28th June 1940

There were more planes over tonight, but no siren was blown, and I hear that it is not intended that the siren shall be sounded unless it is obvious that a direct attack is being made on Colchester, by a number of planes. Single planes or odd planes flying singly, will be ignored. The decision is causing a certain amount of anxiety in the town. After all it only takes one bomb to kill you. Beautiful weather.

27th June 1940

Before 1 o’clock this morning a big flight of planes went over the town, but no alarm sounded. It is very terrifying to be in bed and hear them go over. This evening the engines were blowing up the little wooden bridges in the Park, of all absurdities. Beautiful hot weather, although it makes me feel rather ill.

26th June 1940

Spent a good deal of time at North Hill today. We hear there have been raids in the North.

25th June 1940

Raid alarm just after 12am this morning, which lasted until a quarter past 4. Seventeen people came into the Vaults, quite a lot for this time of night. ...

This evening, being in the Old Heath Road, I suddenly thought I would like to call at Winsley’s Almshouses to see the dated beam, which I had never previously done. So I went in, - asked a kindly old man its actual whereabouts. He directed me to a little cottage on the left of the old chapel block, to which I was at once admitted by an old gentleman who seemed to know me, and who appeared to be by no means surprised that I should wish to see the date.

It is on a beam across the fireplace, which has on one side the initials HB and on the other 1649. This quite obviously refers to Henry Barrington and it is an interesting commentary on the present times that, although his house was burnt down in 1648, he seems to have been doing some sort of structural repairs in the following year. Whether the beam is in its original position I do not know, but I rather think it is.

Winsley Square looked very quiet and peaceful, with several of the old folks sitting before their doors in the cool June evening. Another old man hailed me by name, but I did not know him. He had in his arms a very old black Tom Cat, and when I stretched out my hand to scratch his ears he said “Careful Sir, Charley doesn’t like strangers”, and he looked at the cat with the greatest affection.

Today I got some Roman sherds from an Air Raid Shelter on St. John’s Green. The whole soil there is a mass of sherds, all broken very small. There were pieces of a grey ware platter, almost complete. I suppose they represent burial groups, broken by cultivation presuming that the green was cultivated at some time or another.

Work is still in progress on the shelters in North Hill, and the site proves to be of the greatest value.

Imperial War Museum: 1940: Britain's Finest Hour

As Eric's blog continues to relate the increased war activity of 1940, readers of Eric's blog may be interested to learn that the Imperial War Museum (IWM) is undertaking a number of events to mark the 70th anniversary of 1940 this summer and autumn.

Kristina Weber has kindly contacted me with details of the website that has been created to publicise these events entitled: 1940: Britain's Finest Hour. The site outlines the key events of 1940, featuring archive photographs and film to tell the story of this momentous year and includes up-to-date information on the events and exhibitions that are happening to mark the anniversary. I am sure this will provide useful comparative material with the events Eric Rudsdale describes in his blog or with those described in the other wartime diaries linked to Eric's journals such as those by George Orwell or J W N Broom.

Key events at the Imperial War Museum this year include:

The Battle of Britain Air Show at IWM Duxford (4 & 5 September 2010)

A re-enactment of Winston Churchill's famous 'The Few' speech, followed by a fly-past (20 August 2010)

There’s also a chance to explore the personal histories of the men and women who were involved in the events of 1940. The new Explore History Centre at IWM London gives unprecedented access to the Museum’s Collections, allowing visitors of all ages to delve into the digitised archives and find films, photos, audio clips, documents and art at the touch of a button. Explore History 1940, a special display alongside the new space, exhibits objects from 1940 and tells the untold stories associated with them.

Readers might be especially interested in reviewing the recently added stories by WWII veterans Vic Veiner, Tom Cooke and Eric Roderick whose videos which can be viewed on the site. Latest information on the IWM's 1940 activities will also appear on the IWM Twitter, Facebook and Flickr accounts and these channels also offer the opportunity to interact and to get in touch with the IWM directly.

Hope this is of interest and do keep following Eric Rudsdale's blog for regular updates on wartime events as they happened. CP

24th June 1940

They are putting barbed wire all along the river at Hythe Quay, up as far as the Gas Works, as if the German Navy might be expected up the [River] Colne. There was very heavy rain in the early hours of the morning, but it did not last.

23rd June 1940

Rose’s for tea and supper, and to Seymour’s tonight. A thoroughly lazy day, which my bachelor existence allowed me to enjoy to the full.

