Yet another brilliant day. I have never known such weather at the end of the year before. Bitterly cold though, and a sharp NE wind. Hundreds of American bombers coming and going all day, on their way to bomb open towns in
France or Belgium.
Walked out of the Culver St café at lunch time today, because the radio was so bad – they insisted on having a wretchedly dull war talk instead of an orchestral concert so I got up, paid for what I had hardly had and walked out.
Much preoccupied today making a new register of all the agricultural holdings in the district, which I hope at last to get complete.
Left tonight by
Harwich Road. Mist coming up, low clouds. Called at Springgate to ask after Bob, who
seems to be very well. Went on to Lawford and while there phoned Sisson. Tricher is
calling to see him, and seems very favourable to my going to Thorington Hall. Felt much cheered. To Higham at 8.30, very dark and rain
beginning, so every chance of a quiet night.
Called on sweep in
Brook St to come
and do dining room chimneys. I said, “looks thick tonight,” looking at the heavy
mist in the Colne valley. He replied
“Yes, we ought to be safe tonight” reading my thoughts instantly.
So ends 1943, bloodshed, terror, wild aimless destruction, and so we rush on into 1944, with the promise from our leaders that we shall have more of it, more than we dream possible. Some people in Colchester all rather alarmed to find that the town is only about 90 miles from
Calais, so that if the new “rocket shells”
can reach 125 miles we may have something else to worry about.
Will the war never end?
Port Lane last night, in a house opposite
Paxman’s, near the chase to the stable.
A little boy and girl there alone, and must have set the place
alight. The father, a man named Martin, rushed
in from the street, and he and the boy were suffocated. It all happened in a few minutes and the
place was quite gutted. The other child
Slept only 4 hours. Shaved at 6.30, had breakfast, left in the dark. The scarlet light still flashing. Labourers moving to work in the darkness. Cold, but fine. Determined to go to the Roses’ tonight, to get some rest and pleasant company. Saw Hervey Benham today. He is preparing his history of
East Essex during the war, but he
did not seem very interested in my journals.
He had been to the ARP Control people, and had seen the official
records. These, he says are in a
frightful muddle, and it is almost impossible to discover what really happened
Left at 5.30 for Boxted. The Roses very glad to see me, and we spent a pleasant evening, talk and radio, excellent food.
Stuart made up a bed for
me for the night. Bitterly cold black night, and very
few planes about.
More fog, and cloudy. No planes about all day. Called at Rallings at 5, stayed till 6, Father has got a slight cold. Then went to
Dedham to tell Sissons
about my visit to Thorington Hall. Mrs
Sisson was suddenly very pessimistic about the whole thing, and prophesised all
sorts of troubles with Mrs Tricher and Mrs Burton, Penrose’s housekeeper. Tricher has not yet spoken to Sisson, and I
hope Sisson will put in a good word for me when he does, in spite of what Mrs Sisson said.
It was suggested that I should take a room permanently at one of the
inns, but I do not fancy the idea very much.
However, I must get in somewhere, as the light was on again tonight, and
I could not sleep for nervousness and anxiety.
Soon after midnight a plane passed over from
the East, and I saw that fog and clouds were clearing so that Orion shone
brilliantly over the South.
Up early, and got in by 10 past 9. Brilliant day, pale blue sky, fog in the valley. Carting off beet at Higham, and two horse-teams ploughing near
Stratford. One of the ploughmen was setting his coulter
as I went by, the Suffolk
horses standing in a cloud of steam.
Received a Christmas card today from the Penroses in
– posted in , at half past eleven at night on
Nov. 1. That’s about 6 hours earlier
than our time, so at the moment one of the Penroses went through the lamp-lit
streets of the city to the letter-box, I was fast asleep in this lonely
cottage, at 5.30 in the morning. It was
then the day before Mother was taken ill. London, Ontario
Committee at Birch, very short. We got through the business well, and I was back in
Colchester by 5. At tea everybody talking about the
sinking of the “Scharnhorst”, the Chairman laughing because somebody had
sympathised with the drowned Germans.
A lot of talk about the review of all agricultural labour which is now to be made, as the Executive Committee have powers to take men from one farmer and send them to another or take them into their own employment. This has already caused a good deal of hardship and indignation. Saw Joanna in Birch Park with baby. Tritton gone to sea.
When I got back to Colchester saw Diana going across the top of North Hill, so I ran after her and went to
The play, “Lady Precious Stream” is going very well. Left at 6, when she went back to the
theatre. A lovely golden evening, faint
stars, mist and the last traces of the sun.
No planes about, and went off to Thorington Hall to see Mr Tricher,
wondering if the beacon would be lit, but it was not, although several times I
imagined I saw the flash of it. Balkerne Gardens
Both the Trichers very friendly. Spoke of Penroses and Sissons, and emphasised I had known them both for years. I suggested I should have one room upstairs and left him to get in touch with Sisson. It is a glorious house, and I should love to get in there.
To Higham, 8pm. Very thick and cold. Freezing hard. Early bed.
Fog all gone. A lot of planes about, from Raydon I think. Thin high clouds, clearing. The sun came out in the afternoon, and then sank into a bank of red mist across the valley of the Brett. Stayed in the cottage and saw no one the whole day. Listened to radio, heard Scharnhorst sunk. The destruction of a great battleship is terrible. This was far away in the
in darkness. Who survived? Arctic
All bulletins repeated the news in German, French, Italian etc. Fine clear night. Waited anxiously to see if Beacon lit, but nothing doing at 7 o’clock.
Wakened by George bringing milk. Got up to find no Conrans – they had not returned from Ida’s party. Eventually came in about 1 o’clock, and then a great flurry to pack and leave for
Southampton. Thick fog all day. Warm.
Went in with them, by Langham and Boxted, as I had promised Father to go
to tea. Felt happy and confident as the
fog was so thick, sure of no raid tonight.
We had to go very slowly, as Jacquie cannot cycle very well. Got to Winnock Lodge at 5. Father looked well and happy. Crowd there, all the Ralling family and old Blomfield (“Blommy”) the organist, as silly and fluffy as ever. Noticed I was put down at the bottom of the table with the children – as if we were all one generation. Joan is quite handsome, with long fair hair, and Jane, now about 16, is becoming really pretty. The boy John talks of nothing but aeroplanes. He is 17, and joins the RAF in a few months.
Tremendous tea – 3 sorts of jam, 2 cakes (I gave one), buns, apples, etc. Stayed until 7.30, reading papers and “Punch”. Still very foggy. Went up to
Seymours’, St John Street a seething mass of people
coming out of the cinemas swarming all over the road. The air thick with fog and American voices.
Seymours’ found Ann was home, now a
nurse. Her likeness to Alan at 18 is
startling, voice and mannerisms just the same.
Stayed until quarter to 12, talking about Wales
just as I used to. Then away into the black
night along the Boxted Road. Met an American lorry, which stopped me by
driving at me, so that I had to get on to the path. The driver wanted to know if he was on the
right road to Colchester. Strongly tempted to misdirect him.
Got to Higham about 12.30, and amazed to find the Beacon on. Why on earth should it be showing in such a fog? Not a plane about. Made me feel irritable and nervous. Listened to German music on radio, bed 3.30am.
Saturday, Christmas Day
Foggy and rather warmer, lay very late, and had to hurry to get down to Sissons’ by 1 o’clock for lunch. Put on best suit, hurried across the valley, meeting people coming back from church.
At Sissons’, found Major Inde also invited. The Major was very outspoken, as usual. Suggested that any white woman who went out with a black man should be shot. Also spoke about the Royal family thought George VI rather insipid. Said it was rumoured that American papers had published the statement that Princess Elizabeth is to marry the Duke of Rutland. Sisson said it was lucky she had not been betrothed to young King Peta of Jugo Slavia, as he is now to be dropped by the Government in favour of the Jugo Slav rebels. The Major gave his opinion that
would be the last sovereign, after which the monarchy would sink into a Regency
and then die away. Said he would be
sorry for it, but feared it inevitable as the Russians would not countenance a Monarchy. Has an intense hatred of the
Went on to talk about old Colchester families, and mentioned that Dr. Marie Stopes, the notorious advocate of birth control, was related to Stopes of Colchester Brewery, the first man in
Colchester to have a car. Mrs Sisson mentioned that it was not generally
known that Dr Stopes was a doctor of literature, not medicine. The public all believe she is a medical
doctor of course.
The Pentons came just before tea. Jack spoke of Soad, [his brother?] whom he despises for dropping pacifism at the outbreak of the war. Sisson said that being above military age made a great deal of difference to one’s belief in pacifism. Mrs Penton said she had received a Christmas card showing a British soldier guarding
Bethlehem. Sisson said he could design a better one than
that – the Holy Babe in an air raid shelter, the Virgin in an ATS uniform,
and Joseph as an Air Raid Warden, the sky above showing the Star of Bethlehem
A World War II Christmas Card showing a soldier guarding Bethlehem,
probably the same image that Mrs Penton received as a Christmas card in 1943
Two planes came over Langham, wheeling round in the fog, and Mrs Penton said about 40 machines landed at Raydon yesterday, so I suppose we shall have more noise.
Jack said he had listened to carols from King’s on the radio yesterday, and the singing was at times almost drowned by the noise of bombers flying over the chapel. Apparently this had happened before, and some person had written to the “Radio Times” to say how fine and appropriate it sounded to hear carols and above them the bombers going out on “their mission of liberation”.
I left shortly after, and went back to Higham, very thick, dark night. Not a plane, not a sound but distant dogs barking, and people laughing down the road. No beacon at Higham. Conrans out at a party at Ida’s. Bed at 10 o’clock.
Friday, Christmas Eve
Holiday today, so lay late. Brilliant cloudless day, but fog coming up. To
Colchester in the evening dusk. People cycling back from town,
carrying parcels, holly and mistletoe, taking no notice of the bombers, the sun
sinking in scarlet flame over the flat fields.
Went to Holly Trees to get my money, and gave Poulter a ship in a bottle from Mrs Sisson. Hardly spoke to him before
came across the Park and I fled. He
seems to smell me out, whenever I go there.
Collected parts of oil stove for Conrans, and then to Winnock Lodge for tea. Whole family there from Leigh on Sea. Joan Ralling quite tall and grown up now. I do not get on at all with young people, and found the meal very trying.
Left at 7.30. Foggy. Could hear screams of American soldiers in the High Street as I went down East Hill. A lot of traffic on
mostly lorries and taxis taking Americans into town. Fog thickening, no planes about.
Had another “bomb nightmare” in the early hours today, the first for some months. Dreamt I was in the front garden at
Winnock Road, on a
very dark night, listening to a plane diving down towards the South. Then there were two big bomb-bursts behind the Rallings' house and I woke up, sweating as usual.
Fine but cloudy. Got in very early. The girls all in a great way about getting ready for an office party tonight. District Officer went out with a grin, “to get out of the way”, but Walling made himself very unpleasant, and shouted and raved at Daphne, who was reduced to tears. Jupp sprang to Daphne’s aid, and told Walling to shut up. Thankful I was not staying to the party.
At lunch at
Culver Street today two tall dark Czech
soldiers came in, with a thin, red haired boy I have seen around the
market. He looked very frightened, and
one of the men kept pawing his arm. They
all had lunch together, the Czechs jabbering together.
Quite clear, tonight. Took Hampshire tobacco and then on to Lawford, and took Joy and Parry “Roman Portraits”. Her cousin and family were there. The cousin’s husband is a a Home Guard officer, and he and Parry were talking quite seriously about the chances of a German invasion in March or April! Parry is the arch-pessimist.
Late in, overslept. District Officer said he hoped I should keep better hours after Christmas. Felt myself going very red.
Recently the figures were published of raid casualties in November – 119 dead. This is very curious, as every one was saying that between 200 and 300 were killed in a
dance hall on November 6th.
Also recently announced that about 5,000 have been killed by road
accidents. This arouses nothing like the
horror of 100 raid deaths.
Heard tonight that one evening recently a policeman from
came up to see the Americans at Higham about a stolen bicycle. As he walked across the field towards the hut
one of the Americans fired at him with a Tommy-gun, without stopping to ask any
questions. The policeman was justifiably
annoyed. What amusing times we live in.
Throat bad again today, but not very much. Feel rather depressed. Thankful that Father is safe and warm for Christmas.
Shortest day. Got in early, fine morning, bright and sunny, cold wind. Busy all day, but nobody wanted to do much work – Christmas. Clouds came up later and it began to rain. Went to tea with Diana Davis. There is no theatre production this week so she has her evenings free, and suggested going to the Regal Cinema. It was such a filthy night that I agreed, feeling sure there could be no alarms in such weather. However, the alarm was on for about three-quarters of an hour, during which time we were treated to fantastic scenes of Brazilian Jungle life, and an even more fantastic English spy story.
Suggested we should walk through Sheepen Fields, which we did, in the mud. Thought of how many times I had been through these paths in the dark winter evenings, with Bessie, Dinah, the girl from the hat shop. In those days the town was a glare of light to the east. Now no lights except cars on the road and the lights in the railway yards. Back past the Workhouse and Infirmary. Thought of little Mother.
Diana then suggested supper at her lodgings in
, to which I
agreed although it was now 10.30pm. She
made a lovely omelette and some tea, and we were very comfortable and cosy. Balkerne
At last at 20 past 12 I said I must go, so kissed her and went out into the dark. Clouds gone, bright starlight, and about a dozen heavy bombers going east, rather low. Policeman in the Wagon and Horses Yard said “Goodnight”. Wished I could have stayed in Colchester, but have no bed anywhere now.
as the clock chimed half past 12,
speeding along with a strong wind behind me.
Through Boxted, Langham, and Mile End Church Stratford. No light at Higham tonight.
