30th September 1940

Lay later than I ought this morning, and only just got away before the men came to open. I wrote to Richards [at Cheltenham] explaining why I could not come, but I am now very worried to know what to do next.

Paid in September [Museum] money today, very poor indeed. Two alarms today, one at 5.20pm and the next at 7.45. On that occasion a young girl came in whose mother was hurt by one of the bombs which fell on August 31st. She is still in hospital near St. Albans. The girl was about 16, and was very nervous. After the bombing, she had been sent to relatives at Bury, but no sooner had she arrived then bombs fell quite close. There is no longer any safety, even in the smallest and most remote country town.

30th September 1940: Letter from EJ Rudsdale to Hervey Benham

EJR notes that he had received a letter from his friend, Hervey Benham, who had formerly been working on "The Gazette" newspaper and was now stationed at Southsea on coastal patrol duty. Benham wrote to ask EJR to keep a record of wartime events in Colchester. EJR's humorous reply is published below:

September 30, 1940

My dear Hervey,

What a pleasant surprise to receive a letter from you, and with what pleasure did we manage to read every third or fourth word of it. It is very nice to know that you still want news from the ancient borough, but I cannot understand why you should expect from me a “spicy and scandalous missive”. Just as if such a thing was possible. Just as if I should tell you what I really think of the ARP, the AFS and that noble police force of which I am such an insignificant honorary member.

As regards making notes and records of these times, as you may imagine I am already doing that, and of course any material I have will be available for publication after the war, providing it survives. [EJR later contributed to Hervey Benham's book: Essex at War (1945)] To do anything now to help on the good old “Gazette” is not so easy, owing, as you say, to the ultra cautious attitude of the office. You see, I can’t even write snappy little bits about the quaint people who come in our Castle Vaults in the middle of the night, because so far as Banyard [the editor of the "Gazette"] is concerned there are no raid alarms in this town, nor are there any shelters – such things are just not mentioned. A few months ago we sent in an account of the discoveries made when digging shelters in Colchester, some of which are very important. All mention of the actual shelters was carefully removed, so that the report became somewhat meaningless.

You are quite right that the office do not seem to have any idea what is or is not printable. Even when a few bombs fell on this town, causing me to evacuate my post on top of the Castle quicker than I have ever done before, not one word appeared in the papers, yet when Clacton had a raid, the Clacton “Graphic” gave a full report of the whole affair, describing it as taking place at a “S.E. Coast town”, but mentioning names of persons so that it was absolutely clear to all that Clacton was intended. I have not yet heard that the editor and staff have been sent to the Tower for this.

However, I will see what I can do, but I don’t see how to get anything past Banyard, unless you like to drop him a line and suggest that contributions from this quarter should be looked on as leniently as possible. From what I hear, there is now the very greatest difficulty in filling the paper, which contains enormous quantities of padding, so I should have thought that almost anything would be welcome, but I believe old Banyard is in mortal fear they will shoot him for giving assistance to the enemy on the slightest provocation. He lives in dread of hearing the “Gazette” mentioned on the Hamburg Radio.

When the Repertory Theatre re-opened a few weeks ago, there was a raid alarm on their first night, but the only mention in the report was that “owing to circumstances over which they had no control”, the performance was an hour late in starting. Incidentally the Rep. was nearly ruined in the week when the Voluntary Evacuation papers were sent out. On the same board where these notices were displayed was an order made early in July regarding a curfew for the coastal defence area, and people reading the new notice read this, without looking at the date and without seeing that it was nothing to do with Colchester. The result was the Rep. audience that night was a mere handful, and a military cop, who had also read the notice or heard the rumours, took it upon himself to go into the hall where people were buying tickets and to tell them that as there was a curfew at 8 o’clock they would not be allowed to go home, but would have to remain in the Albert Hall all night. They stopped buying tickets and went home at once, instead of telling the fool where he got off. Two more “redcaps” went to the Town Clerk’s office during the afternoon and enquired whether there was or was not a curfew, because if there was they were going to enforce it.

However, I believe they are doing much better now. I went last week to see the lovely Beatrice as the mad Welsh girl in “They Walk Alone”, and there was a very good crowd there. She had a nice accent. The pictures are open on Sundays, and are always crowded, although most of the films are rotten.

In August I had the great luxury of three weeks off to do harvest work at Lawford. It was great fun, although the enemy activity in those parts was rather too much of a good thing. I missed about 15 alarms here, mostly at night, but we’ve made up for it since, as we had the 86th last night. Can Southsea beat that? I expect so. I believe London has had about 120 now. I went up there this weekend to see Daven Soar who lives at Stanmore.

Yesterday (Sunday), I cycled back across London and on through Essex as far as Chelmsford, the furthest the old man has cycled in one go for about 15 years. Today we don’t feel quite so brisk. However, I saw several churches including the famous twins of Willingale Spain and Willingale Doe, which, together with the adjacent and delightfully named Shellow Bowells have each had one window broken by bombs.

I believe one or two more churches have been damaged in South Essex, and of course Coggeshall, which has had the whole roof brought down, but this is repairable, and what is more all the important monuments are safe. The real disaster is of course Lt. Horkesley. Two bombs or mines fell over there, one on the church and one at the back of the Beehive. These mines are not at all funny, and they seem to be dropping them all over the place. I saw one at Chelmsford yesterday, which fell a fortnight ago and had only just been dug up. Two fell at Ipswich, but one did not go off and the other dropped on the golf links, while another was fired on over Billericay and burst in mid-air.

Well, I really think this letter is about long enough. I won’t bore you with an account of how I worried and bullied everybody into providing ARP stables for horses, so that drivers can now get their horses off the streets and tie them up. Nor will I weary the reader with the sad tale of my efforts to get ladders and fire-fighting apparatus at the Castle. The authorities have stood up to me well on this, and not only have they prevented me from getting anything at all, but they now profess complete amazement that we should bother to man the Castle during raids, and suggest that we are all being very silly. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.

