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.
February 3, 1941 I am feeling very seedy. I have developed a very bad
cold, and think it is bronchitis.
It is snowy and cold today. Joan surprised me by
knocking at the door about four o’clock on Saturday after-
noon. She said she had come to spend the night with me.
My letter to Mother, in which I told her Ted would be out
fire-spotting all Saturday night, had arrived in Hammer-
smith at noon, and Joan said I sounded so miserable in
it, she decided to come over at once. So here she is now. I
was so pleased to see her, I cried. Ted of course went off
about seven-thirty. Joan and I had a good evenings talk,
and did not settle down to sleep until after midnight.
Ted returned about six-thirty on Sunday morning. Luck
was with us and there were no raids.
About eleven in the morning Ted went out again.
When he returned he told Joan that he had been to join
the Home Guard. After dinner, when he was talking to
Joan about the war he said this, I would willingly see
Ruby and Cuth and Artie die lingering and painful deaths
if it was necessary to win the war. I would gladly sacrifice
them if by so doing we could defeat Hitler.
Joan protested. I said nothing. What is there to say
to such a fanatic? You notice he would remain alive. You
see he does not care for flesh and blood. He loves neither
his wife nor his sons: only his ideas, what he calls his
Ted loves nobody, and it becomes impossible to love
him. He is not human. He is a fanatical madman, a
ruthless egotist, and a lunatic.
Ever since he said that, I have been unable to speak
to him. I have known for years that he had no real affection for me, but for him to so cold bloodily say that he
could gladly see me die, and painfully die, if thereby
my death could help to win the war, my God, this is too
Our marriage is a howling failure God knows. We
disappoint each other; we hurt each other. Ted bores
me and exasperates me. My patience wears thin, but it
wears. I am weary of him, weary to death. I wish to be
free of him more than I wish for anything else in the
world but I would not “sacrifice” him for my freedom.
What I desire is liberation, a liberation that could easily
be arranged by sensible people by divorce. Ted is not a
sensible person, so there will never be a divorce.
So there’s nothing to do but endure. If I had money
I could leave him. If I were young I could work and I
could leave him; but I am an old woman, absolutely
dependent upon him. So it’s hell. I should have left him
twenty years ago, but I didn’t. I’ve always been hoping, I
suppose, hoping he’d love me. Well, he does not love me.
So that’s that. To be an old wife is to be an absolutely
valueless creature. When Ted came in for dinner he was
blue with the cold, and he looked very tired and very old.
Well, he is old. So am I. Two old crocks, he said. I have a
cold and he was tired.
The trouble with me is, I am always looking for the
young lover, and of course I can’t find him, for he ceased
to exist thirty years ago. This ceaseless craving for love
and devotion. Am I a more ardent and passionate woman
than ordinary? I don’t know.
Anyhow: I am fifty-six years old. I am sick with a bronchial cold. I am infirm with my bad legs. The weather
is wintry. I don’t go out. The war wears on my nerves I’m
homesick for America and I long for my children. This is
why I am cranky.
I suppose it is only natural Ted wants to fight the
enemy. Man’s nature, which I don’t understand. War
infuriates my common sense. I tend to think all men
fools and old men old fools.
I too am a fool. I expect too much. I expect the impossible.
Turning to my dear St. Francis De Sales just now,
trying to find some word of help or comfort, I found this
in Henry Bordeaux’s book:
More than once the reader must doubtless have thought
that the doctrine of St. Francis De Sales could be adapted
to a love marriage only. His teaching did not adapt itself
to love; it created love. By his counsel he induces a young
girl to prepare herself for love, to think of it, and to give
herself to it. His doctrine forces a wife, each day, to revivify
her love, to press it tenderly to her heart. What can a
woman do, however, if it should happen, as it frequently
does, that her husband is mediocre? We are not all, in
great measure, impelled by the force of our feelings? Take,
for example, Elsie, in the novel by M. Rene Boylesve, who,
without the safeguards of matrimony, indulged freely in
her irregularly passion. Note with what a care a woman in
love makes a sort of religion out of her guilty love, so great
is her need for something to worship. Where she perceived
that she herself had furnished the fuel for the fire that was
consuming her, she found her only solace in the thought
of death. God, on the contrary, is the refuge of Philothea,
God in the depths of whose fatherly heart she can bury
all trials. Are we not surprised when we meet some great
hero of a tragic or marvelous adventure, to discover him
so ordinary and insignificant? Illusion is certainly not everything in daily life, but we can scarcely do without a
little of it. The wife, therefore, whose love for her husband
approaches devotion, or whose devotion approximates
love, can she not succeed in producing the sacred spark,
even if the material she works with is mediocre?
