Was wakened at 7, and had an excellent breakfast. During the night suffered two frightful bouts of pain in the jaw, but was able to eat this morning. Caught the 8.10 bus. Very cold. Brilliant morning, but bitter NE wind. Became hazy this afternoon, and the wind turned NW.
Went home to tea, and found Mary Ralling there – Annie has been sent off this morning by ambulance to London Hospital for treatment. There is no doubt she has cancer, but even now nobody dares say it. Poor Mary looked terribly worried.
Slight fog came up this evening, so hopes for another quiet night. Having nothing much to do, walked down to Stratford, and called at the King’s Arms for a drink. Overheard the landlady talking about letting rooms without attendance. Thought that might suit me, as I cannot stay at Dedham long.
Back to Dedham and called at the Sissons. They had been right up into Norfolk today, to East Dereham, on a business trip, and had much enjoyed it. He still has not heard anything further about going to Italy.
Brilliant day, but bitterly cold. Got to Colchester by 9.15, not feeling very grand. Saw a team of Suffolks ploughing opposite Higham Hall, coming down the long slope with the brown furrow stretching out behind them, sea-gulls wheeling and shrieking.
Felt bad all day, and could hardly eat. Took Father six eggs which I got at Lawford yesterday.
Tonight went back to Higham, and did a lot of packing up, then to Dedham, under the cold glittering stars, and found the “Sun” warm and comfortable. Was given a tiny, cosy little room overlooking the yard, with a good bed.
Amusing mistake about the Colchester raid last week – a lady solemnly read the list of Freemen of the Colne Fishery, on the front of the Town Hall, under the impression that they were persons killed in the raid.
Slept warm and comfortable until 10.30, only waking twice during the night. Sunny, with clouds, but still cold east wind. Had breakfast by myself. How good Joy is to me. Stayed on for lunch, and felt very much better. Heavy clouds came up, and there was some rain this afternoon. Went down to Dedham, called at the “Sun” to make myself known. Hope I shall be comfortable there.
Had tea at the café. The old woman was very indignant about the 8th Army men who are now in the village and have been making a nuisance of themselves in the café on Sundays. There is only one canteen for the troops and that is not open until 6 o’clock, so the men have no where to go but the pubs or the Corner Café.
The clouds drifted away, and I went back to Higham in the quiet of the evening. There was a little mist, and a thin crescent moon hung over the cottage, with a plume of smoke drifting up from its chimney. Not a sound to be heard. Spent the evening packing up.
No planes about tonight (10.30pm) nor any about during the day. Very curious, as the weather was mostly clear and fine.
It is on my conscience that I do not see very much of Father. Is he lonely? I wonder. Miss Payne is obviously an excellent housekeeper, but she would drive me mad if I had to live in the house for a single day. Her tongue is never still for a month, and her conversation is such that requires constant replies. Father, after nearly 40 years with Mother, is used to this sort of thing. I wish I could get away to Wales and take Father with me, but I doubt if he could stand the journey.
Not much better. Both jaws painful, and splitting headache. Stayed in until the afternoon, then to Colchester. Raining and hazy. Felt a little better when I got there. Went home, and found another paper from the Ministry of Labour, requiring full details of my present employment, as if they did not know already. It was marked “Grade III C”.
Went to the office and found that both Folkard and Walling were away ill today. Phoned Folkard and found him much better. Then phoned Joy, and asked for a bed, so as to avoid the light tonight, to which she most kindly agreed.
Called at Holly Trees. Poulter told me that Scarfe had been in, and had calmly told Hull that he had written a new history of the Castle. Hull was speechless with fury.
Left Colchester at 7.30, with no lamps, so had to walk as far as Parsons Heath. Went by the Crockleford Rd, to avoid police. Dark and cloudy. No ‘planes. Everything quiet and still. When near Hungerdowns, I suddenly heard a train pulling out of a station on the Clacton line, I suppose Bentley, about 7 miles away. Could hear cows lowing and dogs barking on distant farms, the sound of lorries on the main road, and the thump of a dance-band at Lawford village hall.
At Sherbourne Mill found the ambassadorial Rolls-Royce from Lawford Hall standing in the yard, so crept in quietly. Had supper, and dozed before the fire. Suddenly struck with the most terrible pain in the bottom jaw, in the rotten teeth in the front. Have never known such pain before, but it soon faded. My heart beat madly, and I nearly collapsed. Rain beginning as I went to bed.
Felt terrible this morning. Bitterly cold, and overcast. Could not face the journey in. Made up the fire, and crouched over it. Spent last night in the chair. The days seem to be spent waiting in anxiety for the nights, the nights in waiting for the dawn.
Went out at 12, phoned a house at Horkesley which takes guests, but no good. Full. Tried the “Talbooth”, the “Sun”, Dedham, and got a room with great difficulty, by mentioning Sissons’ name, but this is only temporary.
Cycled slowly into Colchester by Severalls Lane and Turner Rd, to avoid our end of the town. Noticed a lot of AA guns near Upper Brickhouse Farm, and a big American encampment in High Woods, opposite the REC Institute.
Had a cup of tea at Rose’s café, and noticed two black Americans at one table and three white Americans at another. Have never seen this before. One of the black men was a Captain. Overheard a lot of badinage between the waitress, Connie, and the Americans, about “Miss Browne” getting married next Wednesday. Could not make out whether this was some stupid joke. As far as I know this man “Bill” she has been carrying on with is still abroad.
