25th June 1943

Fine, bright and cool, S.W. wind, fat white clouds sweeping over.  News of a raid on Hull, with “many casualties”, and another of the city’s museums destroyed.  Poor Tom Sheppard.  [Tom Sheppard was Curator of Hull's Museums and saw much of his work destroyed in raids on the city].

Went in late, Capt Folkard out all day at Chelmsford.  Joanna came in to help, very much “enceinte”, looking pale and rather tired.  Told me a rather good story – a few weeks ago, the “Standard” published an extract of 100 years ago, recording the building of Birch Hall by James Round.  A woman from Birch was sewing in the WVS shop in Colchester, and a customer remarked that she was surprised to see that Mr. Round was building a new house at a time like this, particularly in the Italian style “after all Mussolini had done”.  The Birch lady said she was sure there must be some mistake, but the customer said oh, no, it was true all right – she’s seen it in the paper.  Joanna’s husband has gone to American now.

Went to Lay & Wheeler’s to get some sherry for Joy, but was told that I could not take any away as it had gone 5, after which hour it could only be delivered.  This seems a fantastic thing, but it is the law.

Cycled out slowly in a lovely evening to see Smith’s horse put into harness again.  Coming along Harwich Road, saw Smith himself riding the mare along from Manningtree, the sun shining on her fine ruddy coat.  He put her on the old clover-ley, and cantered her round 3 or 4 times.  Then Joy came along with Mike’s sister and two Wrens, carrying the harness.  Smith’s man George arrived on his cycle, and they were all ready.  They put the harness on her, and drove her on long reins on the plough for 5 minutes, and then decided to put her in right away.  She went to the cart steadily and easily, but she did not hitch herself and would not more except to plunge and rear.  We were all standing only a few yards away when Smith suddenly tried to lead her forward by the bridle, but she reared and with a little snap the bridle broke.  For a split second the mare’s head, with her wild eye, appeared through the broken straps, and she seemed to hang in mid-air.  Nobody spoke.  Smith reached up for her forelock, George hauled on the useless plough-line, but they might as well have tried to stop the wind.  In a flash she was gone, hooves drumming on the hard ley, heavy old cart rattling and banging behind.  Her heels came up again and again, crashing on the cart bottom.  She headed towards the buildings, towards the hedge at full gallop, jumped the bank, cart flying behind, and landed with a crash in the cart track, the farm-horses in the little paddock rushing away in alarm.  I thought she was down, but no she recovered and was away down the track in a great cloud of dust.  Now we all began to run, but still nobody spoke.  The cart vanished down the hill, there was a great crash, and we saw it suddenly in the air, turning over in a slow arc, then silence.  By the oat field gate was the cart on its side, shaft broken, shattered harness everywhere, but no sign of the mare.  At last we found her at the bottom of the next field, looking over the gate towards her home, and although she was trembling and blowing there was only one mark on her – a graze on the off hind.  Poor old Smith took it well – simply said: “Well, I wouldnt have had that happen for the world”.  Thank God it was he who held her head when it happened.

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