27 - 28th November 1944 - Shurlock Row to Colchester

Fine and cold.  Said farewell to Margery, Uncle Jim and the Land Army Girl and left on my cycle, with great reluctance at 10.30.  Oak Corner, past Gt Martins, Beenham Heath, Hawthorn Hill, The “Royal Forester” land very wet. Training planes about.  Big searchlight camp.  Turn left Folijon Park, up to Fifield, then right Oxley Green, Dedworth.  House windows being repaired from some recent bomb, glaziers drinking tea at a mobile canteen.

Windsor 11.30, very crowded.  Felt as if it was my frontier town and longed to go no further.  Eton, right by Dutchman’s Farm along low road to Datchet (Bucks).  Through the village, by Ditton Park.  Many modern villas here, some with massive shelters, some with none.  No sign of damage.

Bath Road at Langley, across to Horsemoor Green, (United Dairies horse here), the same road I took with Bob on our return from the Royal Windsor Show in 1939.  Langley full of RAF, and planes roaring on an aerodrome nearby.  Through large orchards, old trees, grass sown, every other tree now being torn out by tractors.  Met a muck cart with tandem.

Shuding Green, Iver charming little village still.  Extraordinary deep rural character of country, yet only 3 miles.  Uxbridge.

Glorious house by the bridge over Colne, brick, c,1740, with magnificent iron railings and gate in front.  Very narrow bridge, probably contemporary.

By Huntsmoor Park, cows grazing, and so to Cowley.  Over streams and canal to Uxbridge – Yewsley Road and into Middlesex.  A house destroyed, many windows broken, some now being repaired, but no serious damage along here.  So to Uxbridge.  Signposts very bad, but what there were indicated the delights far away – High Wycombe, Oxford.  Almost turned back.  Decided not to face London but to head for Bishops Stortford and to take train there.  Went by Ickenham to Ruislip.  Huge RAF camps and dumps, and thousands of WAAFs.  That air of London reaching out into the country – public lavatories in a lane, stations, ARP notices etc.

Ruislip, ate sandwiches in a shelter.  On at 2, towards Pinner and Stanmore.  Huge houses, some Army, some RAF, schools, Hatch End.  Crossed road from Wealdstone, where I met the phone girl from Watford years ago to walk to Grimsdyke.

St to Stanmore, remember coming here one night on way to Daven Soar’s, - walking over golf course.  London 11 miles.  Hazy.  Could hear faint distant explosions.  North to Elstree, over high hill.  Aldenham Reservoir on the left, shining in afternoon sun.  Next to Chipping Barnet, only 4 miles on.  Through Arkley across few miles of Herts. Up and down hills, farmland, cows, autumn trees, to Barnet.  Saw the 18th cent. houses which were bombed in 1940 and so excellently restored.

Town very crowded.  Bought battery and a rear lamp.  Had tea at an Ex Dairy on Finchley Rd at 4pm.  Sun sinking below houses.

Through New Barnet to Cockfosters.  Considerable damage by Cat Hill, houses down, some unroofed, many smashed windows.  Glaziers and builders busy.  Still hear explosions towards London.

Schoolchildren running home from school.  Back into Middlesex and on to Enfield, just on 5.  Crowds of girls coming out of factories.  Uncertain what to do.  Moon rising.  Decided to make for Chelmsford, as I had done once before, so down to Ponders End, across lea into Essex, by King George Reservoir.  AA guns mounted on its edge, so to Chingford Green and the Forest.  Cold, banks of mist.  Felt no tiredness.

Broken windows common at Ponder's End. (By the Hunting Lodge).  On through Forest, weird, gloomy, wet, great craters by side of road, moon glittering on water in them, like lunar landscape themselves.  Thought I once heard sirens but no.  Road to Epping seemed endless, but at last the 6 miles were done, and ran into wide street, London buses, etc.  Very narrow escape – ran over nail, which stuck in tyre yet did not penetrate.  No lights here.  Turned off.  Debated whether to head to Bishops Stortford (12 miles) or Chelmsford (18 miles).  Decided Chelmsford.  Perhaps no trains at Bishops Stortford.

Saw 2 strange lights in sky, low down.  Thought for a moment they were divers, but turned out to be lights on the North Weald masts.  As got nearer, saw every mast lit.  Aerodrome guide lights, but rest dark.  Searchlight upright.  RAF and WAAFs going to dance, walking and cycling.

To Chipping Ongar.  Felt panic.  Decided not Chelmsford, but to go to Dunmow.  Turned north through Shelley and Fyfield.  Silent nights, no traffic, nobody.  Up through Rodings, in a moonlit landscape. 

Went in the Merry Fiddler’s at Leaden Roding.  No cider, had half pint beer.  5 labourers in bar, talking of war –

“Many more men being trained no sign of end yet.”
“Hear that one last night?  Chelmsford way, I reckon.”
“His son’s coming home?  Lucky bugger.”

Stared curiously at me.  Gave one evening paper.  Felt absurdly embarrassed and guilty.  Outside, elderly man in trouble with rear light.  He was going to Sawbridgeworth, very worried.   

Going through long street of High Roding as 9 news began.  Very worried because so late, but stopped to eat slice of iced cake Margery had put in my bag and a sausage roll.  Still no feeling of tiredness.

At last main road.  Thought there was a lane opposite, but none, only wet track.  Into Dunmow, shrieks of pig at bacon factory.  Main road to Colchester – felt I was “home”.  To Lt. Dunmow seemed very far.  Moon now clouding over.

2 rockets fell loudly. Moon now very clouded, wind banking to SW.

Rayne, then Braintree.  A few street lamps, gas.  Felt homesick for Edinburgh.  RAF men looking for Weathersfield.  Coggeshall seemed to come in no time.  Drank at the well ate another sandwich.   At Broad Green went into one of Warren’s fields and sat on new threshed straw 10 mins, and finished food.  Creepings and noises too much for me though.  Past Godbolts, over railway.  Prayed for no divers, as so many fall near here.

Turned down by station to Aldham, to Halstead Rd.  Rain beginning, but behind me.  Across Fordham Heath, through the Battery there, huge guns lights in tents, down to New Mill, few yards of Colchester territory up to West Bergholt to Westwood, rain very hard now, by Pitsbury Coach Road and so to Woodside.  Could not get in.  Legs wet, arms wet.  Lay on sacks for perhaps half an hour.  Rain worse and worse.  Suddenly heard Mosquito going over, then 2 lights came on waving jerking.  Thought “Divers?”  Could stand no more and decided to go to Dedham, got there in time for breakfast.  Walked a mile.  Find we have no guns up near the Cross.  Dawn.  Saw a light here and there downstairs, as if people stirring, but Dedham in darkness.  Moon going down.  Went on to Joy’s at Lawford.  Lay on straw wet through.  Moon gone, daylight no come.  Filthy, vile misery.  At last  a light in the kitchen.  Knocked.  Joy not surprised.

Breakfast, but only 6.45!  Got clothes dry.  Felt a little tired.  Must have done about 114 miles in about 20 hours.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


That is some cycle ride!

During the war my mother and her mother lived in Dunmow, but my grandfather stayed in Clacton. Most week ends he would cycle to see them which is around 45 miles, which I've always been impressed by.

Mike Dennis