Went up to the Cemetery to see about Mother’s grave, as nothing had been done since the funeral. The sandy soil had sunk, and you could see the outline clearly, so tiny it seemed. Two men nearby were sweeping up leaves, moving quietly among the sleeping dead. A soldier came by, walking slowly, reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. Called at the Cemetery Office, and paid 5/- to have the grave turfed. American ‘planes came sweeping over as I left the Cemetery, and went home to tea. Felt too ill to eat. Back to Higham at 7. Very dark, rain beginning. Hope for a quiet night.
Up at 7, in a lovely pale blue dawn, and cycled back to the cottage. Had breakfast and got to Colchester by 9.15. Busy day, but felt rotten. Beside bad pains in the head, am coughing very bad, every cough being agony.
Demolitions have been going on all day at the ruins. The roadway is open, and I went down there at lunch time. One odd thing is that the “Woolpack” Inn, in the very middle of the fire is quite un-harmed, yet everything is burnt out all round. The top floor of the “Plough” is burnt out, and Bare’s fish-shop, near the station.
The café is open, everybody looking at the hole in the ceiling and the scorched mark on the floor. Two soldiers who had just come from Aldershot that morning, said there was an alarm down there at about 8, and that on Tuesday night there were fires at Staines and a bomb on a house near Virginia Water.
After lunch cycled to Layer to see Mrs Roger’s “cottage”. Very disappointing. Really nothing but a derelict shed, situated just behind the “Donkey and Buskins” at Layer. Could make it do, but should have to spend quite a bit on repairs, blackout, furniture etc. Seems to be quite remote, and not in any particular danger. Must consider what I shall do.
Went to see Poulter. Showed me several very bad photos which he had taken of the great fire, all quite useless. Also showed me an excellent lot of prints, drawings, and photographs of Harwich, from Carlyon Hughes’ collection, which he has just acquired. I regret bitterly that I know so little about the place. Poulter is thinking of buying more property there. His interest in Colchester seems to be nil. Heard that Sam Blomfield has made arrangements to re-open immediately, in the shop which used to be Daldy’s, at the top of John’s Street. While I was in the Holly Trees, Hull walked in, in Observer Corps, uniform, and gave me a barely civil “Good morning”. Felt an awful fool at being found there.
Father went out to see the ruins, and met Mrs. Dennis, an old friend who lives next to Bare’s, St. Botolph’s, and she told him how they broke into a little café near there and made 200 cups of tea. Everybody expected the petrol in St Botolph’s Station yard to go up.
Noticed that the “Empire” Cinema was open tonight as usual, with ruins all round, wisps of smoke still rising.
Worried because I still have no home next week. Heard distant gunfire 9.30-10, but felt too ill to bother.
Thick fog. At Birchwood corner came across Polley, the Dedham coachbuilder, who said he had seen a big fire during the night, in the south, and thought it was either at Colchester or beyond. NFS lorries standing about and policemen.
Strange police on duty and could not get through. They refused to give any idea of the damage and pushed me roughly up Priory St. Saw the wooden stone-shed next to Markham’s, pawn-brokers, a heap of smouldering ruins, surrounded by a crowd of small boys and American negroes. Down Childwell Alley and onto the foot-bridge, from which you could see a column of smoke rising beyond the station, drifting across the façade of Hollington’s factory, a roofless ruin. Both of Alderman Blomfield’s shops have gone, Geary’s, Cheshire’s, a boot shop, a tobacconist’s, a fruit shop on St Botolph’s Corner, a barber’s on Stanwell Street corner, two shops next the ‘Empire’ in Mersea Rd, and four or five more shops on the W. side of St Botolph’s Street, including Hancock’s the old sweet-shop, a 17th century place.
Went next to St. Giles’ and found the place quite undamaged, not even a window cracked. Somebody had removed all the altar ornaments to the west end of the church. Saw Duncan Clark outside, and he asked me if there was any damage in the church. Looked at the Abbey Gate, which is untouched, and then worked my way round to Osborne Street, over dozens of hose-pipes, which straggled in every direction.
Went down as far as the Electricity Station. Saw Alderman Harper going towards the ruins, and Orchard, the Deputy Engineer, with ARP officers, on the other side of the rope barrier. More fire-pumps and lorries, and more American police.
Went up to the High Street bought myself a new neck tie at Johnson’s, and at last got to the office an hour and a half late.
This evening went down there again, and walked along Vineyard St. From there the ruins of Hollington’s look huge and majestic, more like the Baths of Caracalla than a mid-Victorian clothing factory. There was still smoke drifting up, and several hoses were sending plumes of shining water high over the blackened walls, while the sun sank into a bank of golden mist which made a background to the empty windows.
This is the biggest fire that Colchester has ever known, and the whole thing seems to have been caused by two or three canisters of incendiaries. This is the German’s latest scheme, and it seems incredible that it has not been thought of before. The greatest damage ever done in London was in the great fire-raid at the end of 1940, when no explosive bombs were used. Meanwhile the RAF concentrates on getting larger and larger ‘planes to carry even heavier explosive bombs with which to destroy German houses, churches, or museums.
Tonight went to Boxted, collected 6 eggs, and then went to see the Rushburys at Higham. The beacon light was flashing brilliantly, and I could see it as far away as Boxted.
Spent a pleasant evening at Rushburys. They were both very friendly and charming. Next week they go to York. He showed me a piece of shrapnel and several of the black paper strips which the Germans drop to confuse radio-location. These he found in the garden.
