31st August 1940

My day to go to Maidenhead. Awakened by sirens at 8 o’clock, so I rushed up to the Castle unwashed and unfed. While I was on the roof a big flock of planes came over from the W. at a great height, and I could hear machine gun fire, and suddenly in the midst of it the scream of falling bombs.

One bomb had fallen slap in the middle [of Roman Road] at the top end, near Castle Road, right outside the house where Councillor Cross lives. The next bomb fell on two old timber cottages in Land Lane, next to Maydays, and demolished them, though miraculously without injuring the occupants. A third bomb was in a yard at the back of Boast’s, the Coach builder, on East Hill, which damaged a house on East Hill and slightly injured a woman. [Later note]: (She died about a year later). A fourth bomb was in a field in Whitehall Road, and a fifth on the Sewage Works, where a pipe was broken.

Scores of incendiary bombs also fell, doing little damage, at the bottom of Brook St. Others were in Land Lane and Magdalene St. and Barrack St., all quite harmless.

As soon as we got an All Clear I went off to see the damage, and then went round to Rose’s to get some breakfast. Having heard of incendiary bombs near Paxman’s, I decided to go down to see if the stables were damaged, but no sooner had I got there then the sirens went again, so back to the Castle. ...

I decided to catch the 5.35 to London, but found it had been cancelled. The next was the 6.13, but at 6 o’clock there was another alarm, and all passengers were made to shelter in the new subways. Jack Geerneant was there going back from a fortnight’s leave from Stanmore Aerodrome. The London train came in, so we travelled together in company with a private in the Coldstream Guards and a very drunk Scottish engineer in the R.N.V.R. The train crawled along at 15 m.p.h. as far as Ingatestone, where an All-Clear was given, and finally got to Liverpool Street at 8.30. I went to have a drink with Jack, and got across to Paddington at 9.15, to find no train before 10.5, and that would not get to Maidenhead before 11. I tried to ring Aunt’s next door neighbour to explain this, but could not get through, and almost at once a dreadful amplifier arrangement in the roof announced another raid.

The train left sharp on time. At Taplow we could see searchlights wandering all over the sky, and leaving Maidenhead Station I heard with a sinking heart the familiar hum of a German plane. Even here there was no escape from them.

Events on 31st August 1940 marked the largest operation to date by the Luftwaffe in the course of the Battle of Britain. More details can be found on the Imperial War Museum's Battle of Britain website and at the RAF's Battle of Britain Campaign Diary. CP

30th August 1940

Alarm today at 4.15pm when more than 200 people came into the Vaults. Hot day.

More detail on events in the Battle of Britain on 30th August 1940 can be found at the Imperial War Museum's Battle of Britain website and the RAF Battle of Britain Campaign Diary.

29th August 1940

Took Molly back to Blake’s at 8 o’clock this morning. (I had meant to go at 7, but of course overslept). Maura Benham most kindly came over with me, thus relieving a most tedious journey. I rode the cob, just to show I could.

When I got there Blake’s horseman admitted that they had had a lot of trouble with her, and that she was quite useless on a milk round.

There were a lot of Germans over tonight about 10 o’clock, so I went up on the Castle to await an alarm. There was a bright light showing through a window at the Hippodrome, so I reported it at the Police Station, but no action was taken. I waited until 11 o’clock, but no sirens sounded, so I went home. Windy and cold.

More detail on events in the Battle of Britain on 29th August 1940 can be found at the RAF Battle of Britain Campaign Diary.

28th August 1940

An alarm today at 1 o’clock, while I was alone at the Castle. I had to remain on duty at the gate, and so was prevented from seeing a plane brought down near West Bergholt. Many planes were over tonight, and bombs could be heard in the distance. No sirens. Maura Benham came to the Castle with me this evening, and helped to clean my mail-phaeton.

For more detail on events in the Battle of Britain on 28th August 1940 see the RAF Battle of Britain Campaign Diary.

27th August 1940

Heard today that the parents are determined to come home at the end of this week, so I must bow to the inevitable.

To Rose for supper. A cold windy day.