I still pop in and out of the "Essex County Standard" office pretty regularly, and admire the High Steward’s [Hervey's father, Sir W. Gurney Benham] complete indifference to raid alarms. One day there was a lot of Germans coming over about lunch time, and a bit of machine gunning was going on overhead. Just as he was going down in the passage into Culver St. the siren went off, people rushed about, police and specials dashed out of the Library basement etc. “Ah”, remarked the HS, “That must be the All Clear”, and went home to lunch. In these alarms the rest of the [ECS] office staff can do nothing else but stay put as the managing director ignores the whole affair, but Cook always goes out to the shelters at the back. As you say, he may be nervous, and if he is I can’t blame him. So am I.

As to who is dead, decorated or otherwise distinguished I really don’t know. So far as I am aware, I don’t know a single person who has been killed since the whole disgusting business began, for which I think I am very lucky. Nor for that matter do I know anyone decorated or distinguished, unless you are. I am none of these things, and so far have the incredible and quite undeserved luck to be in a reserved job, though how long this will last I don’t know, as we continually hear rumours about the alterations of the reserved age. It’s all very unsettling, as I should like to buy another horse and start cultivating some land at Bourne Mill, but it seems absurd to start when everything is so vague. 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. Gentle enquiries put out have revealed that most of the “soft” jobs in the army, where you sit down all day and sleep in a bed at night, are already filled by professional boxers and footballers. However, it is no good worrying, we haven’t got there yet.

I am very glad that you still seem to be enjoying life up to a point. You seem to have worked things the right way so far. Please give my regards to your wife. I saw your sister a week ago, looking very well in spite of everything, and I cycled past her hospital yesterday morning and saw it was then quite untouched. Write to me again, and I will see if we can dig up some more news but nothing scandalous, dear me no.

All the best,

Yours,

EJR

P.S. – Have just heard that 12,000 people have left [Colchester as part of the evacuation scheme].

29th September 1940

A final “All Clear” came at about 3 in the morning, but there was hardly a sound after 2 o’clock. I slept soundly until half past 7, had tea and a light breakfast, and determined to catch the 10.30 from Paddington. Daven said I should never do it, but I practically did. I got away at 9 o’clock (we had another alarm from 8 – 8.45) and went down to the main Harrow Road, on the corner of which a bank was destroyed some time ago. Then I turned due S. and pedalled away through Wembley and Harlesden. Nearly all new housing estates. The majority of the houses empty.

I went on past row upon row of factories, all in perfect order, quite undamaged. It was not until I got near Willesden that there was anything really noticeable. The Tube Station there was struck, but was still working, and dozens of shops and houses nearby had their windows shattered. The roads however were unharmed, and where there had been craters they had been efficiently repaired. It was round there through that I ran into trouble. Bombs fell here last night, and several did not explode, so that some roads were closed until these were dealt with. I soon became confused with all these diversions, and after running considerable distances through back streets where I saw several houses totally destroyed, I had to ask the way of a group of taxi drivers. I found to my surprise that I was quite close to Paddington, but was considerably dashed to be told that the line had been struck at Acton and that there was considerable delay.

It was now about ten minutes past 10, but I determined to make a dash for it. Paddington was in a most gigantic confusion. I don't know if there really was damage at Acton or not, but the station was absolutely packed, and trains were leaving when announced. I made many enquiries about Cheltenham, and finally discovered that a Cheltenham train had actually gone out while I was there. The next (if it went) would not reach Cheltenham until 5.30pm, which was not much good to me.

There seemed nothing for it but to go home, especially as I was getting more and more nervous. I suddenly thought to take a taxi to Liverpool Street, as I was tired and did not know what road blocks there might be. So this I did, and with the cycle carefully tied alongside we bowled away down Marylebone Road. There was a good deal of damage here and there, - Madame Tussaud’s, among other places, Regent’s Park Tube Station, and one of the fine houses in Park Crescent, St Pancras Goods Depot was badly hit in front, but there was still horse-vans coming along Midland Rd, just as they always did.

The streets were crowded with people, strolling along or standing on corners as they always do in these parts. When we stopped in a block near King’s Cross I saw two girls on the pavement, their faces and hands enormously bandaged. One had great masses of rippling black hair flowing through her bandages, while the other wore one of those hooded cloaks. The dark haired one had both her arms, like great cylinders, on supports in front of her, while her friend had hers in slings, her hands seeming to be in immense boxing gloves. They were laughing and talking to some boys. I suppose they were burnt somehow.

Having looked in my timetables, I found there was no suitable train to Colchester until 4 in the afternoon. So, rather than stay in London all that time, risking more raids, I thought I might as well ride some of the way, so I asked the driver to take me to Epping Forest, as a good jumping off place.

I finally left the taxi on the edge of the Forest (it cost me 10/- all together), and started off on the same road through which I had come yesterday. It was a glorious day, and having about 6 hours of daylight in front of me I thought I would explore a little. Approaching Ongar, I turned off to see Greensted. There is a tank block in the tiny lane, but I was very glad to see that Greensted Church was safe. Ongar Church is safe, and so is High Ongar, where I had bread and cheese. The landlord of the public house was terrified I might be found there after closing time at two. He said they had had no bombs nearer than a couple of miles. His sister in law was staying with him from Walthamstow, where her house had been unroofed by a land mine which killed seven people.

As I went on, I suddenly determined to see the Willingales, where I had never been, so I turned N. near the damaged pub which I saw yesterday. As I left the main road I was startled by a tremendous explosion. The sky was clear, and no planes about, but the cause was soon obvious, as in a field on the left of the road I saw a crowd of ARP men, standing round a bomb crater. There were “Unexploded Bomb” notices on the field gate, and it had obviously just been dealt with. There were several soldiers there, I suppose bomb-disposal men. Nearby were half a dozen more craters, big ones, one right on the greensward by the road side. It always shocks me to find this sort of thing in the very heart of the country. Only about a mile or two away I came upon that ecclesiastical curiosity, the churches of Willingale Spain and Willingale Doe, side by side, with not more than 50 yards between them. Here too was evidence of this never ending ubiquitous war – each church had one window broken, in each case in the S. wall, and a cottage just outside the churchyard had several panes gone, caused by an enormous bomb the crater of which my shortsighted eyes could discern about ¼ mile E., in a sloping field. What a tragedy if one of [these] ancient churches should have been destroyed.