Felt very nervous when I left at 10.30, and rather ill. Dark, and bitterly cold, glittering stars, and the crimson flash of the beacon on my left. Never seen it so bright before. As I crossed the Brett, at the foot of Higham village, the sirens wailed, at first faintly at Colchester, then louder at Hadleigh, ending with the distant blare of Brantham factory. I felt I could not under any circumstances go to the cottage, and decided to go up to the Pentons at Lark Hall, late as it was, (Higham Church clock had just struck eleven.) There was not a ‘plane nor a gun to be heard, and I sped along with no lights, hoping not to meet a policeman. Great relief to find Jack Penton still up. Felt very foolish, made excuses about the noise of the beacon motor. I think he saw the situation at once, and with great kindness gave me blankets to sleep on a very comfortable sofa. Mrs. Penton was already in bed.
At about 11.15 came the “all-clear”, and I curled up under the warm blankets. Got neuralgia on the left side of my face.
Woke up during the night from a deep sleep, and in a few minutes heard the sirens. Curious that I should wake just at that moment. Went outside. Very cold, dim misty stars. Nothing whatever happened, and no ‘planes could be heard. The all-clear soon came, thin and wailing.
Got in early this morning, the roads covered with ice. Horses in Colchester all with ice-nails. Called at home. Father cannot stand this cold weather. Hear that Miss Ralling is worse, and is now in bed. I am afraid she is very bad.
Thousands of ‘planes were going over all morning, high above the snow-clouds, with a continual roar, vibrating the windows. The brothel was very busy today, Americans going in and out continually. I hear that these places are under the supervision of the American Red Cross. Don't know whether this is true, but should not be surprised.
Collected the key of the Layer house today, and shall see it tomorrow.
Had a letter today from Godfrey of the National Buildings Record, enclosing a cheque for 20 guineas. This is the first time in my life that anybody has paid me so much for doing so little. The money is very welcome and strengthens my idea to go away somewhere, though I must remember that there will be considerable expenses when I leave this cottage.
Heard today that during the Friday-Saturday raid an A.A. shell fell in the middle of the Wigborough Road, just outside the Women's Land Army Hostel, damaging some of the girls’ cycles and the yard gate, but hurting no one.
Not quite so cold, but showers of snow, with clear intervals. ‘Planes going out all morning. They fly in any weather now, night or day. Jupp was talking about an American whom he had met from Langham. Apparently flares were dropped all round the field during the raid early on Saturday, but no bombs were dropped, so the men are expecting a big raid before very long. The American pilots ran off the aerodrome when they saw the flares, as they are very much afraid of other people’s bombs when they are on the ground themselves.
To Birch this afternoon for Committee meeting. Saw Joanna and her baby, looking very pretty. The baby laughed and smiled at me when I poked it. Made myself unpopular with the Chairman by forgetting to bring the Minute Book. Memory is getting very bad.
During the meeting a recommendation was again brought up for Jones, the tool-recorder, to have another 5/- a week. The Chairman was dead against it because (a) he was a pacifist, (b) a Welshman, and (c) a schoolmaster! I, with a Welsh grandmother and hosts of schoolteachers for relations, sat and said nothing. Eventually Jones got his 5/-.
Another matter which was mentioned was about young M., Parish Representative at Tiptree, who has been fined £200 in a strawberry “black-market” case. The Chairman was very anxious that he should be dismissed from the Committee’s service, (he is of course a voluntary worker), but some members knew more about the case than had been published, and held the view that M. had only committed a technical offence and should not have been fined more than £5. It is admitted that the strawberry regulations are so framed that it is practically impossible for any grower to avoid breaking them, however careful he may be. Mrs. Furneaux was fined last year for some technical offence.
Got back to Colchester at 6, and had tea at the Regal. As I cycled out tonight, saw a large brown owl sitting on a log in a field near Stratford. Felt very tired, and beyond writing a few letters did nothing.
This morning we nearly set the office on fire. A log fell off a fire in one of the empty rooms, and burnt a hole clean through the floor-boards before it was found. There was a lot of smoke, but we are so used to having the place full of smoke and smell that we took no notice.
Lay in bed until 9.30. Cold, sunny morning. Heard on the news that there was a heavy raid on Leipzig last night, and that 79 heavy bombers are missing.
This afternoon writing letters. Heard the Americans warming up their motor ready for tonight, so determined to stay away from Higham as long as possible this evening. Went to Dedham to post letters and have tea at the café. Very cold, sky overcast, and a few flakes of snow falling.
Looked at a cottage belonging to Moy, one I have always wanted, in a little lane near Stratford, but found it occupied. Then went slowly to Boxted, to verify if there was any damage there yesterday. There was – a brick house near the Cross, a thatched cottage next it, and another little cottage further along. Two bombs fell, both some sort of explosive incendiary, and the cottages went up in a flash. A few people were slightly cut, but nothing much. Some of the Council houses lost several tiles and one had its end wall down. About five families are temporarily homeless. Both bombs were within 400 yards of the Rose’s cottage, but it suffered no damage. “Granny” King’s cottage, in the hollow below, was very shaken and another ceiling came down. Poor old Granny was very upset.
We spent a pleasant evening reading and chatting, until about 9.30 my sensitive ears caught the thin wail of the sirens. In about 10 minutes the attack was going full blast, apparently hundreds of ‘planes coming in, roaring low just above the thick clouds, and tremendous gunfire all round. We could hear Colchester’s rockets banging and rumbling like thunder, while guns at Langham and some more the other side of the Stour shook the house. I was trembling a good deal, but managed to go on reading an article in “Time and Tide” by the Mass Observation people on the public’s attitude to bombing (which is not quite so blood-thirsty as the Government hoped).
Sometimes the firing was louder than others, but throughout it all the baby slept quietly upstairs and the Roses played backgammon. The only creature in the house more frightened than I was the little corgi, who cried and whimpered under the lavatory seat in the bathroom.
Soon after 10 there was a short pause, and then they started to come back, each lot of guns firing as they had opportunity. It was about quarter to eleven when the ‘all-clear’ came and I hastily departed into the intense blackness. To the north I could see the scarlet flash of the Higham beacon, whilst somewhere in the direction of Nayland a big fire flickered, showing a yellowish-reddish glare against the thick, low, clouds. Another farm gone, I suppose.
Had no lights so had to walk most of the way. Too dark to risk riding. Decided to go by Langham Waterworks, but wished I had not. Just after I had crossed the footbridge, I caught sight of what appeared to be a cycle lamp coming along the narrow lane from Higham direction. I saw it appear and disappear as it went behind trees and stacks, and I thought it would soon come round the last bend to where I stood, but nothing appeared, and as I went further and further along the lane still I saw nothing. It was very eerie, and I tried to reach the hard road as soon as possible, but owing to the intense darkness I wandered off the track onto the muddy path leading to the farm opposite Rushbury’s lane. It was sometime before I noticed this, so that it was too late to turn back, and I was very soon quite lost, wandering round a ploughed field for about half an hour.
The beacon was a real beacon to me then, and I kept my eye glued to it, finally finding the farmyard and setting all the dogs barking. The fire to the N.W. died way, after a final flicker.
It was getting on for 1 a.m. when I got to the cottage at last.
Feel I cannot stand much more, but must go away again. But where? Perhaps to Scotland, to Edinburgh or Inverness.
Spent the night in the chair, before a good fire. Wakened soon after midnight by the distant boom of guns, but did not bother to get up – too tired. Soon after had a very curious dream. I was in the actual sitting-room, in the armchair, and Mary Hulbert [an old girlfriend of Rudsdale's] was in the room with me. She seemed to be much older than when I last saw her, and her hair was going grey. I don't know what we talked about, but there was a frightening atmosphere, and curious noises somewhere in the cottage. Then the door opened and an American soldier came in, a dark, sallow man, with a handsome but very evil face. I shouted out loud, and woke up.
Bitterly cold day. No fires at the office when I got there, so went home for half an hour. Father suffering from the cold.
Back to Higham at 7. Terribly cold. Writing all evening, then slept before the fire until about 3. Looked outside and found the clouds had gone, and stars twinkled through a light haze. A ‘plane flew over very low. Went to bed.
Grey sky, and snow falling as I left soon after 8. Went out this morning and had my haircut – much overdue. Barber’s shop full of Americans, as usual. They seem to have nothing else to do.
Snowing hard when I came out, and kept on intermittently all day. Called at the Holly Trees. Sisson was there, having called in to see about the summer-house. The place is certainly dilapidated, with holes in the roof, part of the ceiling down, some boards torn off, no glass in the windows. The pseudo-classical plaques on the back wall are still well-preserved. Sisson is determined to do all he can to prevent its destruction, and went off to see Duncan Clark. It is with petty, spiteful little vandalisms such as this that the Borough Engineer and his clique hope to keep things going until better times, when they can tackle something really worthwhile, such as Trinity Church, the Culver St. houses, or even the Roman wall.
By the way the Culver St house, where Castoligni lives, was sold by auction on Wednesday for £1200. Clifton, the dentist next door in Queen St, bought it. Poulter took Sisson over to see the interior this morning, and during conversation Castoligni, who has lived there about 15 years, said he had always thought the place was Victorian. So many things seem to be credited to Victoria – the Curator told Ald. Blomfield that Gray’s summer-house was probably built in 1850.
This afternoon the sky cleared for about half an hour, then snow came harder than ever – great, fat, swirling flakes which whirled along the roads and began to lay in corners and crevices. I suddenly thought of myself as a very tiny child, screwing my little head sideways against the window-pane, trying to see where the snow was coming from. Mother laughed and said, -
Strange incident this afternoon. I have been a little worried about getting somewhere to live after next week, having found nothing yet, when into the office came a Mrs Rogers, offering to let a small bungalow at Layer, suitable for an agricultural worker. I at once arranged to see it on Tuesday, and I think it would suit very well. It is only 3.5 miles from Colchester, and is well away from the aerodromes.
Actually I prefer the north side of the Stour, as we do not get so many enemy ‘planes over here as they do south of Colchester, and Layer is only 6 miles from the sea, but all the same I may have to take it. The cottage I should like is one in a lane between Stratford and Dedham, but I believe there is no water there.
It was strange that this woman should come in with such an offer at the very moment I need a house, and it made me think of my “good fairy” of the old days, who always protected me so faithfully.
To Higham at 7.30. Very cold and dark. Thick clouds. No light, but the motor was running, I suppose to keep it warm.
