History is never quite as real as when it is told by those who lived it. Ruby Thompson, living during the World War ll London Blitz bombing blasts history out of the realm of dry, dusty names and dates and places the reader in the midst of the terrifying events as they unfold. This is very important documentation and will have tremendous appeal to those who have an avid interest in the effect of the war on ordinary citizens.
September 1, 1939 War started today. After another week of lies and
duplicity, Hitler launched into actual warfare early this
morning. At five thirty this morning he announced the
enclosure of Danzig in the Reich, and at five forty-five
he bombed his first Polish town. Reports were that the
Germans had already bombed eight Polish cities, and
were attacking on all frontiers.
The BBC has just announced that King George
held a Privy Council this noon, and has signed papers
completing the mobilization of our Army, Navy, and Air
Forces. Further news is to be broadcast at four p.m.
September 3, 1939 At eleven fifteen today Mr. Chamberlain broadcast
from number Ten Downing Street. He said, This morning
the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German
government a final note stating that, unless we heard
from them by eleven o’clock, that they were prepared at
once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war
would exist between us.
I have to tell you that no such undertaking has been
received, and that consequently this country is at war
with Germany. He ended his speech like this: Now may
God bless you all. May he defend the right. It is the evil
things that we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution, and against
them I am certain that the right will prevail.
He had scarcely finished speaking when the air
raid signals sounded. Naturally we all took cover. About
twelve o’clock the all-clear signal came. We thought it
had been the Germans, of course; but in tonight’s news
we were told, that it was a strange aircraft, which had
been sighted over the Channel, and that when it had
been identified, it was found to be a friendly plane, and
allowed to pass.
However, the warnings were a shock. It was such a
beautiful day, sunny and with clear skies. At five o’clock
the French government broadcast a similar statement to
Mr. Chamberlain, saying they had no reply from Hitler
and that as of five o’clock the French were at war with
So here is the war. We have been fending it off for
years, but at last it is here. The folly of men is now going
to destroy men. Force will fight force. Maybe the right
will prevail. I don’t know. I can only hope so. God keep
September 4, 1939 In the middle of the night we were wakened from
sleep by the air raid sirens. We got up, closed all the
windows, put on our robes and went downstairs. Here
we remained in the passage by the staircase until the
all-clear signal came, about four o’clock. The kitchen
clock struck three whilst I was waking Artie. However,
we were informed at nine this morning that this was
again caused by the passage of unidentified aircraft over
Essex and the midland counties; our fighters went up,
identified the airplane and then returned to ground. We
are not told exactly what planes they were or why they
were flying over England at three in the morning.
Real news of war came early. The Atlantic Liner
“Athena” was torpedoed off the west of the Hebrides,
and sank at five o’clock this morning. She had fourteen
hundred people aboard, most of them Americans
returning home. She was from Glasgow, bound for
Montreal. Now, noon, we are informed that a notice has
been posted in Glasgow, signed, Cook, Master, stating
that all passengers and crew, except those killed by the
explosion, were got safely into the boats, and many of
them had already been picked up by other vessels. President Roosevelt broadcast in the States last night that
America would stay neutral. However, if the Germans
attack the Americans on the seas, what then? It is eight-thirty p.m. and I am in a blaze of anger.
At seven o’clock Ted said, I’m going down to Forest
Gate, to see what traveling is like in the dark. He went
too! Now, all lights are forbidden, all cinemas closed, all
gatherings, indoor, and outside, prohibited, because of
the danger from bombs. No lights in the trains or the
buses, no lights in automobiles. Ted has to go to Forest
Gate to see his precious guild of course, his pious and
adoring spinsters and oafs. Well, it may be fine Catholic
piety, but its damned bad husbandry. All around many
women are ill and hysterical, and very bad when the air
raid signals sound. It is nerves and they can’t help it.
