EJ Rudsdale on Twitter from 3 September 2019

23rd March 1944

Eric Rudsdale left Colchester for Wales on 23rd March 1944 and returned on 1st April 1944.

The blog will resume with the next entry in his diary for 2nd April 1944.   CP

22nd March 1944

Hear that a canister of incendiaries fell in Goring Road just missing the wardens’ post there, but no damage done.

Am now quite determined to go.  Told Father I shall be away “about a week”.  How long shall I really be?  Bought another haversack, cost 6/3.  

At lunch today in the café, we heard a broadcast of some organ music, from Birmingham, I think  it was.  The old Jewess from the fruit stall was sitting drinking endless cups of tea as usual, at the same table as two shop girls.  I heard her say, indicating the wireless, “Ain't half as good as the man at the “Regal”, is he?” and one of the girls replied “You’re right.”

Noticed that one of the girls in the brothel opposite our office is now wearing a pair of American khaki trousers, and one of the children wears those curious breeches affected by American boys, no doubt gifts from an admirer.

Evening papers say 8 ‘planes brought down last night, and it was obviously a big raid.  After tea went over to Dedham to get some papers to take away with me, and stayed there to supper as I was able to provide some tinned soup.  Pleasant evening talking, but gave no hint about my going away tomorrow.  Left at 11, and walked very slowly all the way.  About 11.30 a large number of aircraft began to come over, several hundred I should think, coming in from the east.  At first I thought they were Germans, but soon saw that most were carrying their riding lights.  They were flying very low, and some were obviously in trouble from the sound of their engines.  Must have been a big raid on Germany.  How much longer is this to go on?

Bed about 1a.m., very tired with so much walking.  Father’s birthday tomorrow – 72.  Poor old man.  Miss Payne seems to make him happy.  Bought him the usual half a pound of tobacco, the best I could get.  Wonder how much he misses Mother?

21st March 1944

Fine clear dawn, still cold.  Wind veered to N.E.  No sign of any more rain, and yesterday’s shower barely enough to lay the dust.  Twelve ‘planes came over from the north, in formation, flying low towards the coast.  Continually thinking about Mary Hulbert’s cottage near the border.  Feel a frightful sense of impending doom.

Supper in town tonight, then went to Lt. Rivers with some papers for Stuart Rose.  Walked and rode back towards Woodside, trying to stay out as late as possible.  Brilliant stars, and a good many planes about.  Signal lights flashing in Suffolk, so that I wondered if there was a raid on, but no gunfire.  

20th March 1944

Overcast and cold.  Wind N.W.  Had excellent breakfast, porridge, egg etc and got to office by 9.  Wonderful!  Busy preparing for Committee meeting.  Birch all afternoon, but nothing very special done.  Joanna there for tea.  Seemed rather depressed.  Got back at 6.30 with Craig.  Talked about the new “Reconstruction Committee” of the Corporation, as distinct from Town Planning.  Largely nonsense. 

Rain began at tea time, a light, steady drizzle, and the Committee stood looking out across the wet leads into the Park, saying “Ah, not before time, neither”, “We want it bad”, etc.  The drought is very serious indeed, and I don’t think this rain is the end of it.  The glass remains high. 

Went to collect cycle at the Town Hall, and found I had a puncture.  Nuisance.  Heavy clouds tonight, and felt rather better myself.  Had an excellent supper, and went to bed early, still thinking wild, idiotic and absurd thoughts.  What can I do?

19th March 1944

Had a splendid night [in Rudsdale's new lodgings at Woodside, Boxted, the home of his new landlady, Miss Bentley].  No alarm, and heard no planes.  Up at 9, had a hot bath, then breakfast, reading, and writing.  Went into Sprott’s Marsh, lovely spring day, warm, and birds singing, but oh how we want rain.  Walked right through the wood, and found that the little cottage which used to stand in the wood has long since been destroyed, nothing remaining but the outline of the garden and an old apple tree.  Did a few sketches and then went to Dedham by way of the aerodrome.  What dirt, confusion and noise, huge bombs scattered about everywhere.  And what a contrast to see Dedham in the sunlight, the church bells peeling for afternoon service, jackdaws and rooks wheeling, fat white clouds floating across the sky, people walking out, a football match on the playing field, children skipping.  The Colchester bus came in and several people got out of it and wandered down towards the river.

At 4 I had tea at the café, full of soldiers and girls and family parties.  Then went to Lawford for some eggs for Annie Ralling who is coming home from hospital on Tuesday.  Mrs Nichols was there, with her little girl.  She seems to want to sell the phaeton.

The sun sank in a mass of crimson flame, and I went along the Long Road to Langham and then to Boxted, feeling more and more nervous as night fell.  Called at Lt. Rivers, more to fill an hour than for anything else, and then walked from there to Woodside by back lanes.  A lot of lights were on, some signalling as marks for night fighters, and there seemed to be a fire of some sort towards Polstead, rising and falling.  Brilliant stars.  As I reached the “Queen” heard an all-clear from Suffolk, but heard no alarm.

Bed 11.30, full of wild thoughts, and feeling increasingly nervous.

18th March 1944

Clear sky this morning, but fog in the valley.  Took one of my kitbags to Boxted on the way in.  Saw a fine cob in a trap on Gunhill, exactly the same as Robin, but a mare.  The owner was walking beside it so I spoke to him.  He was a Scotsman, and said he had driven from Somersham, the other side of Ipswich, was going to Colchester to Market, and then back by way of Boxford, about 50 miles in all.  A lovely cob, only 5 years old.

Poulter phoned to say that Kenn [of the Borough Engineer's Office] had now condemned Middle Mill [in Castle Park] as a dangerous building.  Fantastic.  The man must be mad.

‘Planes over in hundreds all day long.  Went to the library, then saw Hampshire about some hay.  He has another fresh pony, so I drove it, the first time I have driven a pony for months.  Dear old Hampshire full of what a “deal” he had to get this pony, and how he “chopped” his other one away, but I don't suppose more than 5/- and some drinks actually changed hands.

Bought rations, had a good tea, and went to Dedham to collect various things.  Talk about affairs of the Dedham Parish Council, which seem very extraordinary.  Went along to the Talbooth to collect the rest of my belongings and to pay.  They charged me £5 for less than two weeks, a most extortionate amount.  Had quite a shock when I was waiting to pay – the local policeman walked in, and told the house-keeper he “wanted to make some enquiries”.  He looked at me very suspiciously and said “You been called up?” seeing my luggage.  I said no, feeling very foolish.

Keep thinking about Wales.  Feel in half a mind to go tomorrow.  If only the weather would break I should stay here happily.

17th March 1944

Woke to find a lovely thick fog.  Another huge convoy on the road this morning.  Went out to see the Income Tax people this morning, and fear I may have to pay them over £30.  Had a haircut.  As I was going round Headgate Corner, saw Peta Buck, with her little boy, rather plump now.  She must be over 30.  Always admired her when I was at school, yet never spoke to her.  Thought of Rose when I went by the “Wishbone” against the very doorway where she first kissed me one summer night seven years ago.

Culley, Pest officer, tells me that there are a pair of peregrine falcons at Rockingham Farm, Layer Marney.

This evening went with Poulter to see alleged bomb damage to the Roman Wall in Dale’s Yard, Priory St.  An incendiary bomb fell just behind it, damaging a tin shed, and about a bushel of loose stone has fallen, but whether on account of the incendiary or not is rather doubtful.  Poulter tells me that O’Neill [from the Office of Works] is coming next week to see various things about the town.

Lovely evening.  Haze coming up.  Duncan Clark says that the old garden-house [in Castle Park] is to be saved after all, but that the Borough-Engineer estimates that it will cost £100 to repair it.  Perhaps £20 would be near the mark.  Poulter annoyed because Hull had gone away and left the light burning in the Castle.  He showed me a letter just received from Mr Timperley, at Merton Park, saying that 500 people were killed there and a thousand injured in the last four raids, and much worse at Battersea and Chelsea.  Yet the official figure gives only 960 for the whole country for a month.

Cycled back slowly to Talbooth for my last night there.  Felt nervous at the prospect of another move, and long to get away.  Each evening I feel dreadful.

16th March 1944

Very fine, slightly warmer.  Cloudy and hazy all day, and had hopes of a fog, but it cleared.  Went out to Woodside, Boxted, at 6 [to meet a Miss Bentley, who would become Rudsdale's landlady], and was amazed to hear an alarm at 6.15, for half an hour.  The siren on Mile End Hill sounded as I was walking up. A man ran out of a house nearby in Civil Defence uniform, but children playing took no notice.  I was only too glad to be going out of the town, but I passed Daphne coming back from her music lesson at Cant’s, quite cheerfully cycling into Colchester.  I would have waited for all-clear.

Went over to Lt. Rivers, and found Phoebe Pickard there with her son, who is just back from America.  Curious that she should bring him back at this time.  He is now about to start at Colchester Royal Grammar School.

When I left the night was intensely black.  Few ‘planes about, above clouds.  Felt most alarmed.  At the Talbooth found an American jeep in the garage.  Dodged the dogs and went to bed at once.

15th March 1944

Up early.  Brilliant morning, but cold.  Very little breakfast, only a small bowl of porridge.  Got to the office in good time for once, ‘planes going over as I went in.

Chairman in this morning about M. of Tiptree and the “black market” case.  Has been decided he must no longer be the Committee’s representative in that area.  Poor devil, everybody is against him.  Our organisation at Tiptree is in a terrible muddle, as we don't seem to know whether we are dealing with the new civil parish or with the old parishes of Layer Marney and Messing.  Capt. Folkard seems disinclined to take the matter seriously but I think it should be cleared up, as we shall never get our records straight until it is.

Home to tea, and then called at Holly Trees, where Poulter told me that Hull was now F.S.A. and had been appointed to a panel which is to deal with post-war Romano-British archaeology.  This should be a great boost to his morale.

A fog coming up in the town, and I had some hopes of a quiet night, but in the country it was quite clear.

Looked at the “Gazette”, and saw that Ivor Carter had been drowned at sea.  I was at school with him, and hated him as a vicious cruel bully.  He was a very dull scholar, and was always much the senior in any form in which he happened to be.  All the little boys went in fear of him.

To Lawford this evening and returned a map I had borrowed, leaving my old police saddle at Clayton’s on the way.  Bob has now gone over to the Lyons family at Collier’s Wood, and I am sure he will be happier there.

Left Lawford at 9, just in time to hear three all-clears over in Suffolk, one after another.  Heard no alarm.  The sky was hazy, the stars twinkling dimly.  Walked back to Talbooth, listening to all the little night sounds, birds twittering, cattle in the distant byres, things creeping in the hedges.

About half-past ten, as I sat writing in this ridiculous fake-antique room, I heard many planes, very low, and looked out to see dozens of yellow flares floating over Ardleigh, mingling with the stars so that one could scarcely see which was which, and the noise of planes receding towards the west.  I suppose they were coming back from across the sea.

Sent two drawings to the Museum and Art Gallery at Bangor today, one a little 18th century water-colour, “Snowdon from Capel Curig,” perhaps by Daniel, and the other a view of Beddgelert by a Florence Spiers, 1866.  Wished most heartily that I was going with them.

14th March 1944

Brilliant day.  Rain clouds all gone.  The drought is very serious, hardly more than a trickle of water in the Stour at Stratford Bridge.  Hundreds of planes going out all morning.  Had a job to find any breakfast, and finally got nothing but a little porridge.

Busy day, and this evening went to Dedham to give Sisson a copy of “Illustrated” which contains an article describing how British troops are billeted among ancient monuments in Italy.  Photographs show soldiers in an amphitheatre, their equipment hung upon classical statues and funeral monuments, telephone wires draped onto heads and arms of some figures.  The article was written to show that this is considered to be very clever and funny.  Sisson is going to show this to the R.I.B.A. in London tomorrow.

Heard a story about two Land Girls, today, both working for the Committee.  They went into partnership with a taxi-driver, running a brothel.  One girl stayed in the man’s flat while the other went out with him in the taxi, as “bait”, cruising round until they picked up Americans.

To Talbooth at 9, and had more trouble with the dogs.  Shall be thankful to get away from here, but I have no idea where I can go next.  Wild thoughts keep running through my head about going away to Salop and then to Wales.

13th March 1944

Fine, rather cold.  Feel much better.  Jupp full of rumours about the invasion – all lorry and bus drivers are to be taken over to Europe with the army, together with dock workers and two fifths of the Fire Brigade.  Prophesies complete chaos all over the country.

Strong wind this afternoon which blew down part of the ruins of Moore and Roberts’ shop in St Botolphs Street.  Lorries are still at work on all the ruined sites, and men are patching the holes burnt in the wood paving blocks.

We discovered today that one of the bus drivers employed to take Land Girls about has been running a taxi every morning, not appearing with the bus until 9.30 or 10 o’clock.  He is paid £4-10 by the bus company, £3-5 by the Committee, and has been making £5 on the taxi.  The firm’s contract has now been cancelled, but no action is taken against the man.

News in the papers today that Ireland is to be cut off from the rest of the world as a punishment for refusing to enter the war on the side of the Allies.  Papers full of tirades against “cowards” and “traitors”.  Fantastic figures published of the numbers of Irishmen in the forces or in British industry.  From today none of these people will be allowed to return to their own country.

Tonight saw a vast convoy on the Ipswich Road, quite a mile of vehicles.  It was very dark and beginning to rain when I was going down Gunhill, the lorries moving slowly towards Suffolk.  Suddenly a motor cyclist skidded and was run into by the lorry just behind him, his cycle sliding down the hill, giving up a great shower of sparks.

Everybody began to run and shout.  Somebody called “Bring a torch!  A torch here quick!”  I ran across, and saw the rider on his back on the wet road, quite still, with the cycle partly on top of him.  Black rain came down like steel rods, the wind howled in the trees, the lights of the vehicles looked like huge stars.

An officer came, and a sergeant, and they told the man to try to move his legs.  He groaned, and moved each leg very slowly.  He was still holding a Sten gun in his hand.  More rushing about, and a stream of meat lorries edged past, going down hill, brakes screaming.  At last somebody suggested moving the soldier onto the footpath, whereupon he said he thought he could stand.  We heaved him up, and I held his right arm over my shoulder, like we used to be taught in the Scout first-aid lectures 20 years ago, while a lieutenant took the other side.  The man limped badly, but we got him onto the path, and he said he felt better.

Left them, and went down to the Talbooth, where I was at once attacked by two red setters who were loose in the yard.  Made me very angry.

Hear that Ellen Wilkinson, the Labour MP, was in the town today, inspecting the Fire Brigades.

Collected my new cycle from Langley’s.  Seems a good one – Raleigh.  Makes me all the more determined to go away.  Considering going to Shrewsbury late one night, and then going out to Mary Hulbert’s cottage near Yockleton.

12th March 1944

Up at 9.30 to find it raining at last.  Had a light breakfast, and cycled to Dedham, with the sound of church bells coming through the rain.  The hedges and grass looked very green.  How badly rain is wanted, but this did not last very long.

Had a couple of hours at Shermans among my books, then light lunch at the Corner Café.  More work on journals and photos in the afternoon and evening.  Had tea, and later supper.  Did not go back to the Talbooth until half past ten, having spent a most enjoyable day.  Mrs. Sisson spoke about my health, and advised me to have all my teeth out at once.  Much talk about my going away, but I did not reveal the plans which are always in my mind.  Wales!

Next week will be very dark, and I am afraid that raids will begin again.  Can’t stand very much more.

11th March 1944

Fine, some cloud, and rather warmer.  Great confusion at “Ye Talbooth”, as the staff had not turned up by 8.30.  Old Mrs Roper running around in green nightdress and a fur coat, very much put out.

Busy morning, and did not feel very well.  This afternoon to the Repertory Players.  This week’s show was the 200th they have done in Colchester.  Everybody very pleased.  Afterwards had tea with Diana, most enjoyable, but she had to rush back for the evening performance.

Decided to call at Ardleigh about Bob, but was suddenly struck with a most agonising pain in the belly, so bad that I had to get off and walk.  Got worse, and for half an hour sat on a tank block on the By-Pass Road.  It kept on so long that I got quite frightened.  Tried everything, sitting, standing, but no good.  At last it faded a little, and I crawled as far as Fox Street.  Mrs Clayton was very kind, gave me sodium bicarbonate and then hot weak tea.  Most effective, and by 9.30 all pain was quite gone.

Talbooth 10 p.m. and went straight to bed.

Had a pleasant surprise today.  Went to the Bank, and found I had more money that I had thought.  My two accounts are – on deposit: £183-18-10.  Current: £21-13-10.  Makes me all the more determined to go away to Wales, as I feel I can freely spend up to say £50 altogether.

10th March 1944

Up at 7.30.  Thick fog, which soon cleared away, and the sun came shining through big and golden.  Cough very bad this morning, most exhausting.

Called to see Poulter about an agricultural exhibition which is being arranged in the Castle at the end of April, and in which we are officially ordered to assist in various ways.  Poulter knew very little about it, except that Richardson, Randall, and the Park Superintendant, Marshall, are all participating, and are apparently going to do exactly as they like.  It is obvious that there is nothing I can do, so I shall keep well away.  Seems strange to have exhibitions of agriculture in the Castle in which I have nothing to do.

Went on to Lawford as the moon was rising, to collect my washing.  Many planes went over towards the coast, turned northwards, and went back over the Stour Valley, searchlights following them.  Apparently an exercise, but the washerwoman said “Is that Jerry about?”  And when I said no, they were ours, she answered “Oh, well, I got my little boy out of bed as soon as I heard ‘em, although I never heard no warning”.

Called at Sherbourne Mill, and had a drink of milk, the first I have had for a fortnight.  Parry had just been to London, which he hates.

Back to the Talbooth at 10, straight to bed.  Still no more attacks.  Very strange.  As I came along the Dedham road in the moonlight, the screech-owls cried all around, some mewing like cats, some crying like little children.

9th March 1944

Fine, but rather colder.  Cough very bad.  Jupp came into the office this morning, and told me that he was homeless – the owner of the house he shared in Maldon Rd, a man named Hardy, had yesterday come in in the middle of the day, mad drunk, and smashed up the place.  Jupp’s wife, who is a Maltese, was terribly upset, so he had to take her to his own home near Romford, and had taken all his furniture as well.  Jupp says this man Hardy had a very good job at Paxman’s, but has now lost it.

Jupp also told me this story – He met an American pilot who had been on a daylight raid on Nuremberg, in a ‘Mustang’.  He described how he flew only just above the roof-tops, and went roaring up the middle of one of the main streets of the city, which was packed with a big crowd of civilians.  Apparently they mistook the ‘Mustang’ for a German plane, and waved to it.  Suddenly they realised it was an enemy, and, in a flash, the street was cleared.  The American pilot said “Boy!  That was the biggest thrill of the whole trip to see that street clear!  It was like magic.  But the hell of it was, I hadn’t got a bomb or a bullet left for ‘em.”

Had tea in the Culver St café.  Two Americans came in, apparently about 40 but no doubt considerably younger, fat, bloated, long haired, very drunk and noisy.  They were accompanied by two girls of about 15 and 16 years old.  The elder was fair, with a red scarf round her head, and her face appeared curiously raddled or discoloured.  The other was nothing more than a child.  The whole party kept up screaming laughter and remarks of a most offensive nature.  The amount of casual and professional prostitution in this town is simply staggering.

Went out to Boxted under the full moon, a few ‘planes going over.  Spent a couple of very pleasant hours at the Roses, listening to radio and chatting.  She lent me Stephen Haggard’s letters which were published a few weeks ago.  She knew him very well, and seems to admire his philosophy as set out in these letters which he wrote in 1940.  To me they seem rubbish, and altogether masochistic.  Most unpleasant.

Got back to the Talbooth at 11 o’clock, and found myself locked out.  The “olde worlde” doors have neither bells or knockers, and my kicks and thumps produced no results.

At last I went round to the back of the house, accompanied by a little black cat which appeared from somewhere, climbed on the scullery roof with a broomstick, and tapped vigorously at a window.  Beyond some muffled murmurings within, apparently indicating that somebody was putting their heads under the bedclothes, there was again no response. 

Got down again, found a couple spooning outside a cottage by the bridge, interrupted them as tactfully as I could, and enquired where the housekeeper lived.  Found this to be an old brick cottage on the other side of the river.  Went there, knocked her up, borrowed the key of the kitchen, on the understanding that I must throw it out of the window tomorrow morning so that she may get in.  Back across the bridge in the moonlight, found the little black cat sporting with a male friend.  Unlocked the kitchen door, but had a trouble to get in as I did not realise for a time that it was made in such an “olde worlde” fashion that it opened outwards instead of inwards.  And so up to bed, stumbling over unexpected steps and bits of furniture.

8th March 1944

Lovely morning, clear blue sky, quite warm.  Buds appearing on the hedges.  Hundreds of planes going out, very high, due east, making a continuous vibrating rumble.  Had an excellent breakfast, as I left late to go to Fordham.  Cycled along slowly, through Langham and Boxted.  Saw three horses on an old fashioned cultivator and two on the harrows at Blyth’s place, Plumb Farm.  Looked at old Smith’s cottage at Boxted, where the bomb fell.  It appears to be another hall-house, but could not get in.  All the south end is down, but it is well worth rebuilding.

Through Boxted to Horkesley.  Saw a wooden bungalow in a little copse, right on the boundary of Horksley, which would do very well for me.  It appeared to be empty.  In the lane going up to Fordham Place, saw a brewer’s dray with two horses, from Bergholt.  Have not seen one for years.  Kedar’s man was drilling with a tractor near the house, the drill painted blue with bright red wheels flashing in the sun.  Across the lane two men were sowing fertiliser by hand, as white as millers, and a black collie dog lay on the roadside in the warm.

Tremendous activity at the aerodrome.  Huge grey bombs lying about all over the field, most terrifying objects.  A dump of at least 200 just outside the windows of the Air Ministry Office.  Nothing left of Harvey’s Farm but rubble and bits of wood.  Arranged to take about 300 slates and 500 tiles.

Outside the aerodrome saw the lorry AMK 906, which I saw dumping sand at Dedham more than a year ago.  The police have never taken any action, although they know this is a false number.  Told the Clerk of the Works to watch the driver.

Took two complete rods from the wattle-and-daub of the farm, and two lengths of the cord used to bind them.

Back to Colchester by way of Bergholt, and got in just in time for lunch.

This evening cycled to Higham met Cottee’s taxi, and moved all my books etc down to Sisson’s.  Thankful to get them away.  Cottee charged only 6/-.

Came over cloudy after lunch, and the moon obscured tonight.  How strange that, if we get a few days peace, we no longer expect an attack.  It has been so quiet for more than a week the Germans must be planning something big.

Went to bed early.  Not feeling very well.  Painful cough.

7th March 1944

Slept well in the fake four-poster.  Woke about 7.  Could hear the Americans and their girls murmuring in the next room – apparently all four were in there together.  Nobody seemed to be getting up.  Went down at 8, found the handsome, dark woman getting her own breakfast.  Did not feel competent to rummage in a strange pantry, so went off without any, and stopped at the lorry driver’s place on Gunhill for a cup of hot tea.  There was a farm labourer there playing with a pin-table, at that hour in the morning.

Some talk about the “invasion”.  In some quarters it is suggested that there will be a serious counter-invasion.  Hadleigh is already preparing to take in persons evacuated from coastal towns.

A fire broke out at the “Regal” this afternoon, through a fuse, and quite a lot of damage done.  When I went by about 6.30 there were several fire-engines outside and the street was flooded with water.

Today has been fine and sunny, as warm as spring.  Great armadas of ‘planes coming and going all the time.  One never hears a word of sympathy for the wretched Dutch, Belgians and French, who must be suffering frightfully.  Tonight a brilliant moon, almost full.  Walked from Dedham village to Stratford Bridge.  Huge black shadows across the road.  Church clocks at Dedham, Stratford, E. Bergholt and Higham sounding across the valley as they struck 10 one after another.

6th March 1944

Very sharp frost last night, but not too cold this morning.  Paid my account at the “Sun” - £2-12-6. for the week, not unreasonable.  To Colchester by 9.15.  Busy morning getting ready for the Committee meeting.  Got a letter from the Conway Hotel to say they have a room.  Worked it out, and found I should have to spend about £6 a week to be comfortable there - £24 a month.  Well worth it.  Long to go.  The question – when?

Committee until 6.15.  The Chairman very indignant about young M.’s “black market” case.  He is convinced that young M. is an out-and-out rogue, and had been discussing the whole matter at great length with Stewart Richardson, the chairman of the Witham Bench, who tried the case.  It all seemed very irregular to me. I thought that once a case was tried it was finished, and I should not have expected a Chairman of a Bench to go out of his way to injure still further a man who had been found guilty.

Back to Colchester 6.30.  In Crouch St saw a black woman in the American air-force uniform, walking along with a black soldier.  Had egg on toast and a cup of coffee at the Milk Bar in John Street, and then cycled to Stratford.  The Talbooth seems comfortable and clean, but terribly old-world, everything fake of course.  Several Americans staying there with young girls.

Went to bed early in a curious little room with a miniature four-poster bed.  Bright moonlight night, and many planes flying in formation, went out at about 8 o’clock. 

Feel terribly out of place here.  Wish I could go to Wales tomorrow.

5th March 1944

At last the wind has dropped.  Almost warm this morning.  Excellent breakfast at 9 o’clock, and then cycled slowly over to Spider Hall, Raydon, to see if the Miss Stoneys could let me have a horse and cart.  On the way saw Home Guards going to their morning drill, men digging in their gardens, children dawdling along to church.  The bells were ringing at Dedham, and Stratford, the gentle clanging drifting across the sunny valley, the pale blue sky full of fat white clouds, just as Constable used to paint it.

Had not been to Spider Hall since I was there with Poulter about 12 or 14 years ago, when we went to see the newly discovered wall painting.  As I went up the drive I saw the youngest Miss Stoney in a sheep pen with three lambs, the first this year.  In the farm-yard was a pea-cock stalking proudly, a flock of guinea fowl, several dogs and cats, and on a nearby apple-tree was a pure white cockatoo with a yellow crest, who gave frightful shrieks, interspersed with the remark “Hullo, cocky-boy!  Bugger the bird!”

Unfortunately there were no horses except a very old Welsh cob and a little pony which was lame, so they could not help me, but they very kindly offered to bring my books up to the garage by the roadside with their tractor.  They entertained me most kindly, and gave me an excellent lunch, after which we looked through paintings of cattle which Miss Stoney had done during recent years.  She had one of the old Foulness Ox, and several of the Duke of Bedford’s Park Cattle.  Talked about the wild Chillingham Cattle, which neither of us had seen, and looked through reproductions of Stubbs, Constable, and Munnings.  The house is very well kept, and they have an excellent library.

Was then shown all over the farm and the stock.  Saw the “scape-goat”, a handsome billy who runs with the cows.  I was assured that his presence had cured the contagious abortion which at one time was rife in the herd.  A very ancient belief.

Left at 3, and went through Lower Raydon to Valley Farm.  A heavy bomber came over very low, apparently flying in distress, while one of the crew fired red Verey lights.  It sank below the trees and seemed to land at Raydon Aerodrome.  Planes coming and going all day.

Down to Dedham, to tea at the café, then to Lawford with some washing.  Met Joy just above the farm, riding back from a visit to the Minneys’.  Went back to Sissons, and saw a beautiful book of Leonardo da Vinci reproductions, done last year by the Phaidon Press.  Magnificent.  Saw Cottee the taxi driver, who promised to bring the books down from Higham either Tuesday or Wednesday.  Two other taxi men refused.

Had a bath at the “Sun” and early to bed.  Cloudy.

4th March 1944

Still freezing hard, and a clear blue sky.  Lot of planes going out early this morning.  Could get very little done at the office as there were so many people in and out all the time.  Can’t concentrate.  Daphne was rather miserable, so on the spur of the moment, asked her to go to the new Orson Wells film this afternoon – “Journey into Fear”.  Very good, and much enjoyed it.  Afterwards had sausages and tea at Culver Street, then cycled to Higham and spent the evening washing crockery and trying to get the place clean.  Have not yet been able to get my stuff away.  Can't get a horse anywhere.

Back to Dedham at 8, and went to Sisson’s for an hour or so.  Felt much better today.  Big crowd in the “Sun” tonight, and a lot of noise, laughing, singing, clattering of bottles and glasses.

To bed early, confident there would be no raid.  How mad we are – all at once we have decided that there will be no serious raids in brilliant moonlight, whereas only 4 or 5 months ago we prayed for wet, dirty weather at the full moon.

3rd March 1944

Had a good night, not so much pain.  Ate breakfast, watching the pigeons flutter about in the yard.  They live in a pigeon-cote fastened to the gable of the old “turnpike stair”.

Finished reading Katherine Mansfield’s Journal.  Very dull indeed.  Strange that a good story writer should write such poor stuff.

At the office found a letter from Meg MacDougall, without stamp or postmark, and a censor’s label on it.  Luckily its contents were harmless.

When in Culver Street for lunch noticed that another emergency water-tank is being put up, against the cellar of the old house.  Went down the cellar, through a hole in the ceiling, and found it still in good condition.  Can't think what can eventually be done with it.

Back to Dedham at 6.30, then called at Stratford “King's Arms” only to receive a final answer that there was nothing doing.  On a sudden decision went to the Talbooth, Mrs Roper’s dreadful place, and without any trouble got a room - £3 a week.  I can afford it now that I am getting £4-12-6.

2nd March 1944

Bitterly cold morning, and still a clear, cloudless sky.  Wind more westerly, and very strong.  Did not leave until 9, as I had to go to Sheepen first.  Mr Craig was to meet me there, but he did not turn up.  Made a few notes on the repairs necessary to make the one remaining shed at the farm serviceable.  Everything else has gone.  Nothing remains of the big cowhouse except the concrete floor and the drain, looking exactly like Roman foundations.  A gang of land girls nearby were cutting down a hedge and burning the brushings.

Managed to prevent the War Agricultural Committee from selling one of the old horses from East Mersea in the open market.  Persuaded Frank Warren to have the old chap killed on the farm.

Went home to tea.  Miss Payne had managed to get kippers, most delightful.  This evening to Boxted to the Roses’.  Very pleasant evening, chatter, and listening to the radio.  Left at 9.30, and back to Dedham under the shining moon, a few planes about, and dull gunfire to the south. 

While at Boxted, saw recent copies of “Time & Tide”, the “New Statesman”, and the “Spectator”.  Harold Nicolson writes a most outspoken article against the Government’s wicked policy of bombing, quite the best I have seen on this subject.

As I cycled through Langham I could see the Higham beacon twinkling away on my left.  The night was very clear.  Icy cold.

1st March 1944

Two frightful bouts of pain during the night, but better in the morning.  Bright, clear day, with light N.W. wind.  Very cold.  Cycled in.  Saw two men at Ardleigh Heath, opposite Mary Hulbert’s old cottage, filling a corn drill, the horses standing with their feet in some cabbages, a vast area of smooth, black, harrowed soil behind them.

The office was filthy and full of smoke.  Felt depressed and ill.  At lunch time, saw a shallow trench opened along the E. side of the “Playhouse”, and picked up a few small Roman sherds.  Noticed that Rose’s café was shut.  Can she really be married, or was it only a stupid joke?  Made me feel both sad and frustrated, and when I went back to the office Snowball called me “Itma”, a name Rose often uses.  It made me go quite mad, so that I walked down the passage and gave a violent kick to one of the doors, splitting the panel and my shoe.  I was furious.  Rose Browne, Rudsdale's former girlfriend, married a soldier on this day 70 years ago.  CP

Tonight went over to Higham.  Called at the “King’s Arms” at Stratford, to see if I could get a room there.  The land-lady was not hopeful, as she thought the brewers would probably object.  It is a pleasant little place, and both the landlord and his wife seemed very nice people.  I gave her my name, whereupon she said “Well, I never!  To think your dear old dad used to teach me at Barrack Street nearly 50 years ago!”  She was a Colchester woman, and knew my Mother, and most of the Webb family.  We had a long talk, and I think something may come of this eventually.  It would suit me admirably. 

As I came out into the bright moonlit street, a sort of siren in the pumping station nearby gave a shriek, so guessed it must be a raid.  To the S.E. I saw faint searchlights, and clusters of rocket-shells bursting.  Strangely, could not hear explosions.  A plane came over, and circled over Raydon, but there was no more firing and no bombs fell.  Did not feel particularly nervous for once.  Went to Higham and did some more packing, then back to Dedham half past ten.  There were still planes about, but no sirens.

The landlady of the “King's Arms” gave me some amusing instances of illiteracy.  A man of 23, working at Langham Fruit Farm, was put in the army and his mother was very worried because he could not write to her, never having learnt.  The man himself was very scared at going away, as he had never been in a train.  When this story was told in the public bar, three or four other young men revealed that they had never been in trains either.  She also told me of a girl of 15 who could neither read nor write nor tell the time.  When it was necessary for her to do anything at a special time, a clock face was drawn, with the hands showing that particular time, and she was told to wait until the hands on the real clock were in the same position.