1st January 1945 - New Year's Day - Wisbech Museum

Slept badly for three or four hours.  Up at 5.30, cold and raw morning, the moon riding high over the wood, behind thin drifting clouds.  Breakfast in the kitchen, felt sorry for Miss Bentley having to get up so early, when I know she was up writing letters until after 11 last night.

Got away just after 6, cycle crunching through the thick lime on the road.  Miss Bentley seems to be really sorry to lose me, and I am certainly very sorry indeed to leave the comfort of this place.  

Usual confusion at the station, where, although lights burn brightly all over the town, there is practically nothing but feebly glowing gas jets, of course quite incognito.  However, after much exhaustive enquiries found that this was in fact the right train.  Lot of noisy sailors got in, going to Manningtree for Harwich, a man and woman with a baby in pram.  Great to-do to get the pram into the guard’s room.

So we pulled out and the fog was so thick across the valley that I saw nothing of Colchester but the derelict sheds of the old brick-yard.  At Manningtree a few young girls got out, I suppose to go to the Brantham factory.  Long wait at Ipswich, enlivened by a conversation between a porter and the guard, just outside my window.  Delighted to hear, when the train at last moved off, the porter say, “Well, you’re off now, as the monkey said to the cat.”

At Bury a very pretty, dark little girl got in, nicely dressed, going back to Doncaster after a week’s holiday at Elmswell.  Asked her if she like the country in the winter, and she said yes.  Spoke with a delightful Yorkshire accent.  Stopped at Higham to pick up a little family, father, mother, and a boy of about 8, going to Rugby.

Just getting light at Ely, and the towers of the cathedral reared up out of the blue-grey mists, their tops tinged pink by the rising sun.  In the Fens now, and my own country.  Thick white lime lying everywhere so thick as to be almost like snow.  Boys skating on the wash by the Bedford Levels.  Here and there cattle wandering over the frozen fields, picking at hay strewn about.  A few trees, as fantastic shapes, and the drains lead-coloured.

At March 30 minutes late (why?) and had to run hard to get the Wisbech train, yet when I got in the thing it sat there for another 15 minutes.  The sun up now, bright red, long bars of light over the misty fields, and the brick farm houses glowing.

At Wisbech went straight to the Museum.  Poor old Edwards looking like a lost sheep, seeming surprised that I was there at all and equally surprised that I hadn’t got there earlier.  My journal boxes and kitbag arrived at the same moment that I did, which was a great relief.  Put them in the Library for the time being.

Found it difficult to realise that I am now the Curator and Librarian of this place.  Edwards said there would be a Committee meeting at 12, so rushed to hotel, washed, shaved, and changed into blue suit.  Saw Mr. Girling in the street, and Mr. Briggs, the clothier who lives at the hotel, saying “Good-morning” to them as if I had lived here all my life.

Meeting was held in the office. Mr Girling was in the chair, and five others came.  Mr Levers, Second-Master of the Grammar School, Mr Hastings, an elderly man with a real fen-land accent, old Mr Wotton, a lawyer, Mr Southwell, another lawyer, and Mrs Woodgate.  Had a bit of chat about the Fens, skating, etc, and then Mr Girling very quickly ran through what little business there was.  I read the minutes of the last two meetings, which was mostly about myself, and was then welcomed by the Committee.  Thanked them, and was instructed to make enquiries about a cocoa-nut mat for outside the door.  Made my brief notes for the Minutes, and the meeting ended.

Rather staggered to find that my salary is paid quarterly instead of monthly, so must really be more careful about money.

Old Edwards came in again after lunch, wandering sadly about.  Poor old man, it must be terrible to see one’s life-work handed over to another.  He is very ill, and has the greatest difficulty in concentrating for more than a few minutes, and it is agonising to see the intense efforts which he makes.  He insisted that I went back to tea with him, which I did, and was most kindly welcomed by Mrs. Edwards.  She said rather pathetically that she hoped I would not mind his coming into the Museum whenever he could, as it was the only interest that would keep him going.

She showed me a letter from her nephew, serving in the RAF regiment in Greece, regarding the situation there, which was most interesting, as he says that there is complete misapprehension on the whole matter, that ELAS are on the British side, and that the “rebels” consist only of a few gangs of brigands, Germans, Bulgars, and Italians!  I handed it back and said how difficult it was to know the truth from what one reads in the papers.

About half past 2 this afternoon a telegram came to say “Happy New Year.  Love – Father.”  What a dear old man.  Sat down and wrote to him at once.

Dance at the Corn Exchange tonight, Miss – and her “all girls band”.  Lights shining on the water, bright stars, the sound of music and voices as I went to bed.

I am a citizen of Wisbech, and Colchester is another world.

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