Heard guns in the middle of the night, and a distant all-clear. Fine bright morning, crescent moon. Miss Ralling told me there had been two short alarms in the night, at 2 and 6. Father never heard the second one.
Felt anxious all day, as it was so fine and I knew the beacon would be alight tonight. A good many planes going out this morning. Left at 5.30 tonight, and went to
cloud coming up, and the noise of heavy planes to the NW. Saw Sisson who was very agreeable to my
suggestion to move to Thorington Hall.
Said he would see Mr Tricher. There are 4 people in the home now, but 15 rooms. The Trichers use the ground floor only.
Saw the light flashing as soon as I reached
Felt so nervous I contemplated going back to Colchester or to Boxted, anywhere. Walked in the garden half an hour before
going in, then drank tea and felt more settled.
Long to get away, though. Conran
very affable tonight.
Infuriating to think how this little home has been ruined for me. High hopes of Thorington Hall. Shortest day tomorrow. From now on every day will have a few more seconds of daylight.
Pouring rain until 10 o’clock. Ate breakfast in bed, and spent the morning writing. The weather cleared, and a lot of planes began flying about – a huge mass of 4-engine bombers flew over low, like a cloud of butterflies. About 4 went down to
Dedham and had tea at the café, where I
haven’t been for several months. Some
people at the next table were talking about Royalty, and one woman said her
uncle, at Horkesley, had a bust of Edward VIII in his room, and maintained that
he and no other is the rightful king.
Went on to Lawford, and arrived just in time to have an egg. Unfortunate that I had just had one for tea. Joy let me have eggs for Father and a pint of milk for myself.
Back to Higham as the clock struck 10, bright starlight, the twinkling points reflecting in the puddles in the road. A few searchlights weaving patterns in the sky, but the light not on. Conran said it will be on tomorrow. Feel I cannot stay here much longer, and intend to ask Sisson if I can get into Thorington Hall. Showed Conran my
Windsor Royal Show exhibition photos [from 1939], but he
was not very interested. Bed 11.30.
Woke up early, had breakfast in bed in the warm. Low clouds and light rain. The beacon still flashing at 8 o’clock. Mrs Roe packing up and preparing to leave. Got in by 9. Even then it was hardly light. Everybody busy, all morning, and much to do about Women's Land Army girls faking timesheets. Fortunately they are incapable of making a good job of it.
This afternoon to tea with Diana Davis, most enjoyable. Arranged to see her again on Tuesday. Heavy rain when I left at 6, but blowing behind me. Uncomfortable, but means a quiet night. Went by Boxted, passed old Diggers’ horse and cart on the
lamps swinging in the rain. Supper and
early bed. Conran arrived this
morning. Mrs Roe gone, thank God.
Very dark and foggy morning. Wakened at 7 by the noise of planes warming up at Langham. Got in by 9.15. Busy all day, and got a good deal done. Bought a brass ship’s candlestick which Dodo Rose wanted, and, as Stuart Rose did not come to the office, went back that way and delivered it. As I was leaving about quarter to 7, a jeep overtook me in the lane by Rivers Hall, travelling fast. It was very dark and thick. The car turned into the lane by Hill Farm, Langham, and almost at once there was a heavy burst of machine gun fire in the lane, about 200 yards from me. Saw tracer going up. I flung myself into the ditch, and peered over the hedge bank at a mass of tracer bullets flying through the air. The firing kept on for about 10 seconds, and then I heard the noise of a lorry changing gear and being driven away quickly. Presumably this means Americans on the run. Thought I had better hurry on as fast as possible, and being so dark ran off the road near the lane to the waterworks. Could hear people at cottage doors talking about the firing. At
Road there were several army trucks and military
police at the top of Gun Hill. Went to Dedham, called on Mrs. Sisson regarding Christmas toys, and then to Higham.
The light on, brilliant, could see it from
. Felt very depressed. Suddenly thought of going to Thorington Hall,
if there is room. Must see Sisson about it. Stratford
Fine though cloudy. On the
side, people still hard at work on sugar-beet, carting to gateways and roadside
Went up town, called at Benham’s, and heard that Father had actually been up as far as Woolworth’s, he hasn’t been so far since before Mother died. Went to Rallings to tea for half an hour.
Called at Holly Trees. Went upstairs with Poulter to see a portfolio of drawings, prints and MSS by Isaac Taylor, which he had just found behind a book case in
room. Two very nice sets of
illustrations to Josephus. Wish I had
time to examine them and collate them with the material which the Museum
acquired in 1928.
Rather late this morning. Fine and cold, hard white frost, fog in the valleys, trees black outlined in white. A great swarm of rooks flying off from Gunhill.
Just over the Borough Boundary, a badly smashed car by the roadside, with its lights burning, apparently been there all night.
Received the bill for Mother’s funeral - £20-5-0. Quite a lot of money. This includes the burial fee.
Saw Ella this morning, as bossy and aggressive as ever. Find that she has taken over all Mother’s clothes. I was furious. Went to Rallings to tea but said nothing about it to Father.
Very cloudy all day, and had hopes it would be a filthy night, but by the time I reached Birchwood the stars were glittering, and a ruddy smear to the east showed where the moon would rise. However, no planes about.
Went up to the Pentons’ at Lark Hall, Holton, and had supper there. The house is delightful, full of lovely things. Looked right through Jack Penton’s book [John Penton was an artist and book illustrator]. The eerie magic of the pictures is astonishing. They gave me some milk to take away, as I have had none since Friday.
About 9, the Raydon Salvation Army Band came along playing old carols in the frosty night. It made me think of Mother, who always loved to hear carols.
Got back to Higham about 11. Cloudy again. Annoyed and alarmed to find the light working again, first time for about a month. Even more annoyed to find that Jacquie had dismantled the oil stove, so that I was unable to make a hot drink.
Up at 7. Complete change in the weather – clear, cold sky and brilliant moon. Left at 8, went by
take Sissons' a loaf. The sky was pale,
the morning star glittering. Labourers
beginning to work, threshing tackle near Brook Farm and another at Fox Street. Children playing as always at the end of the
Long Road, apparently quite undisturbed by the destruction half a mile away.
Called to see Father, who seemed very well, had tea and bread and jam there. At office, all confusion. Capt Folkard not very affable, owing to worry and annoyance.
War Agricultural Committee this afternoon. Great excitement about the bombing, and the murder. A good many bombs fell at Layer Marney, and old Lofthouse lost 7 cows. They were not all dead, and he had to finish some off by cutting their throats with a clasp-knife.
The murder caused a great sensation. Everybody believes it was done by Americans, but the
Chairman said that several taxi drivers had been asking for trouble, as they have
charged anything up to £4 to drive Americans from Colchester
Nothing much at the Committee although it was very long. Sadler came from Writtle, his first time as Executive Officer. [Ralph Sadler had replaced J.C. Leslie as Executive Officer of the Essex War Agricultural Executive Committee at Writtle] He made a long rather wandering speech. I got a lift back to Colchester with him. Talked about labour problems, but he could not see where the real root trouble lay. Sat until candles were lighted. Heavy gunfire all afternoon.
