26th December 1944 - Boxing Day
Thick fog, and a very heavy hoar-frost. Glorious scene from the window – like fine snow everywhere, all the trees in the wood thickly coated, all the telegraph wires, roof ridges, everything. The dull brazen sun was shining through the mists. ‘Planes began to go out, and then I slept again until 10.30, much too late. This morning sleeping is a vile habit, one which I must break when I get to Wisbech.
Breakfast so late that I had no lunch. Went to the Castle. Searched the whole place for my blankets, at last found two upstairs on the firewatchers’ beds. The best ones, which cost me 30/-, have gone, so took two others and two pillows, which have also been stolen. All my crockery gone, and not a stick left of the deckchairs.
Went all over the place perhaps for the last time. The Museum is in a disgusting state. Timperley’s fine armour is a mass of rust with a few crude labels hung by strings onto the exhibits. Thousands of objects have no labels at all – the famous “Sheila na gig” from Easthorpe church still has no mark on it, after being in the Museum for about 18 years. Not half the cases in the building have any attempts at arrangement at all.
Found a nest of drawers under the Saxon and Norman coin-case unlocked, containing amphorae, stamps, etc. so pulled them all open and left them.
My letter files are still in the office but the system of filing letters ended in 1940. No Museum Reports are filed now, but are destroyed by Poulter as soon as they arrive.
Fog worse than ever. Went down to Cannon Street and called on Daphne. Arranged to see her Friday.
Wrote a letter to Hull about the blankets, as he will no doubt accuse me of stealing them. As I was writing, heard the sound of firebells, and ran out in time to see one of the big red engines dashing down High St. in the fog, bell clanging. It stopped at Queen St. corner, and a man got down and questioned a bystander. The answer was apparently unsatisfactory, because he climbed back on the engine, which reversed, turned, dashed away up the street, gong still clanging. I walked as far as the Castle Inn, and then heard another appliance, a tender with a trailer pump this time, coming up from East Hill at full speed, fog lamp blazing, the crew flashing torches everywhere like small searchlights. This looked like a real fire somewhere, but just at that moment the first engine reappeared, still at full speed, and one had the exquisite pleasure of seeing two fire-engines, both presumably looking for the same fire, dashing past each other at full speed in a thick fog, their bells ringing like carillons, for all the world like two excited tourers after a car.
The tender pulled up at Bedwells’ the pawnbrokers’, and men began to flash torches along the shop fronts. Somebody called out in the dark “What are you looking for mate?” and several firemen called back “No. 70”. At this moment I noticed Inspector Bonnicoat standing right by me, so I said “surely 70 is opposite Holly Trees, near the Nurses’ Home.” He said “I believe you’re right,” so we walked back there, and sure enough it was the Nurses’ Home, and the first engine was there already. There was nothing happening, so no doubt it was just an electrical fuse or something of that sort – people send for firemen on the most flimsy excuses in these days.
Meanwhile the tender and trailer arrived, having been further up the street to turn round. It seemed a fantastic thing that two fire engines should be sent out without apparently a single man among the crews knowing where the fire was. In the old days every firemen knew the town inside out, but now under the National Fire Service organisation the crews are made up from men from all over the country, who may not even know where the Town Hall is. This is the third or fourth time I have known cases of fire engines being unable to find the fire to which they have been sent. Wrote a note on this for Benham, but don't suppose he will publish, as the N.F.S. is one of the services which is never criticised in the press.
Went up to Seymour’s. Geoff Saunders was there, and is off to the Orkneys tomorrow. About 24 hours from now he will be going through Inverness, hardly a mile from Ann Maclean. Said that he hated Scotland and loathed the Orkneys. Stayed until 11.30, quite like old times. Back to Boxted in freezing cold fog, the sound of cheerful shouts and singing from people coming home from parties, though what they have to be cheerful about is hard to say.
No more reports of ‘divers’ in the North of England, but if the Germans regain all Belgium and Holland there will be much more severe attacks here.