In a letter to Colchester's Mayor (Ald. Sanders), dated 27th August 1940, Eric provides more information on shelter provision for horses in Colchester during air raids:

... Further to our correspondence regarding shelters for horses, I see that a considerable number of stables, yards, etc. about the town are now labelled for that purpose. From what I hear, the provision of stabling has been much appreciated. I know that two or three horses have been in my places at Bourne Mill and Port Lane during several of the recent raid alarms. ... Mr. Watts tells me he has had quite a number in his place in Military Road.
I feel, though, that a great deal more must be done at the Hythe. I am told by an eye-witness that they had a very unpleasant time when the bombs fell just across the river last Monday. All the horses were in the open, and the drivers had to run out at once to prevent them from bolting, in spite of the fact that other bombs might have been falling. ...

For more information on Eric's battle to get air raid shelter provision for horses see his journal entries for 10th July 1940 and 21st July 1940.

26th August 1940: Aerial Battle over Colchester

Tremendous air-battle this afternoon, about 3 o’clock. The sirens sounded, and we had a full crowd in the Vaults. I went up on the roof, and very soon the air seemed full of the screaming of falling planes. We have all heard the sound so often on films that it really seems quite natural, and one tends to forget that is real, and that you are watching young men go down to a particularly unpleasant death. We could see burning planes to the E., W., and S., and I saw one of our fighters make a forced landing in the E., somewhere near Gt. Bromley I should think. All this took place in brilliant sunshine.

To Rose for supper.

For more detail on events in the Battle of Britain on 26th August 1940 see the RAF Battle of Britain Campaign Diary.

25th August 1940

Had lunch with Rose, and then called on Poulter to tell him all the news and hear what had happened in my absence. He had trouble with an Air Raid Warden who tried to assume control of the Castle, and Hull had become more trying than usual. Went on to Seymour’s this evening. An ambulance from his depôt was sent out to Abberton yesterday, but there was nothing to save. One man escaped by parachute.

24th August 1940

Came back from Lawford today. Molly went worse than usual, and to crown all one tyre came off when I got to Ardleigh, so I had to lead her the rest of the way.

This afternoon there was raid at 3 o’clock, so I went straight back to the Castle. There was an enormous crowd in the Vaults, so it was lucky I did. A lot of German planes were chased over the town, and we could hear the rattle of machine guns, and then the awful screaming of a plane coming down out of control. It crashed in flames at Abberton, somewhere near the Roman River.

Molly Darrell was in the Vaults with her little baby. Her husband is a musketry instructor, and she was with him at Hythe, in Kent, but all women and children “on the strength” have been evacuated from there.

This evening had supper at Rose’s. It was nice to be back again.

For more on events in the Battle of Britain on 24th August 1940 see the RAF Battle of Britain Campaign Diary.

E J Rudsdale's Journals of Wartime Colchester : Book out soon!

I am delighted to announce that The History Press have kindly agreed to publish Eric's journals as a book and E. J. Rudsdale's Journals of Wartime Colchester, is now available for purchase.

You can also buy copies of the book from The History Press or if you would like a signed copy, please complete the on-line order form or contact me for further details.

The publication of E.J. Rudsdale's journals owes much to the success of Eric's wartime diary blog so thank you to all of the readers of the blog for your support and comments since its launch in September 2009.

I am pleased to confirm that Eric's wartime blog will be continuing. The book represents only a fifth of Eric's wartime writings so the blog will be drawing on material that it was not possible to include in the book. The blog will, therefore, provide more detail about Eric's life and his wartime experiences and serve as a supplement to the book.

I hope you enjoy both and happy reading!
Catherine Pearson

Critchley letters and diaries 1940-45

Readers of Eric's blog may be interested to discover another new wartime blog: Critchley letters and diaries 1940-45.

Tom A Critchley's letters and his diaries give a vivid account of what it was like to live through the London Blitz in 1940-41. The archive is also a remarkable record of his reactions to war and the social changes he witnesses as a result of the conflict. My thanks to Barbara Critchley, who has compiled the blog, for drawing my attention to it. CP

22nd August 1940

Weather still chilly. One feels that summer is gone now. I wonder where we shall be next summer?

I rang the Museum this morning to ask if I ought to come back today, as I know warnings have sounded every day and night this week. Poulter answered, and said no, I need not bother, as they were doing very well.

