to give a fairly likely story, which hung together quite well.

There was not a very large crowd at the Antiquaries. Only about 30.

The archaeologist, Christopher Hawkes, had undertaken several major excavations at Colchester in collaboration with the Museum staff during the 1930s. Camulodunum was the Roman name for Colchester, an adaption of its Iron Age name meaning the fortress of Camulos, the God of War.

10th March 1940

Maura Benham came along this morning and rode Bob over to Fingringhoe. We had lunch near Rock Farm by the Roman River. It was a beautiful day, and it seemed quite incredible that this was in the middle of a war. We did not talk much war. We picked catkins and left them at Hervey’s place, but he was out.

8th March 1940

Had meeting of the Executive Committee of the Colchester Civic Society at Holly Trees this evening. A good attendance, and the first time I have taken the Committee. Decided to carry on during the War.

Colchester Civic Society had been formed in the 1930s as a pressure group to preserve buildings of historic and architectural interest in Colchester. Professor Lionel Penrose and his wife were Joint Secretaries of the Society and Eric served on the Committee. Professor Penrose was offered a post in Canada in 1938 and Eric became Acting Secretary and took the meetings of the Society during the war.

6th March 1940

Mrs. Townsend sent to the Museum her husband’s uniform that he wore in the Volunteers in the last war. He was a captain, and my Father was a sergeant.

The Volunteer Training Corps, to which Eric's father belonged in the First World War, performed a similar role to the Home Guard in the Second World War.

5th March 1940

Went to the Repertory Players at the Albert Hall tonight, and when I came out found it was snowing hard, and bitterly cold again.

4th March 1940

They have begun digging new ARP shelters at the S. end of the Holly Trees [Museum] Field. It is curious to think that the [first] shelters in the Field were put there in 1938, and indeed people have been talking about ARP for about two years now.

A number of ARP shelters were dug around Colchester Castle Park and Hollytrees Museum. See Eric's previous diary entries on air raid shelters for further information.

3rd March 1940

Maura Benham [Sir W Gurney Benham's daughter] came down to Bourne Mill this morning to see Bob in his “winter plumage”. As I had Nick [a horse temporarily stabled at Bourne Mill] there in the ralli, I suggested we should go over to Fingringhoe to see Hervey [Maura's brother], which we did, but Hervey had gone down to Mersea. We drove back and I left her at Bourne Mill to collect her cycle. Within a few minutes Nick bolted at the end of Morant Road, and crashed the trap into Paxman’s fence. He went down flat on the ground, and I flew out over his head, whereupon he promptly jumped over me, dragged the trap over my legs and body, and vanished round the corner of the pigstyes. I waited for an ear-splitting crash when he tried to get the trap into the stable, but he didn’t. He stopped quietly just outside!

Both shafts are split, one hub gone, wing broken, and near side step bent back double. If I had not left Maura at Bourne Mill, she would undoubtedly have been pitched into the barbed wire on Paxman’s fence. As it is about 15 feet of the fence has come down.

To tea at Rose’s tonight, feeling so sore I don't know where to sit.

Paxman's is a major engineering firm in Colchester and was responsible for the design and manufacture of a range of diesel engines that were utilised for the war effort.

1st March 1940

St David’s Day - Y Ddraid Goch [The Welsh National Flag - 'The Red Dragon'] flew on the Town Hall this morning, and the Welsh Guards walked about the town with leeks in their caps - while over in Wales the War Office are evicting hundreds of peasant farmers from the holdings they have held for generations, in order to make artillery ranges.

It should be observed that England is only concerned to preserve the rights of small nations outside the British Isles.

Eric refers to the farmers and their families of Mynydd Epynt who had to abandon their homes when their land was taken over by the War Office in 1940. For more information see Stephen Fisk's Abandoned Places website.