21st August 1944

Up early, office at 9.30.  Quiet night, and had at least 8 and a half hours sleep.  Damp, cloudy morning, with strong NE wind.  No harvesting anywhere, but men and women working among the cabbages.  Not a ‘plane in the sky.

Busy morning, getting ready for Committee.  Felt nervous, thinking there would be an alarm, but nothing came.  Bought sandwiches and milk in Milk Bar, putting up with the rudeness of the girls serving there.  Cycled to Birch in 35 minutes.  A long, sad, meeting.  Joe Percival sent in his resignation – final.  Nobody had anything to say, the old chairman full of gloom.  Mrs. Round is about again, looking rather pale.  Joanna is said to be coming home next Sunday, bombs or no bombs.  Noticed that both Mrs. Round and the Colonel are now sleeping downstairs in the front hall.

After the meeting cycled to Tiptree Heath and met Joan Ralling who was cycling back from Southend to Colchester in a thin wet drizzle.  She had cycled against the wind, all the way from Southend since 4 o’clock, and it was only 7 when I met her.  Told me that 13 people were killed at Southend last Thursday by a ‘diver’.  The Southend people can see the ‘divers’ pouring in towards Kent.  The gunfire across the water is terrific.

She told me that at Rayleigh she saw, written on the back of the name plates on the station, “Warsaw via Harwich” and “Belgian Coast via Harwich”.

Very pleasant but wet ride into Colchester.  Corn traves all sopping wet in the fields.  Got to Winnock Lodge at 9 o’clock, and had a supper with delicious Victorias from the garden.  Left at 10 p.m., a dark, wet, windy night. 

In Maidenburgh Street ran hastily through an angry scene between a sailor and some Americans, great oaths and threats rending the air.

Got to Boxted, just in time to hear the sirens moaning through the wet wind, the first alarm for 48 hours.  Went outside, and could hear faintly a ‘diver’ coming up from the East.  A searchlight to the SW of the town poked up, and tracked jerkily across the cloud-base.  Nothing to be seen, but somewhere far to the West there was a sudden scarlet glow and low rumbling explosion.  A few minutes later another ‘diver’ went over, further South.  We had almost thought to have seen the last ‘diver’, as the Allies are advancing along the channel coast so fast, but if these we now see are launched from boats, there may be no end to them but the end of the war.  ‘All-clear’ came in about half an hour. 

Went up to the Post, getting very wet, but feel this is nothing but a rehearsal for the grim black nights of winter.  Young Carter was on with me, and we spent the dark wet hours telling stories of ghosts and witchcraft.  He has a lot of very good ones – a gypsy witch at Boxted, a “wise woman” who used to live near Severalls.  The stories were told him by his grandmother, the old lady at the “Queen’s Head Pub”.

One of the stories was about the landlord of the “Anchor” at Nayland, who is still alive and is a wizard, able to “put the eye” on pigs.

‘Diver’ warnings on and off all night but nothing came on our side of the Thames.

Felt very sleepy towards 5 o’clock.  Dawn was very slow in coming.

Eric Rudsdale made a transcript of the stories of witchcraft at Boxted, which were told to him by Douglas Carter whilst they were on Royal Observer Corps duty. This transcript is given below: 

'Of course, there aren’t so many witches and wizards about now as there was when we was young, but I remember one or two affairs that happened around Boxted some years ago that were very queer.  At one time, about 60 years ago, there was an old woman what lived alone in a little old cottages where Severalls is now, only of course Severalls weren't there at that time.  Well, this old woman was well known to be a witch, and one morning early she was a-standing at her garden-gate when two men come down the road with a pair of horses and a wagon load of corn, a-going to the mill at Colchester. 

When she see them, she called out “Stop a minute, mate, will you let me have a little corn for my chickens?”  But the wagoner said “No, missus, I dussnt do that, the sacks is all weighed and tied up, and we’d get into trouble.”  “But I must have it,” she say, “and you won't move from here till I get it”.

With that the wagon stopped dead, and no matter how the horses tugged and strained they couldn’t budge it an inch.

However, the wagoner’s mate knew all about the old woman being a witch so he knew what to do.  He winked at the wagoner and he say “Do you come along of me mate and we’ll get a couple of ash sticks.”  So they went into a little copse and cut two ash sticks, and the wagoner’s mate said “Now you do same as me, and we’ll soon be out of here.”  Then they both started thrashing the wheels of the wagon, and the more they thrashed the more the old woman began to shout and scream.  “Stop it!” she say, “Stop it! you’re a-hurting me something cruel.”  But they kept on just the same, and the old woman was a-hopping up and down, and she shruck something terrible.  At last she gave a mighty shriek and turned and ran into her cottages, and slammed the door behind her.  No sooner had she gone in than the wagon wheels was loosened and the horses moved it easily, so they went away to Colchester with no more trouble.

Another time that was a more serious thing altogether.  That happened at a time when there was some gypsies in the parish a-com for the pea-picking, and one of the gypsy women was going from door to door selling calico and such-like.  She went to one cottage and she say to the woman there “Will you buy my calico?” but the woman say “No, I don’t want no calico now.”  Well, there was a little gal come into the room, and the gypsy said “Is that your little gal?” and the woman say “Yes it is,” so the old gypsy went up to the little gal and put out her hand and stroked her head, and she say “Well, I reckon you’ll be sorry you never bought my calico.”

Next morning the poor little gal was that sick she couldn’t get out of bed.  She was all shrivelled and yellow, same as if she’d got the jaundice.  No matter what they gave her, she couldn’t keep nothing down.  Of course, her mother was wholly upset, and she sent for the doctor as quick as she could.

When the doctor came, he looked at the little gal, and he say “Well, I’ve never seen a case like this afore, and I don’t rightly know what to do,” so he went off to Colchester to see an old friend of his, what was a doctor too, and told him all about it.  This old doctor said “I’ve never seen a case like this myself, but my old father, what’s dead now he saw one more than 80 years ago, and he cured it, and the way he cured it he wrote down in an old book what I’ve got now.”  So the old doctor got this book out and showed him how to cure the little gal, and he went back to Boxted and saw the gal’s mother and he say “Now, missus, here’s how to get your little gal well again.  I can't do nothing myself, but this here is what you’ve got to do.  You want to take some of the gal’s water, and clip off some of her hair and mix it all up together with some flour until that’s like a paste.  Then you want to make it up into a little pancake, and put it on the fire, but before you do that you want to see as how all the doors and windows is shut and bolted, and the curtains drawn and the shutters up.  Then when you put the little cake on the fire you don’t want to take a might of notice if anybody try to get in the house.  Whatever you do don’t let no one in, or the little gal won't never get better – she’ll die.”

Well, the woman done all what he said, she made the little cake, and put it on the fire, but before she done that she locked and bolted the doors, shut the windows, and drew the curtains.  No sooner had she put the cake on the fire than the wind began to howl and shriek and the cottage shook, the windows rattled, and soot came down the chimney, and in the middle of it she heard someone come hurrying up the garden path and bang on the door, and a woman’s voice, like she was in agony, called “Let me in! let me in!”  But the woman never took no notice, and as the little cake burnt away the voice faded and the wind died down.

Next morning the little gal was right as rain, and of course her mother was right delighted, but the queer thing was, when she went out up the village they said “Did you hear?  One of them gypsy women up at the camp died last night and that was the very woman what came round with the calico.'


Jane said...

I like a good which/ghost story!! Very entertaining

E J Rudsdale said...

Yes me too, Jane, and I like the Essex dialect as well. CP

Jane said...

Sorry about my spelling, oops! I meant witch not which!