31st July 1940

Raid alarm tonight from 9.30 to 10pm. Only 17 people came in. It is surprising how few people bother to take cover at night.

30th July 1940

Hull not here again. He seems to be on holiday although nobody really knows. How long can this state of affairs last?

Well, I do know that if the opportunity offers, I shall be away, never to return. If I can get on a farm, where I am reasonably safe from both bombs and the army, I am finished with museums forever.

29th July 1940

Lt. Col. Dimmock of the Royal Engineers came in today, to report that his men had inadvertently broken into the Sheepen [Farm] Hut and removed the entire contents, all of which have been destroyed. He was very charming about it, and asked if I would go up with him to see the place. We went up in a huge army car, driving right across the fields, ruts and all, and saw how the hut was lined with a wall of sandbags, 2 ft. thick. I pointed out that the hut floor would probably collapse, as it was on brick piers and not flat on the ground, as was apparently believed. The Colonel suggested that Hull should put in a claim for al the timber etc. which has been taken. It is very lucky that the furniture, crockery etc. had been removed some time ago.

There was a Raid Alarm this afternoon at half past 5. 166 people came in, nearly all of them women, mostly with babies. Nothing happened.

Tonight I was running round to see Watts, Colthorp and others about ARP for horses, and I wrote to the Mayor, urging immediate action.

Sheepen Farm in Colchester was an important archaeological site which had been excavated by the Colchester Museum staff in the 1930s. The site showed evidence of occupation in the Iron Age and was also the location of a Roman temple, Roman pottery kilns and a Roman mint. The hut that was broken into can be seen on this photograph of Eric in 1934.

28th July 1940

A beautiful fine morning. Took the trap to Benham’s, looking very shabby, and unpolished, but can't be helped. Collected Maura and went off behind Lexden park, through a “mock-war”, during which we got stopped by guards and had moments of awkwardness as Maura had forgotten to bring her identity card. However, her natural charm got us past all obstacles. We went out to Rock Farm, Berechurch, and had lunch in the same field where we went before. The sun shone, sheep were grazing by the Roman River, and there was not a ‘plane in the sky. It was delightful.

From there we went on through Rock Farm, where the Cavalry are quartered, and up the hill to Abberton to see Wood’s mare and foal, which seem to be doing well, although I think the mare is not getting enough milk, the grass is rather sour I fear.

When we came back to Colchester the “mock-war” was over, so we had no further trouble.

Had tea with Rose. Grubb came in. Have not seen her for weeks. Poor old Grubb. What a life. She had just been for her weekly visit to the old lady in Severalls [Asylum]. What an end.

Went up to Seymour’s in evening. Much gloomy talk about the army. Jeffrey Saunders seemed to think he would very soon be in, and he registered a week before I did.

Eilean Grubb ran a horse riding stables where Rudsdale had learnt to ride.

27th July 1940

Men of 34 years old had to register for military service today. Luckily most of them are in reserved occupations.

Rang up Maura Benham today, as I heard she was home, and arranged to take her out tomorrow morning [for a drive with Bob]. Old Bob can still do that much, although I don't think he will be ridden again. It is just over a year since the great Windsor journey. How long ago.

Eric is referring to his historic farm exhibition at the Royal Windsor Show in July 1939. His horse, Bob, went by train with him to Windsor and after the show Eric drove Bob back from Windsor to Colchester as described in the following newspaper account:

'Museum Success at the Royal', Colchester Gazette, 19 July 1939:

From visitors to the Royal Show at Windsor I hear nothing but praise for the old English Farm staged there by the Colchester Museum staff.
It was undoubtedly one of the outstanding features of this, the grandest of agricultural shows.
In his broadcast about it, Mr A G Street paid tribute to the cunning way it had been designed when he referred to its natural appearance. "Everything else here," he said "looks as if it had just been erected in the Great Park; this farm looks as if it had grown out of it; it looks as natural as the oaks here."
Royalty showed a great interest, and Mr E J Rudsdale, who was responsible for the exhibit, was presented to the King and Queen, the Duke of Kent and the Princesses.
I believe, however, that of all his experiences there the one of which he is most proud is driving home his 20-year-old pony, Bob, who had been a prominent feautre of the farm, the 88 miles from Windsor to Colchester in 19 hours. Bob, who must be one of the best-known quadrupeds in the town, finished his journey on Saturday by covering Brentwood to Colchester in the day.

26th July 1940

Tremendous explosion about 1 o’clock this morning, somewhere to the east. Planes over tonight, but no warning. Had supper at Rallings.

25th July 1940

Went down to Maidenhead today. ...

There was a sailor on the train [home], going to Harwich. He was quite young, but had been all over the world and had been in three wars. Among other things, he had gone through a “marriage of convenience” with an Austrian girl in Venice – “a bit-of-alright she was, never saw her again, though.”