Yes. Perhaps. If she tries without ceasing. Without
ceasing: that is the sentence. Marriage is serious, lasting,
and unalterable. St. Francis once explained to a young
man who sought his advice about the responsibilities of
raising a family: Marriage is an Order in which one must
take one’s vows before entering upon the novitiate; if there
was a year of trial, as there is before one may take the
vows in a monastery, very few would go through with it.
To a young girl he said: The married state is one that
requires more virtue and constancy than only other; it is a
perpetual exercise of mortification; in your case, perhaps,
it will be unusually so.
Glorious St. Francis De Sales, you excelled in ordering
with ardor and exactitude your exterior and interior
life. Grant to us, your supplicants, the vigor and energy
necessary to fill every moment of our lives with a just
employment, strength of will to be faithful to it, discernment to solve its problems, and enthusiasm to vivify it.
In spite of the vicissitudes of daily life and the
changing moods of human nature, enable us to develop
our true personality and attain to perfection in our
states of life. You, who feared above all other evils, indifference, luke warmness and sadness, obtain for us a
joyful love for the commonplace things, which, for the
most part, fill our lives. Teach us to relish the countless
inanities, which are so often productive of monotony and
disgust. You, dear Saint Francis De Sales, who divined
the supreme, potent attraction of love, sweeten and
enrich with tenderness, we implore you, all those who are united by the bonds of matrimony. Teach them that
the very love they cherish for one another is threatened
by monotony, that it can only be preserved at the cost
of unceasing vigilance and a constant effort to increase
it. Great St Francis De Sales, serene, beneficent, calm,
guide us in that delightful use of the world, which can so
quickly become criminal. Preserve us from vain anxiety
and idle curiosity. Lover of peace, fill our hearts, our
homes, our cities, with peace.
February 4, 1941
I preach to myself these preachment's of Saint Francis,
but with little effect. He insists that we overcome our
sadness, because in the end sadness only creates a new
affliction to torment us. True. How are we to overcome
our feelings? How? Last night Ted and I had words again,
and I laid down in the dark to weep. I was wakeful for
hours, trying to get a hold of myself, and trying to pray.
All the while, mind and heart and body were crying out
to be loved. All the while, If Ted could have made an
advance to me, touched me held me awhile, I could have
been assuaged. No. In cold rectitude he lay on his own
sofa, asleep, or feigning sleep.
The greatest need of my life, now, and always, is affection, and the expression of affection. From the time when
I was a young child, suffering perpetually under Mother’s
harshness and thrashings, I have prayed for gentleness,
tenderness and love. I don’t know what happened to Ted
in his childhood, but his constant need seems to be to
express opposition, and to break his opponents will.
He seems to compel all those whom he safely can. To
break them. From our very early days I found the need
to hide from him, to protect myself from his senseless
and hurting domination. To make any positive statement
to him, was to encounter immediate denial, immediate coercion. No matter how casually I might say I wouldn’t
do a certain thing, he would make me do it; and if I
said I would do something or other, then he would take
every trouble to prevent me. I don’t know what it is in
the fellow, but it is something very deep, fundamental. Perhaps it comes from a sense of his weakness and
ineffectiveness. I don’t know. Once, years ago, when we
were all in Bayonne together, Ted, Arthur, Grace, and
I, had eternal arguments daily, Grace once said, I don’t
know what I really believe about anything, and I don’t
care either; but when another person says anything, I have
to contradict them. I might believe what they believe, it
doesn’t matter; if they say it, I have to take the offensive
side, even against myself. I can’t let any remark pass. I
just have to be different.
So perhaps it’s something fundamental in the
Thompson family. Anyhow, it’s a damned disagreeable
habit. Why can’t Ted be easy? Why can’t he be different
from the way he is? It is a senseless question of course.
Why can’t I be different from the way I am? The conflict
of personality in matrimony: it’s the very devil.
February 5, 1941 Reconciliation. Serenity. Last night Ted went out for Home Guard duties from
seven until nine p.m. He returned home before the news
was finished, and then we listened to, There Men Were
Free, program, which featured the men of seventeen
hundred and ninety-three and the French Revolution,
particularly Lazare Carnot, who organized the armies of
France to resist the threat to the Revolution from without.
Then when that finished Ted came over to my corner, knelt
on the floor beside me, turned my face to him, and began
kissing me, kissing me straight on the mouth, so that I quivered and melted. I began to cry. My God I am crying
now! Well we loved, and then slept in peace.
Today I am at peace, with Ted, with myself. We lose
each other. Then we find each other, and we begin again,
in love. When the body speaks instead of the head,
when instead of listening to the ceaseless silly words we
make, we listen instead to the call of our blood, when we
surrender to each other in physical union, then we are
satisfied, then we are at peace.
I think I’ll note some items about food. It has occurred
to me that perhaps we have become more cranky than
ordinary because of the food situation. Although we
could not say the food situation is bad, it is decidedly
tiresome. There are so many restrictions that variety in
food is hard to come by, and meals are uninteresting
and uninviting. Rationing does give everybody a definite
amount of what ever is available. As it stands now this is
what one person can get every week:
Sugar: four ounces
Tea: two ounces
Bacon: four ounces
Eggs: two (if you can find any)
Cheese: two ounces (if you can find any)
Meat: one shilling and two pence worth
Butter: two ounces
Margarine: four ounces
Note: this is per week!
Eggs are practically unobtainable. Lemons and onions
are absolutely unobtainable. Kidneys and liver are not to
be found. Fish is so out of sight for all practical purposes.
There is no fruit anywhere, either fresh or tinned. No
dried fruit. No nuts. No tomatoes. No marmalade. No
jam No syrup. Sausages are forty percent bread.
Neither bread nor flour is rationed, yet but only one
sort of loaf is obtainable. Cakes and pastries have practically disappeared, certainly all those at popular prices.
The last time I was on South Street I saw a chocolate
layer cake in one baker’s window priced at eight pence
ordinarily it would have been two pence.
We are exhorted to eat plenty of carrots and potatoes
and oatmeal. What a diet! The lack of onions for all
savory cooking, and also of tomatoes, fresh, tinned or
pureed makes very flat dishes; and the lack of sugar and
eggs deposes of all sweets.
Try to cook without eggs or onions and see how
little you can do! We diet on potatoes without butter; or
porridge without sugar or syrup, and with milk at nine
pence per quart. Meals have been dreadfully uninteresting. If one cared to sit down to a hearty, variegated,
tasty meal one would feel like a new being.
Joan also told us something about shelter life and
the effect it was having on people. She spent every night
sitting up in a shelter for three months and finally got
such excruciating pains in her back she had to go to the
hospital to get cured. Shelter strain. Son has had to go to
the hospital with neuritis in his right arm. Shelter life.
Joan tells me many people are getting what is described
as shelter ankles, that is swellings due to always sitting
up, never laying in bed for a night anymore. Joan thinks
all doctors must be under orders not to say anything
against the shelters, or to admit that any aches or pains
or illnesses are due to sleeping in shelters. She says it
is quite remarkable how they don’t ask patients about
where they sleep and how they sleep! Of course the
shelters must be bad for the health. I’ve heard of two
doctors in this town who have forbidden mothers to take
their young children into shelters. I heard that Dr. Levy
wept when he lost a baby with pneumonia, contracted,
he declared, by sleeping in a shelter. Another doctor told my Lily that she must take a chance on a bomb, but she
must keep her bronchial baby out of the shelter.
February 7, 1941
I am serene, thanks to St. Francis. The whole last
night Ted was out on fire spotting duties, on top of Lyons:
from eight p.m. until six this morning.
I was all right. Happily there were no raids. The
weather was too bad I expect. We had deep snow yesterday.
Anyhow, I was all right. I sat up until midnight, and then
settled down to sleep quite calmly. Today I have been
writing. My mind’s in spate again, hurrah! There was
news at one o’clock of the fall of Benghazi.
February 15, 1941
I am waiting for Sainsbury’s delivery. Airplanes are
buzzing about. No morning alert yet. The last alert was at
one twenty a.m. this morning, with all clear after about
an hour. Ted heard nothing of it, and even though I got
up to get a light, he did not waken. We had raids most of
the evening, too. The all clear came about eleven fifteen
p.m., so that we could settle down comfortably to sleep.
Through out this week there has been plenty of air
activity again, after the January slow up. The weather
is improving of course. Things are getting more frightening now. There is constant talk, in public, and on the
air, of the prospect of imminent invasion. It is that Hitler
must invade us to lick us, and he must do it soon before
American aid reaches us. In the first news this morning
at seven a.m. instructions were given, as to what to do in
case of invasion, to “stay put,” and await direct instructions from the military or the police. It is sickening.
This week Franco went to Italy for a conference with
Mussolini: and on his return had a meeting with Petain
at Montpelier. What does this portend? So far Franco has kept out of the war, recovering from their civil war,
of course. Franco is a minor dictator, and a puppet of the
other two. Will he take Nazi orders? Will he copy Mussolini and land a stab in the back to a power he considers
to be losing? God knows.
Anyhow the coming slaughter is going to be awful.
Again millions of Europe’s young men will be destroyed
and for what? For the damned stupidity of political
maniacs. Civilians too will perish in multitudes. Oh my
God, the stupidity of men!
February 20, 1941 Ted has gone off to his Home Guard stint. The weather
is very cold with snow this evening, so we may get another
peaceful night. We had a raid this morning in spite of
the weather, but it is extremely cold again tonight, so
we may have an undisturbed night. I hope so. I have
been working at collating my recipes again this week,
my form of madness! When I get desperately homesick
for America, as I am now, reading and transcribing the
standard American menus and recipes gives me some
kind of assuagement. Anyhow, it’s the nearest I can get
to American terra firma! That, and Mary Baker Eddy!
God! How I long to be home in America!
February 21,1941 It is Johnnie’s birthday. He was born in nineteen-ten, so must be thirty-one today. He is the father of four
I went to the hairdressers this afternoon. Ted told
me at dinner time, that he would go straight to church
from the office, to play for benediction, at six p.m. and
would not be in until about six forty. So I decided I had
time to get my hair done. It is a problem getting to the
hairdressers. I certainly will not go out while the raids are on. No day raiding today, so off I went. There were
raids again last night however. We have had them every
night since Wednesday, in spite of the cold. On my way
back I met Mary Bernadette Jude, so brought her into
tea. She has returned to Romford, and is living alone in
their house, her mother still staying in Belfast.
February 22, 1941 — Washington’s birthday
It is very cold and frosty. Ted has just gone out to
pay the bills, go to church and the barber, etc. Inside I
am secretly laughing. An alert! There is trouble again in
Romford. So I cannot write now.
It is eleven thirty a.m. and all quiet, though no all
clear has been given. We had a very bad night again last
night. The evening was quiet, but the guns began soon
after mid night. No clearance still from this morning.
Oh this senseless war! What I sat down to note was
another folly of men. Though perhaps not a “folly” but
only a fundamental. Last night when Ted returned from
seeing Mary Jude home, he began to kiss me; so we
loved. Inside I was intensely amused. First, because I
notice that a young girl around excites Ted, not towards
them, but towards me. Next, because in the act of love,
theology completely vanishes. Men forget God when
their lust is upon them. I thought: what married woman,
or any woman that lies with a man, can possibly believe
in a man’s religion? I don’t mean the religion proposed
by the individual man but the great cancers of religious
dogmas, which men have invented, and the churches
have built up?
Women are realists, true; women can tell fairy tales,
but they don’t ever believe them. They can’t. Women
don’t “believe” anything. Women deal in facts. I don’t
wonder why the early Christians placed such an exaggerated value on continence, talked so much about purity,
because when men love women they stop worrying about
heaven. When men and women “know each other” then
they are satisfied: completely satisfied. It is churches, institutional religions, which disappear in the state of nature.
Natural religion survives of course. One could remember
one’s creator when loving a spouse, but one certainly
couldn’t remember the priest, nor his preaching’s.
When my eye fell on the Von Hugel books on the shelf
this morning, I thought: What’s the use of all those words?
Words, words, words! Men trying to convince themselves
of the validity of arguments! Actions speak louder than
words and in the act of physical loving arguments are
non-existent. The loving is, and all religion, or, rather all
other religion, is a vapor. Well, Ted’s gone off to confession. Confession is a habit he has established for himself.
I laugh. Confession. What is there to confess?
Well, the postman has just been and brought me
the delayed volume of St. Francis’s, The Love of God.
It’s funny it should come just this morning. I’m glad. I
like St. Francis and I certainly love God. St. Francis was
a realist. So was Jesus. It is the churchmen who have
made such fantasies. Jesus was preaching the love of
God. God is a spirit, he said: and God is Light: and those
who love God must love him in spirit and in truth. The
Christians seem to ignore what Jesus was trying to tell,
and instead have insisted on substituting Jesus for God
himself, and keeping right on with old pagan rites. No
wonder people don’t go to church today; the fashion of
the church service is out of date, finished. The Church is
dead. It does not know how to make contact with today’s
people. With the half-educated, yes perhaps, those who
will listen, but the educated normal person of today the
church can say nothing.
February 23, 1941 Ted has just gone out to benediction. We were talking
at lunch today about it now being twenty years since we
went to Tenafly, and talking about the old coons in the
cottage. Then Ted spoke of their religion (of course!)
and the day when they had their “meeting” down in the
cottage, and how our boys created a disturbance. Ted
added, It was really wrong of us: interfering with other
people’s religion, of course. Us Catholics! I used to feel
pretty awful, I can tell you, walking down to the train
afterwards, and thinking people were most likely talking
about us persecuting. You too, of course. Naturally everybody in Tenafly looked upon you as a Catholic.
