17th May 1944

Cold and wet.  Up very late, so went along to Sheepen first, to see about some fencing.  Captain Folkard rather annoyed, as well he might be.  Early lunch, and then went along to St Mary’s for the funeral [of Sir W. Gurney Benham].

Flags were flying half mast on the Town Hall and the Castle (I hear the Castle flag was put upside down to start with), but no other signs of mourning.  No shops shut, not even Benham’s, and no black shutters, as used to be done in olden days.

People in dark Sunday clothes going up Church Street and into the Churchyard.  Chained my cycle to some tomb railings, gave my name to a reporter, and went in, just as the sun came bursting through fluffy clouds.  Old Campbell was acting as sidesman, and put me into a seat in the South aisle.  Have not seen him since he did the electric wiring at the Castle.  Just in front of me sat Richardson, Billlington, and another man from the Engineer’s office, and Archie Alderton, the schoolmaster, sat alongside me in the same pew.  Just behind me were May and his sister from St. May’s cottage.

In the nave pews were all the Gas Company people, one with a top hat, and the Brewery folk, old Daniell, purple in the face, Tucker the Secretary, and one or two others.  There was a big block of seats left vacant on the North side of the Nave for the Corporation, and the front pews on the South side were reserved for the family mourners. 

The organ was playing the “Dead March” very quietly, and the Passing Bell tolled slowly.  All the while aeroplanes were going over.  The church was filling up.  Time seemed to be motionless, and the bell went on tolling.  Thought of all Gurney had done.  What a tremendous life, to start before the invention of bicycles, motors, or telephones, and to finish up in a roar of aeroplanes, tanks, and radio.  He never had an easy life, and had a hard struggle when a young man.  It was getting on the Council in place of Bawtree, who had to leave on account of the Bank crash in 1891, that really gave him a start.

The choir came in, and moved into their places.  Then there was a shuffling at the back of the church, everybody stood with a rumble of feet, and the Mayor and Corporation came up the North aisle, the Town Sergeant carrying the mace draped in black, four Sergeants at Mace with the Ward-Mace, also draped.  Why they went up the North aisle was difficult to see, as there was not much room, and they had to shuffle across to get to their seats.  The Town Sergeant fixed the mace to the end of the Mayor’s pew, and they filed in – the Mayor, Deputy Mayor (who is rumoured to take Sir Gurney’s place as High Steward), the Town Clerk, Oswald Lewis our M.P.  Behind them came the scarlet robed Aldermen - Blaxill, Blomfield, Piper, (looking very old), Harper, then the Councillors in blue, - Smallwood, Ralph Wright, Miss Elfreda Saunders, and the others.  Practically the whole council were there.  Behind them sat the Corporation officers (Collins with a top-hat).

More waiting, the bell tolling, the organ murmuring sadly, and then down from the Chancel came Canon Campbell, the Revd Mason, his curate, the Revd Jack of All Saint’s, and young Eric Turner, now a curate, Sir Gurney’s grandson.  They walked down the aisle to the West Door.  A pause, and then we heard the Curate’s voice beginning the service - “I am the Resurrection and the Life …”  Back up the church, the four clergy in front, then Beckett, the undertaker, the coffin draped with a purple pall, wreaths on top.  Behind walked Hervey Benham with his mother, Alderman Gerald in army uniform, with his wife, then Maura, very tall and handsome, in a smart green hat, walking with Hervey’s wife, then Edna (Mrs Seaman), young Gordon Corner, and some ladies whom I do not know.

Young Eric Turner read one of the lessons, and his father Ernest played the organ.  The service was not very long, and then the Canon preached a sort of elegy, very badly.  Among other things he mentioned that Sir Gurney had never failed to attend church, and had been a regular communicant, every month.  Never knew this before.

At last it was all over, and the coffin moved slowly down the church, the mourners behind, Lady Benham walking lame and leaning heavily on her stick, Maura’s face pale and quite expressionless.  We could hear the noise of the shutting of car doors, and the starting of engines, as they set out for the crematorium at Ipswich, carrying him down the High Street for the last time, past the “Essex County Standard”, past the Town Hall, where he so often went, past the Holly Trees and away out of the town.  And so his long life ended.  How strange to think that he served on the Council for 6 years in the Old Town Hall, and that the Norman Moot Hall had been destroyed only 15 years when he was born.  Middle Row had been cleared away little more than a year, and the Cattle Market was still held in the High Street.  He was 5 years old when the American Civil War ended.  When my mother was born, he was a boy of 8, going to the Grammar School.  In 1870 he saw, a boy of 11, the demolition of St. Mary-at-the-Walls, and at 19 the demolition of St. Runwald’s.

I am told that he did not take any particular interest in antiquities until he was working on a newspaper at Salisbury, in about 1880.  He was told to write an article on an old graveyard there, which aroused his interest in the past.

How much truth there is in the stories about his business methods I don't know.  In his latter years he was very mean, but whether it is true that he was simply a money grabber I don't know.  Some say he made a fortune out of the town, but I don't believe this is true.

Going down High Street I passed the civic procession walking back to the Town Hall, people staring curiously, most of them having not the slightest idea who they were.

Had tea with Daphne, and then went to see Poulter.  Talked about the funeral, and the future of the Museum.  Suggested I might try to get a release from the War Agricultural Committee and go back there.  The idea attracts me, but such a return would only be on my own conditions.

In the papers tonight, an account of the Americans' activities in London last night, when they held up the traffic all over the city, and searched cafes and restaurants, and hotels, demanding papers from all the men, both civilians and troops.  This must be the first time since the arrival of William III that foreign troops have carried weapons in London, and have threatened the civilian population with them.  Photographs in the press show American soldiers pointing their rifles at bus drivers.

More rain and wind, so we may have another quiet night.

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