20th December 1944 - Wisbech - Colchester

Up early.  Thick fog, but decided to cycle to Ely as I had intended.  Lights on at 9 o’clock, and some pair-horse drays, mere shapes in the gloom, moving slowly over the bridge.  At breakfast one of the Yorkshire “commercials” was being heavily humorous with Veronica Flood as to where she was so late last night.  We neither of us rose to the bait.  She goes back to London soon.

Paid bill - £2.14.0 for 4 days, not too dear, but a very bad hotel.  Arranged to come back, if I cannot get in anywhere else, at 11/- a day, more than I can afford.  Set off at 9.30am.  Asked a woman standing at a doorway in Elm Road if I was right for Ely, but she appeared never to have heard of the place.

All the way to Upwell there is a rail-road, now used only for goods but formerly for passenger “trams” as well.  At times one gets a glimpse of the derelict canal, part of the same waterway which runs through Wisbech.  Fog too thick to see Beaupré Hall, which is said to be very fine but much damaged.  Nothing to be seen but muddy dykes, full of weeds, and flat, black fields vanishing into the fog.  Outwell Church at 10 o’clock.  Across the old and New Bedford Rivers, and the desolate Washes, (In Welney noticed a shop with a wicker-work eel-trap in the window, exactly as shown in medieval drawings).  On the Wash road are boards marked in feet, to give the height of water in flood. 

So into Littleport.  A slight rise of ground, the first since Wisbech.  Felt a little anxious about trains, but got to Ely at midday.  Fog so thick that the top of the Cathedral was invisible, the great grey arches soaring away to be hidden in the clouds.  Hope to come here again soon in better weather.

Caught the train easily, which arrived on time but waited 45 minutes for a train from Norwich.  It was packed, and had to stand in the corridor wedged against two Artillery sergeants talking about Greece.  One said: “I’m thankful I’m not there.  Damned if I’d shoot the poor buggers,” meaning the “Reds” as they are now called.  Both talked about leave passes, Sergeant Majors, officers, immorality the colonel, etc.  One said that his Segeant Major was so afraid of being murdered by his men that he would never leave his own hut after dark, but had his supper sent in from the canteen.  They talked about service conditions, and thought that the total length of service of conscripted men would be about 10 years – one spoke of men of 42 recently conscripted – “poor sods, you ought to see ‘em!” – who would be 50 by the time they got out, “and what chance in hell have they got then?”

On my other side was a dreadful ugly woman with a screaming, coughing baby, a little boy, and a meek harassed looking air-man husband.  The woman said: “Coo, Jerry didn’t half give us what for the other morning, didn’t half wake us up.”  The poor little boy could do nothing right, the mother screaming at him wherever he stood.  The baby coughed and yelled, took some milk out of a bottle, spluttering hideously.  The mother said: “Nasty cough he’s got.  He don't half bring something up sometimes!”  Baby did so at once.

At last left Ely at quarter to two instead of 12.25, got to Cambridge at 2.15, past long lines of fog – men with their glowing braziers, the fog-signals banging like small bombs.

Colchester train left almost at once, being over an hour late, and crawled down to Bartlow, there to wait another 40 minutes.  Tall, very handsome blonde got in, very impatient about delay.  She was trying to get to Grays Thurrock, via Colchester and Chelmsford, where she hoped to get a bus, thus going about 90 miles to cover what was really 50.  She is the music teacher at Linton Rural College.  The journey would take her at least 10 hours.

Then a Women's Land Army girl got in at Haverhill.  She worked for the West Suffolk Committee, and had to reach Euston tonight to get to Stoke on Trent.  Asked her why she didn’t go by Peterborough, but her geography was not strong enough to discuss this proposition.  Another delay of half an hour at Long Melford, and finally got to Colchester at 6, 2 and a half hours late.  Gave the two girls some tea.

As I came away from the station the Edinburgh train was just about to pull out porters shouting “Edinburgh train!  Manningtree, Ipswich and the North!  Edinburgh train!”  Longed to jump on it and be safe and warm in Glengyle Terrace tomorrow morning.  Felt very sick from this awful journey, terrible headache.

Had another cup of tea at Winnie’s and then to see Poulter.  He was very despondent.  Said that at the Museum Committee yesterday there was no actual decision about my release, but that afterwards Hull and Brown (the Committee Clerk) concocted a minute to the effect that I leave on the 30th.  He says that the Committee made some “laudatory remarks” about me, which Hull is to convey to me, and which of course he won’t. (Later note: "He never did").  Sam Blomfield is very anxious to know what I am going to do with my Colchester photos.  So he may be.

Fog very thick tonight, so ‘divers’ unlikely.  Only rockets tonight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


ER's hotel bill was £107.28 in current value and he was willing to pay £21.85 a night in the future.
Interesting account of his train journey back to Colchester, but as it always seems it is the women he meets that he has much to say about!

Mike Dennis