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 café 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.