I now realise that there is no hope of my getting permanent work here. It is a very small farm and it is quite obvious there is no chance at all. Besides this, farming is now in such a terribly depressed state that it is unreasonable to expect farmers to take on any more men. Parrington is a most humane man, and I am sure he will not put any of the men off if he can possibly help it. Sometimes he is greatly depressed about the war, and sees no possible end to it. I do not think he would agree to “peace at any price”, but he would if he could stop the war at once, even if it meant giving concessions to Germany. I find most of the farmers in Essex and East Anglia take a similar view, and I hear Doreen Wallace the authoress is holding “peace” meetings in various parts of Suffolk.

These people are not anti-British, but they are so fed up with the lies in the daily press about “Britain’s might”, “the greatness of the Empire”, and all that nonsense. They feel that the war is lost, that it never ought to have begun, and that the sooner it is finished the better for everybody. It is quite obvious that nobody will gain anything from the war except business men and international financiers, and it is for their benefit that the whole thing is being run. We die, are mutilated and terrified so that armament makers can live in greater luxury than they have done hitherto.

Well, I must get used to the idea of going back to Colchester, to more years of Hull or else the army, I don't know which is worst.

Doreen Wallace (1897-1989) was a novelist and social campaigner, who wrote a number of books on East Anglian life. In the 1930s she had campaigned as chairman of the National Tithepayers Association to support farmers' rights against the claims of the church to collect a tithe on their lands. She and her husband refused to pay and for six weeks in 1934 their farm was in a state of virtual siege. She later recorded these events in her book 'The Tithe War'. From Rudsdale's account, it appears that she continued to maintain close ties to the farming community during the Second World War. CP

21st August 1940

Carting all day. The others went to Hadleigh to pick Sisson’s plums, but I stayed to get the harvest finished, which we did, carting the whole of the barley in one day.

None of the corn crops are very heavy this year. Cold and windy. Rain tonight.

20th August 1940

Went down to Dedham early to do some shopping, and found a Co-op motor-van, from the driver of which I learnt that the bombs yesterday fell on the Moler Works, but did little damage and injured nobody.
The Moler Works was a brick making factory at Hythe Quay, Colchester.

While working in the water-cress beds this morning I heard a good many bombs fall somewhere towards Harwich. Sirens blew from 3-4pm and again at 6pm. About 6.30 I was changing in my room when 5 heavy bombs fell in a wood about a mile away, sending me downstairs very quickly.

We all went to supper at Mr. and Mrs. Rose’s, who live in a nice little thatched cottage at Lamb Corner, Dedham. I was specially asked in order to give an opinion on some “pottery” which had been found nearby, which disappointingly turned out to be only pieces of land drains.

While we were having supper there was a tremendous explosion, and the windows blew open. This was apparently a delayed action bomb at Langham going off.

[Before the war] Mrs. Rose was something to do with the League of Nations, and Mr. Rose was an artist. She is now a proof-reader at a printing works in Brantham, while he is a cowman on a farm.

Home to Sherbourne Mill in a dark windy night, the first touch of autumn.

If anyone has any information on Stuart Rose and his wife, Dodo Rose, who Eric meets for the first time in this diary entry, please let me know as I would like to find out what happened to them after the war - thanks, CP

For more detail on Battle of Britain events on 20th August 1940 see the RAF Battle of Britain Campaign Diary.

19th August 1940

I was up in the plantation at Humberlands this afternoon, trying to put out a fire in the under-growth there, when I heard a plane and two loud bombs. The plane flew right over the plantation, which was very scaring, and I lay down flat in the lowest part of it, but no more bombs were dropped. There were no sirens blown anywhere, of course.

This evening the Brantham sirens sounded an alarm from 5 till 6.30, but only a few planes came over. Later I heard that the two bombs I heard were in High Woods, Colchester, and that about 5.30 this evening bombs fell on Hythe Quay. This is very alarming.

There were a lot of planes over tonight, and bombs could be heard falling in several places. The weather is much cooler, and a high wind is beginning to blow.