Very cold cycling out.
traffic on the Ipswich Road. Near Birchwood saw an old woman, wrapped
in a white shawl, tottering along carrying a candle lantern. The moon rising rather misty, but looks like
suitable weather for a raid. Saw a
shooting star, and a few pale searchlights at practice.
At Valley Farm Cottage, found a detective interviewing Mrs Roe regarding a bag she has lost. Crept quietly upstairs. Heard their voices, Mrs. Roe’s especially, rising and falling for a very long time.
Dull grey morning. Lay very late. I did all the fires and most of the washing up, and at last managed to get away to
Dedham to find out what had happened there in the air attack. Heard that a Mrs Coombes,
wife of a smallholder at School Corner, who has frequently been in the
office, died in the raid. His house is gone and several
Apparently the Long Road at Dedham was mistaken for the runway of Langham Aerodrome, and was bombed deliberately by 6 or 7 machines. 25 high explosives fell and many incendiaries, but Mrs Coombes and her baby were the only casualties. Poor Coombes was saying only a week ago how his wife would help him in the seed-garden he intended to start. Glad I was not at Lawford that night.
Had tea and supper at the Sissons'. Feel I overstay my welcome, but the comfort and company is so great I cannot break away.
Felt a good deal better, though weak. Headache quite gone. Got up late, lit fires, did chores, much badgered by Mrs Roe. Jacquie rather quiet, I suspect because she has no chance to get a word in edgeways. Very cold and overcast, with some thin snow, and little blizzards at times. Set off for
Colchester at 12.30.
I had forgotten all about last night’s raid until I was going up East Hill, when I noticed two broken windows in a shop near
Priory Street, then one or two more windows gone in the tall houses on the corner of Roman Road. The Park
locked with “Unexploded Bomb” on the gate. Several windows out in High Street, as far as
St Nicholas Church, and one or two right down Queen Street.
70 years ago today Colchester Castle had had a lucky escape when a stick of four bombs was dropped on Castle Park on the night of 10th December 1943. Three of the bombs exploded in the Park but the fourth bomb, which fell within feet of the back of Colchester Castle, failed to explode. E.J. Rudsdale's account of this event can be found in his book. A pencil sketch he made of the site of the unexploded bomb is shown below and reveals that a Roman drain was discovered when the unexploded bomb was removed. CP
Went to Boxted at 5, to Little Rivers to see the Roses. Saw Mrs Piccard there (nee Phoebe Fenwick Gaye). Showed me the evening paper with an account of a murder of a taxi driver called Hailstone, whose body has been found in a ditch by Birch Rectory. Supposed to have been killed by Americans. His mother was injured in August 1940 and died a year later. His little sister used to come into the Castle Vaults in air raids. Stayed talking about
She told me of another murder, at Hampstead, a few weeks ago, where a
man met a Canadian and asked him home to supper. After the supper the Canadian murdered and
robbed him. She also told me it was
estimated that there were 10,000 deserters in London.
Went to Boxted at 5, to Little Rivers to see the Roses. Saw Mrs Piccard there (nee Phoebe Fenwick Gaye). Showed me the evening paper with an account of a murder of a taxi driver called Hailstone, whose body has been found in a ditch by Birch Rectory. Supposed to have been killed by Americans. His mother was injured in August 1940 and died a year later. His little sister used to come into the Castle Vaults in air raids. Stayed talking about
Felt better, but headache, in fact ached all over, but cough practically gone. Did not sleep much before 4am, but slept then until 9. Wakened by birds, the sound of the cows coming up, the postman’s knock. Jacquie brought me a cup of tea.
Jacquie went off to her sister-in-law’s to lunch, dressed in spotted fur-coat and trousers, like a little Eskimo.
Another disaster – the cooking stove has gone wrong.
The sun came out, the first time we have seen it since Monday, but the weather was very cold. A lot of planes flying about.
Just as we were settling down for a quiet evening, there was a tremendous commotion at the door, and in came Jacquie's mother, Mrs. Roe. In the middle of this heavy firing began, not that she took any notice of it. For once I was not particularly frightened, although I found it less easy to attend to Mrs Roe’s never ending stream of chatter. Got to bed at 10, thankful to get away from Mrs R.
Foggy day. Did not feel well, and decided not to go to
London. Got steadily worse all day, continually
sneezing. Not a dry handkerchief
anywhere. Find difficulty in
reading. Cannot concentrate. I think this is definitely influenza.
No sign of Jacquie, which annoyed me as I had got a nice tea ready for her. Decided to go to Ida’s soon after 9, and of course there she was, worn out with her journey from
Southampton. She seemed very glad to see me. Stayed a few minutes, and then cycled back in
the fog. Feel frightfully chilled.
Wished I could have gone to the Royal Archaeological Institute meeting at Burlington House. I should liked to have spoke about William Wire, as he was an ardent correspondent of the RAI when it was first founded.
Rather foggy. No planes about at all. Cold. Began to feel ill this afternoon. We had a staff meeting, not very good. Captain Folkard spoke a good deal but never got down to rock bottom. Labour is at the bottom of 80% of our troubles, but nobody ever goes down to the bottom to see what is really wrong.
Got away at 5.30, went round by
Dedham. Foggy, stars very faint. Stayed at Sissons, feeling very queer until
10.30. As I went across the valley the
fog and cloud slid away and the moon shone out.
Hope there is no raid tonight.
Got tomorrow off to go to the Centenary Meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute. Captain Folkard said “Well, I suppose it won’t happen again for another 100 years.”
Up early. Fine, very cold. Hundreds of rooks flying round the bare trees at Gunhill.
We have all been watching with considerable amusement, the establishment of a brothel in a house in
immediately opposite the office. This afternoon there was a sudden
flood of hot water in the garden of this house, running out of the joint of a
blocked wastepipe and it was quite obvious someone had just been having a
bath. Shortly after 2 Yanks came out,
very noisy, with two of the girls with them, and went up town together. A third woman waved goodbye from the
step. From the smoking chimneys there
seems to be a fire in every room. Three
or four times during the last fortnight, a furniture van has delivered new
arm-chairs, commodes, tables etc. It
seems odd to have a “house of ill fame” in this respectable street.
Called at Rallings' for tea, and then went to stables to get a truss of hay for the jennet at the mill. Wheeled it on my cycle, and in
Harsnett Rd, met
pretty little Marjory Bolingbroke (Mrs Purser) with her little girl, now aged
3. It seems a long while since the walks on Hythe Marshes, when I was 17 and she was 14.
Left at 6, and went first to Lark Hall by Raydon, to see the Pentons. Had a job to find the place, as the moon was behind clouds and there was some fog. Mrs. Penton looked dreadfully ill, and is dying of cancer. Went to ask about milk, as we get so little at the cottage now, and when Jacquie comes we must have more. Lark Hall looked very fine. Penton has executed some murals which are extraordinarily good. It must be terrible for him to live there alone with his dying mother.
