13th March 1943

Dullish, but clearing, and what clouds there were very thin and high. 

Very busy morning, as the District Officer was in Chelmsford for a weekend conference.  At 11am, Mabbitt [of the Essex Rural Community Council] phoned to remind me about a meeting of blacksmiths, saddlers, and other craftsmen at Chelmsford this afternoon, which I had forgotten, so he arranged to take me.  Lovely afternoon, and quite enjoyed the ride, although Mabbitt and his wife both insistent on having the windows shut.  At Hatfield Peverel picked up Mr. Clarke, the smith there.  In the course of conversation, he mentioned that 300 bombs had fallen in the parish since 1940 but with very little damage.

Was glad to see that all the Chelmsford balloons were up, but even so I felt quite uncomfortable all the afternoon, and was determined to get out of the town before dusk.

The meeting was in the YMCA hall in Victoria Road.  I was introduced by Gifford [of the Council for the Protection of Rural England] to the Chairman, Mr. Crittall, as “one of my staunchest supporters”, and found to my horror that a fauteuil was reserved for me in the front row, marked by my name.  Leslie [Executive Officer of the Essex War Agricultural Committee at Writtle] was there, and I felt rather embarrassed when he spoke to me, and wondered what he thought.  Maude Fairhead, now with the National Farmers Union, came to sit next to me, for which I was very glad.  We sat on ordinary chairs in the front row, not in the fauteuils.  Several War Agricultural Committee officials sat at the opposite end of the row, but took no notice of me.

The meeting was very well arranged.  On the platform were Leslie, Cosmo Clarke, the Rural Industries Organiser, Hollis Clayton, the big farmer, Pash, of Brittain & Pash, agricultural engineers, Hulton, a saddler, and old Wingrave from Brentwood, a smith.  The Chairman asked each of these in turn if they thought there were enough rural craftsmen, if they thought enough were being trained, and how they would attract new comers into these trades.  Wingrave gave splendid answers, concise and to the point.  He blamed the educational system for teaching boys never to take up trades, with the result that boys now only want a “white-collar job”, as he called it.  I noticed Leslie and Crittall laughing heartily together, with very much of an air of aren’t-these-country-chaps-amusing-when-they-speak-in-public.  However, the crowd was strongly with him, and he was clapped and cheered loudly.  The saddler and Hollis Clayton were both very good, too, the latter saying that he could not believe that Englishmen would ever allow horses and breeding them to die out.  I could.

Both Leslie and Cosmo Clarke gave long-winded replies, quite beside the point.  Any meeting where a speaker talks sense feels me with the greatest enthusiasm.  When they speak the truth as well I am quite overcome with joy.

Several craftsmen spoke, and all told the same tale – decay, decay, decay.  There are only 6 farrier-apprentices in the whole county, and Mabbitt tells me that he has records of 60 shops which have shut during the last 10 years.  I know of 5 in Colchester district which have shut since the beginning of the war.  Cosmo Clarke said that a recent census gave the number of blacksmiths in England and Wales as 8,000.  As there must be still 1,500,000 horses in the counties, there is about one smith to every 190 horses, which ought to be a fair living for any man, with all ordinary repair work as well.

We had tea served, (in curious white mugs – Maude said they looked like small chamber-pots) and Mabbitt asked me if I would speak on behalf of Colchester Smiths.  The Chairman called me, but unfortunately a man named Adams got up at the same moment, and talked for so long that I had no chance. 

Leslie then summed up the whole meeting, in a speech which gave very little hope to anybody present.  He said that the War Agricultural Committee was now considering the establishment of central “depôts” for all country craftsmen in each large village (This created considerable protest – what they all wanted was help, not opposition).  He went on to say that nobody could prophesy what would be the state of farming after the war.  Then he said he had no doubt it would be a “stable” farming, but would consist largely of market-gardening and dairying.  Then he said that we were only on the edge of mechanisation, and that in 25 years every farmer would have a combine harvester.  (If there was nothing but vegetables, what would they use it for?)  Finally he said it was obvious that less craftsmen would be needed in all the country trades.  I thought it was a very unsuitable speech, and must have sent everybody away a little sadder than when they came in.

By this time it was a quarter to 6, and was coming up cloudy, so I decided to go by train at once.  As I went to the station I could not help thinking of all the sweet shops in Chemsford where I used to buy sweets, now alas impossible.  Got evening paper – big raid on Essen last night.  Also a German raid on Newcastle, but no details given.  Heather was lucky she went there two weeks ago, and not this week.  At station, found the 6.1 did not go to Manningtree, so bought ticket to Colchester.  Charlie Brooks, Curly Bruce, and Smith all came along from the meeting.  Travelled with them in a packed train, talking horses all the way.  Bruce and Brooks were still fairly optimistic about the future.  At Colchester found I had missed the last East Bergholt and the last Harwich buses, but by great good luck found a Lt. Bromley bus ready to go.
At last away we went in the gathering dusk, through Crockleford, past the Bromley blacksmith, past the ruins of Carrington’s Farm, where the naked rafters showed as black ribs against the setting sun, past the ruins of the hall, burnt out long years ago, along the road where Robin nearly upset me. 

Just as I finished supper tonight there was an alarm for half an hour, but nothing whatever happened.

Writing until 10.30.  I find it more and more difficult to concentrate.  I find too that I cannot think of the words that I want, and sometimes I write absurd things quite unwittingly such as “A” for “I”, “attacks” for “attics”, and “that” for “quite”.  I do not feel at all well, and have recently had more curious heart sensations, as if blood was being pumped into my lungs.

No comments: