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.
There is news this morning that the Finish Prime
Minister resigned and a new cabinet forming in Helsinki.
Meanwhile there is a lull in the Russian attack. I
suppose Finland will have to accede to all of Russia’s
demands, or else be absolutely exterminated. Anyhow,
Russia will swallow her, then, who next, the Scandinavian countries?
I received a queer complement this morning. I went
out in mid-morning, and crossed the bridge into Victoria
Road; to go to Sam Gold’s the fishmonger. On my way
back, an elderly woman walking with a cane, accosted
me. I must stop you, she said. I saw you go down the
street just now, and I said to my son ‘There’s that woman.
I want to go and speak to her.’ I saw you once before, and
I couldn’t help noticing how sweet you looked, and I said
to my son if I ever saw you again I should have to speak to
you. You have such a happy face. You look so contented, so
well, so at peace. You look lovely. It’s hard to walk against
the wind isn’t it? What is your trouble? Is it Arthritis? I
have a stiff leg, it’s quite set.
Of course I answered her. We stood and chatted a full
ten minutes or more. She told me her name was Mrs.
Green, she was sixty-eight years old, and she lived with
her son, who had recently taken over The Chocolate Box.
She didn’t look sixty-eight to me; perhaps enthusiasm
keeps her young looking. When we parted, she squeezed
my arm, and said, Let’s hope we meet again. You’re lovely!
Maybe she’s a crazy woman. I don’t know. What astonishes me is that she should think I looked happy and
content. I should have thought that in repose my countenance had a melancholy cast, apparently not. Apparently it still wears that faint smile of amiability, which
appears in all my photographs, from childhood on. And
peace, when I know no peace? That makes me remember
Francis Burke saying to Patricia Saxton, Don’t you love
it when Ruby visits you? When she comes into my house
I feel all my troubles drop away. When Ruby comes in,
peace comes in. Oh, she’s so serene! That didn’t seem
true, then, but Patricia agreed that it was so.
Queer isn’t it? My interior woman is forever in tumult;
my soul is violent, yet my exterior is calm and calming,
maybe because I pray for peace, for holy indifference, for
serenity. To be serene; I suppose that is the deepest and
most long abiding desire of my whole life. Apparently I
have attained some sort of visible serenity. Queer.
December 21, 1939 It is the shortest day of the year. I am alone for the
first time in weeks, and dreading to hear a knock at the
door at any minute. I have been engaged very deeply in
Selma’s affairs. She refused to go to Worthington, as
Bertie had arranged for her, so then old Bert said she
would have to leave the house, as he positively would
not have her in Arden Cottage. For days I had old Bert
here twice and thrice a day, and Selma the same. They
would both call on each others heels and Selma would
sit in the kitchen and quake, and old Bert goes into the
parlor to jaw. I consider him a first class bully. However,
I finally found out that he would make her an allowance
though not until I had telephoned Peake, his solicitor. I
would have taken the matter to court. As it was, I did
go to the police station to find out exactly what he could do and couldn’t do as he was threatening to practically
put the girl out on the doorstep. Then I had the job of
flat hunting for the girl. Selma and I were out two days,
looking for a suitable flat. Then I had a day with Bert,
surveying some. He wanted to stick her up in Moss Lane,
one of the Romford slums. Finally I persuaded him to let
her have a flat on this street, a new one, near the station.
If the girl has to live alone, as she had, position is
very important, and she should be pleased with a good
look-out, and very close to the main road. So she has
gone into number twenty-two A. Taking up tenancy a
week ago on the Eleventh, but then I had to supervise all
the establishing, seeing about linens, black out curtains,
soap supplies, pots and pans, groceries of all sorts, coal
and kindling, electricity, and so on. Bert shoved the job
on me, but I made him pay for it, by stocking her up with
enough of staple supplies to last her for three or four
months. I was glad enough to do it for the girl. I think
she has had a rough deal. Actually she has been put
out of her home to please the housekeeper, a Mrs. Webb,
who presumably is no better than she should be. It is a
fact that Selma is a selfish bore and a fool but she is old
Bert’s daughter just the same, and his action toward her
is absolutely hateful and shameful.
Well, now she is settled, or we all hope she is. She
still comes in to see me daily, and bores me to death
with her silly talk; but once the holidays are out of the
way, I shall tell her outright hat I don’t want her to come
and see me every day. She must learn to live alone, and
to manage her life for herself. She is a poor retarded
introvert, but my God she is a plague to all who can’t
escape contact with her!
Old Bert simply put her out. But that’s a crime. What
a likeness here to my Ted, both brothers arbitrarily
arrange their lives to suit themselves, quite regardless of their children. Queer, isn’t it?
Well, I have written the Christmas letters, made no Christmas preparations, read no books. I have been
absolutely tired out with the Thompson affairs. We are going to be alone for Christmas. Neither of
the boys will be able to be here. Artie who is training at
Nutley, Sussex, will have leave from December Twenty-Nine, to January Second. Cuthie, who is now with an
operational squadron, stationed at Driffield, Yorkshire,
does not expect to get any leave before March. I have
written to Hammersmith and asked Mother to come and
spend the Christmas with us, but so far have had no
The war continues to get worse and worse. The Finn’s
have not surrendered to Russia, and up to date are
proving very successful fighter but as there are about
forty Russian to every Finn, I don’t see how they can win
in the long run. The war at sea is dreadful. The Germans
are laying magnetic mines, and attacking neutrals. They
bomb fishing boats from the air, and machine gun the
fisherman on the decks, and in their little open boat.
Last week there was a big naval battle off South
America, with the German pocket battleship, the Graf Spee. She was forced to take shelter in Montevideo
Harbor, and when the Uruguayan Government declined
to allow her to remain longer than seventy-two hours, she
put to sea and sculled herself at the mouth of the River
Plate. Yesterday came news of her commander; Captain
Langsdorff had shot himself. This is all very inglorious.
Also, yesterday, the German liner, Columbus. scuttled
herself because she saw a British warship. I am not
writing a record of the war.
December 27, 1939 Christmas is safely past. Ted and I were alone for the day; the first time in all our lives that we have ever
had Christmas alone together. It was nice, and we were
happy. I’m still happy. This is very unusual for me.
Usually Christmas time depresses me horribly. This
year, in spite of the awful wars, in spite of not having the
boys, and they away soldiering, in spite of black fog, and
no religion. Nevertheless I was and am happy.
Our first Christmas together in America we spent
with the Oberle’s; our second with the Harvey’s; our third
was spent in Fortieth Street with Eddie in the crib, Mary
Crowley in the kitchen, and Arthur Thompson arriving
from Toronto just in time for dinner.
There was a Mrs. Smith there, too, a Barbadian,
whom Ted had invited because he had nowhere else to
go; and there was an unborn infant there, too, as I was
near my time with Harold. After that there were always
children about, and visitors. And then here in England
we were the visitors again, at Arden Cottage; and since
Tillie’s death, we have made a Christmas again, for old
Bert and Selma, Mother, and our twins, this year nobody
Selma came in on Sunday, which was Christmas
Eve, and stayed from three o’clock until ten-thirty p.m.
I wished her further. When she arrived she said her
fire had gone out, so could she come to tea with us. Of
course we had her but only because it was Christmas
Eve, and we didn’t want to hurt her feelings. Should she
ever come with that excuse again I shall tell her to go
home and relight her fire. I have had that girl here every
day for a month, or more, and I am heartily sick of her.
However, we let her stay and kill Sunday.
The weather was awful, too. We had one of the blackest
fogs we have had in years. Saturday was foggy, but Sunday
was worse and Christmas Day worse yet. Yesterday was
foggy in the morning, but clearing at mid-day. Today, now the holiday is all over, we have sunshine again but it
is very cold. Artie surprised us by coming in about one
o’clock on Sunday.
He got a pass for the day. When evening came he
couldn’t return. Neither bus nor trains were running.