Another brilliant day. Hard frost last night. Wakened before 7 by the noise of bombers going out. Spent the day as usual, reading, writing, chores. Got a life of Hazlitt from Colchester Library, by Catherine McDonald Maclean, published this year. Excellent.
Listening to radio. Heard broadcast by returned prisoners from
Germany. One man got back to Liverpool,
only to find his wife and child killed in a raid. Then I listened to a German broadcast to Ireland, which
described an old woman who had lost 3 sons in the war, and her old home and her
grandchild in an air raid. So it goes on.
Felt better. Weather completely changed again – brilliant sunshine, but very cold. Put on my new green stockings – very smart. Got in early, found letter from Margery regretting she cannot have Father for a visit – in case he might fall ill. Poor old Father. Fortunately I had said nothing whatever to him about a holiday.
Ella keeps on going in and out of the house every day, throwing things out of cupboards. I am keeping away from her, as I know we should only quarrel.
Went to Corn Exchange at 1.30, to attend interview of men for foreman’s job at Abbots Wick. Four attended. Fear they have picked the wrong one, a much too talkative man.
Seymours, to thank Mrs Seymour for a kind letter
she had written about Mother. Heard all
about poor old Jones’ death. It was
cancer on the liver. Well, Mother was
spared that, anyway. Mrs Seymour’s father was
taken bad on Wednesday last, and is not expected to live.
Dedham on way out. Brilliant moonlight night, but no planes
about. I wonder if they are raiding Germany
Brass band playing carols faint and far in the distance tonight. Heard carols on the German radio too.
Felt dreadful. Splitting headache and a shattering cough which completely exhausted me. Found a pouring wet morning, so decided not to go in. Got up at 9.30, lit the fire, and spent most of the day dozing in an armchair. Had a letter from Jacquie Conran, to say she will be back next Wednesday. She does not seem to have had my last letter, and asks how Mother is getting on.
Headache went after a time, so I decided to go in to see Father, as he would be anxious. Got there in time for tea, and came back straight away afterwards. Father seemed very well.
Very dark night, with heavy clouds, so I suddenly decided to go to Lawford before I went back to Higham. Joy and Parry were very glad to see me, and Joy gave me a beautiful pair of green woollen stockings, which are almost impossible to get now. Dear kind Joy. I must get her something nice for Christmas.
As I went back to Higham the clouds rolled away, and the moon shone out. No planes about, but a few searchlights weaving about.
Woke to the sound of pouring rain. Felt very bad, hacking, shattering cough, and had half a mind not to go, but finally set off at 8.30. Got soaked before I reached Gunhill, being constantly driven into deep puddles by heavy lorries.
Incredible news published today. Meeting of Churchill, Roosevelt and Chai Kai Shek in
Cairo, to consider the prosecution of the war against Japan,
and guaranteeing China
to strip Japan of all conquests made during the present century.
During the morning bad headache came on, but made a good lunch at
Got up very early – 6.30. Felt a little better, but lungs very full of phlem. Bright clear starlight, a little mist, and hard white frost. The little cat came running across the frozen grass, mewing for its breakfast.
Heart painful, and took an hour to get in, but got a tow up Gunhill behind a lorry. Trouble all day about Womens Land Army timesheets. The illiteracy of these girls is appalling. A good many of them are not more than 4 years out of school, yet they cannot spell the simplest words, in some cases not even their own names. Captain Folkard seems unwilling to recognise this tremendous illiteracy.
This evening went to Rallings at 5.30 to see a Miss Payne as a prospective housekeeper. Stayed to high tea at Rallings. It is just a month today that Mother was taken ill, and just a month since the raid on
There was a thin mist, and a crescent moon, a good night for
raiding. However, we all had supper, and
I finally left at half past 7. Near
Langham Oak I was overtaken by an enormous convoy of heavy guns, crawling along
very slowly, showing enormous headlights and sidelights. I could not get away from it until we got
and I turned into Higham Lane. All the time signal searchlights were
flashing all around, and I was in a sweat in case enemy planes made an attack
on the convoy while I was in the middle of it.
By this time the stars had vanished and there was quite a thick
fog. Higham Church clock struck 8 as I went by,
and a plane came over, low in the mist.
A minute later there was heavy gunfire to the SE and several planes,
about 6 I should think, came roaring through the clouds. I switched off my cycle lamp and ran into a
field near the cottage where there were corn stacks, and lay down between two
of them. Every moment I expected to hear
the whistle of bombs, especially as the great searchlight just over at Raydon
obligingly kept alight to attract enemy attention. However, I was lucky again, and the noise of
the planes died away to the W.
The Raydon light went out, and I had a lot of trouble to find where I had left my cycle. Hurried to the cottage, and found the Home Service radio faint, but other wavelengths normal. Went out after a while, and found rain beginning, and suddenly heard, faint and far, the
sirens giving an alarm. Almost at once
Manningtree sounded all clear, and no more planes came. After 4 and a half years of war it is still
impossible to give the alarm signals properly.
Lit a fire, and sat reading until 11. Had bread and milk and went to bed. Feel ill, but in some way oddly cheerful. Found a final demand for the Conran’s from Electricity Company threatening to cut off light. Sent on at once, but expect light to fail at any moment.
Very bad night. Throat felt almost closed up, and began to wonder if I had got diphtheria. Had about 4 hours sleep, and did not wake until 8. Got in very late. Planes began to go out towards the coast at dawn, and kept on for about an hour. High wind, and scudding clouds with blue sky between. When I got to the office heard that a Flying Fortress had blown up in the air and crashed somewhere towards Fordham. Captain Folkard had seen 5 men floating away on parachutes, at a great height, and thought that they would probably come down in the sea.
Called to see Mary Ralling at the Essex County Standard office. She told me that Ella was very annoyed at not seeing me today, and that unless I meet her at the house, she will come to the office. Asked Mary outright – how long could Father stay? She said no limit at all. She and her sister have done more for the old man than I would have believed possible. Tomorrow I am to see a prospective housekeeper. I hope to be able to get him to Margery’s for a month, if she will have him.
Throat a little queer and painful to swallow. Heard on 8 o'clock news that there has been a hit and run raid – harmless – on the SE Coast yesterday, under the usual cloud cover. Looks as if that sort of thing will be starting again.
Called at Rallings soon after 9. Took Father some apples. He seemed very well. Busy all morning on Committee work, and barely had time for lunch. Usual Committee meeting. Gardener-Church was not there. There seems to have been some sort of row, I think between him and the Chairman. Nothing very much done.
Lot of talk about the setting up
of a dairy herd, but nothing can be done as we cannot get any buildings
Saw Joanna and her husband. Joanna looked wonderfully well. They are going to
Ulster for a holiday. I wonder how they managed to get permits?
