This blog posts extracts from E J Rudsdale's diaries of life on the home front in Britain during the Second World War. Each extract is posted exactly 70 years after it was first written, so follow events through the eyes of a witness to the war.
Dull, grey morning, wet.Cycled in rather late.About the middle of the morning I heard the noise of a plane diving out of the clouds [and four tremendous explosions]. Hull was outside, crouching behind one of the pillars, and called “Look out!Here he comes!”
I went up onto the Holly Trees roof with glasses, but there was nothing to see, the whole town being under a misty haze.There were several people standing about in the street, and traffic was running normally.I saw a Warden run out of Queen Street towards East Hill, fastening his equipment as he ran.
In Queen Street two policemen hurried out of the police-station towards St. Botolph’s.The people shopping etc were going about their business unperturbed.There were windows out along Magdalen Street, at Chambers’, Diggens, my uncle George’s old shop, and along Barrack Street for 100 yards.Several were blown out at the church [St. Mary Magdalen].One bomb fell near Portugal Terrace, and shook the roofs off two houses.There were tiles off the old almshouses in Brook Street, and windows broken opposite.
There was an “Unexploded Bomb” notice on the coal yard gates [at St. Botolph's Station] but I expect this is only a bluff to keep the public away.There seemed to be dozens of Wardens walking about.
Got back to the office, and heard old Cecil Patten had just been in, the landlord of the Horkesley “Beehive” who was blown up there two years ago.He told Capt. Folkard that he was driving his lorry down Mersea Road when the Jerry plane opened fire, and a man fell shot right against him.This is a complete lie, as nobody was shot at all!
Went on a round of dairymen at Mile End and Dedham, investigating people who have no means of keeping their cows during the winter.One man, Munday, at Mill Farm, Mile End, has 15 very good shorthorns, and is producing 50 gallons of milk per day.He has only 10 acres of grass, and buys everything he wants.I realise this is all wrong, but I must admit it is a very pleasant method of farming, a method which is very attractive to me.At Dedham, called at Mrs. Erith’s, a lovely house in the main street.She is a very wealthy lady and keeps 4 beautiful Jerseys and employs a strapping young woman to look after them.They give 6 gallons a day between them (2 being dry) and some of this is sold in Dedham, but Mrs. E. gets all the cream and butter she can use. There is 5 acres of grass, 3 of which often flood.How can these people hope to carry on?
Called at Sissons, and added copies of Bale drawings to my photo collection.Stayed to supper.
Further details on the air raid on St. Botolph's Station in Colchester are available in E.J. Rudsdale's book.
Found that both Charlie Brooks and Bob Cooper are safe, and all their families.Brooks’ forge is very badly shaken, but he has six men on repairs today.
One bomb brought down 4 houses on the S. side of South Street, shattered the “New Inn” and a dozen houses opposite; the next demolished 3 or 4 houses in Chapel Street, the third passed almost horizontally through the first house on the S. side of Wellington Street, struck the roadway, leaving a perfect impression on the tar of its shape and tail-fins, bounced over a fence by Brooks’ back yard, and burst in the gardens between Essex St. and Wellington St., demolishing 3 houses on the N. side of the latter and 6 in Essex St.Cooper’s house is shattered, but still stands.Half a dozen houses on the N. side of Essex Street have the fronts blown out, and cascades of furniture and bedding are tumbling into the front gardens.
Cycled back to Lawford at 6.30, rain still continuing.
The aftermath of the air raid on Colchester that had taken place the previous day is described in more detail in E.J. Rudsdale's book.
