12th June 1943 - A Visit to Chelmsford

Up at 8, feeling very tired.  Awaked two or three times during the night by ‘planes going over.  Joy said there was an alarm about half past 2, but I heard nothing then.  Hope this means that I may begin to sleep through alarms again, as I did a year or two ago.

Brisk W. wind, clouds blowing away, and the sun coming out.  Caught the 9.32 to Chelmsford.  Extraordinary medley of rolling-stock on the lines now – N.E. engines, very old, one or two American engines, GWR and SR coaches, all mixed up together.  There is even an L.M.S. coach on the sidings at Colchester.

The corn is coming on well, the whole landscape a symphony in green, the grass dark, the wheat almost emerald, and the oats and barley a sort of yellow-green.  In some places there are patches of scarlet poppies on a brown fallow field.  Train was not very crowded.

Had the pleasure of going through Colchester, and seeing the town from the north.  What a glorious view this was before the wicked mess of the By Pass Road was allowed to happen.  Even now the town continues to look grand, with its spires and towers on the sky-line.

Huge crowds at Chelmsford, waiting to go up to London.  Three “Redcaps” on the platform, and two more in the booking-hall below, all heavily armed, apparently looking for somebody, deserters I suppose.  Every soldier was stopped, and their papers were examined very carefully.  Few seemed to be travelling today.

Had an hour to spare, so cycled quickly round the town to see the extent of the raid damage.  The damage is really very considerable, and if it is really true that only 12 were killed it is little short of a miracle, but of course nobody believes the official figures.

At least 100 houses were destroyed, particularly in one or two streets between Hoffman’s Ball Bearing Factory and the station, and thousands were damaged in varying degrees.  A few shops in Duke Street have their windows out, but not many, Cannon’s Restaurant has gone, and the block opposite on the corner of Victoria Road.  At the other end of the town there are several houses destroyed off the Baddow Road, near the Corporation Depôt, the Bus Station has no glass in the roof, and no back wall, but the mess has been cleared up and the buses are running in and out normally, with the usual huge queues lined up waiting for them.  Part of the north wall of the railway station was blown down, just on the bridge, and some sheds were wrecked, but the damage to the track was very slight.  No harm done at the Shire Hall or the County Hall beyond broken windows.  Great crowds in the streets, intent on Saturday shopping.  Hundreds of Americans.  Saw two civilians walking arm-in-arm, one of them steering an American by his belt.  His cap was gone, his eyes were tight shut, and he was quite drunk on his feet, moving like a doll.

Called at Clark’s bookshop to see if they had Morant’s “Colchester”, but all they had was one volume of the Essex edition of 1768, including Colchester, for which they wanted 50/-.  Too much.  Mr. Clark told me that Morants are now fetching good money.

Cycled out to Writtle [the War Agricultural Executive Office], to find the place almost deserted.  Saw Skinner, the Land Commissioner, wearing corduroy shorts, the inevitable cigarette end between his lips.

The meeting [about the proposal for a 'Farm Sunday' National Church Celebration] was not a great success.  Everybody was very annoyed at having to come up here on Whit Saturday, to discuss a matter in which they had not the slightest interest.  Leslie opened the meeting, and told a long story about the Bishop of Salisbury and the Minister, how they had decided to revive old customs, etc. etc. and what a nice thing this would be for the farmers and the Land girls and everybody else.  The whole thing is quite fantastic.  The idea is about 50 years too late, and why on earth the Ministry should invent an entirely new day, and why they should expect farmers to give thanks for a harvest which they have not yet had, is beyond all comprehension.  "Farm Sunday" is quite meaningless, and is not wanted by either farmers or the farm-workers.

Harvey came in, and thanked me for my agricultural notes, which he said were “excellent”.  (They weren't).  He wants me to write for the Bulletin regularly, but don't see how I can when Capt. Folkard makes it so difficult for me to get out and see anything.

Harvey then lectured us for an hour and a half on how this “Farm Sunday” is to be organised.  Each town is to have a procession, a service in the main church, or in the open air, the Bishop, Rural Deans, etc have to be dragged in, every village church must have a special service.  I made very few notes, as I have little intention of doing anything about the matter at all.  The Committee Labour is to be “told” to attend, so I asked if the men and girls were to be paid?  Harvey said oh no, they would be quite willing to come.  This is absolute nonsense, and I said that they would want double time, as it would be Sunday work, especially if tractor drivers have to bring tractors all the way from Mersea. 

Out at one, and met Maude Fairhead cycling to Writtle.  Stood and chatted with her, and ate some strawberries which she had.  Went on to the “Horse and Groom”, and had some cider.  Heard some men talking about gunfire last night, but a Home Guard who was there said he had been on Chelmsford Battery and there was nothing about.  

Back to Chelmsford.  Glad that the Library has not been hit.  Nothing but a few broken windows there.  Then went to the Ritz to see Rene Clair’s film “I Married a Witch.”  Good, and most entertaining, but not up to his old standard.  Had tea at the cinema, then back to the station.  Evening paper posters – “Biggest Ever Raid on Germany”.  Bought paper, and see that the Allies have now taken both Pantelleria and Lampedusa in Sicily.

As we waited in the station, the Cathedral bells rang out in the summer evening with the westering sun shining on the silvery balloons, and lovely clouds drifting across the sky.  The train when it arrived turned out to be made up of very old-fashioned coaches, such as I have not seen for years.

Got to Lawford by half past 7.  Supper, and then writing for an hour. 

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