What does Ted care about me? It is night, the raiding
signals may be heard at any moment but I am left alone
in the house, to endure it as best I can. The Catholic
Evidence Guild is of very great importance to Ted, but I
am of no importance at all. This heartlessness at a time
like this fills me with dismay. I cannot believe he would
act so, yet he does. He goes off on his own pleasuring,
danger or no danger; and I am left alone, danger or no
Anyhow I am in a fretful mood, and have been, all this time of gathering tension. I think of Cuthie, who is
surely going to immediate death and of Artie who will
follow him. I think of my boys in America, who I cannot
reach and their children whom I have never seen. In my
heart I am crying and crying. The lot my husband has
imposed upon me is a cruel one. He has denuded me
of my children, and of himself as lover and friend. Now
he leaves me to face terror alone, as well as desolation.
I know there may be no raid before he returns but the
chances are equal there may be. I say he has no right to
leave me alone at such a time. It is a cruel thing to do.
It hurts me and it angers me, and I feel I shall never
forgive him. But I suppose I shall! What is there else to
do? I have to excuse him I say he is crazy. I am angry
just the same, very angry. He has no business to treat
me like this, with such callousness. Loving kindness,
he just doesn’t know what it is ordinary friendliness, he
doesn’t know that either. As Eddie says, He’s not human.
September 10, 1939 The war has now completed one week. All week the
weather has been perfect. All summer it has been very
poor, no warmth, nor sun, nor brightness at all. Now it
has cleared up and we have had more sun and warmth
and clearness in this past week than in all the rest of the
summer put together. A good thing too for it has kept
people’s spirits up. It is hard to be melancholy in perfect
The Germans, of course, are over-running Poland,
that was to be expected. There are reports they have
taken Warsaw and counter-reports that they haven’t, but
it is not known yet for a fact.
Old Bert has closed Arden Cottage and gone to live
in Ongar. So have Bertie and Peggy. Bertie comes into
business every day, but not old Bert. He is scared stiff.
Ted behaves as usual, and he goes to mass every morning.
Ted is the complete escapist. Ted is more talkative than ever. I listen and listen,
and I just despise him as a silly fool. Also he is more
critical. He has been criticizing Artie to me for a long time
but now he has begun picking on the boy directly. Artie
answers back. They had a spat together in the scullery
this morning about a pane of picture glass, which after
hanging about the garden for months, had been smashed
and Artie had cleared away the fragments. Today Ted
missed that piece of glass, and gave Artie one of his
typical cross-examinations about it. The boy answered
politely but Ted then began to read him a lecture about
carelessness, about laziness, about impoliteness, about
being brusque, and so on. Artie got riled. He said, I resent those remarks. They
are not true. Ted went on some more.
Artie said, I still resent your remarks. You know that
I am the only one who makes any attempt to clear up the
place here and to keep it neat. I didn’t know you wanted
the glass. It had stood around for weeks and weeks and
you never mentioned it. It got broken. I cleared up the
pieces. Why should I have to tell you? I think your remarks
are uncalled for and unkind.
The word “unkind” got under Ted’s skin. He answered
sarcastically, Thank You, and walked away into the
Ted fancy’s an idea of himself as of a benefactor. It’s
all a part of his general interfering “doing well” he calls
it. I’ve endured it for years, over and over again. The
reprobates he dreams he is reforming have cheated me.
Sucker after sucker has found out Ted for a good thing.
He’s never cared. He always thinks the next deserving
case will answer to his interest and charity with reform
and with gratitude. So to tell him he is unkind is too
much for him.
He is unkind. He has a most malicious tongue which
he exercises on all those who can’t or don’t round on
him. Now it’s got to Artie’s turn. Cuthie has got away.
He made Cuthie miserable with his nagging for years
all for Cuthie’s good of course! We said, Hell! Now it’s
Artie that’s wrong. Artie, apparently, is going to answer
Oh, Ted and his moralizing, his sarcasms, his belittling, his sneers, oh, what a disagreeable person he is
to live with! Yet he never suspects it! He thinks and
says that he is broad minded, just, kind, and courteous.
Whereas actually, he is fanatically narrow-minded,
spiteful, mean, secretive, intolerant, and intolerable.
This week he has been awful. I say as little as
possible. Silence is the only way to protect oneself from
him but he makes me feel that I regard him either as an
utter fool, or as a very hateful man.
I don’t want to feel or think like that about him. I
don’t want him to upset me. I want to keep serene. I want
to keep myself. I want to keep free from him, untouched
by his follies, unconfined by his limitations, impervious
by his lack of love, not biased against the truth because
of his peculiar prejudices that is it. I want to be free of
September 11, 1939 Miss Jude arrived at ten-fifteen this morning and stayed until four-thirty. She was here two days last week also. She exhausts me. She talks in her noisy Irish way without ceasing. Such rubbish! Today she went on and on about the Archangel Michael, and how he will protect the Poles. Also about Teresa Neumann and what she will be “seeing” about the war. About Saint Peter, about St John Bosco, the late Pope, and a man in Brazil who has visions and prophesies. She undid her blouse an unfas-tened a bunch of medals from her corset to show me. She expounded about the Green Scapular, and how it can be hung on a picture. In effect, she dazed me.
I think she is the most credulous and the most superstitious woman I have ever known. Worse than any of the Polish and Austrian girls who used to pass through my kitchen. They, at least, were peasants, many of them unable to read or write; but Mrs. Jude is supposed to be an educated woman.
She positively she wears me out with her ceaseless rubbishy chatter. When she left, she forgot her bag so Mary Bernadette came this evening to fetch it.
Mary, who returned to her job this week, was telling us something of how things look in the city. Ted, of course, did not go to Forest Gate tonight. The Guild has had to close down. All street meetings, processions, crowds,etc. are forbidden. Anyhow, even if they weren’t, you couldn’t hold a meeting anywhere in the pitch-dark streets. However, this is not any sort of ending or a suspension of the Guild, which makes any difference to me. I asked Ted to give up the Guild for my sake. He refused. Now he hasn’t given up the Guild, the Guild has given up him automatically, because it ceases to function. So I still don’t go to mass. I think I am more Un-Catholic than ever. I have NO belief in the Roman Church and I don’t want to have. It has, I think, quite ceased to matter to me. Well, here in the guild is another example of Ted’s childish obstinacy.
He just wouldn’t give up the Guild because it was a matter of vital importance to me. He just refused to give it up. Like the matter of moving the bed. It’s a sort of moron obstinacy, which he shares, with Selma. So tonight he has been sitting in the parlor and reading a book entitled, The Interior Life.
There are four hundred pages of it, close dissection of the movements of the soul, translated from the French. Naturally, no Englishman could ever write this sort of stuff. This is the sort of treatise which makes religion a dramatically difficult intellectual exercise, which takes it away from the simple, and makes it esoteric; it is a caustic argument, by the elect, for the elect. Well, religion is not an argument and to my thinking, and to my experience, this sort of book is a damnable obstacle in the way of any vital flowing real religion. It is the product of a shelter theologian, and has nothing whatever to do with live religion. Ted sits and reads it, four hundred pages of words. The Interior Life! What Ted needs is something about the exterior life, something about blood and the natural affections, not precise statements of logical arguments. Oh well, I suppose nothing will ever alter Ted, not even another war, right here on our doorstep. Theology is a boon to Ted He can talk about it forever.
September 18, 1939 Yesterday the Russians invaded Poland on the East. This is the end of Poland. What is it the beginning? I hoped for letters from America this morning, but there were none. Anyhow, I had made up my mind to cable the boys, so I dressed and was out by half past nine. I went directly to the post office and cabled Harold and Jim care of the Herald Tribune. I asked them to combine, and get me into America. I asked them to see the immigration officials, and send me a permit and passage, or cash, quickly. I intend to do everything I can to get away. Ted answered an inquiry that he would rather be in England with a war on, than in America with peace forever. Well, I wouldn’t. England is weariness to me at any time, and in wartime it would be hell. The twins are among the doomed. Airmen, God keep them! I don’t want to be here when they come home on leave. I don’t want to be here when they are wounded or killed. I don’t want to be here, shut up with Ted and his pettiness and paltriness. I want to get where my safe children are, with their little ones. I want the happiness of being with my children for a little while before I die. I want to be in America, the land that I love.
Maybe I won’t be able to do it, maybe the boys won’t help, maybe the consul won’t give me a visa, and maybe Ted will obstruct me. I don’t know. I am going to try to get to America, with all my might and once there I will never return here again. I am sick of England, and the whole fantastic life Ted makes me live. From the post office I went into the arcade and into Jean Claire’s the tailor’s. I ordered a warm woolen coat, paid a ten deposit on it, and am to go for a fitting on Saturday. Then I went into Stone’s and bought a supply of buttons and sewing silks, and now I am going to get set to sewing. I have some nylon to make nightgowns, and some black cloque to make a dress. I intend to work systematically on getting my wardrobe in order for traveling. So,Au-Revoir. September 20, 1939 I want to pin down a dream before it evaporates. For a long time I have noticed that my dreams are practically all of the past, especially my life in Bayonne, when I was young and having babies; sometimes they are of the even remoter past, and it was such a dream I had last night. I was dreaming of Sydenham Whitelock. I was reliving that moment when he and I stood together on Barnes Old Bridge, isolated there one sunny Sunday afternoon, and had an intense vibrant awareness of each other, and the world around us, and ourselves, electric to one another, pausing in a moment of communication, understanding, love and bliss. My God! That was nearly forty years ago!
Then we were together in grandma’s house, standing in the hall, outside her parlor door, aware of her and her vitality, in there, in her room: and we merged in a wordless embrace. I felt his kisses, I heard his heart beating, and every nerve in me was responding in delight to his strength and virility, his vitality and health, his manliness, and personal affection. I knew that Syd Whitelock loved me not as woman but as Ruby myself. Into the ecstasy of this dreaming broke the noise of the movements of Ted getting up. My wakening mind flashed recognition of this silly insignificant fool who is my husband. He dropped on his knees to pray, presently the door banged and he had gone out to church. I despised him with an abysmal despising. This fool, who wasted his life in daydreaming and sacrifices reality to the unending pursuit of a medieval sacrament! Yes, I can read my dream in the Freudian explanations. It is the expostulation of my body protesting against its sexual deprivations. My life with Ted is one long mental and physical frustration. I am an ardent and passionate being and I had the misfortune to marry a milksop, and stupidly I didn’t remedy the error before it was too late. If I had any sense of all about us I would have divorced Ted twenty years ago. However, I didn’t. Now I am an old woman, and a divorce would be no advantage to me. So, when I sleep, when the Censor sleeps, my inner secret woman compensates herself with a phantasm. Awake, I know it is a phantasm and a trick. Thank God I never lose my sense of realities. Ted has a faculty of fooling himself, but I haven’t that faculty. Ted says I am a materialist. This is a condemnation, and is contra-distinction to an idealist, which he considers himself to be, and something very good. To me “idealist” signifies fool, more often than not, and a very obstinate unreasonable fool to boot. I would describe myself as a realist. I have lived as a realist for a very long time, and I expect to die as such.