About 11 o’clock I heard a plane flying very low a little to the west, than at once a tremendous crash of bombs.A few people were running towards the rear of All Saints Church.Just outside Geernant’s [shop] was a lump of bomb casing, about 9” long, lying in a pool of water, steaming.At first I thought it was an incendiary.A road-man pushed it into the gutter with his broom.There were several other pieces in Queen St., and Culver St., and I was sure the bombs must have fallen fairly near.The workmen and girls from Adams’ Garage were all outside, laughing and talking about pieces which had hit the glass and tin roof.There were bits of broken tile in the road by the Cross Keys, and a shop window was cracked at the corner of St Nicholas’ Street.No sign of anything else, and people looking in shop windows with their umbrellas up, traffic running up and down the High St.
I called at Lancasheer’s in Queen Street, and collected two prints which I am giving to Joanna [as a wedding present], and found that a skylight had been broken there.
We loaded up Joanna’s presents, called at Neale and Robarts for the tea buns, and soon learnt the worst. [Bombs had fallen across South Street, Chapel Street, Wellington Street and Essex Street].There were shop windows out at Headgate, - Murdoch’s, Benner’s, Daldy’s old shop, Reeman & Dansie’s, Smith’s and a dozen others.
I asked a policeman if he knew anything about Charlie Brooks and Bob Cooper, but he had no information, and would not let me by the rope.Plowright was at the end of Princess St., loading somebody’s bedding onto his coal cart, but he knew nothing either. I walked down St. John Street.Windows out all along the north side of the street.Noticed the usual crowd queuing for the Playhouse afternoon show.Chapel Street, shut, and again refused permission to go through.Ambulances and fire-tenders parked all along here (Why firemen?No sign of any fire).
Walked through the folley to Walsingham Road and up Cedars Road.Windows out all along, Plymouth Brethren Chapel had a lot broken, fragments of brick, coping-stones and iron railings all over the road.People standing at their doors.
No rope at Chapel St., so I pushed into a crowd and began to see what had happened.Brooks’ forge was comparatively intact, but every window was out.
There was one block [of houses] gone in South St., another in Chapel St., another in Wellington St., and a fourth in Essex Street.
There were dozens of wardens, rescue men and demolition men about, while a party worked on one place almost opposite to me, throwing out pieces of wood, soaked clothes, broken chairs.Heard somebody say there were six dead.Then a young boy came away from the ruin, and said to a warden near me “They can see her back and legs now.She’s under the dresser,” referring to a body which was then being dug out.An ambulance drove up and stopped near by.There was a pile of stretchers on the opposite pavement.The rain came down even harder than ever.
I could not wait any longer, so went back to The Bull, and looked in at Rose’s to collect sandwiches.Even in Church Walk a window was smashed, next door to the café.Rose seemed as busy as usual.
Drove out of the Bull [with Robin], crunching over broken glass, with much shying at heaps of rubbish.Got to Birch in good time, very wet.Delivered the presents.Dull meeting.Much talk about the wedding, and the Chairman warned Committee members not to come in cars, in case of trouble with the police.
Drove back in pouring rain.As I was feeding Robin, P.C. Bennall brought in a sheep which had been found in Beveny’s garage.Both boxes were occupied, so I put it in a pig stye and fed and watered it.I suppose it must have strayed off the Wick.
Back to the office, finished letters, and then up to the Post Office.Up Chapel Street I could see a long line of red lights, stretching away up the hill.Head Street was full of laughing soldiers and girls.Cycled to Lawford very tired, and thankful to be there safely.
This air raid caused the second highest loss of life in Colchester during the Second World War, after the tragic air raid on Severalls Hospital in August 1942. More details on the effects of this daytime air raid on Colchester on 28th September 1942 can be found in E.J. Rudsdale's book. CP
Mr and Mrs Minney, Mrs Belfield, and her “poet” all came to tea.Mr. Minney is still engaged in writing a film story on the life of Laval, which, if it is as dull as he is, will not be a very attractive picture.The “poet” appears to be growing a beard, and looks more of an insufferable young ass than usual.
Drove to Colchester immediately after tea, as I was on duty tonight.
In this week’s “Standard” I saw recorded the death of Miss Florence Wire of Buckhurst Hill, daughter of Alfred and grand-daughter of William Wire.I knew her quite well, and she frequently visited the Museum during the last few years.
Drove out to Lawford early this evening.
The antiquarian, William Wire, had kept a diary of life in Colchester during the nineteenth century and E.J. Rudsdale had been in contact with Florence Wire during the 1930s when researching the life of her grandfather. CP
This afternoon drove Robin over to Fingringhoe to pay some men.Called at Grubb’s, but she and the horses were out.Apparently she still takes a few people riding.Cannot understand how she keeps her horses alive.
Had to go to the Police Court today to give evidence in a case where old Sam King of Glebe Farm, Abberton, had summoned Mrs Furneaux’s man for poaching.I had to give formal evidence that King had no rights on the land at all.
It was really rather amusing, the idiotic solemnity of the whole business, the waste of time, etc.S.L. Bensusan and Major Waller were on the bench.Poor old King still cannot understand that he has no rights over what was formerly his own farm.The Clerk of the Court adopted a bullying, hectoring tone to King and the man accused, and a sickening smarming attitude to the magistrates.
Full moon tonight, but no Germans over.It is very lonely in the farmhouse all by myself.I am glad to have Pepper in the room, although he snores rather loudly.
Cloudy but fine, clearing up later.The Parringtons have gone away for three days, so I am sleeping alone at the Mill House, with only the two dogs.Pepper sleeps in my bedroom, as he is nervous when alone. [The Parrington's dogs were called Snip and Pepper].
Glorious moonlight night, a few planes about but no Germans.
Rain at times today.This afternoon went up to Lawford Hall and drove the new horse in the phaeton with Mrs. Belfield.Her conscientious objector gardener, aged 19, also came, a sloppy untidy looking youth who writes poetry and unsuccessful novels.At Lawford Hall saw a man standing about whose face looked vaguely familiar – it was Aldous Huxley, the writer.The new horse is very old and very, very slow.Rather fancy it must have been “in the black work” at some time. [ie: a horse that had pulled coal carts in Colchester]
Very busy all morning.Stuart Rose phoned to say that our trip to Higham was postponed as Boxted had an “invasion” exercise, and both he and Dodo [his wife] had to be on duty.
Home to lunch [with EJR's parents].I never go in the old house now without an anxious glance at the sideboard to see if there is a letter waiting for me, and if there is I never fail to have a sinking feeling in my bowels until I see if it is marked “OHMS, Ministry of Labour”.It is now nearly a year since I had the notice for a medical examination.
This p.m. shopping and then shifting corn chaff from Young’s yard.There must be nearly half a ton.
Drove out at 6.30, a lovely cool evening, groups of people talking at their cottage doors in Ardleigh, men digging in their gardens.Heavy black clouds came up from west.Mrs. Belfield and lovely Penelope at the Mill when I got there.Soon after dark heard RAF planes going out. The papers are nowadays filled with nauseating pictures of damage inflicted on German towns, particularly showing ruined houses.
In the “Standard” tonight is an account of an address given to the Colchester Brotherhood last Sunday, by Stokes, M.P. for Ipswich.I should very much have liked to have heard it.Cannot imagine why a man like Stokes should address a little brotherhood meeting in a back slum like Colchester.But he did, and he spoke his mind.He said this was not a peoples’ war, but a war between governments run by huge vested interests, and that millions would be sorry if it ever ended.He hoped we should eventually get total disarmament.(Government speakers keep on reiterating that England will never disarm again).Whenever I hear of a speech by Stokes I always feel hopeful.Wonder why he has not been arrested?
Richard Stokes had served in the First World War and was a critic of the area strategic bombing policy employed during the Second World War.
Finally settled Joanna [Round]’s wedding present today – cutglass jug and four glasses to match.Cost £5-5-6.Clouds tonight, and no planes.Such a relief. This gift was to be from Joanna's colleagues in the War Agricultural Committee Office at Colchester. More details on Joanna Round's engagement and wedding can be found in the book: 'E.J. Rudsdale's Journals of Wartime Colchester'.