Still raining. Woke to the sound of its pattering on the roof. Felt a little better though cough still painful. Poulter phoned this morning to say that the Borough Engineer intends to destroy the little 18th century summerhouse on the Castle Ramparts. This charming little “temple”, with stucco plaques and Doric columns, is shown on Morant’s plan of Colchester, and was undoubtedly put up by Charles Gray. During recent years it has become rather dilapidated, and only a few months ago I was thinking that I should like to advise on its restoration. Now, without the slightest reason, the Engineer announces that he is going to destroy it – and offers the Museum any “timber” they may like to take. ‘Phoned Sisson this evening, and told him. He has never really believed my stories about the Borough Engineer, but he could only say, “Well, it really does take one’s breath away, doesn’t it?” He promised to get in touch with Duncan Clark and the Engineer at once, and I think he has got a very good chance to stop this particular piece of petty, spiteful vandalism.
The building is not worth very much, but it is a charming little link with Charles Gray, but naturally the Engineer does not want to lag behind the American bombers. He has no Monte Cassino to destroy, but at least he can smash the little “garden-house” which itself so narrowly escaped a bomb.
Poulter showed me some of the Carylon Hughes MSS from Harwich – wonderful stuff. He has the whole lot, and proposes to keep it in the Museum on trust for Harwich, so that should the town ever require to have it, they may do so.
He tells me that the Colchester volume of William Wire’s “Morant” has been found in the Castle, but the whole of the Colchester prints and drawings are still missing. Hull has not been seen for days.
This afternoon, when I was looking out of the window, saw Grubb riding slowly past in the rain, on a stout little roan cob. She told me yesterday, when I met her in the street, that old Blackie is to be put down today. This is the old black cob which Tweed had in a baker’s van for many years. He is probably about 40 years old. Poor Grubb was very upset. I remember the old pony well when I was at school.
Showers of rain and sleet all day. When I got to Higham, there was no light, although this was the night to expect it, but the men were busy round it, hammering away by torchlight. Apparently it has broken down.
Decided not to allow Benham to print the journal extracts, and wrote to him to that effect tonight. This is no time to publish such material, and in any case the little which is not either libellious or censorable is not worth either printing or reading.
Made up a roaring fire tonight, and settled down in the arm-chair, wrapped in blankets. The stars were glittering coldly early in the evening, but now thick clouds have rolled over from the east, and a few flakes of snow are falling.
Last night cold, glittery stars. This morning, still cold, but drifting clouds, pouring rain, wind S.W. Felt terrible, cough persistent and most exhaustive. Lay wondering whether to get up or not. Heard George bring the milk to the door, but did not unlock it. Got up about 9, made a good breakfast from bread and milk, shaved, left at 11 o’clock.
Hell of a journey. Arrived soaked through, coughing like an old horse. Intended to meet Hervey Benham for lunch, to discuss “Journal” publication, but was late leaving the office, so we could not get into Last’s, which is the only place he will go. Went into the “Cups” Bar instead. He offered me £12.2.0 for three years extracts – 1940, 1941 and 1942 (with of course the preliminary extracts in 1938 and 1939). Could not make up my mind whether to go on with it or not. Whole conversation suddenly became distasteful to me – the bar, the smell of beer, the Americans drinking double whiskies, Lampon the horse-slaughterer, and a horrible little fat man – I felt fed up with the thing. Then above the chatter and clatter of glasses, I heard the wailing of the sirens. I thought this is it again, rain, low clouds, like September 1942. If Hervey heard it he made no sign. It was a quarter to 2. I said “I must run, I’ll see you again, no idea it was so late,” and fled. No planes about, streets full of wet people hurrying back to work.
Went down Balkerne Hill, by Middle Mill, to King’s Mead, where I heard the all-clear ring out. Went back, to Rose’s café and had bread and cheese.
Felt bad all day, and could not concentrate. In Culver Street today saw an American soldier acting as a “shoe-shine boy” to his compatriots, just outside the American Red Cross.
Had tea with Diana Davies, then left at 6 for Higham, still raining hard. Went by way of Dedham. Mrs. Sisson alone, as Sisson was in London for the day. She is still very worried about his going to Italy, but does not yet know whether he is going or not. Talk about the debate in the Lords today, when a most scurrilous attack was made on Archbishop Lang and the Bishop of Chichester, on account of their very mildly expressed disapproval of the British and American bombing raids. Monte Cassino has been utterly destroyed after 1400 years. Mrs Sisson said the thought of raids anywhere made her feel ill.
Sisson came in, and told us that the R.I.B.A. Council had voted £10 for repair of Layer Marney Church, a most unusual step for them to take. He wants to get some Italian conversation, so I advised him to see Dr. Punkis of the Grammar School.
To Higham at 9, still raining. Black as pitch.
Felt bad this morning, and longed to go to bed. Awake on and off all night.
Still cloudy, but later the sky cleared and it was a brilliant sunny day, though cold. Several flights of bombers went out.
Have been wondering whether I ought to send all my MSS and photographs to Inverness. If so, perhaps they had better go as soon as possible. Must write to Meg Macdougall.
This evening had tea with Diana, but felt so bad I hardly enjoyed myself. Hervey Benham came in, and talked about the possible publication of my journal extracts. I don't think anything should be done for some years, but Hervey is very keen.
Beautiful clear evening, but very cold. Haze coming up. No light at Higham.
Spent the night in the armchair – have not been to bed for more than a week. My birthday – 34, the first I have had without Mother. Left very early, in the dark, and went over to Lawford to collect eggs. No sign of damage anywhere. Joy thought it was all much further away, well beyond Colchester, and I was astounded to find that she was right – the fires were at Clacton, 16 miles from Higham. Marks & Spencers has been burnt, two other shops, and the whole of Lodge Farm, St Osyth – buildings, cattle, and all. Only one horse was saved. Several stacks were burnt at Weeley Heath, but no damage was done by high explosives – they all fell in fields. There was not a single casualty.