When I came out there was a youngish man, apparently a sidesman, waiting for the service to end. I sympathised on the broken windows, and hoped that no worse would befall. He replied that if it did they could well spare a church, having three altogether, as the twin parishes are now incorporated with the adjoining delightfully named Shellow Bowells. I cycled on through there, and saw the church, a most extraordinary brick building of 18th century. It is closed, and looks forlorn and dejected. It too had a broken window on the S. apparently from the same bomb. There is also another immense bomb hole a short way to the N., in a field. These craters are a great problem to farmers, as it is almost impossible to fill them in. If a farmer has only about 4 men, he cannot set them on to fill in a pit perhaps 80 feet wide and 15 feet deep with much hope of success. On through Writtle and Roxwell, and was hailed by Alf Knights, the Essex Show foreman, who was cycling the other way. We had a friendly talk, and he told me how a torpedo, weighing 2,000 lbs, had been dug up that morning near the water tower, about ½ mile further on, having been lying unexploded for a fortnight. As I went by I saw it there in two halves, apparently having been dismantled.

It was now about 4 o’clock, so I thought I would not catch a train until 5.30, but would first have tea at the Ritz Cinema. While we were having tea, a raid alarm sounded, but nobody in the huge glass-walled cafĂ© took the slightest notice. The “All Clear” was soon sounded.

I caught the Colchester train, which was about 10 minutes late, and got in with a young soldier. He chatted, and told me he had been in France last spring, and mentioned that the worst job he had ever had to do was to shoot cows, bullocks and horses on a Belgian farm.

And so at last home, after an adventurous weekend in which nothing whatever has been accomplished. Slept at the Castle tonight, very, very tired.

28th September 1940

The first stupid mistake I made was to forget that I could not leave the Castle until 1.30, and not 12.30. By hurrying I managed to get the 1.42, which ought to get to London by 3 o’clock, and would allow me to catch the 5.30 to Cheltenham. By the time we reached Witham an alarm was on, and the train slowed down to 15 mph. I noticed that one of the lodges opposite Boreham New Hall had a lot of tiles off the roof, and the Ford Fruit Packing depot nearby was damaged and burnt. I don't know when this happened. I began, without any reason, to feel very nervous, and was most reluctant to go on by train to Liverpool Street, so when we got to Chelmsford I fell in a complete panic and got out, cycle and all. I decided to cycle to Ongar, take train to Woodford Green, and then cycle to [Daven] Soar’s place for the night. I set off briskly in beautiful weather along the Ongar Road. I have not felt so well for years, and the following wind made cycling a pleasure.

It was glorious. Very little traffic, fine road, beautiful farm lands on either side. Then, somewhere near Norton Mandeville, a pub with its roof off, and an enormous crater in a football field nearby. That’s what I don't like – the way the Germans have covered the whole country. I believe there is hardly a parish in Essex which has not had a bomb in it. I went on to Ongar Station, and found there was no train out for nearly 2 hours. I had imagined that being almost a suburban line there would be a frequent service. Time was getting on, and I was worried, as I thought I must be at least 20 miles from my destination. (I found later it was nearly 30). There was obviously nothing for it but to get on and hope to reach Stanmore before dark. It was useless to turn back.

First, I found the road to Abridge blocked by a sentry, and had to turn back over Passingford Bridge and take a higher road. From there I could see the aerodrome buildings and planes parked under hedges on the other side of the valley. On past the fortifications of London, a great wall of concrete blocks near Rolls Park. They are supposed to stop tanks, but I doubt it. On through Chigwell, looking very London-over-the-Border, but quite unwarlike, and down to Woodford Bridge. Still no sign of raid damage anywhere. Through Woodford, where the station is being rebuilt in connection with the electrification of the line, and across the main road to Highams Park. It was just along here I could hear the 6 o’clock News blaring from radios in various houses. Life seemed very normal, everybody doing their Saturday shopping. A good number of larger houses are shut up. I could see the Barrage Balloons now, all very high, shining in the evening sun.

Round Highams Park, through Hale End and on to the Lea Valley Viaduct, where I was amazed to see scores of great factories, all absolutely untouched, not a sign of bomb damage anywhere, and even new factories being erected. Through Edmonton to New Southgate, where I enquired the way of the first policeman I had seen since coming into London, and was rather put out by the information that I was at least 8 miles from Stanmore. Dusk was falling. I bought some chocolate and sweets. Through Friern Barnet to Whetstone, where I saw the first bomb damage – the back of two modern houses smashed, on the N. side of the road. [Along] here people were moving along carrying bundles and bedding, obviously going to shelters for the night. Over Dollis Brook into Hertfordshire, and I could see down over Hampstead, across innumerable chimneys, to the misty London six or seven miles away, and I thought of the millions of people down there, crowding into Tubes and cellars, hoping that this night was not their last.

Totteridge, Mill Hill, and down to Edgware, all among masses of new houses. The pity of it all. Only just over a year ago they would have been glowing under the evening lamps, their horrible little stucco houses the very epitome of modern suburbia, while the householders, clad in white flannels, walked home from tennis, looking forward to a supper prepared by wife or mother. Now the tennis players are all soldiers, and the wives, reduced from comfortable circumstances to almost penury in a moment, make their way, children in hand, to the nearest shelter, or else try to settle into a dreadful little Anderson shelter, if they have one. I wonder if the street lamps will ever gleam on white-clad tennis players again. After 5 or 6 years of killing or training to kill, does one easily slip back to playing tennis?