Finished early, and got back to Colchester at 5. Saw Poulter.
is again ill in bed. Called at Dedham on the way out,
feeling very bad. Bright starlight
night, and a thin crescent moon on its back, and a lot of planes and
searchlights at exercise. Collected two
book boxes from the Sissons and finally reached Higham at 11.30. Very cold.
Had bread and milk. Throat very
Lovely quiet night, thick mist. Rain most of the day. Stayed warmly in bed until midday, reading “
Quiet Street” by
Elliot. Most interesting. Rest of day writing journal, letters,
etc. Not a soul came near. When I was in the bath this afternoon heard a
lorry near at hand. Thought it must be
the Yanks, but when I went out could see no sign of them.
Wakened by sirens shortly before 2. Nothing happened for nearly an hour, then I heard a distant plane, and the
guns fired a salvo. The plane passed on
un-harmed. Fell asleep and did not hear
all-clear. The Germans are now
threatening the most terrible reprisals, but I don't think much will be done
before early spring.
Wet, muggy day, fog coming up at night. Ella was in the house this afternoon, but I managed to dodge her. Her incessant nagging is unbearable.
Back to Higham at 6. All set for a thick foggy night. No sign of the Yanks or the light yet.
Another brilliant sunny morning, though cold. Got up rather late, and did not get in until after the District Officer had arrived, which always annoys me.
Suffolk side of the river, great mounds of sugar beet, like long barrows, are accumulating by the roadsides, and in every field
horses and tumbrils come silently through the mist with fresh loads. As I went by Langham, Thunderbolt planes were
The majority of the letters written to myself and Father during the last 10 days say in effect “We are sorry to learn of your Mother’s death – but how lucky she is to be dead!”
Went back to Higham early to have tea there. Heavy shower of rain as I cycled through
Stratford. All the English radio stations faded at 6.30,
so I listened instead to Calais, where the news
in English was giving bloodthirsty threats of what is going to happen to us in
return for these dreadful raids on Berlin.
When I opened the door at 7.30, I found it was a lovely clear morning, with a thin crescent moon hanging just above the leafless trees, and a bright star nearby. Got in early, as the Chairman was in to interview a farmer. Then Engledow, the Labour Officer from Writtle came, a most unpleasant fellow, and was with Folkard all morning. He is trying to get rid of Spencer, on purely personal grounds. Actually Spencer is extremely hard-working and conscientious.
Another terrible raid on
Berlin last night,
absolutely pointless, and of no military value whatever.
Heard that Stuart Rose was ill so decided to call at Boxted, but found it was only a slight cold. He was recently hit on the head by a chain snapped when tree pulling, and I feared it might have been concussion. Dodo was watching the baby roll before the fire. Soon left, and called at
Stratford, where Ida gave
me a little fish for the cat. Bright
clear evening, brilliant stars, many searchlights playing all over the
sky. No sign of enemy raiders. When will they come?
10 o’clock – wind getting up, and booming down the chimney. German stations on the air strong tonight, so no raid on
Great excitement about Mosley being released. Thousands of workers howling for his blood. Seems likely there will be serious trouble in Parliament.
Some cloud, and ground mist. Sharp frost this morning. Heard on the 8 o’clock news that there was a frightful raid on
last night. Without doubt the reprisals
which the Germans will make during the next few months will destroy many towns
in England, and perhaps
result in the final destruction of London.
Read “No Rain in the Clouds” by David Smith, an excellent story of farming at
during the last 100 years, very well written.
Father came into the office this morning, looking very well.
Went out to Higham at 6.30. Clouds coming up again, and rain beginning. No planes about and no Americans. These are the sort of nights I like.
Sharp frost this morning, but got warmer later. Thick fog, with the sun rising through it, burnished orange. Busy all day, as work is very much behind. Went round to Rallings at tea time. Father seemed very well. Then went up to Ginger Smith’s in
Maldon Road, and
spent the evening there, talking over old times at the Fire Office, 16 years
ago. Left at 10.30, stars shining bright
and frosty, very dark, but no planes about.
Went up to the Cemetery this afternoon. The grave flat, with a mass of wreaths covering it “Frank and Lydia”, “Douglas, Het and family”, “Father and Eric”, “Mary and Annie R.” Poor darling little mother.
Peaceful night and a glorious morning. Late again, through oversleeping. As I cycled past Birchwood, I heard the rhythmic thump of wings, and three swans, flying in line, flew over under the pale blue sky, and across the face of the rising sun. There was mist on the fields, and the tree boles were black against the haze.
Still no sign of Nott this morning. He must have gone to
London for the
Father seemed rather feeble today. Went to see him this afternoon, and sat talking for a while.
Tonight went over to Lawford. Magnificent red and gold sunset spread across the valley. Mrs Snow, one of the WRNS and Commander Richardson were there, and we all had a lovely supper. Joy let me have four eggs. Mrs Snow is most charming, and full of most amusing stories.
To Higham at half past 10. Bitterly cold, some ground mist, and the stars glittering frostily. Not a plane about.
Had a reply today to my advertisement in The Gazette for a housekeeper – a woman who keeps the refreshment room at Witham Station. Does not sound very suitable.
Thick white frost this morning. Got a lift in by the Horticultural van. Put in a full day, and worked late. Folkard furious because Nott has calmly gone away for the day, without telling anyone, and entirely neglecting the wages.
Suddenly realised, as I was packing up tonight, that I have nowhere to go to lunch tomorrow except up town. Never again shall I hear Mother say “Come along, you are late of a Saturday.”
Went into the house today. Cold and dreary, with a damp mouldy smell. Mother’s hat is still on the hall chair, where she put it that Wednesday morning, ready to go shopping, but she never went.
Cold and a little misty tonight. No light at Higham, but the stars twinkling, and a few meteors falling and fading away.
Quite a good piece in the paper tonight about Mother’s funeral.
About 9 a lot of planes began to come back, the Raydon light signalling. Most of the German radio stations were very dim, then about half past 10 the English stations faded in their turn. So we go on.
Lay awake this morning, thinking about Mother. Got in early, to go to the ploughing match at Olivers. Went over with Daphne. It was bright and clear, but very cold. The eight horse teams, all Suffolks, moved slowly up and down the field, and the cries of the ploughmen as they turned came down the wind. The caterpillar tractors, Cases and Fordsons chugged up and down between the pegs, each on his own strip.
There was a good crowd there, and the chairman came riding up the field on his bay horse.
Daphne went down to the buildings to wait for the YMCA tea van, which came rather late. Then everybody went down to the buildings and had plenty of hot tea at 1.5d a cup. I had ordered 7 dozen meat pies from the Coop, which went very quickly.
The old Chairman was in great form, and thoroughly enjoyed himself talking to the old ploughmen until about half past 3. The horse teams were unhitched and the 2 Committee teams started back to Wigborough and Mersea, the huge shining Suffolks trotting like ponies, the ploughmen bobbing on their backs.
Got back to the office soon after 4. Walling rather annoyed because I had kept Daphne out so long, but she does so enjoy going out onto the farms.