23rd July 1940

Raid alarm at 11.45pm tonight. Half a dozen or so people came into the vaults, including a soldier, who walked in about midnight. He spoke with a very broad Lancashire accent, and was apparently on leave. However, Forsett thought it very suspicious, and took it upon himself to report it to the officer in charge of the patrol in the Park, who promptly arrived with a revolver and accompanied by a soldier, rifle, fixed bayonet and all. They made an impressive entry, except that the soldier, who was leading misjudged the height of the low archway, and became wedged, finally emerging into the vaults backwards. The poor solider was “put through it”, and after searching questions and much investigation of papers, was admitted to be on leave. He wore rubber shoes and carried his army boots round his neck because he said they hurt his feet. The soldier and officer retreated up the stairs, unfortunately without noticing the small step out of the Wall-Room, over which they both stumbled, while the words “Blast!” and “Bugger!” rang out in the darkness.

The steps leading up from Colchester Castle's Roman Vaults. The Vaults were used as an air raid shelter during the Second World War

About 1 o’clock on Wednesday morning Richardson came in, doing a round of shelters. I took the chance to tell him of our complaints, emphasising that we still have no fire-fighting appliances of any sort.

Before the alarm, I went down the Hythe on Tuesday night with Hampshire, investigating empty stables. In all, we found accommodation for about 30 horses, all at the bottom of Hythe Hill. What a time it must have been 30 years ago, to see all these stables full, with the rich aroma of horse muck hanging over everywhere. ...

21st July 1940

Despairing that any further move would ever be made in the matter of horse A.R.P., I went up to Lexden this morning and again saw Councillor Ham. He was interested and helpful and said he would put the whole thing before the Mayor, thus ensuring that a scheme would be in operation without delay. Certainly it is only due to the Mayor than any movement has been made at all.

Went to Rose for lunch and tea, and then to Seymour’s.

Beautiful fine day.

20th July 1940

When I saw Sisson on Wednesday, I told him of my difficulties in getting any form of land work, so he promised to mention it to a friend. This morning the friend arrived, none other than Mr Parrington of [Sherbourne Mill] Lawford, who came to see us years ago about a discovery on his land. He was very kind, and said he could certainly give me work for the harvest, for which I was very grateful. ...

Went to Rose’s for supper.

19th July 1940

Went to see the cartoon “Gulliver’s Travels”. Very good indeed.

A concrete pill box has been built right across the end of Northgate St, completely blocking it. Most curious.

18th July 1940

Got “Horse Shelter” notices up at Bourne Mill and Port Lane, the first in the town.

Heavy rain most of the day.

Band playing the Park tonight, very nice.

Heard a big explosion at 1 o’clock this morning.

17th July 1940

Heavy rain early today. Went over to Dedham tonight to the Sissons'. There is a lot of talk about invasion, and some people are very frightened. ...

On my way out to Dedham I saw the cottages at Fox Street which were damaged by a bomb on June 28. It is the first pair after passing the “Fox and Hounds”. The bomb fell in the front garden, breaking every window, and cracking the walls badly. By a miracle nobody was hurt, but the houses had to be vacated.

Home at nearly midnight.

15th July 1940: Bombs at West Bergholt and Fordham

About 1 o’clock this morning a single German plane dropped 8 bombs at West Bergholt, 5 of which did not explode. One went off in the farmyard at Cook’s Hall, but did not do much damage. There were also incendiary bombs at Fordham, which did not harm. I dressed and turned out when I heard the explosions, and I saw the plane come right over our house, heading S.E., but no siren was sounded.

14th July 1940: Eric Rudsdale and Winston Churchill's Speech

Went out to Abberton this morning with Woods as his mare and foal had got out. It seems that the grass in Mabbitt’s pasture is sour, and she wanders seeking something better. Woods found both of them on Archer’s Ground towards Layer Road, and drove them back successfully. This evening went to see Councillor Ham about horses ARP, and he promised to put the whole matter before the Mayor.

The Prime Minister spoke on the radio today, another of his gloomy speeches, promising nothing but death and destruction to us all for years to come until the final victory which will give us FREEDOM and so on …

Went to Rose for lunch and tea.

The text of Winston Churchill's speech, given on 14th July 1940 and entitled 'War of the Unknown Warriors' can be viewed here.

13th July 1940

Work at North Hill Shelter now approaching its end. Spent a certain amount of time down there this morning. I understand that this is the last of the underground shelters to be made in Colchester, which seems to be a pity both from an archaeological point of view and as regards public safety. ...

12th July 1940

Quiet night last night, but the day began with an alarm at half past 8, only for 15 minutes. One woman came in, complaining she would be late for work.

This evening I went over to see Grubb – have not been over there for a long time. I drove Hampshire’s grey in my trap – rather a misfit.

Called at the Rallings and had supper.

Eilean Grubb ran a horse-riding stables where Eric had originally learnt to ride.

11th July 1940: Air Raid Activity over Colchester

There was a raid alarm at 1 o’clock this morning, which lasted until 20 to 4. Half a dozen people came in. I got back home, had a couple of hours in bed, and then there was another alarm at 5 o’clock, which lasted until 7. Saw the dawn break, and melt into full daylight, people go to work, blinds pulled up, and chimneys begin to smoke. Not a plane was to be seen or heard. Coming out twice like this made me feel very bad, and when I got there the second time I had to sit down for half an hour.

