25th March 1945

Wakened by the birds singing, and looked out onto a grey, damp, drizzle, low clouds sweeping over from the SE.  A four wheel milk cart came up the road, driven by a girl, (saw a nice pair of ponies on a trolley at Bletchley yesterday).

Lay reading, and wondered if there would be an alarm.  Sure enough, at 8 o’clock the sirens moaned out in the drizzle.  Heard a ‘diver’, a very long way off, rumbling along through the wet sky.  One never hears these things without thinking of Duncan Sandys inspired statement last year, when he said it would be impossible to launch them in wet or foggy weather, as the motor would not work.

There was a dull distant thump, and the ‘all clear’ came in a few minutes.  The range of the ‘divers’ must be considerably increased since last year.

Breakfast at 9.30, everything as it was a lifetime ago – grandmother’s Colchester clock on the wall, the broken spring chairs turned out of the dining room, the wood-block floor.  Went up to see Uncle before leaving.  He looked just as he had done last November, thin, pale, austere, obviously very weak.

Weather cleared, so decided to go via St. Albans.  Left at 10.30, just as the band of the Sea Cadets came marching up High Town Road, arms swinging, bugles blaring.

Went spinning along the Bath Road, through Taplow, under the railway bridge and away to Slough.  Nothing seemed changed since last November.  The great mountains of barbed wire are still overshadowing Taplow Station, and the Slough Trading Estate looks as cheap and shoddy as it ever did.  Slough itself shows no further sign of damage, but is if anything a trifle dingier.

Turned off along by the Gas Works, over the narrow, dangerous canal bridge, where a gang of a dozen men were busy repairing the crumbling parapets.  What a wonderful example of modern efficiency that after 20 years of ever increasing motor traffic, these ridiculous bridges still exist on a main road a few miles from London.

A little way along the Uxbridge Road is an Army Training Depôt, and a squad of unfortunate recruits in “civvies”, carrying rifles, were being marched through the gateway.  Nearby were some earnest soldiers learning flag signalling, a form of communication which one would have supposed to have been rather out of date.

And so to Uxbridge, crossing the Colne into Middlesex.  Saw boats on the canal, with the crews, both men and women, washing clothes on the quay side, giving an impression of an almost idyllic life.

A good deal of bomb damage in several parts of the town.  Went up to the main street, where the trolley-buses came in from Shepherd’s Bush, bringing crowds of young people, boy-scouts and girl-guides, going off for a day’s walking in the country.  Hundreds of cyclists, in great flocks, whizzed along the road towards the hills.  Odd to think of them coming from a “battle zone” – even here one sometimes heard the thump and rumble of rockets towards the east.

Realised that I would have done better to have turned off at Iver, but the sign posts around here have never been properly replaced and are very bad.  Turned back into Bucks, across the little stream marked on the map as “The Shire Ditch”.  Some costers came driving along in carts and trolleys, and there were several rough little ponies tied up outside public houses.  One lot came trotting along from Denham with a loose horse tied alongside the shafts.  Saw a brand-new breaking cart in a yard.

Turned off past the great brick wall of Denham Place, past the studios, and over the boundary-line into Hertfordshire and so to Rickmansworth.  Looked out for the bomb-damaged houses which I saw in 1941, but there was no sign of them.  Did I dream it?  Phantas-magoria?

Just outside Rickmansworth was this scene – the wide arterial road, with a grass margin several yards wide, one where two ponies were tethered, one grazing, one lying down.  On the other side of the road, a group of people were waiting in a bus shelter – an air-raid warden, an airman, a soldier and a girl, and two women.  Along the road came a 321 ‘bus, pulling in to the stop, and overtaking it was a blue racing-car driven by a young man in leather jacket, and goggles, roaring down the road like a flying bomb.  Ahead a Fort came flying over, very low.  The racing car vanished, the bus moved on, and all was peace.  No-one could have imagined that at any moment a rocket might have landed and dissolved the car, the bus, the ponies and all of us into atoms.

Stopped at Rickmansworth Station, at the top of a steep hill, and sat on a seat to eat some sandwiches, watching trains go by, and girls cycling along the road.  Army lorries were parked outside a WVS canteen opposite.  Every now and then there was a dull rumble from the south.

Got to Watford at 2, and found the tyre giving out again.  Had a cup of tea at a little café kept by a Greek or Maltese.  Quite clean, but smelt of cooking.  Around here were derelict A.A. gun sites and old battery offices – no guns left now, all having been moved into the Eastern Counties.  Quite a lot of bomb damage.

Arrived at St Albans at 3 o’clock.  Telephoned to the station from a call-box at the end of King Harry Lane, and found there was a train from Hatfield to Cambridge at 6.  This gave ample time to see the Museum, so whizzed down Romeland and Fishpool Street.  Found that Corder still goes twice a week, but his main duty is at the Society of Antiquaries, where he is still living.  He must have rendered invaluable service to the Society during the last 5 years. 

The collections are looking very good indeed, and the building was full of London visitors.  Walked into the church opposite to see once more the great man’s effigy, two young girls in cycling dress were looking at it, and one read out the inscription in the “new” pronunciation.  Notice that the authorities have optimistically given him no protection.  So far only a few odd bombs have fallen in the Park.  Looked at the theatre, and as I came away an elderly man came riding down the lane on a chestnut cob, very smart.

Had tea at a rather dirty ABC café, but got enough to eat.  Pumped up the tyre again, and so on to Hatfield.  Crossed the Great North Road, and down to the station.  While I waited, heard the church bells ringing out under the grey silent sky.  Got the train at last, and got in with a party of three young men and a girl from Cambridge.  They talked about agriculture, and the possibility of “wangling into things”, how to avoid service, and so on.  The men were talking lightly abut the rockets and discussed their mechanical side with enthusiasm.  Apparently the whole party worked on the land in some capacity or other.

In the Fens, there was a pink sunset, and the great flat fields were tinged blood-red.

Cambridge at last, and missed a Wisbech connection by 10 minutes.  Had to wait in the gathering dark until 9.30.  Bombers were going out singly all the time.

At long last got to March by quarter to eleven, and set out on the last 10 miles to Wisbech, a dreary ride under the lowering clouds.  Wisbech at midnight, no sound but a solitary ‘plane diving somewhere in the darkness.  To bed, rather tired.

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