The Colchester rocket guns fired for nearly an hour, but nothing was hit.
Great feeling of relief to find that there was no damage at Colchester. Went up to see if there was a casualty board at the Library, but there was nothing.
As I came down Long Road, Dedham, this morning there was a lovely golden dawn, and some little birds were singing gaily among the ruins of Coomber’s little cottage, above the spot where Mrs. Coomber and her baby were killed.
Staff meeting this afternoon, everybody wedged into our office to be talked to by the Executive Officer, [Sadler], Engledow and Pigg. (I can never remember whether his name is Pigg or Hogg). Nothing of importance was said, but it took them 3 hours to say it. Began to feel very ill, and felt dreadful tonight. Racking cough, inflamed throat.
At Higham the light was on, but clouds were thick and low. Kept the radio on to see if there was an attack, but nothing happened.
Another night in the armchair. Terribly cold.
Today would have been E.J. Rudsdale's 104th birthday.
Knocked my clock over during the night, and broke it. Have to rely on the radio to know what time it is.
Fine day, warmer, and sunny. Reading and writing until 4 o’clock, then went to Dedham. At the Sissons’ heard surprising news - he has been offered a post in Italy, to work on the salvage of historical material. Mrs. Sisson very distressed, but he feels he ought to go. This is true, as he is a brilliant man who should not be wasting his time on bomb-damaged cottages. He expects to hear any day that he is to go. He is to work under Sir Leonard Woolley, with the rank of major. This is a great shock, and I shall miss him a lot.
Left at 7.30. Bright stars, very cold. Radio faded at 8, and ‘planes began to come over. About half past 8 an attack began, due south, probably Langham Aerodrome. There was a tremendous lot of firing, and ‘planes came in rapidly. A mass of incendiaries fell, and great sheets of yellow flame shot up into the sky behind the trees. Then three great “chandelier” flares appeared, and hung motionless in the sky. I thought my God – that’s Colchester. Heard a ‘plane diving, and the cottage shook from the vibration of bombs.
The yellow sheets of flame flickered, sank, rose again, and the sky was a mass of searchlights, with shell-bursts, like little Bengal matches. Felt absolutely sick, went back into the sitting-room, lay on the floor in front of the fire, turned the radio on loudly to a German station, but the thump of guns still came to my ears through the music of Franz Lehar.
Gradually the firing died away, the sound of ‘planes receded, and only the “marker” searchlights, like huge altar candles, flicked on and off dimly through the haze. To the south an arc of light still remained. Went in and looked at the map, trying to estimate where the fire was. Felt it could not be Colchester – too much to the south.
Stoked up the fire, had supper, and settled down to write, radio on, BBC stations now normal. Weather becoming very cold. Feel ill, beginning to cough.
Up early, fine bright morning, not so cold, but rain showers marching across the valley. Usual busy Saturday. Went on the market this afternoon and saw Basil Bowyer, of Dukes Farm, Layer Marney, who is church warden, and talked to him about the state of the church. He told me they were asking for £200 to carry out immediate repairs and had received £25 from the Pilgrim Trust. Gave him 10/-. Benton [of the Essex Archaeological Society] has been over there and given a lot of “advice” but nothing tangible. Bowyer spoke disparagingly of the Vicar, Austin Lee.
Had tea with Diana, but could not stay long as she had to be back at the theatre. She told me this week’s show, “Heartbreak House”, by Shaw, had been very well received, as had the Ibsen play last week.
Back to Higham at 6.30. Clouds coming up, but the radio faded about 8, and there was gunfire in the east. Did not feel quite so nervous as last night, as there was no beacon. We have missed the bad weather this winter, so far, but even on cloudy or misty nights they come. I am afraid we cannot hope to have any more fogs.
Have now finished extracts from my journals for 1938, 1939, and 1940, relating to Colchester during the war. Hervey Benham is very anxious to publish at once, but I think it very unwise, and that they should be kept for some years yet. The full journals, of course, cannot be published within 50 years of my death.
Hervey Benham's book 'Essex at War' published in 1945, contains the extracts that Rudsdale gave him from his journals. CP
Sunny morning. Cold. Ice on the roads. Two big petrol lorries were unable to get up Gun Hill, and horses in Colchester had ice nails in. There were four pairs of horses working on Turner’s land this morning, ploughing, harrowing and carting muck.
Cold and showery all day, very few bombers out.
Heavy cloud tonight, and showers of rain. When I got to Higham the beacon was on, so I suppose it is working again on every third night, which is its usual sequence. About a quarter to 8 the radio faded, and soon heard gunfire, and ‘planes. Two searchlights wavered to the north. Felt very uncomfortable as the light was flashing, but it did not seem to be as bright as usual.
Writing most of the night. Up at 7. Had a very small breakfast. Had to cycle against a bitter wind, but got a tow with a lorry.
Put my cycle in the Town Hall basement, walked down Culver Street, turned into the Wesleyan Church forecourt. Never been in there before. Noticed a foundation stone laid by “Mrs Brewer, 1869”. My mother was two years old then. Along a narrow draughty passage, following signs which read “Medical Board Room and Recruiting Centre →”.