Went to see Father and told him all about the match. He seemed very well. Left the town at 6, and cycled to the Roses’ at Boxted. Dodo Rose told me that E M Delafield, the writer, is dying in Oxfordshire. I have enjoyed her writing for many years.
Was again overcome with sleepiness, and finally curled up in the blankets. Fine and starlight, but few planes about.
My Mother’s funeral. Got up at 8, had a leisurely breakfast. Fine and cold, fleeting thin clouds. Dressed in my best blue suit, left 9.30. Went up to Becket’s to see the wreath Mary had ordered for myself and Father – chrysanthemums, quite hideous. There was another there, even more repulsive from Uncle Frank and
Went to Winnock Lodge, Father seemed very well. Talked to him cheerfully, told him how lucky he was to be indoors on such a cold day. To office rest of the morning.
Got back to Winnock Lodge by 2 and found Uncle Frank, Aunt Het and Margery [Rudsdale's cousin] there, with Uncle Bob just coming down the road. Margery looked just the same, but poor old Bob was very shaking, and seemed on the verge of tears. I had not expected them to go to Rallings, so as there was only one car Margery and I walked down to the church. Half the blinds in
Winnock Road were drawn, but I had
forgotten to lower our own.
Just as we got to
the old cracked bell clanged out, as I have heard if for a thousand times. Solomon Sadler, the verger in his black
apron, stood by the door, looking like a little wizened rabbit. There were a few old women in the back
pews. I walked up to the front, into our
old pew, where I sat as a child. It must
be 20 years since I was there. It seemed
so small, from what I remembered. Just
in front of me were the two tall trestles.
We knelt, but I could not think of my prayers. I looked through my fingers at the hideous
stained glass window, with my grandfather’s name at the bottom. Nothing seemed to have changed in 20 years,
except that the transept windows are patched with boards, owing to the bombs
which fell behind the Alleys a year ago.
The parson came in from the Vestry, and spoke to me to tell me to go out with him when the time came. I felt terribly cold, and shivered, Margery’s teeth were chattering. In a very short time, it seemed, the parson signalled to me and walked down the aisle, underneath the gallery which my Father decorated one Christmas long ago. There were about 20 or 25 people in the church – old Mrs Adams, Mrs Cheshire, Miss Polly Browne, Miss Horwood, all old friends, all sitting there thinking of 40 or even 50 years ago, of coffee in the mornings up town, or chats in the butchers.
Outside stood the motor hearse, and there was my little Mother in a shiny oak coffin, so tiny, almost like a child’s. There were two or three wreaths on it, and several more on the roof of the car. Behind the hearse was a car which had brought Mary Ralling, Aunt Het and Ella. Uncle Frank and Uncle Bob had decided to walk and we had to wait a few minutes, standing in the cold wind, while Aunt Minnie’s old shop, shuttered and closed because it was a Thursday, looked down on the pathetic little scene which must have been enacted there countless hundreds of times. At last the two old gentlemen came hurrying across the road, their faces red with cold. The hearse was opened, the undertaker’s men slid Mother out quietly and smoothly, old Mr Becket steadying the coffin and we went across the churchyard, the cracked bell slowly tolling. Aunt Het walked with me, Ella and Mary Ralling came behind.
I showed Ella, Aunt and the Uncles into our pew, and the coffin was placed on the tressles. Becket and his four men retired to the south transept, where they sat on one side and he on the other.
The service was short – first the 23rd Psalm, then some prayers, then a hymn. Mother was less than a couple of yards away, her head towards me. It all seemed very dream like. Every few minutes, tears welled into my eyes, and I had to stare over the top of the coffin at the Crucifixion in the window.
Suddenly I saw Becket’s men come forward again, raise the coffin, shuffle round and walk slowly down the aisle. We all walked behind again, I and aunt first. So Mother went out of Mary Magdalen for the last time.
Outside, the old men who spend their time sitting on the churchyard wall raised their hats as we all got into the cars. Uncle Bob was not coming to the cemetery, and said goodbye on the pavement, his voice shaking. I had to sit between Aunt Het and Ella, making chatty remarks about the weather. Ella, apropos the cold, said “Well I’ve got my winter woollies on.” Becket drove and the parson sat with him.
We went slowly up Wimpole Road, past the butcher’s and the grocer’s where she so often shopped, past the old house, as it has always been called in the family, where she and all the others were born, past No. 63, past No 1 Harsnett Road, where she began her married life, and where I came into the world. It is almost exactly 29 years since I peeped round the edge of the blind in the front bedroom of No. 63 and saw my grandmother’s funeral go by, the pall-bearers walking each side of the hearse, the top-hatted drivers high on the box-seats.
As we went past the parked ambulances at the Recreation Ground, an old road-sweeper raised his cap. Against the railings of Bourne Pond were two Italian soldiers in prison uniform, idly stroking the jennet. They stared curiously at the little cortege as it swept round the corner.
And so into the Cemetery, up the left had carriage road. We all got out, myself, Uncle Frank, Aunt Het, Ella, Margery, Mary Ralling, Nurse Horwood. Mr Wolsey stood nearby, and the two grave diggers, in brown dungarees, were a few yards away.
In a few moments the little coffin was laid on two balks across the grave, and the parson was uttering the words of committal – “… man is born of woman …” All round us lay the forgotten dead. I found myself reading the names on nearby stones. Every name meant suffering like this. Then, in a few seconds, the four bearers lowered the coffin into the grave.
When the parson came to the words “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” Wolsey stepped forward, picked a few crumbs of soil from beneath the green carpet and dropped them into the grave, so that they fell rattling on the coffin.
By now I was near tears, and felt I could not bear to ride home, so I asked Marjery to walk with me which bless her she did. I shook hands with the parson and thanked him and the organist – “my wife”, he said, thanked Becket and Wolsey, who gave me a white card, inscribed –
Colchester Cemetery Dept.”
Agnes Rudsdale Age: 76 years
Section Division Space Date of Int.
M 9 45 17/11/43
You take your Mother to the Cemetery, and they give you a receipt, that is all.
Walked with Margery, talking, and she was most kind. Offered to take the old man, but I know this would be most inconvenient for her. I know too that she has a real affection for him. At the house they were all having tea in the sitting room, while Father stayed in the front parlour, as he felt he could not face them. The Rallings could not have been kinder. It was now only half past three – the whole business had taken no more than an hour – and they all decided to catch the 4 o’clock train, so as not to be in London after dark, in case of a raid. Much tearful kissing, and they went, Aunty clinging to my hand, and said, “You will write, wont you?”
I decided to go as soon as I could. Father looked tearful, and I am sure that if we had both stayed together there would have been a complete breakdown. Went up to the Essex County Standard Office, and checked the list of wreaths, etc for this week's paper. Saw Hervey, who was most sympathetic. Then left for
Dedham, cycling in the dusk. At Dedham, was made welcome and fed. Marjorie Sisson let me talk unrestrainedly. Left at 10, and went to Higham, where I found
the light working. A few planes were
about, and searchlights wavered against the clouds, but there was no raid.