At Edgware I was rather confused by the mazes of new streets. It was now about 7.30, and almost dark. I was very nervous, and much afraid that a raid would start before I reached Soar’s house. From now I went on blindly, trusting to my sense of direction. Twice I thought I had hit up “Belmont Circle”, but the third time was lucky, then over the railway and up to Curzon Avenue. There was the nasty little house and all the other nasty little houses round it, absolutely safe and untouched. How pleased I was to see it!

Daven was very surprised to see me [but said] I could certainly stop the night, and could either sleep upstairs or on the sofa in the front room. On being told that there was an AA battery only just over a quarter of a mile from the house I chose the sofa. Daven and his wife sleep on the floor in the dining room, and the baby sleeps in a cupboard under the stairs.

I had hardly been in the house 10 minutes when the sirens sounded. We could hear six or seven, all round. A few minutes later the guns opened up. The noise was not so great as I had imagined, and was in some ways comforting. I quite liked the roll of a dozen shell bursts over head. Daven insisted we should go upstairs to see what was what, in fact “make a reconnaissance flight”, as he said. I didn't think much of standing against bedroom windows on an occasion like this, but as a guest felt I had to comply. We could see searchlights to the S. over London and could hear the hum of AA shells as they were fired over the house. It was very frightening, but quite unreal. Just fantastic. Every now and then I heard the dull clump of bombs, and wondered how many more people were killed.

About 1am I was surprised to hear “All Clear”, being sounded on some sirens, Watford and Bushey I suppose, although the guns were still firing over us. Sometimes I could hear the noise of plane engines, but not often, and occasionally the whistle of bombs almost a mile away, but somehow this did not frighten me so much as it did at home.

27th September 1940

Today is the 80th Anniversary of the opening of the Colchester Museum in the Castle Crypt, 1860, and yesterday was the 11th anniversary of the opening of Holly Trees in 1929. How nice it would be to be back in either year, preferably 1860. Only one alarm today, half past 12 to 1pm. Very quiet. Quiet night last night.

A very charming Canadian girl came in the Museum today, and after showing her over the place I took her out to tea. She is working as a land girl at Chappel. Reports tonight that 130 German planes have been brought down today. Gloomy about tomorrow’s trip.

Today in 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Museum at Colchester Castle.

26th September 1940

The Bishop of Colchester (Archdeacon), Canon Steele of Marks Tey, Revd Benton, and Duncan Clark met at Holly Trees this morning to discuss the Horkesley brasses and figures. The Bishop decided, very reluctantly, that we could deal with the brasses and effigies, strongly emphasising that they were church property and could on no account be alienated, to which I quite agree, and never intended otherwise. He shook hands with me, and seemed faintly surprised at hearing my name. His is Ridsdale, but I refrained from hailing him as “uncle”.

Went to Sir Gurney and told him what had been done, and gave him a few notes for the paper this week, although of course under the censorship regulations he is not allowed to say which church has been demolished. He mentioned the fact that the paper will contain the report of a wedding which took place there on the Saturday afternoon, only a few hours before the explosion.

There was an alarm at 2.30am today, for an hour, but I was really too tired to get up. It’s not often I miss one.

I feel worried about the Cheltenham business. Travelling is so difficult, and I am getting into one of my “don't-want-to-go” moods. I shall take a bicycle to get across London.

25th September 1940

Alarm tonight, 8.40pm – 1.30am Thursday. Wrote to a farmer at Cowley near Cheltenham, to say I would go down to see him on Saturday about a job, or rather to be a paying pupil assistant. “Pupil Assistant”! Back to 1928!
Another lovely day.

Rudsdale had joined the museum staff in 1928 as the pupil assistant to the Curator.

24th September 1940

Went over to Horkesley again today with Duncan Clark [the Diocesan architect], and spent the whole day there. Located the Marney brass, not too broken, and saved loose parts of it. One fragment shows a most interesting palimpsest, at least it looks interesting to me, although I know nothing about brasses.

The whole of the Swynborne tomb is now uncovered, and Duncan Clark has arranged to have men over there tomorrow to move the whole lot into the stables. (The stables at Lt. Horksley Hall are a charming Regency block, much nicer than the house, which although in the same style is somewhat foreboding). We could hear sirens blowing all round during the morning, at Nayland, Sudbury and Colchester. Lots of planes came over, and I could hear bombs falling away to the N.W.. Another alarm tonight just before midnight, although planes had been passing over the town since about 8 o’clock.

Beautiful fine day. The ruins at Horkesley are now getting nicely dry.

23rd September 1940

Alarm 3.50am – 5.55am. Went, and saw the dawn break gloriously over the town. Another at 9.05am, while I was seeing the Chairman [Sir W. Gurney Benham] about Horkesley. He agreed that we give the very fullest help. While I was talking to him, the sirens blew “All Clear”. “What’s that?” he asked, after three had sounded in succession. “The ‘All Clear’” I said. “Oh”, he says, “has there been an alarm on?” He told me he had heard a siren in the night, in the early hours of this morning, the first he had ever known to wake him.

This afternoon Laver, Poulter, me and George Farmer all went over to Horkesley.

After visiting the site of the destroyed church, Eric wrote a report for the 'Essex County Standard' newspaper but later said that it was 'used in a very garbled manner' owing to censorship restrictions. His original report, therefore, is now published in full for the first time below:

We must be prepared, from time to time, for the disappearance of ancient buildings by fire or decay, all the more so in time of war, but the destruction of a well-known Essex church last Saturday night was so sudden and so complete as to be almost incredible.

According to the official statement, German planes were over Essex on Saturday evening and a few bombs were dropped, but it might have been expected that this small church, in the heart of the country and far from any objective, would have escaped damage. At half past nine that night the church stood as it had done for centuries, silent under the stars, surrounded by the slumbering churchyard, with a tall avenue of elms leading up from the hall drive. At a quarter to ten there was no semblance of a church left, no piece of wall more than three or four feet high, nothing but a gigantic pile of rubble lit by the flames from nearby farm buildings. The bomb which brought about this destruction, was of such power that, falling through the roof near the chancel arch it blew the entire building to fragments in a fraction of a second.