When I got home I went to bed until 10 o’clock, had breakfast and got back to the Castle at 11am. As this was my half day I was only there for an hour and a half. Hull was very annoyed. However, I did not get the half day, because at 3pm, when I was dozing on my bed, there was another alarm, so back I had to go. 72 people came into the vaults, but only a few planes near the town.

Tonight the Cavalry Band played in the Park, a most pleasant diversion.

The increased air activity that Eric has described over the last few days signified the start of the Battle of Britain. CP

10th July 1940: ARP for Horses

It has been obvious for some time that we are in danger of having daylight raids in this area, in which case some provision must be made for horses. The obvious scheme would be to list all stables, on the assumption that as almost every horse is working during the day, his stable would be available for any horse passing nearby during a raid. In those parts of the town where no horses are kept, disused stables and empty garages could be used. This matter is serious, not only on account of public safety but on account of the horses themselves, and their drivers.

Obviously most drivers would remain with their horses during an alarm, but they would feel much freer to look after themselves if the horses could be kept tied up under cover.

I had already approached Councillor Pye, Chairman of the ARP Committee, but obtained no sympathy from him, and was recommended to see Mr. Murphy, [the local vet] who is in sole charge of the National Air Raid Precaution for Animals. When I called [tonight] he cheerfully admitted that although he had been in communication with the Borough Police about horse standings ever since last April, nothing had been done of the slightest use. He had made out a provisional list of 12 “standings” in the town, and when I pointed out this was quite inadequate for 300 horses, he merely smiled and said he did not thing such a number existed in the town.

We finally parted with assurances that we would meet further on this matter. At any rate, I got two notices from him, and shall open Port Lane and Bourne Mill Stables at once.

8th July 1940

A good many German planes have been brought down today, during various attacks.

7th July 1940

Got up early this morning, caught Bob, and went round to [Stanley] Hill’s to borrow back my van, then round to Wood’s in Magdalen Street to collect his foal. We had quite a job to get the foal into the cart, but did it with a struggle. It is only a tiny thing, but it thrashed about and struggled in a most extraordinary manner. The mare walked comfortably behind, while Woods sat on the back of the van. Sometimes I feared the foal would hurt himself, and we debated as to whether to unload and let him run loose or not, but finally we got to Abberton safely, to Mabbitt’s place, and unloaded him there. It was a fine sight to see him running on the grass, and to see the amazement in his expression of seeing the outside world. He was born in a shed in Gaskin’s Yard, and it must have been wonderful to him.

Lunch and tea at Rose’s, and then to Seymour’s as usual.

4th July 1940

Went up to London this afternoon. Called at the Ministry of Supply, but they could do nothing for me. I thought as much. Called on Turner at the Royal Agricultural Society’s office in Bedford Square, but he too was quite pessimistic. I told him that Leslie could find nothing for me in Essex. He was not surprised, and said that as far as he knew conditions were all the same in every part of the country. I spoke of the fat cattle situation, and he told me that it was generally known that the Government wanted to have a big supply of meat ready for the army, when an invasion of the Continent is begun next spring. It still seems incredible to me that anyone can seriously contemplate such a proceeding. All very depressing. ...

5th July 1940

Some rain tonight at last, and no sign of enemy planes after dark, a great blessing. The radio reports day raids in other parts of the country.

Work proceeding at North Hill, and pottery is now coming out from below the earliest road level.

3rd July 1940

Today the band of the 4th Cavalry Training Regiment marched through the town. This is the first military band I have heard since the war began.

There was a sudden raid at 10 o’clock tonight, towards the east, but no alarm was given. A number of planes came over very low, and I could hear distant bombs. When I was going home from Rose’s I could see a big fire in the sky towards Ardleigh, and a policeman told me it was one of Brooks’ warehouses at Mistley, fired by an incendiary bomb.

2nd July 1940

Had two very quiet nights on Sunday and Monday. Wrote to the Ministry of Supply today. Our Castle Vaults were inspected today by an official from the Ministry of Home Security. When I told him that they must be the most ancient shelters in use, he pointed out that the Royston Cave was being used as a shelter.

Drawing out road section tonight. Supper at Rose’s.

1st July 1940: Invasion Preparations

The Town Clerk rang up today to say that Barclay’s Bank were preparing to move all their valuables from Colchester in event of an invasion, and that he had agreed that the Museum’s gold coins should be taken out of the town. Hull got in a great panic and began talking about having a great pit dug in the Vaults, in which he would bury the entire collection.

It is becoming more and more clear to me that I must get out. Leslie has suggested that I might get into the Ministry of Supply, and I shall write to them, although without a lot of hope. It is farming I want, yet that also seems quite hopeless.

A very fine road section is now showing at North Hill, and things are coming along there very well. Went to Rose for supper.

J C Leslie was the Principal of the Essex Agricultural Institute and had become Executive Officer to the Essex War Agricultural Committee. Rudsdale knew Leslie from his collaborations with the Essex Agricultural Institute to produce historic agricultural exhibitions in the 1930s.