17th November 1943

Wednesday
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 Lydia.

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 Magdalen Street, 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 –

“Borough of Colchester                       Cemetery Dept.”
Agnes Rudsdale                                  Age: 76 years
Section                        Division          Space              Date of Int.
    M                               9                    45                 17/11/43
Purchased 6ft.

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.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Catherine

Very interesting entries by ER on the death of his mother, moving sometimes and very matter of fact at others.

I was surprised how quickly the funeral took place - four days, given that it was wartime. Here in the Tendring District now you are usually looking at two weeks.

Mike Dennis

E J Rudsdale said...

Hello Mike, Many thanks for your interesting comments. It is surprising how quickly the funeral took place, especially in wartime but I have found that most of the funerals EJR mentions in his journals do occur within a week of the death, quite different to our experience today. Best wishes, CP