Sheets of lead hurled through the air for several hundred yards. Some fell in the road, others among horses and cows in a nearby field without touching any of them. Great beams tore across the graveyard mowing down the old tombstones and cutting up the turf. (A black and white marble stone which had disfigured this churchyard for years was quite untouched). Some of the beams were torn to fragments, and long splinters from them stuck into the ground like a giant’s arrows. Others, flying high into the air, came to rest on the topmost branches of the elms, where they remain precariously balanced. Even the bells split into fragments, some of which, together with the ropes, were found near the altar, while others were in the churchyard near the tower. One bell dated from the 15th century but no trace of it has been found. There are parts of two others which were made by the Colchester bell-founder, Miles Gray, in the 17th century.

The destruction was devastating, and when the morn rose an hour or two later it was the first time for at least 800 years that there was no church on which it could shine. In the morning, at first sight it appeared that the priceless wooden effigies and monumental brasses must have perished entirely, but search revealed parts of the effigies (which date from the 13th century) scattered about the churchyard, while excavation on the site of the S. chapel brought to light the great brass of the two brother knights, one of the best in England. It was badly shattered, but with great care it has now been removed to safety. On the other side of the church a smaller brass, showing a woman and her two husbands, was found in a greatly shattered condition, but most of it has already been recovered. On Wednesday the rest of the wooden effigies were found in their original position, although broken and covered by masses of masonry. It would appear that they are all repairable, and no doubt this will be done without delay. There are also other brasses to be discovered, and some, being floor-slabs stand a very good chance of being undamaged.

It will be some time before the site is cleared up and meanwhile some of the parishioners come up to search for the graves of friends of relatives, often to find the tombs smashed to fragments or buried under masses of broken rubble. Here and there one sees remains of hymn-books and a few choir-boys surplices, while a hassock, torn open, reveals as its stuffing fragments of newspapers dating from the last war, on which the words “Earl Haig” “Arras” and “German claims …” appear.

This tiny parish church has suffered a tremendous disaster, but there is much to be thankful for in that there was no loss of life, and that the majority of the priceless monuments have already been saved.

The medieval wooden effigies and monumental brasses that were saved by the museum staff can still be seen in the rebuilt Little Horkesley Church today.

The experience of the salvage operation at Little Horkesley Church led EJR to call on the Museums Association to establish an 'archaeological flying squad' to advise on the salvage of historic buildings and artefacts damaged in air raids. Schemes such as the National Buildings Record and the the development of the Monuments and Fine Arts Division of the British Army were set up as a consequence of the experiences of bomb damage to Britain's cultural heritage in 1940.

22nd September 1940: The destruction of Little Horkesley Church

Got home at 2.15am. Slept until 10.30. Went down to Bourne Mill and met Maura, who had news from London. She appeared quite unconcerned from her experiences, and I was glad to hear that so far the damage in Paddington district has been very small. Neither the station, St. Mary’s [Hospital], nor her “garette” have been hit. She seemed to have no fear of raids. We had a long talk then home to lunch and wash. Rain was just beginning. There was an alarm just after 2, so I went on duty, and heard from Poulter that Warden Lissimore had told him that the fire to the north, which we saw last night, was at [Little] Horkesley, where the church and a public-house had been totally destroyed.

It does not seem possible that a church can be blown to pieces in this way.
Little did I think as I watched the red glow in the north last night what I was looking at.

Went down to Rose’s to tea, and then another alarm this evening. Rain eased off a little, but a very bad night.

Little Horkesley Church was completely destroyed in this air raid attack but Eric and the Colchester Museum staff salvaged many of the church artefacts from the wreckage and restored them before they were returned to the church when it was rebuilt in 1958. More details on this salvage operation are given in Eric's new book: 'E.J. Rudsdale's Journals of Wartime Colchester'.

21st September 1940

Big crowds in the town today. No horses at the Michaelmas sale, although it was advertised. I went to the Repertory players this afternoon, the first time I have done so since they returned to the town. It was very good. This evening there was an alarm at 8pm. Among other people a very nice little girl came in, very pretty, nicely dressed in a great coat, rather long, nice flat modern shoes, and thick wavy brown hair. She came from Hornchurch, and had had to leave because of damage to her house. She said a great deal of damage had been done there, as the houses were so close to the aerodrome. She and her mother had been in a shelter in the garden when their house was struck. In spite of such a terrible experience, she said she had no hatred of the German airmen, and no desire that German homes should be bombed by our men.

At about quarter to 10 there was an immense flash towards the north, beyond the station, and a dull explosion. Within a few minutes we could see the red flickering of a fire, while the searchlights followed a 'plane away towards the coast. Probably some farm got hit, and haystacks were burning. I hope it was not stables.

20th September 1940

Kept awake until 5am by planes, some of which were flying very low. Alarm tonight a few minutes before 11. Nothing much doing. Windy and cool.

19th September 1940

Alarms at midnight and at 4am. According to Hull, dozens of incendiary bombs fell on the N. side of the town shortly after 4 o’clock, but if they did, they must have been remarkably ineffective, as I was on the roof at the time and saw nothing of them.

There was another alarm at 8pm, while I was in Watt’s. A good many planes came over and I heard one in the Bromley district diving onto searchlights, which were all instantly extinguished. He went away without dropping any bombs. We could hear heavy gunfire far away. Rain at times, and quite a high wind.

18th September 1940: Coggeshall Church damaged in air raid

Papers still talk of invasion. This morning I took the bus to Coggeshall to see how true was the report about the church, and I was glad to find it very largely untrue by the sight of the building standing as it has always done, when it came into view from Stone Street. On looking more carefully I could barely distinguish with my weak eyes that one or two battlements were missing near the tower, but it was not until I reached the churchyard that I could see that serious damage had been done.