Caught the train this morning.It was 20 minutes late at Ardleigh, though whether delayed by enemy damage I don't know.Heard the stationmaster speak of a farm fire which he saw when cycling back from Weeley last night.At Colchester heard about incendiaries, “all over the town”.Actually they fell in Greenstead Road, in the Avenue (some in the Bishop’s garden) and near Blackheath.Small H.E.s fell in the Avenue, damaging a house next the Land Army Hostel, which had windows broken, and in Ipswich Road near the “Rifleman”, where another house had the front blown in.
Spencer, who lives at Blackheath, says 2 H.E.s fell on the Wick behind his house, breaking his and other people’s windows.One fragment of a bomb went through a waterproof coat which was hanging on a nail.Saw Hervey Benham at lunch.He gloomily prophesised heavier raids on the town in the near future.He said the police were in quite a panic last night.He cycled home to Fingringhoe while the attack was on.
Called at home, and found Mother nothing like so alarmed as I thought she would have been.
Considerable arguments this morning about the allocation of threshing charges for Women's Land Army girls working on the drums.About half past 9 the Mersea Depôt phoned through to say one of the men had died at Abbot’s Wick.Much phoning to Colchester Police (who would have nothing to do with the matter) and to the Abberton Police, who promised to go down as soon as possible.Apparently the body cannot be moved until tomorrow.After lunch I found that the man was Fenn, one of the crowd from Gaskin’s Lodging House.He had nothing in his pocket except an identity card with a Northampton address, and a photograph of a woman and a girl.He had registered as single.Poor devil, he is better off than most of us.It was about half past 8 that he sat down suddenly and quietly died.
This afternoon a most extraordinary old woman came in, quite 70 years old, and startled everybody by applying for a job as a tractor driver or a horseman (“I know all about horses – I was blooded when I was three!”).I got rid of her as tactfully as I could.
Worked at the office until 7, and then cycled to Lawford.Just as I finished supper, German planes began to come in from the sea, very low.There was tremendous gunfire.Six lots of flares came down at the same time, so that the crescent moon, sinking in the W., faded to nothing.As I stood on the hill behind the farm, there was a noise like somebody throwing handfuls of gravel onto the dry turf – shell fragments falling.I heard shell-caps or shrapnel whistling down several times.
To the S. and S.W. there were two large fires, a fair way off.The guns seemed to be more than usually erratic, and neither shells nor searchlights had any relation to the true position of the planes.There did not seem to be more than 6 machines in all, and the whole affair died away about 10 o’clock, after which I went to bed.
Sisson came in the office today, about bomb damage at Abbotts Hall, Gt. Wigborough.He has been to Norwich since I saw him last.The majority of the historic buildings are quite safe and unharmed, but the damage in residential and industrial quarters is terrible.He says most of the factories are destroyed.
Abbotts Hall Farm was administered by the Essex War Agricultural Committee during the war and in 1943 the farm's grassland was ploughed up in order to grow crops to meet food production targets. Today Abbotts Hall Farm is owned by Essex Wildlife Trust who manage the site for wildlife as well as operating a working farm. The estate is open to visitors to enjoy the scenery and wildlife of this historic farm, which dates back to the time of the Domesday Book and is situated on the Blackwater Estuary. CP
Took Robin to be shod this morning.Charlie Brooks told me that Smith at the “Prince of Wales” Yard had refused to shoe any more heavy horses, as he had taken on a contract for making hand tools.Unfortunately he cannot be dealt with under any existing order.This means that only Brooks and Bruce are doing heavy shoeing.It is simply astounding that in these days, when horses must increase for the next few years, smith after smith wants to close down.Four shops in or near Colchester have shut since the beginning of the war, or else men have left their masters to go to other work.