September 21, 1939 I had a visit from Miss Canham this morning, in quick answer to the letter I sent her yesterday. I find I am too nervous to sew, so I wrote and asked her could she do some work for me immediately. She can, so good luck. She carried away the piece of black cloque, to make into a modish afternoon dress; also two old garments to make over into new ones and my black figured silk dress which I haven’t worn all this year, to be altered slightly and brought up to date. I have been laying awake thinking about my clothes, and here are my ideas, which she will execute. First: my blue figured panne velvet gown, which I had new to take to America in nineteen thirty-three. It has been out of date for several years, but the velvet is as good as ever. So I thought it would make over into a peplum blouse, with soft sheered swatches to form the shoulder, to cross the bosom surplice-style, and fasten at the back. She has taken that. Also, second, to wear with it; my loose three- quarter raglan coat, of very fine black wool, which I made to wear to the movies on summer nights; I thought this would make over into a full gored evening skirt. She says it will, and she has taken that. She will come next Tuesday for fittings, etc. Then I had thoughts about my old winter coat. Since I have ordered a new one as I have, the old one should make over into a smart tailored frock; and Miss Canham says she can make it into such. Out of the lining, which is very good quality crepe-De-chine she can make me a petticoat. So I shall have a few presentable and fashionable garments, for traveling or whatever occasion I have to meet. My underwear I will attend to myself. I have nearly finished one nightgown, and have enough nylon on hand to make another. Meanwhile, before Tuesday, I am going to partially unpick my black coat, take off the fur, etc. So work is proceeding in anticipation of getting away. Of course there is no certainty I can get away, but I am going to be ready to go.
September 22, 1939 Once, some years ago, when Auntie Lizzie was staying here, a very lovely thing happened to me. I was sitting one morning by the sink, peeling vegetables, when Auntie walked through into the scullery; and she came up behind my chair and without a word, she stooped and kissed the back of my neck. That was a spontaneous act of affection, and I have never forgotten it. It was a lovely gesture from a very old woman. I was remembering it this morning when I wakened. Those are the sorts of gestures, which make life beautiful, the signs of affection, which I crave. Ted was remarking rather recently that someone in America once told him he was cold-blooded, and he couldn’t believe it. Yet that is exactly what he is though apparently he doesn’t think so. My instinct when I woke this morning was to turn to Ted and take him in my arms. I didn’t because the gesture would have been useless. He would have only repulsed me. He couldn’t turn to me; he only turns to the church. I think, just as it is natural for the flower to turn towards sun, the baby to its mother, the dog to its master, friend-to-friend, lover-to-lover, so it is natural for husband and wife to turn towards each other. However, it is not natural with Ted. I remember many years ago, whilst we still lived in Mrs. McKnight’s house, and Ted was sleeping in the little room. I went into him in that room one night, and he took me by the shoulders and put me out and shut the door. Those sorts of actions bruise the heart. It has always been useless for me to ask for love, or to make any offer of love, so far as Ted is concerned. When his lust drives him, then I must take him no matter what my inclination or disinclination.
Well, I don’t consider that love. To me, the first essential of love is friendliness and Ted has no friendliness. That hour of brotherly sweetness, hand in hand Ted has no conception of and never had. That is what I want, and have always wanted. It seems to me that in a good marriage, a couple could lay embraced without any prick of lust, could fall asleep on an encircling arm, could wake to smile, to touch in friendliness, and to speak in tender friendliness. It is not to be with Ted. His ideal is the bloodless and gutless saint and he rises without word or touch, and goes to his everlasting church. No, I should have no compunctions about leaving him. He doesn’t need me, doesn’t want me, doesn’t love me, and doesn’t want my love. This is the sad truth. September 26, 1939 A letter from Harold arrived this morning by airmail. He tells me he and Charlie are seeing the immigration officials, and will both fill out the necessary forms and affidavits, and forward them to me by the next mail. He tells me once over there I will need no money, and I can live in Baldwin with him forever. What a relief! After supper I showed the letter to Ted. He was surprised, but asked me, was it right that I would prefer to live with the boys, and did I really want to go to America. I said, yes, please. He said, all right, and he wouldn’t put any obstacles in my way. He also added, that certainly he would pay my passage, and would see if he could he make me an allowance. This, I think because he was piqued by Harold’s remarks about money. Anyhow, he did make the offer.
September 29, 1939 I am considerably plagued by the neighborhood women. They keep coming here all the time; Mrs. Jude, Mrs. James, Mrs. Archer, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Stanford, if it isn’t one it’s the other, and I can’t get a minute to myself. They say I’m so placid. If they only knew!