Well, tomorrow is another day.
Did not sleep well owing to intense cold. Woke at 6.30, pouring with rain but the rain stopped before 8. Changed into my riding breeches for the first time for months. Left rather late, and cycled slowly to
Dedham, fearing my chain
would break at any moment.
Left cycle at Cottee’s [the cycle repairers] and called on Sissons. Went into Colchester on the bus, borrowed Poulter’s cycle, went home, collected letters. Went to the Registrar’s Office, but half an hour late, so Marsh rudely refused to register the death. Then on to Becket’s, the undertaker's. He told me that Jones, the schoolmaster, is dead. He was only 49, a huge Welshman, born at Tregavon, near Aberystwyth. I liked him very much at school, and frequently met him at the
Seymour’s. I shall always remember his deep rumbling
voice, kindly smile and short black hair “embrosse”. He played the cornet very well.
Committee at Birch. Nothing very much. Went back to
Dedham with Moorhouse, and collected a
cycle. Went to Sissons', and they again
gave me supper, as much as I could eat.
Afterwards looking at Caldecott’s drawings, Weever’s funeral monuments,
a 1st Edition of Sylvia Sylvarun etc. Seven Pillars. Mrs. Sisson mentioned that the Lawrence’s
father was an Irish baronet, who ran away with his daughter’s governess, a girl
named Lawrence. They went to live at Oxford,
and adopted the name of Lawrence. The former governess is still alive, a very
fierce old lady interested in missionary work.
Left at 10, driving rain, and went over to Higham. Searchlight not on tonight.
Father had a fair night. I woke at 6.30, and could hear Mary Ralling moving about below stairs. She is always a very early riser. Lay thinking about Mother. I am tormented with the thought that I ought to have stayed at the Infirmary all through the night. Yet what good would it have been when she was unconscious?
Fine morning. Funny to see the other side of
or rather our side. [The Ralling family lived opposite the Rudsdale family in a house called Winnock Lodge]. From the back I can see the house where Aunt
Kate lived, the Blomfield’s old house, where Molly lived as a child, the rectory
of Mary Magdalen and the office roof in the distance.
It is almost like living in a village street.
Bitterly cold, and rain came on. A few planes about. Had a lovely breakfast, read and wrote until lunch. Then went over to the house, which looks horrible, decayed, neglected. Mother’s chair where she left it, dirty linen and crockery all over the place.
To office and wrote letters to the family. Tonight called at Holly Trees and saw Poulter. Went back to Winnock Lodge, and then to Higham. Tearing bitter wind. Cycle chain almost broken, must get it mended.
Found the red light flashing but no planes about.
My mother is dead. When I got up this morning, I wondered if I had a mother or not, and cycled in in a sort of dream. Tried to phone from a box in
Ipswich Rd, but got
a wrong number. Went onto ,
and had to wait while a lorry driver had a lengthy conversation. The man finally left the box, I went in,
dialled 3259, (burring tone) a brisk voice said “Yes?”, and I asked “How is
Mrs. Rudsdale?” The voice said “Well,
old chap, I’m sorry to have to tell you your mother passed away in the
night. I don't know quite what time, but somewhere about 2.” The traffic went through East Bay, and I could
see the plume of smoke from East Mill chimney.
Nothing changed, but Mother was gone.
I said, “All right, thank you I will come along right away.” The voice replied “Oh, no need to hurry you know. Any time.”
I hung up. East Bay
Went up the hill wondering how to tell Father. Poor little Mother, poor ‘darling dear’. Decided to phone Uncle Frank. Rang Purley and got through in a minute. Frank said “Oh, poor Dot. Did she pass peacefully?” and asked me to make arrangements to bury her in Grandma’s grave. I had never known that he owned this. Phoned Dr Rowland, who seemed surprised. Warned me to be careful in telling Father, suggested I should say she was very bad, and then later tell the truth.
Phone office to tell Daphne. She asked after Mother at once, and my voice broke when I answered. Phoned Rallings, and told Annie, begged her to say nothing to Father until he had had his breakfast.
Went to the Infirmary. Sister Palmer there, the same noise, babies, crockery. I could see through the door the little cot being stripped, the other cots looking just the same, the old jibbering woman etc. The Sister began “I’m sorry to say – “ but I said “Yes I know”. She handed me a little bundle of clothes, - pink dressing gown, night dress, woolly coat. “These are her’s. Will you take them?” I looked at the pathetic little things, so tiny, quite speechless, tears running down my face. At last I managed to say “Yes – later.”
Sister said “They took her wedding ring. The Master has it. I’ll send you over he wants to see you. Nurse, go with Mr Rudsdale.” A young nurse came forward, her scarlet lined cloak on her shoulders. We went out into the yard, rain was falling. She said “Horrid weather, isn’t it?” I said “Yes, but it’s been so very good up to now.” Through the corridors, an aged pauper, sweeping the stone passage said “Good morning, nurse, good morning Sir”. I said “Good morning” very firmly.
Collins (the Master) was in his office. He said “Oh good morning Mr Rudsdale, I’m sorry to say” – I said “Yes, I know.” He said “Here’s her wedding ring, I haven’t got the certificate yet.” I took the little gold ring, that had been on Mother’s finger for nearly 40 years, and put it in my pocket case. I could not speak for tears. Collins picked up two bits of shell casing from the mantelpiece. “Nasty things those. Fell in the grounds the other night. I should imagine they’d go right through a tin hat. Shows you can’t be too careful.” I agreed.
We went out into the yard, where the Porter stood, a becomingly woe be gone look on his face in drizzling rain. Collins said "Well, goodbye old chap. Keep your pecker up.” He shook hands and left.
I cycled round
Manor Rd and Rawston Rd for 10 minutes to regain my
composure, and then called at Beckett’s [the undertakers] in Balkerne Lane. Old Beckett was most
kind, and looked as distressed as if a friend had died, yet how many thousand
times must he have had these hideous interviews. I left everything to him, but asked for an
oak coffin. He will take her direct to
Saw Parson Spray, arranged Wed 2.30. Had lunch up town, then to Infirmary and collected Mother’s little things. Ella there when I got back, very bossy. We went over to the house and she put me through various questions – where would we live? why did I go to Beckett? how many cars would there be? why had I chosen Wednesday? – a bad day,
come. As if I cared. Then she said “What are you going to do with
Tea at Winnock Lodge, then decided to go to
Dedham. It was unpardonable to go as a wet blanket
and hang oneself out at the Sisson’s but I had to. Mrs. Sisson was wonderful. Sent Sisson out and let me cry in comfort gave me
a wonderful supper, soup, liver, red wine.
Left at 11, very dark and damp.
No planes tonight. Father in bed,
Ella told me that at 2.15 this morning she was awakened by 2 loud knocks, and opened the door, but there was no one there, just the empty moonlit street.