20th June 1940

There was an alarm from 1am to nearly 4am this morning. Chapman, Harding, and I all turned out. Six people came into the vaults, but absolutely nothing happened at all. It was rather a cloudy night.

18th June 1940

Raid alarm tonight. I was just about to put away my cycle, when a dull distant explosion shook the garden gate and rattled windows. It was a glorious night, the moon riding huge and high in the heavens. I went back to the front gate. People were opening their doors, and voices sounded up and down the road. Almost at once the sirens sounded, so I put on my helmet and pedalled away, dodging as best I could the numerous Wardens, Ambulance men and others who were hurrying to their posts. There seemed to be a lot of people about.

As I went up to the Castle, I could hear planes behind me, away to the East, and searchlights had begun flashing over the sky, and there was the dull thump of distant bombs. A few people were coming into the Park, and Taylor had just unlocked the Castle gate. I took over, put on the lights. Soon three or four people came in from nearby houses. The sky was a blaze of searchlights by now, and at least two planes were going across the town, apparently Germans.

Poulter came over to see what was going on, and Harding soon arrived, so I went up onto the roof. With the aid of glasses I could see more searchlights far away into Suffolk. Several planes moved across, going westwards, and at last one was picked up in the lights. He seemed to be very low, and went immediately over the top of the Castle. Just as he was over us, and English plane in the darkness above the searchlight opened fire with machine guns. The German replied, and I could clearly see the tracer bullets streaking off into the blackness. It was all over in a flash, but I was quite scared at the time. After that very little happened, and I was very tired by the time “all clear” went, at nearly 4 o’clock. As I cycled home it was just getting light, coming up in a pinky, blueish wash from the N.E..

17th June 1940

News that the French have called for an Armistice. I wish the English had.

15th June 1940

Went down to Maidenhead for the weekend. The aged parents seemed very well. I had a long talk with my Cousin Maitland. He is somewhat gloomy, and considers that the future is very black. If there is an invasion he believes the financial system of this country will collapse. ...

He showed me a letter from a friend called Williams-Hunt, who is (I think) in the Oxford & Bucks. or else the Royal Bucks, perhaps the latter. Anyway his regiment and the Guards were the only ones to come home with their equipment. (I have been told that the Guards arrived at Dover shaved, and with their boots cleaned). Williams-Hunt says that he had to walk 50 miles in 2 days.

14th June 1940

Germans entered Paris today, and the city is safe from destruction. Another plane came over tonight. Lovely fine, hot day.

12th June 1940

Went to the Pictures tonight and saw “Mr Smith goes to Washington”, a delightful skit on democratic government.

11th June 1940

News today that the Germans are advancing over the Marne.

Work at North Hill shelter continues. The trench seems to be cutting right through the middle of a Roman street. Enormous quantities of the actual road metal are being removed.

10th June 1940

At Rose’s tonight we heard on the radio at the 9 o’clock news that Italy had declared war on England. ...

The Germans are only 30 miles from Paris, still advancing very fast.

9th June 1940

Lazy day. Did not get up until 12 o’clock. Went to Rose for lunch and tea, and then to Seymour’s. The joyous feeling of being quite independent without parents to worry about is very nice indeed, although I don't find I have any more free time than I did before really.

A search in Colchester for spies [today]. [Saw] men with fixed bayonets in Head Street.

5th June 1940

George Farmer tells me he is closing his business this week, owing to lack of trade.

Hull [the Curator] has not been seen since Monday, and only today we found he was sick.

4th June 1940: The evacuation from Dunkirk

The Premier [Winston Churchill] spoke on the retreat of the BEF today. It has undoubtedly been a most successful withdrawal, and has been brought about with the minimum loss of life. About 330,000 men have come home. Some have been landed at Harwich – I saw them at the station.

3rd June 1940

News today that all the BEF are out of France it is believed with very little loss. This is the most staggering defeat that the British Army has ever had.

Defence works are in progress all round this district, and I hear that excellent sections can be seen where deep pits have been dug in order to mine the Strood [Causeway], many different road levels being visible. I don't know if any remains have been found in any of them.

Excavations for a large Air Raid Shelter at the back of 4 and 5 North Hill, which is immediately west of the Telephone Exchange in West Stockwell Street, show clear traces of Roman Road metal. Whether it is the one running north from the New Library site or that running west from the Telephone Exchange offices, (found in 1930), I do not know, but I fancy it to be the former.


Eric Rudsdale pointing out the intersection of two Roman Roads during excavations for Colchester's New Public Library in 1938 (Courtesy of Essex Record Office)