To say that only the tower remains is absurd, but great damage has been done to the nave and the N. aisle. Two heavy bombs were dropped by a plane flying home, one of which fell only a few feet from the N. aisle and the tower, while the other dropped harmlessly on some waste land near some cottages, doing no damage. The explosion of the first blew in part of the wall of the N. aisle and destroyed part of the nave arcade. This brought down the roofs of both aisle and nave, completely destroying all pews etc. By some freak, the patriotic touch which these occasions never lack was supplied by the fact that the Union Jack hung over the War Memorial Tablet was untouched – a fact frequently commented on by sight-seers – “Good old flag still flying” etc. etc.

The chancel and the two chapels, together with the S. aisle appear untouched, except for a few broken windows. The tower is cracked from top to bottom, and, most curious, both the westerly buttresses have been blown off. The opinion seemed to be (expressed by one of the churchwardens, a builder) that the whole tower will either fall or have to be demolished, but I think very strongly that it ought to be shored up at once, and said so.

Lady Mary Honeywood from Marks Hall is quite safe in the S. Chapel, and as far as I can find the other monuments are mostly safe. Great damage has been done, but the church is certainly repairable. It is fortunate that the roof was modern.


Damage to Coggeshall Church after the air raid on 16th September 1940 (Photograph courtesy of the Benham Estate)




On the journey I noticed in many places wires had been stretched across the fields on tall steel poles to trip up German planes if they try to land. This afternoon an alarm at 4 o’clock. 162 came in, but no Germans were to be seen. Today I wrote to Swinerton of Northleach and Balfour of Slough asking about farm jobs without a great deal of hope.

17th September 1940

Museum Committee today. Nothing much, except that Laver brought in a very fine early burial group, found by Osmund Locke, in his garden in Lexden Park, when digging a shelter.

This is an exceptionally good find, although it was badly broken up when got out. The fine bronze fibulae which Laver brought in Aug. 1st are part of this group, the whole forming a very valuable find.

As soon as these vessels are repaired they will have to be packed away, although perhaps we might exhibit them for a short time, and take a chance. I heard today that Coggeshall Church was destroyed in the raid last night, nothing being left except the tower. This is most serious news, though how true it is I do not know.

16th September 1940

Rain all day. Went over to Dedham this evening. Had a long talk on farm-work. The Sissons are most kindly trying to do all they can to help me. There was an alarm from 9-11pm, which I missed, as I did not leave Dedham until 11.15, and another from 12.45 – 2.45am, Tuesday morning. A policeman came in, and was talking very bitterly about the discipline of the force, how recently a sergeant and an inspector spent two hours in the middle of the night watching to see if he visited a certain point.

A few people came in to the Vaults. Mrs. Shepherd was one, and I was amazed to hear that her husband has been called up. He is 30 in December, and in spite of being owner of an undertaker’s business, in charge of the ARP mortuary arrangements, and a part-time fireman, he has been taken.

This does seem unfair, as it leaves his young wife in charge of a business which is hardly nice for a woman to look after.

15th September 1940

Lay very late, being so tired. Then did some more ditching at Bourne Mill. There was an alarm at 2p.m. and only me on duty. Had tea at Rose’s. After went to Seymour’s. Anne [Seymour's daughter] has been sent away to Westmoreland, and will probably be entered at Penrith County School. The Girls’ County School here has quite shut down, but at CRGS [Colchester Royal Grammar School] only 36 boys have actually left the town. The school is shut.

Jeffrey Saunders was there. He still goes to London every day, and although often delayed, never experiences any real trouble on the journey. Liverpool Street has not been hit, nor any part of the main line, but there have been some very near misses. His office in Cockspur St. is intact. Beautiful night, with a brilliant moon.

Massive air assaults by the German Luftwaffe took place over London, Kent and the South Coast on 15th September 1940, and the air raid warning that EJR records marked the beginning of that afternoon's attacks. However, the sustained campaign by the Luftwaffe failed to shatter Fighter Command's resistance and although aerial warfare would continue in the months ahead, the RAF's action on 15th September 1940 was considered to have inflicted a major defeat on the Luftwaffe and is now marked as Battle of Britain Day. For more information on events on 15th September 1940 see the Imperial War Museum's Battle of Britain Diary and the RAF's Battle of Britain Campaign Diary.

14th September 1940

Big crowds in the town all day, although you could see people were depressed when they heard from shopkeepers about the evacuation. (By the way, we must not talk of “evacuation”, that word can be applied to Harwich, Clacton, Southend, etc, but in the case of Colchester it is a “temporary transfer of population”). Two alarms this afternoon, one at 4.15 and the other at 6. All Clear by 7.15.

We have been much worried lately by a strange “messenger”, who arrives on a bicycle and claims to be attached to the ARP Control. He is a most offensive youth, and goes to sleep on my blankets without so much as “by your leave”. I have been so annoyed with him I got Warden Lissimore to come along this evening to identify him, and it has now been made quite clear to him that he had better go to the Control and stay there. Same wind tonight, and much invasion talk. There does not seem to be a “flap” on in the barracks though. Troops were allowed out more than usual tonight.

Went to Rose for supper.

Spent the afternoon clearing out the ditches at Bourne Mill, and carted some hay.

13th September 1940

A very charming Scots girl from Glasgow came in this afternoon, and I had the pleasure of conducting her over the Vaults and Dungeons. Her husband is in the R.E.S. down on the coast here. We spoke of invasions, in which she refuses to believe. Her view of the war was very similar to mine and she was delightfully honest. She said, “I don't care who gets killed in this war so long as I get Bill back safe. He’s mine and that’s that!” What a delightfully honest thing to say in these days of cant, humbug and patriotic hysteria.

Weather cold, wet, and very windy. There was an alarm at 9.30, which lasted until 5.30am on Saturday. At midnight I went up to the Warden’s Post at the Albert Hall and had some tea and biscuits there. There was heavy gunfire all round, and a bomb fell S. of the town about half past 3. There were planes over all night. In the “Essex Standard” this week is recorded the case of a man charged at Braintree with begging in disguise, and it is quite clear that he is the same man who changed his disguise in the Holly Trees lavatory. Some weeks ago, Harding found a hat, dark glasses, and basket there early one morning, and we both recognised these as the property of an old man who played a fiddle in the streets.

We considered that he was either a person in disguise or else he had been taken ill in the lavatory and had staggered out, leaving his property behind him. At any rate, I reported this obviously suspicious affair at the police station, and was laughed out, as nobody would take the matter seriously. Harding destroyed the things he found, and yet a week later I saw the old man, wearing exactly similar things, playing outside Barclays Bank! I again went to the police, and was told that “They knew all about him”. It now turns out that he was disguised, and although he appeared to be at least 70, old and blind, he was really less than 50. I told this story to Taylor tonight, and was astonished to hear that he also had seen him changing in the Park lavatories, and had reported the fact to the police sergeant who again refused to take any interest. It appears that the man is quite harmless, and only disguised himself in order to make his appearance more pathetic and so get more generous alms, but it shows at any rate that there is little to prevent persons with the most evil intentions from doing the same thing. After all, this is a garrison town in the middle of a war, and one would expect the police to take just a little interest when it is reported that disguised persons are about the place.

12th September 1940

Cool, fine morning. Feel I cannot settle down. ... Another notice was published today, warning inhabitants that in the event of an invasion this town was liable to be heavily bombed.

Went round to Brook’s [a farrier in Colchester]. Plowright, the coalman was there, anxious about his horse [asking], "Was it likely that horses would have to be killed?"

London raids last night but don't seem to have been so bad. Very few killed. Last Monday night 400 were killed, almost all in a school which was hit. Fancy packing 1600 people into a 3-storey brick-built school. We had the usual alarm tonight. At long [last] I settled a light which we could see in George Street, and had seen nightly for weeks past. It was in a woman’s bathroom. I was glad of my horse rugs tonight [at the Castle]. V. cold.

11th September 1940

Sisson came in today about the destruction of church railings [for salvage]. He was very perturbed about the evacuation notices, although it does not apply outside the Borough [of Colchester]. From this most ridiculous situations arise. Lexden Schools are shut, while the Stanway Schools, less than half a mile away, (with a Colchester Councillor for a headmaster!) are open. Some children have been sent from Lexden a few yards up the London Road to relations in Stanway; others have been sent to West Bergholt. Grammar school boys from the town are expected to leave, while the school has to remain open for the benefit of boys from the country, who are apparently allowed to come into the town to school, while it is unsafe for our own children to remain here! I was told tonight that between 3,000 and 4,000 went away today on special trains.

Hull, strangely enough, takes no interest whatever in all this. I was quite expecting him to bury the whole museum today.

10th September 1940: The evacuation of Colchester

Alarm this morning from 2am – 5am. There was a fire burning at the Hythe, just as planes were passing over. I thought it must be an incendiary bomb, but heard later it was an accidental fire at the Moler Works, only rubbish burning. A bomb fell in the distance. The planes were high above the searchlights.

At 10 o’clock came what I had expected all the summer, and had half begun to hope we should escape – notices for the evacuation of Colchester. Old or infirm people, retired persons, women and children are urged to leave immediately. ... I rang up for a taxi, in case I could get [my parents] to go, back to Maidenhead if necessary, although I knew it was hopeless. Saw Hilda Smith, worrying about her old father, who she wants to go to Windsor, so we agreed to share a car in case anything can be done.

Saw George Farmer, joking and laughing, but very anxious. His people want to go, and are going to try his sister’s place in Surrey. As I thought, when I got home the parents resolutely refused to leave again under any circumstances. ...

Today as yesterday, no papers came until 2 o’clock. This is due apparently not so much to the fact that the papers cannot get out of London, as to the fact that the distributors refuse to send them out until they have the whole lot, which seems very unfair. More terrible raids in London.

Old Mr. Temperley sent us one or two things, including a very nice Celtic bronze ring and a 16th century key, both found at Maldon. The ring is labelled as being found during the excavation of Maldon West Station, a not unlikely spot.

EJR pasted the notice issued by the Regional Commissioner on the transfer of the local population into his journal. It provides an insight on the seriousness of the war situation and the expectation of an invasion:

'Urgent Notice. Temporary Transfer of Population.
1. If the enemy tries to invade this Country the Services will defend every inch of our land ...
2. The public throughout the Country has been asked to “stay put” and that it will do, but special considerations apply to this town. Some reduction in its population will make it easier for the Army to operate. For this reason we ask, as a patriotic duty, all those whose work does not require them to remain, to leave the town temporarily as soon as possible. This applies particularly to:
Mothers with young children
Schoolchildren
Aged and infirm persons
Person without occupation or in retirement
3. Such person should make arrangements for temporary accommodation with relatives but not in coastal areas of East Anglia, Kent or Sussex or in London.
4. Assistance is available to pay for railway fares and accommodation
5. You are urged to go quickly and not to take much luggage. Take your National Registration ID Card, Passport, Ration book, Gas mask, a rug or blanket and food for 24 hours
6. Special trains will be available from 11th September to Peterborough, Rugby, Kettering, Wellingborough, Stoke-on-Trent, Burton-on-Trent. ...
The following should stay:
Home Guard, Police and Special Constabulary, Fire Brigade and AFS, ARP and Casualty services, Workers in War Work, especially if on the land, export trades and the supply and distribution of food, transport employees, water, gas, electricity employees, Local authority members and officials, Doctors, nurses and chemists, Ministers of Religion, Government employees, Bank employees.'

9th September 1940

Alarm at 2.45am, until 5.30, and another just 12 hours later. Very few people bother to go into the Vaults now. Owing to the dislocation in London, we did not get any newspapers until the afternoon.

This evening I went over to Dedham to the Sissons' and spent a very pleasant evening, thus missing another alarm from 9-11pm. We had a good deal of talk about the war and my immediate future. They very kindly offered to do all they can to get me a job on a farm – I rather think a good many of their friends are in a similar position. We also discussed the future of Bourne Mill, and decided to try to get the Parks Superintendent to take an interest in the matter of the willows. [Cricket bat willow trees were grown at Bourne Mill as a source of income to help towards the conservation costs of the historic mill].