Drove over to Birch for a [War Agricultural] Committee.Nothing very special said or done.
Dull and cloudy.This kind of weather seems to keep both air forces fairly quiet, so there were very few planes over today.Fed all the animals, then writing until teatime.Mr and Mrs Nichols from Lawford Hall came to tea, driving up in their magnificent Rolls Royce.He was most amusing, and she was very handsome and charming.I believe her sister married either a brother or a cousin of the Queen.Much talk about driving.She is going to buy a horse for the phaeton, which is to be repainted as soon as possible.
Nichols said he had to go to Stoke-on-Trent last Sunday, to address an audience of 3,000 on the war effort.
A lot of talk at tea time about the grinding of flour and home-made bread.Everybody in this district is very keen on it.
This morning I had felt quite resigned to my firewatching duty tonight, but by tea I was irritable and annoyed at the prospect of leaving the peace and comfort for the cold cell and the chance of a raid.I decided to shirk.Then I phoned Holly Trees. No answer.Then the Fire Guard office.No answer.Finally the police, who made no effort to reply for nearly five minutes.I became quite anxious and asked the operator if he was sure it was the right number.I heard him say “Colchester, is that 4444?” and Colchester answered “Yes, but they don’t reply.Perhaps they’ve all gone to the pictures.” At last they did answer, and I gave a message for Poulter, to say that I was not very well.As a result, within half an hour I had violent stomach pains!
Wrote out part of a story, “Street Scene in Manchester”.
Carting wood and hay this afternoon.Then out to Lawford at half past 7.
Notice posted at St Botolph’s Station to say that from Monday next the station will be closed for an indefinite period.People think that this means big troop movements, perhaps the arrival of more Americans.
Fog this morning.Drove Robin in, then went to Ipswich with Frank Warren and Beaumont, the vet, to buy horses for the Committee.It was more or less a holiday so far as I was concerned, because there was nothing I could do of any use.It was an authorised Suffolk Sale, quite good, but people said it was not so good as the last.Prices were high as usual.Frank Warren had a mare and horse foal there.He asked Beaumont how much she would make.(She was not in very good shape).Beaumont said 80 guineas.She made 137 guineas, and the foal 27 guineas.
Frank Warren bought nothing for the Committee, although he went carefully over every horse in the place.I was rather disappointed, as I had hoped we should get a couple.About 2, I went away, had a lunch, and looked round the Docks.There is no sign of any raid damage that I could see, although hundreds of bombs have fallen.All the ancient houses which I know so well are still safe.
After lunch, for the sake of a spree, I went to the Odeon Cinema, where I often went before the war, and saw two ridiculous films which at any rate made me laugh.
Then I caught a Manningtree bus, and had a glorious ride out past the “Ostrich”.I remember being driven there by poor Aunt Julia one day about 1919 or 1920, in a little tub trap she borrowed from a friend, and I have never been along that road since.
It was very pretty going along by the riverside.Several barges coming up.Went through Holbrook.The great naval college still stands unharmed.And so through Cattawade to Manningtree Station, where I got out and walked across the Park home.
Joanna told me today that her mother knows the Marquis of Anglesey, who is very friendly with the Royal Family, especially the late Duke of Kent.Apparently the local Ministry of Labour at Anglesey do everything they can to prevent the Marquis from keeping any maids in his vast house.Fairly recently he protested against the removal of further domestic staff as he was shortly expecting the Duke and Duchess to stay.The Labour Exchange replied that they could do nothing to help him, doubtless the Duke had his own servants, but that was nothing to do with them.As far as the Marquis was concerned, he could do without.
Felt very ill today, teeth, head, and stomach.Got through the day somehow with no food.Penelope called this evening, on her way to the station, but although I did not go to bed as I had intended, I could not summon up enough energy to walk there with her.I hope she was not offended.Glorious golden sunset.
