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.
July 2, 1941 To the hairdressers again today, and had my hair
thinned out. Weather is so hot, and my hair is so heavy.
Have had my parting eliminated but can see this pompadour style does not suit me, I shall have to put the central
parting back; that is the only style of combing the hair to
suit my head and face.
Last night I slept upstairs in my bed. This is the first
time since last August. It was delicious to get between
the sheets and stretch out in a real bed. Since Germany
attacked Russia we have had quieter nights in England.
Ted has been sleeping upstairs for about a month, but I
have had to call him down on several occasions, when the
guns began. However, we have had quiet nights now for
a week, so I decided to try it upstairs myself, and did so.
It was bliss to sleep in a bed again. Ted came to my bed,
too. So, I am happy and serene again, for a while anyhow.
We were surprised this morning by the news of the
transference of Sir Archibald Wavell to India. We think
this is ominous. It looks as though our government
expects the Germans to take the Ukraine, and smash
through there and attack us in India. Perhaps. There is
continuous and fierce day and night fighting all along the
Russian German border. The accounts of losses and gains,
from both sides, are prodigious. We believe neither side,
but it does look as though the Germans are penetrating
into Russia, and Hitler, as usual, is winning. It is truly
awful. What next? Supposing Hitler does beat Russia,
then what? He will have won the world, for not even
America could then stand up against him. We should be
doomed, that’s certain. Meanwhile the carnage continues.
July 5, 1941 Feeling fine. I have been sleeping upstairs in my bed
ever since the first, and feel a different woman for it. I
have also been out every day, which has done me heaps
of good I am sure. The weather is good too, summery, but
not too hot for comfort. I have also had many visitors, who
keep me from too much introspection: so that’s good too.
Myrtle Arch has been in two days this week. She and
Geoffrey Medcraft are getting married on the twenty-sixth. To my surprise she tells me they are being married
in St. Edwards, the parish church, not St. Edwards our
Roman Catholic Church. She is Church of England, but it
appears Geoffrey was only a convert to Rome, not a born
Roman Catholic, and has now gone back to the Church
of England, into which he was born. This is a double
surprise, for I had always assumed Geoff to be a born
Catholic, and also because this is the first convert I have
ever met who publicly returned to their original faith. I
have not told Ted this, for I do not want to prejudice him
Mary Bernadette was in to tea last night, and she
is marrying a Protestant too. By the way, Mary has just
been refused a permit to go to Ireland to visit her Mother
because she is English, she says. Politics again. Is she
suspected of being a spy, or a fifth columnist? Anyhow,
she can’t go to Ireland to see her mother.
The war continues to get worse and worse. Today the
Russians have claimed to kill seven hundred thousand
Germans in White Russia alone. The Germans have
claimed to have killed five hundred thousand Russians,
and taken two hundred thousand Russian prisoners.
I don’t know who counts but presumably the losses on
both sides are enormous. The Germans continue their
advance. The Russians continue their retreat. The R.A.F.
is now bombing Germany in daylight every day. The
Italians in Abyssinia are nearly finished, but in Libya the
fighting continues and also in Syria. The Vichy French
do not quit. The Turks continue to sit on the fence. Last
night Roosevelt gave a small broadcast “for freedom”.
Our supplies diminish markedly. Myrtle Arch told
me this morning that the queues of shoppers in Romford
this morning were the worst yet, and there isn’t a potato
in town. People quarrel about food, and about the waiting.
In Wallis this morning Mrs. Thompson saw a man and
woman come almost to violence over a quarter pound of
bacon. The man refused to wait another turn. The woman
shoved him and abused him. The man swore at her. He
said, I work twelve hours a day seven days a week. I get
only three hours of sleep a night, and I’m damned if I am
going to wait about hours for my rations. You can wait,
you’ve got all day.
The woman said, I’ve got my kids waiting for me, and
who the hell do you think you are, anyhow? Just because
you’re a man! Think the world can’t get on with out you,
don’t you? Think your winning the war, don’t you? Well, let me tell you, the women are in this war just as much as
you are, and you can damn well wait for your rations the
same as the rest of us.
Food is scarce and very dear, and rationing severe.
There is a great food ramp going on. As soon as prices
are coded food disappears. Someone is making money.
There are frequent scandals and the bureaucrats are
smothering us. New ministries are instituted nearly
every week, and with every Board of Control muddle is
increased and prices are increased and supplies become
extinguished. There is far too much government control,
most of it only gumming the works. This wonderful land
of liberty is snowed under continuous official forms, and
harassed and annoyed by the ever-increasing army of
ineffective petty clerks. War! They say, but most of it is
just plain stupidity. This isn’t what I wanted to write
about. All this will be in the war books, and let it molder
there with all the other items of the greedy and stupid
and beastly record.