When he said that I experienced a mental jolt. I hated
him to say it. I realized it was true, but I also realized I
had never regarded myself as Catholic, or never thought
the neighbors regarded me as such either. Of course
they must have done. Was I not visibly a member of
the Catholic Church? Of course. I can see that I never
regarded myself as Catholic, and moreover that I never
have done so. Why? Because I am not a Catholic. I have
joined the church: I have studied Catholic theology, I
have gone regularly into retreat; I have obeyed the rules,
more or less. Occasionally I have responded emotionally
to oddments of Catholic belief and practice; but I have
never responded in toto to Catholicism. In fact, funda-
mentally, I have never responded at all. I have been an
individualist all my life, and I shall die such.
February 24, 1941 I am waiting for the water to warm up for a bath.
It was a noisy night again last night. Some bombs fell
near-by about eight-thirty p.m. Then everything quieted
down again until nearly mid night. There were two bad
spells of raiding then. All clear not coming until after
three this morning. Oh this damned war!
About ten o’clock last night Artie telephoned. He said
he got his leave, and was phoning from Victoria. He said
he was going down to Hammersmith and would stay at
Grandma’s for the night, and would be in Romford in
time for dinner today. Good.
I spent most of last night re-reading, The Passionate
Pilgrim, G.M. Williams Life of Mrs. Annie Besant. I had
a Trubisky novel from the library, which I couldn’t read,
so my thoughts turned to Annie Besant. She was about
the age I am now when I first met her. She was a truly
wonderful woman. I have often wondered lately how the
Christian Scientists explain the war or explain it away;
but I expect the Theosophist’s could explain it easily.
Most likely they say it is general repetition from the
past, and a general karma, which we all have to endure.
Well, we have to endure it all right. Theosophy was
a fascination to my youth, and Annie Besant was the
greatest woman I have ever met. Well I must go and
bathe. Artie will be here at noon. So Au-Revoir.
February 26, 1941 Ash Wednesday
Ted is not back from church until eight thirty this
morning, and then nicely marked with the holy ashes.
He began his lent by eating only half of his bowl of bread and milk, and then today nothing further for breakfast.
Actually he does not have to fast at all. For one thing he
is over age, and for another, the church has abrogated
all fasting for the duration of the war for everybody. A
Catholic can now eat meat three times a day on Friday,
if he can get it! Ted, of course, is going to fast just the
He did do a wonderful thing, for him, tonight. He
went to the cinema to see Charlie Chaplin’s latest film,
The Dictator, on Ash Wednesday, too, of all days in the
year! He did. He telephoned from the office in the late afternoon, to say he would be in late for tea, because he
was going to see, Charlie, at the four thirty showing.
Well I’m blessed! Artie is spending the evening with Mary Bernadette, and I’ve a good book to read, The Butlers, by Kylie
Tennant, who wrote, Foveaux, a couple of years ago.
These are stories of modern Australia, and I enjoy them. February 27, 1941 I am alone. Ted has gone off to his home guard stint,
and Artie is at the movies. I have had Mary Bernadette
here nearly all day. She arrived soon after eleven this
morning to telephone her office that she wouldn’t be in
town. She had slept until nine-ten this morning! Artie
did not leave her until after twelve last night. Artie and
Mary went out shopping, and then Mary returned here
to lunch, and stayed on to tea, when she left for home, as
Artie had a date to meet Edna at six o’clock.
Tomorrow Mary is coming to tea and in the evening
Artie is going to take her to a dance. Artie is to go up
to her house again on Saturday! I think this is all a
campaign to defeat Edna Renacre. Nobody wants to see
Artie get officially engaged to Edna and Artie doesn’t
want to get engaged to the girl either. Edna is the deter-
mined pursuing female, and if Artie slips through her
fingers it won’t be her fault.
Edna is a nice girl, all right, but not nice enough. If
she nags Artie tonight, I’m afraid he’ll drop her with a
bump. It is her fault. She courts him assiduously, but now
he’s got bored with her devotion.
Mary, of course, doesn’t want Artie otherwise than as a
friend. Mary became officially engaged to Hugh Storr-Best
in January last. She and Artie have always been friends,
and this companionship this week of leave is nothing but
friendship. I’m glad. I don’t want Artie to get tied up with Edna. He isn’t in love with her, not in the slightest, but
she is in love with him. Girls love! She’ll get over it.
We had bad raids last night and a very heavy raid
this morning about twelve-thirty. All quiet since early
afternoon, and still quiet. There is much rain today, and
now a strong wind howling.