Into the cold, dark old school room, into a passage, the walls covered with posters – “Hitler will send no warning – Always Carry a Gas-Mask.” “Men Wanted, RAF Air-Crews”. “Reserved Men, - You can Volunteer for Air Duties.”
The waiting room was small but tall, with a partition, on one side two-dozen chairs, and on the other two desks with Ministry of Labour officials. A bright coal fire burning in a large old-fashioned grate, and more posters – “Army Recruit Class … ‘Joining Notices’ are not usually sent less than 10 days notice before date of joining … recruits must take their own toilet requisites.”
At 10 the four oldest men were called outside – our hour had come. We marched into the big schoolroom, which was divided by partitions into a narrow passage with cubicles on one side, a large space in which the examinations took place.
Rudsdale's account of the medical examination is published in his book. At the end of the examination he was classified as Grade 3 and therefore unfit for armed service. CP
Rudsdale's account of the medical examination is published in his book. At the end of the examination he was classified as Grade 3 and therefore unfit for armed service. CP
Felt I could not go back [to the office] for a few minutes, so went to Benham’s office, and had a cup of coffee with him. Talked about the Journal extracts; he is most enthusiastic.
During the day, showers of snow fell, and it was intensely cold. Back to Higham at 7.30. Saw Poulter before I left, who told me Hull had lost the whole file of the Colchester prints and drawings, which he removed from the Muniment Room a year ago to prevent my using it.
Stayed up all night, writing till 2, then dozing in the armchair. Went out at 7, and saw the huge yellow moon, just past the full, sinking behind the trees. Two ‘planes passed over towards the east, their red starboard lights glowing against the pale sky. A squadron went over soon after 8, and threw out red flares as they neared the coast.
This afternoon I went over to Messing to see where the road between Easthorpe and Messing has been blocked by the aerodrome work near Canfields Farm. This is the only road between the two places, except a road five miles long by way of Birch Rectory and the main road. This blocking is quite unnecessary and was done without any warning to the inhabitants, and the Ministry of Transport refuse to let the road be replaced. We are now taking up the matter with the Executive Committee but I doubt whether anything will be done.
Being down there, took the opportunity to go down to Layer Marney to see the effigies, which Sisson had told me were uncovered again. They are in a very dirty condition, bits of sacking adhering to the stone, and all hollows and crevices filled with loose sand. A notice hung up in the chapel, signed by Austin Lee, states that owing to the dampness of the sandbags, it was necessary to remove them. He also appeals for funds to repair the chapel roof, which is apparently leaking. Another notice appeals for funds for a heating apparatus, without which it is impossible to hold winter services.
The church is clean, but very forlorn, with the three Lords of Marney stretched silent on their tombs, the painted St. Christopher staring down from the wall.
I had hoped to have seen Austin Lee, but we found the little cottage where he lives locked and deserted. Should like to have the chance of cleaning these figures myself, with soft soap and warm water.
Back to Colchester, through masses of American lorries and cars, all driven by Negroes.
Very cold, and clouds tonight. Busy writing. Had a bath, and felt as if I was washing a corpse [prior to medical examination the next day].
Brilliant morning, bitterly cold. Planes coming and going from 7 o’clock onwards. A pair of horses ploughing the field by Stratford corner which was mucked last week, with a great flock of seagulls wheeling over them, oblivious of the planes which passed still higher. New drainage man interviewed this morning, to take Oliver’s place.
This evening had tea with Daphne Young, and left rather later than I thought, scudding along before a strong S.W. wind. Huge yellow moon, a few thin clouds. Expected an attack, but none came. The light was on at Higham, first time for 10 days. Several planes going over very high.
Great anxiety. Only 48 hours to go now [to my medical examination].
Did more journal extracts last night, and finally got to bed at 3 a.m. this morning. Slept fitfully until 7, then up and made breakfast. Much warmer, and low wet looking clouds blowing before a S.W. wind.
Got a tow on a lorry, and arrived at 9.10, only 40 minutes for the whole journey. Busy with Committee stuff all morning. To Birch this afternoon. Several men recommended for increases, including Stuart Rose, who was awarded 10/- a week for the excellent work he has put in as foreman of the orchards. Moorhouse spoke very highly of him, and nobody mentioned that he was a pacifist. Another man was Jones, the Welsh pacifist, whose application was met by a torrent of abuse – “Conchie!” “Don't give him nothing!” and “He’s a dirty Welshman.” I felt furious, and was almost inclined to get up and rush out of the room. Such petty spite, such viciousness. They refused to recommend his increase, but are prepared to consider it again, when they may perhaps be in a better mood.
It was a long meeting, and I did not get away until after 6. Went back to the office, and typed out a memo to the Executive Officer personally, notifying him of my medical examination on Thursday. Then had to go back to the Head Post Office to post it, and having no battery had to walk all the way. The moon was shining brightly and the streets were light as day. At St. Botolph’s corner saw that all the window lights had been left on at Ald. Blomfield’s, the ironmonger, looking weird and bizarre. Several people were taking advantage of the fact to look in the windows at the goods displayed, as they would any evening in peace time. Hope the Alderman does not get into trouble.
Came out by Boxted, as being a more lonely road when one has no lamps. Called at Lt. Rivers. Dennis Carter came in. Much talk about horses, War Agricultural Committee labour, and the Boxted Invasion Committee.
Left at 11.30, and so to Higham by way of the waterworks, as I have no lamp, and am unlikely to be stopped on such a lonely road. Bed straight away, as the electricity had failed, and there was no fire.