Sisson had some amusing things to tell about the absurd stories and rumours which are to be heard in Dedham. The best I think was about an old lady in the village who, in the early days of the War, woke up to see many searchlights playing on low clouds, giving an unearthly light over the whole landscape. She had never seen anything like this before, and was most impressed. After careful consideration she decided it must be the end of the world, and woke her old housekeeper to tell her so. The two old ladies then decided to make tea, and await Our Lord’s coming. After a while, as nothing further happened, they rang up the Chairman of the Parish Council (not the parson, you note) and informed him of the approaching judgement. With great tact he explained the real nature of the phenomenon they were witnessing, and somewhat disappointed they retired to bed. I was told this was absolutely true.
Very cold tonight. Autumn seems to be here.

8th September 1940

News today confirms that there were tremendous raids in London yesterday, and at least 400 were killed.

And so the long waited for day comes at last, when the great ARP organisation goes into action. The extraordinary thing is, why did the Germans wait so long? If it is as easy as this, why did they not bomb London a year ago? Even more harm could have been done. Alarm from 11.50 – 1.30pm. Only 35 came in. Went to sleep this afternoon. Supper with Rose.

7th September 1940: The first day of the Blitz

There was an alarm on this afternoon at 5.30. I was at Bourne Mill, and there were some little girls playing in the next field. They took no notice of the siren at all. 126 people went into the Castle Vaults.

Had supper with Rose, and was much disturbed by the number of planes going over from W. to E. about 10 o’clock. The radio news tonight says there have been severe raids on London today. Between 10 and midnight there was heavy firing down on the coast. I felt more frightened than I have done for some time, and went to the Castle for a while to see if an alarm was sounded but none came. There was some excitement in the town during the evening, and apparently an invasion scare is in progress. All soldiers were fetched out of the pubs by the Military Police, and the Home Guard were called out. I saw several lorry loads of soldiers going into the Park about half past 10, to man the strong points there, and another detatchment went into the stable yard at Port Lane.

It seemed to me a most unlikely night for an invasion, as the weather is cold and windy.

The major raids on London on 7th September 1940 were a result of the German Luftwaffe's change of tactics as they switched their attention from attacking aerodrome sites to a full scale attack on London. The 7th September 1940, therefore, marked the opening day of the London Blitz, that would last for the next 9 months. For more detail on events on 7th September 1940, see the Imperial War Museum's Battle of Britain website, the RAF's Battle of Britain Campaign Diary and the BBC's History website including events to mark this anniversary.

6th September 1940

Three alarms today, 9.30-10, 1.25-1.50, (right in my lunch hour), and 6.30-6.45, which caught me in Jacklin’s having tea, which I had to leave unfinished. Very few people came in for any of these.

Attended a meeting tonight in the Mayor’s Parlour on Horse ARP. All the prominent horse owners in the town were present (and me!) and we sat from 7pm till half past 9 listening to Murphy [the vet in charge of ARP arrangements for animals], Orchard and Rendell talking the most utter rubbish I have ever heard.

The Mayor sat there like a hero, never showing the slightest sign of the boredom and annoyance which he must have felt. Finally he got Orchard down from £100 to £25 for the job of fixing 60 or 70 iron rings in various pub yards. The total cost for the whole job should not be more than £5, but the Borough Engineer’s Dept. now has the matter in hand, which makes a slight difference. No doubt this will be one of those useful little jobs which can be used as a “cover” for the deficiencies in other jobs.

There was a great argument about the number of horses in Colchester. Murphy said he could only trace 137, (including 60 on the Co-op), but I said there were at least 300, and was quite unbelieved. However, as soon as I got home I looked up my old notes on horses, and found I was right, although there have been sad losses in the last few years, but against them not a few fresh horses have come in.

From the tone of this meeting it is obvious that Murphy, aided and abetted by Nicholson of Drury Farm, are going to obstruct as much as possible. It was agreed to levy a charge of so much per horse from each owner, to pay Orchard’s £25 and the cost of printing cards giving a list of all stables available for shelter.

Rang Parrington tonight about flails and corn chaff.

[EJR included an estimated list of the number of horses and ponies in Colchester in September 1940 at the end of his diary entry for today as follows]:
Brewers (and Mineral water manufacturers): 8
Builders: 3
Butchers: 2
Carters: 25
Coal-merchants: 45
Forage merchants: 70
Grocers/Bakers: 32
Milkmen: 23
and c.40 farm horses and c.60 Co-op horses

For more information on Eric's campaign to gain air raid protection for horses see his previous diary entry for 10th July 1940.

4th September 1940

There was an alarm at 9am, and bombs fell in the distance towards the South. Another at 9.30 tonight, lasting on to just after midnight.

3rd September 1940

There was an alarm from 10.15 – 11am, only 78 came in. Another alarm 9 – 10.30pm. Only 8 in, and they did not stay. Beautiful fine hot day. Park crowded.

2nd September 1940

Found the [railway] line at Shenfield is likely to be blocked for a day or two, [owing to an unexploded bomb].

An alarm this afternoon from 4.45 – 5.30. 137 people came in. We get quite big crowds in daytime. “All Clear” sounded conveniently in time for tea.

1st September 1940

This morning Maitland [Eric's cousin] and I walked down by the River [at Maidenhead], watching boats go through Bouter’s Lock, and after lunch went over to say goodbye to Margery [Eric's cousin] at Shurlock Row.

Margery’s cousins from Chelmsford were there, and it was an impressive fact that [there was] not a single person present but what had been too near to a bomb for comfort. Even Shurlock Row has continual planes over every night looking for Waltham Aerodrome. So far as I know they have only hit it once. Chelmsford has had two or three people killed, and several bombs right in the town.

We all sat in the garden for half an hour in the sunshine, and I ate plums fallen on the grass, as I used to do as a child. Then we all left, and back to Maidenhead to tea and then down to the station.

The train [from London] stopped at every station [the journey was diverted to avoid an unexploded bomb on the railway line at Brentwood], and we did not reach Colchester until 9.30pm.