Many RAF going over tonight.I hate the noise of them as much as I do that of the Germans.
Up at 7.Washed and shaved at the Holly Trees, as I can no longer get hot water in the Castle since Poulter had the electric plugs changed.Opened letters and went to breakfast.Saw an American soldier standing in High St. in his shirt sleeves, smoking a cigar.
Duncan Clark phoned this afternoon, and asked me to have tea with him at Jacklin’s, which I did. We discussed the hopelessness of the situation at the Museum, but he insisted the Committee would make a change as soon as ever the war ended.I was still not convinced, but he told me definitely that the Committee relied upon me for the future.
When I got back to Holly Trees I found Poulter sitting on the steps, reading, so I sat with him.He told me that Christopher Hawkes was coming down at the weekend to see some “excavations” which Hall is apparently doing on the line of the triple-Rampart at Lexden.I am surprised to hear that Hawkes can find time to waste on these extraordinary burrowings.
Having put my cycle lamps right I went along to the Town Hall to see Councillor Sam Blomfield in the Soldier’s Canteen [to discuss the future of the Museum].He said very much the same as Duncan Clark, maintaining all the while an attitude of official ignorance concerning the state of affairs at the Museum.This attitude rather annoyed me.However, he spoke firmly of dealing with Hull “when the time was ripe.”Yes, but when will it ever be ripe?Not in my lifetime, I fear.I brought forward my suggestion about making each member of the staff responsible for one department of the Museum, and directly responsible to the Committee.He thought about it deeply, and I could see that he was impressed.I believe this is definitely workable.We should all have distinct duties, and would submit monthly reports of our work. I left the Councillor on the best of terms.
Fed Robin, and then cycled to Lawford in the dark, arriving just as an attack began on Wattisham or thereabouts.For about half an hour guns were firing hard, and about a dozen planes crossed over from the coast.I have never seen so many searchlights, which seemed to worry the enemy quite a lot, as we could hear them diving and climbing continually to escape them.Went up to my favourite stand behind the farm where a fallen tree provides good cover, and had a clear view, right across the [River] Stour.I believe one plane was hit, as the noise of it died away to the N.W. in a very peculiar manner, ending with a flash and a dull distant thud.
In a lull in the firing I heard the church clocks at Dedham, East Bergholt and Manningtree, unperturbably striking eleven.Soon after the noise of battle died away and I went to bed.
Drove off this afternoon through Dedham and Langham to Boxted.Called at the Roses’ and had tea, tying Robin onto an apple tree.Lady Minter was there from Rivers Hall.It seems that they have no servants there at all, so that guests have to do most of the work.She said that she hoped I would tell her of any good housemaids if I happened to find one, and that she was going to try a “house boy” instead.I told her Joanna’s story about one of J’s relations, living in a lonely house in Scotland, far away up the mountains.This lady recently engaged two boys, one 16 and one 15 to do house work.One morning the elder came to her and advised her not to go downstairs, as he had murdered the other.He had, too, with an axe.Quite a predicament for an old lady to be in, far from any help.
Went on to Little Horkesley after tea, and called on Harry Bullock about his application for pig feed.Met Mr. Page on the way who admired Robin very much.
Back to Colchester by 8 o’clock, and went on duty.
Felt terribly ill today.No sleep last night, stomach pains bad.Several planes about, and some firing in the distance.Weird crescent moon at half past one in the morning.
Day overcast, with strong westerly wind.Felt much better by tea time, and cycled out.
Poulter told me a rather amusing thing today.His friend Weekes, the dentist, has bought a place of about 30 acres at Capel St. Mary, and has sold the holding on the London Road, about 9 acres of good pasture and a little house, for £450.It has been bought by a tribe of gypsies.They paid cash in notes.Needless to say, Mr. Weekes is very unpopular with his former neighbours, who now regard him as a complete blackguard.The place is now swarming with horses, caravans, rubbish of all sorts.