Nor could he hire a taxi. The fog was impenetrable, so
about seven o’clock he returned to the house, and stayed
here all night. This was very nice for Ted, as the two of
them went to the 8 o’clock mass together on Christmas
morning. Artie couldn’t get a bus to Nutley until eleven
o’clock so had time to have breakfast here. We expect
him again on Friday, for a five-day leave unless he is
punished for not returning to head quarters on Sunday.
He couldn’t get there. It was one of the thickest fogs in
years. On Christmas night, we heard in the news that a
steamer from Jersey, which usually crossed the channel
in six hours, had three nights on the water, with two
hundred passengers aboard!
Yesterday, boxing day, the Jude’s came to tea, and
spent the evening. It was all very jolly, and a good
time was had by all. Today, we are going to the movies.
I’m meeting Ted at five, at the Plaza, to see Stanley
and Livingstone, Spencer Tracy as Stanley, Sir Cedric
Hardwicke as Livingstone. We didn’t get to the movies
last week. Nothing particularly attractive to us was
offering, and as the weather was very disagreeable, we
preferred the fireside.
It strikes me as we are going to hear some very bad
news tonight. Our airplanes are going over constantly,
bombers, in both directions, and flying very low. A group
passed now which seemed almost to graze over our roof
tops. There are many more about today than is usual,
especially in this last hour.
December 28, 1939 Snow began falling about noon, and is continuing
steadily, and there is a yellow darkness everywhere. All
is very still, very cold, and very gloomy.
We expect Cuth home today, for a twelve-day leave,
so if he is traveling down from Yorkshire today, he’s
going to have a beastly journey. I have just put two hot
water bottles in his bed, and after tea I will put some
onions on to boil, to make a nightcap for him. Artie is
due home tomorrow, for a five-day leave. We got letters
from him this morning. It appears he didn’t get back
to the barracks on Christmas Day after all. When he
got to London on Christmas morning, he found there
were no buses running and no train to East Grimstead
until seven in the evening; so he went out to Hammersmith and ate a Christmas dinner with his Grandma.
He writes she is as fit as a fiddle.
When he did get to East Grimstead, he had an eight-
mile walk, in the fog. However, he was excused his
absence. It seemed that none of the fellows on leave with
him were able to return, on account of the fog, but he was
the last one of the lot to get in, being the one who had
gone furthest a field. So, there were no punishments.
There was a severe earthquake in Turkey; between
five and six thousand people killed in Anatolia. This
world suffers one misery after another.
Letters arrived from America this morning. They
have been on the way since December Eighth, new babies
expected early in the year. Harold and Kay expect one in
Christmas week, so that may be born already. Eddie and
Chic expect their first in March and Johnny and Ruth
their fourth in January. This will bring the number of
our grandchildren up to twelve. Incredible.
I brought out an old photo of Grandma Searle this
morning, to show to Mrs. Jude, who, of course, was calling. With Mrs. Jude and Selma I never any more get
a day to myself. Mrs. Jude at once perceived a strong
resemblance to me, in the picture. I can see it too. So,
there’s the Irish in me, for Grandma Searle was fifty
percent unadulterated Irish. She was the daughter of
the infamous Joe Beate’s. The damnable Irish!
December 30, 1939
It is the last Saturday of the year. I am alone in the
house. The boys at a dance at “The Kings Head” the
Scottish New Year’s Eve affair, which cannot be held
tomorrow, that being Sunday, and Ted round at Bert’s.
Nine o’clock now, and in a few minutes I am going to
make myself some sandwiches, and take them into the
parlor, with a hot whiskey, to listen to Raymond Gram
Swing from America, and the music that follows after.There is news this morning that the Finish Prime Minister resigned and a new cabinet is forming in Helsinki. Meanwhile, there is a lull in the Russian attack. I suppose Finland will have to accede to all of Russia’s demands, or else be absolutely exterminated. Anyhow, Russia will swallow her, then, who next, the Scandinavian countries?