For more detail on events in the Battle of Britain for 19th August 1940 see the RAF's Battle of Britain Campaign Diary. CP

18th August 1940

This afternoon I drove Mrs. Parrington over to Mr. A’s at Dedham, where we had tea. Molly went badly, and I was very unhappy driving her. This Mr. A seems to have been a police commissioner in Egypt, and having been very favourable towards Fascism until war began is now all revolutionary, and regards Col. Tom Wintringham, the Communist, as one of the coming men of this country. He is a very pleasant man, with a good fund of stories, although his bloodthirsty theories sound rather nonsense to me. We admired the gardens, ate loganberries, admired the puppy, picked plums. While we were there we could hear sirens blowing at Colchester, but in due course harnessed Molly and drove away. Finally reached home in a light shower, after one or two very narrow escapes in Pond Lane, Dedham, when meeting cars. I am now very tired of Molly.

16th August 1940: The Battle of Britain over Essex

Most alarming experience today. We all went to tea at Mrs. Belfield’s, at Dedham, near the railway by the Lawford Road. Through the conversation I heard the obvious thuds of bombs, and an ever increasing roar of aircraft. Suddenly I heard a horrible whining shriek, and said “Isn’t that falling bombs?” We [were] expecting to hear a tremendous explosion at once, but only a dull reverberation came. ...

Later we got news from elsewhere, and it appears that a large body of German planes was being chased away from London, and in their headlong flight scattered bombs all over the district. Almost 100 fell in fields round Langham and Boxted, some perilously close to houses. The Langham butcher was over this evening and said that two fell in his yard, doing little damage, though blowing fine dust everywhere. Not a single person was injured, though tiles were knocked off and many windows broken. This is nothing short of a miracle, that such a mass of high explosive could be dropped without injury or death.

Mrs. Parrington is very anxious that I should stop all next week in order to finish the barley, by the middle of the week, so I shall go into Colchester tomorrow and see Hull about it. I don't see how he can refuse, especially as harvesting ranks as being of “national importance”.

Dull and rather cold.

For more detail on events in the Battle of Britain for 16th August 1940 see the Imperial War Museum's Battle of Britain website or the RAF's Battle of Britain Campaign Diary. CP

15th August 1940

The Sissons went off to Yorkshire this morning, rather gloomy. He especially doubts whether he will ever see Dedham again, etc etc. I moved my kit up to Sherbourne Mill when I went this morning. I now have a pleasant room in front of the Mill house. The Parringtons sleep downstairs, after bombs fell a quarter of a mile away about a month ago, and I must admit that one does get a very extraordinary impression when a plane flies over that it will drop one bomb which must hit your house, although it may be the only one for miles.

I always feel better in the open fields up here, especially one near the house which has a fallen tree which makes excellent cover.

14th August 1940

The Sissons have decided to go for a fortnight in Yorkshire tomorrow, so I shall have to go up to Sherbourne Mill for the rest of my time. There has been so much talk about invasion recently I rather think they would like a change of air. It must be a cause of great anxiety to Sisson to have Mrs. Sisson so incapable.

Fred [one of the farmworkers at Sherbourne Mill] said today that even if his wife and children should be killed by bombs, it would not make him feel any better to know that an unknown German’s wife had also been killed.

Carting wheat today. Not such tiring work as I thought. I get on the cart and load and Fred pitches.

13th August 1940

Work in the dingle this morning, helping to cut down timber for the new cowshed. This afternoon we all, Sissons and Parringtons, went over to Sissons’ place at Hadleigh, the “Flying Chariot”, to pick fruit. There is a lovely old orchard there, with a magnificent crop of plums. We had a picnic tea on the grass, and it was very pleasant indeed.

While we were there sirens sounded, and it was very comfortable to be able to hear them and know that one had nothing to do in the matter. Presumably an attack was threatened at Wattisham Aerodrome a few miles away, but we did not actually see any planes. The alarm did not last long.

More German attacks on the S. Coast today, and many of their planes brought down.

For more detail on events in the Battle of Britain for 13th August 1940 see the Imperial War Museum's Battle of Britain website or the RAF's Battle of Britain Campaign Diary. CP

12th August 1940

News on the radio today of German attacks on the S. Coast, several towns bombed.

The Imperial War Museum's Battle of Britain website explains that 12th August 1940 was a significant date in the Battle of Britain as the Luftwaffe began a systematic assault on Fighter Command's forward airfields and radar stations.

The RAF Battle of Britain Campaign Diary account for 12th August provides more detail on the air attacks that occurred on this day. CP

11th August 1940: A Visit to Constable Country

Late breakfast. Went up to see the mare. After lunch went round by car to Late’s Farm, Raydon, which Sisson owns and is restoring, and then after tea to Flatford to see if we could get on the river, but it was quite impossible. Every boat was out, and there were great crowds waiting, dozens of cars on the parking places. It was just the same at Stratford Bridge, where there was another crowd of cars outside the road-house there. It is hard to believe that petrol is rationed. We went into Willy Lott’s house, where I had not been for several years, I thought it rather over restored and very bare, having no furnishings at all. How I could furnish the kitchen and dairy!

Also went into Flatford Manor House, recently rescued from complete decay. It is very fine, and gives an excellent idea of what a small hall-type house, [should be] and very well restored too. It is a pity that all the old farm buildings have been pulled down. They were not very picturesque, but without them the place looks rather naked and lonely.

And so back to “Sherman's”, to a delightful supper, and afterwards conversation in the drawing room.

Next week we really make a start on the harvest.

10th August 1940

Went into Colchester to do a little shopping. The mare went very badly. Put me in a ditch twice. My temper went completely, but I determined to stick to her for another week. She was just as bad coming back. I carefully kept away from the Museum, but I saw one or two people and learnt that there had only been one alarm since I left, and that was late last Sunday night. Had a sort of lunch-tea at Rose’s café, and then drove back. I was rather late, and they were anxious at “Sherman’s” on account of the mare.

5th August 1940

Began work at Sherbourne Mill today. There did not seem very much to do, but I amused myself successfully. The mare was alright, and seemed to have settled a bit. Unfortunately, being so green, and having been turned out for more than a year, she galled badly on both sides underneath, but I dressed the places with some Cooper’s lotion.

I had lunch and tea at the Mill, all the butter and cream you could eat, and home made bread, made from corn grown on the farm and ground in a little hand mill.

4th August 1940

I packed up today, and after a lot of bother got away at 4 o’clock. The mare went very badly, and I had a miserable drive, continually thrashing her past the most innocent objects, such as cycles or even piles of rubbish beside the road. However, at last we got there (Dedham) and Sisson kindly came on with me to Sherborne Mill to put the mare away. The Parringtons were very kind, although I was sorry they had no proper stable, but only an open shed, in which the mare was confined by means of hurdles. She seemed very reluctant to settle down, and my fears for her successful confinement were justified when we got back to Dedham, as there had already been a telephone call to say she had broken out. I rang back to the Mill, and found Mrs. Parrington had most kindly taken her up to the farm buildings, nearly half a mile away, in the dark, and had shut her up in a yard, with hay. I did not want to go all the way back again.

“Sherman's”, [the Sissons’ house at] Dedham, is really lovely, and I am going to enjoy this. There is no siren at Dedham at all.

3rd August 1940

Clearing up today, doing all books and seeing that the cash was right. Took away all books and papers belonging to me. Hard to think I am going perhaps for ever, yet in my heart perhaps I don't believe I am.

I went off early to Blake’s and walked the mare home. Got terribly hot and tired.

Alarm at 11.30pm, until 12.30am. My last for a time!

2nd August 1940

Spent a lot of time today clearing up papers and various personal matters. I want to get everything away if I can [before going to Sherbourne Mill, Lawford]. I can hardly believe that I may never come back here again. Went to the Rallings' tonight, had supper, and much talk about my leave.

While I was there an alarm went at half past 10, so I had to dash away leaving my tea unfinished. Eleven people came into the vaults and we got an All Clear at 12.30am Saturday. I made some more tea in the Castle.

1st August 1940

Alarms at 1am and 3.15, the second only a few minutes after the previous All Clear. Finally got to sleep about 5 o’clock, and did not get up until 9.30am.

Today the Doctor [Laver] brought in 10 very fine bronze fibulae, obviously from an important grave group. He admitted they had been found while digging an air-raid shelter in the West End, but refused any further information, as he so often does.

This afternoon I went over to see Blake at Magazine Farm, taking my trap over with Hampshire’s little grey, and tried out his cob Molly. She is a beauty, but uncertain, and very apt to shy and bolt, and I really feel she is too much for me as I now am. However, he pressed me to take her for a week or so, and I will. She looks fine in the ralli. Only 6 years old.