Sat up reading and writing very late, and at last went to bed about 5 this morning. Wakened by an ‘all-clear’ at 7, but slept again until nearly 11. Washed, had a meal, and went down to Dedham to meet Diana. Fog coming up, the sun glowing through it. Took Mrs. Sisson some milk.
Just as Diana arrived, the church bells began to peal, and a great flock of rooks flew out from the belfry. Took her to see Southfields, and then walked across the meadows to Flatford. Saw the Mill and cottage. She had never been there before, and was charmed. Back to Dedham for tea at the café. Noticed several local girls and youths in there – quite a new habit for village people. Can it be the influence of so many continental people about now?
After tea walked slowly to Stratford to catch the 6.30 bus, but it was nearly an hour late. Sat on a log by the road side, in the cold, arms round each other, watching American lorries going by. Thick clouds and some mist tonight.
Still no beacon. Glad that the moon is quite obscured, as it is nearly full.
Beautiful day, but freezing hard. Planes going over in dozens, leaving strangely beautiful vapour trails across the clean pale blue sky. The radio has little to say about the raids yesterday, and the papers not much more.
There is now a very serious water shortage on most farms south of Colchester, where wells are drying up almost every day. There has been virtually neither rain nor snow this winter.
The Executive Officer came this morning to see Miss Miller from Wakes Colne, who is always in difficulty about labour on her farm. She was rather pathetic, describing how she had first a single man, who turned out be afflicted with a filthy skin desease, and then a man and woman, “living in sin”, who quarrelled and fought all day. Sadler advised her to get rid of the farm.
Woke at 5 to hear heavy gunfire, and many planes passing over very low. Thick clouds again. Looked out, and saw a big fire towards the W. and some wavering searchlights. The crash of the guns shook the cottage windows. Got on with the journal extracts until all-clear came just after 6. Did not feel very nervous this time. Got breakfast and listened to the German radio.
Wind not quite so high this morning, and got to the office early. Several pairs of horses ploughing on Higham Hall land, and two more pairs carting muck onto the field at the corner of the lane to Stratford. Wonderful weather for ploughing.
Have not been to bed since Sunday, yet do not feel tired or stiff. Still no beacon.
Fine day, but very cold wind. Clouds came over tonight.
Have not been to bed since Sunday, yet feel no ill-effects. Brilliant morning, and quite warm. Crimson clouds at sunrise, and American bombers going out. Got towed in behind a lorry, so got in early for once.
Clouds blowing over all day, but the sky cleared tonight after a wild tempestuous sunset. Came back by Langham Mill because I had no lights, and waded through the ford under the shining moon. A raid at half past 8, but not much gunfire. A few planes went over at a great height, and all-clear came faintly on the wind at 9.30.
Still writing, and again no bed tonight.
Tonight the clouds cleared completely and the moon shone out brilliantly, yet there were no planes about. Still busy on journal extracts.
Sat up again last night, doing Journal extracts, yet do not feel tired today. Still very high wind, but not so many clouds. Poulter ‘phoned this morning to say that some sheds were being demolished against the Town Wall in Vineyard Street, so I went along there at lunchtime and found Bullock’s old stables and sheds were being taken down – Kenn, as Buildings Inspector, had had them condemned as a dangerous structure. This is of course nonsense, but Kenn seems to have taken leave of his senses lately – Sisson, who at one time rather favoured him, now considers him to be a serious menace in the town.
However, in this case no harm has been done, and about 50 feet of the Wall, standing to a height of 15 feet, has now been exposed. At one point there is an arched opening, rather like a drain, but the top has been broken away and it is difficult to see exactly what it is as it is so dark. This may possibly be the drain to which William Wire refers [in his diary], when he mentions one on the E. side of Scheregate.
Must see Sisson and ask him to get in touch with O’Neil [from the Ministry of Works], so that steps may be taken to prevent rebuilding there.
This afternoon should have gone to Fordham, but could not face the wind, as heart pains have been rather bad lately. Suddenly decided to go to the cinema with Diana, which I did, and much enjoyed it – Arnold Bennett’s “Buried Alived”, called “Holy Matrimony”. Very well done. Afterwards we had tea at Last’s.
To Higham at 7. Still no beacon. This is very odd indeed. Can there have been a big RAF disaster? The men are still there on the hill, as I can hear their voices in the distance. I believe they came into the house today, as the furniture in the sitting room had been moved, and the radio changed to long-wave tuning.
Heard on the Calais radio tonight a long list of names – about 80, of British N.C.O.’s and men who were killed by American bombers at a prison camp in Italy. The list was read out with great dignity, and then a beautiful and very sad air was played.
Strong S.W. gale, with low swirling clouds. As I was going by
, a small observation plane came
over from the direction of Fordham, at no very great height. Over Parsons Heath it turned as if to go
back, but the wind was so strong it remained almost motionless for some
moments, until the wind pressure blew it
clean over, like a dead leaf. This
happened four times, and I expected ever minute to see it crash, but somehow
the pilot succeeded in bringing it onto a level keel again. However, nothing he could do would make any
headway against the wind, so at last he turned and fled before it, heading N.E.
perhaps to try to work round on another tack. St. John’s Church
Alarmed to hear on the radio that enemy aircraft were “off the coast of
at noon yesterday, in thick cloud. Hope
they are not going to begin cloud-raiding again.
Tremendous gale tonight, blew me back to Higham in 35 minutes. No beacon.