23rd September 1944

The last day.  Fine and clear, warm and sunny.  Two of the smallholders ploughing along the Straight Road, under the pale blue sky.  Worked hard all the morning, and had hoped to have gone to the Mersea Ploughing Match this afternoon, but decided not, and went back to the office again.  Captain Folkard left at 1.00pm, and looking at me rather oddly, said “I hope your holiday will do you good, and you’ll be better when you get back.”  Wonder what he knows or guesses.

Rushed up town, bought a fine copy of Michelangelo’s works for Diana, as it is her birthday, and took it to the workshop for her.  Found her in the midst of a very theatrical tea party, all the cast there – lovely Yvonne among them.  Robert Digby came in and kissed Di very affectionately, but I had not the nerve to do so in a crowd.  She was very pleased with the book, and seemed genuinely glad to see me.  Asked me to stay to tea, and very ill at ease, I did, sitting between Yvonne and a fascinating girl in blue slacks.  Di rushing about everywhere, feeding everybody, enjoying herself enormously.

Came away at 6, went home to say goodbye to Father.  Stayed hour and half, and told him cautiously that I expected to be away “about a fortnight” and that I would write often.  Suddenly determined to stop first at York, and perhaps go to Whitby.  How nice if I could persuade him to go there, but he never will.

To Boxted for a quick supper, and then to Post at 9.  Sky full of bombers sailing out with their navigation lights, a dreadful, deep, incessant roaring.  Lot of chatter at the Post about people “quitting” and “holidays”, obviously directed against Howard Page, who had left, and me.  Kept very quiet.  Less than 24 hours now.

A clear, starlight night, and not very cold.  Thought the quiet too good to last, and “diver” came on before 10, before we had had any tea.  I did the “booking”, and the other man, old Diaper, plotted.  Felt very ill and depressed.  Tried everything, sitting, standing, leaning on the wall etc, but nothing any good.
There were two more flashes far away, beyond Hadleigh, I should think, and then “diver” was off, and the first “all-clears” came through.
“Good”, I said “now we can have a cupper char.  Reckon we deserve some,” and old Diaper replied “Kettle’s on the boil.”  So we sat drinking out of the big mugs, (tea too strong as usual), staring at the notices on the brick wall in front of us, about Gas and Recognition tests and so forth.
Just as we finished the sandwiches, a Tempest came down from the NW, at about 10,000 feet, the navigation lights like tiny coloured stars.  We plotted him and reported, and were chatting idly when I noticed suddenly that his engine had stopped.  I said “He’s cut out,” and Diaper told Centre.  As he spoke we heard the shriek and moan of the falling ‘plane, getting gradually louder, then dying away to the South.  There was a dull bump, a flash, a rumble, and a huge fire sprang up, a long way off beyond Stanway I thought.  Centre said it was near Birch, which made me anxious for Birch Hall, but they said no it was beyond there.  The fire flickered, died, swelled, and died again, and occasionally explosions drifted on the wind.

Took over the ‘phones at about 11, to give Diaper, a chance to go out, and in a few minutes “diver” was on again.  A voice said “Mass raid of divers coming in, S.E.  Thought "Jesus Christ, what the hell is going to happen now?"  However hardly logged “Diver procedure” when it was off again, and in a few minutes saw the cause of the alarm – the navigation lights of the air fleet returning home, very low.  The ‘planes were passing over for the next hour, two or three dozen at a time.  One or two were limping, and the sky blazed with their red, green and yellow lights.

At last one o’clock came round, and I got away, happy in the knowledge that I shall not see the Post again for a fortnight.  Am not looking forward to spending winter nights there.

Bed at 1.30, in a state of horrible nerves, with less than 16 hours to go.  Feel terribly worried about work not done at the office, but at any rate have left drafts of nearly 40 “memos” for the girls to do on Monday.


Dave W said...

According to The Hawker Tempest online site, the pilot had been directed to intercept a V1 and the engine cutout just as he turned and started his dive. The pilot managed to parachute safely, landing in a cherry orchard at Shrub End while the Tempest crashed into a field at Stanway near the Maldon Road, setting fire to four haystacks and destroying a threshing machine.

E J Rudsdale said...

Many thanks for this very interesting information, Dave, which fills in the picture that Rudsdale describes and good to know that the pilot managed to parachute to safety.
Best wishes, Catherine