I sat down to note I was feeling fine, and why? I am.
I’m feeling simply splendid. Of course if Gerry comes
and bombs London again tonight I shan’t feel so good.
Meanwhile, he is giving us a rest whilst he gives the
Russians a deviling, so we’ll take our happy ease whilst
July 6, 1941 Ted is off to his Home Guarding. My emerald earrings are missing; also a turquoise,
amethyst, and pearl brooch I had. I have looked in every
possible and every impossible place and cannot find
them. I may have mislaid them, but where? I had been
wearing them frequently of late, with my green flowered
frock. But now where are they? The last I remember
them they were on this dining room mantle-piece, where I used to lay them at night when I undressed. Now I have
been sleeping upstairs since Tuesday. Mrs. Prior did not
show up this Thursday. Why not? She sent no excuse.
I hate to think it of Mrs. Prior, but she does lay under
suspicion. I have a habit of laying my watch, my rings,
my earrings, any trinket, on the mantelpiece. I think
my emerald earrings and my brooch were on the mantle
piece Thursday a week ago, the last day she was here.
They might not have been, but I think they were. Well,
where are they now?
Apart from this annoyance I hate to lose anything,
and my mind fidgets until I can account for it. I’m feeling
fine. It is the good sleeping, I think. I had deep sleep
last night, not waking until I heard Ted running his bath
water this morning. I think for both of us our nerves
are assuaged. There is something so physically right in
sleeping through the night, side by side in the same bed.
We get up to the day saner sweeter beings. It may be
animal magnetism, electrical vibrations, or God knows
what, but the fact is that sleeping together in the same
bed all night does iron out our nerves and restore our
mental equilibrium. Both of us are saner then we were
a week ago. Of course Ted gets up and goes out to early
mass every morning just the same. That’s an unbreakable habit now, and only death or paralysis will ever stop
him. I don’t care. Let him. In fact, the more of a habit it
is, mere hypnotic habit, the less important.
This is a glorious day, clean and fresh, good. I should
love to go riding. We have no car, and even if we had a car,
there’s no petrol. So I shall sit at home, just the same as
ever. I could sew today. I’m in the right mood for it; but
with Ted at home, and the possible Sunday callers it is
no good beginning sewing, so Au-revoir to that. Unluckily
I have nothing good to read or I don’t know what I do
want to read. Something American, I think, something about Tao's and Santa Fe. I wish I had D.H. Lawrence’s
letters on hand, but I haven’t. I think I’ll take down a
Mary Austin. Yes, Mary Austin. Au-Revoir.
July 12, 1941 I boasted too soon. I have been ill all week with
lumbago. Last Monday morning after my bath I was
attacked suddenly by the most excruciating pain in my
lower back. I could not move, and every slightest attempt
to move caused such agony I sweated and screamed.
I screamed so much I frightened the neighbors. Mrs.
Thomson came rushing in, and then rushed out for the
doctor. The doctor called the district nurse, who came
in and poultice me. She came until yesterday, twice a
day Tuesday and Wednesday. Dr. Keighley had to give
me drugs to alleviate the pain, and to give me sleep. I’m
all right again now, thank heaven: but what a week I’ve
had! It appears lumbago is a hot weather complaint, and
aggravated by the dryness. Many people suffer with it
in the summer time. This whole week has been very hot
and dry; exceptionally hot for England.
July 13, 1941 Mother here for the day. Rita Pullan in for tea.
There was a severe thunderstorm last night, which has
broken the back of the heat wave. At two p.m. there
was a special announcement from the government. It
was that the British and the Soviet governments have
signed an agreement to give each other all assistance
and support during the war against Hitlerism Germany,
and to conclude no armistice or treaty of peace except
by mutual agreement. This was a signal last night in
Moscow by our ambassador, Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr.
Molotov. So now we are definitely allied with Russia once
again. It is three weeks today that Germany attacked
Russia. The fighting is awful beyond words.
There is a rumor, coming via Stockholm that Hitler
and Goring have quarreled, and Goring has been sent to
a concentration camp. The story is, that Goring declined
to be responsible for his air force, and did not want to
start the fight against Russia. He said that because of
their losses in the West, and over Greece and Crete,
he would not be responsible for their fighting now. So
Hitler flew into frenzy and said he would command the
Luftwaffe himself. Then Himmler, who was present,
suggested that Goring be thrown into a concentration
camp, and the presumption is that he was, particularly
that Goring’s name has ceased to appear in the German
papers for these last three weeks. Well, maybe. Anyhow
we positively know that Rudolph Hess is here in England,
so, if it true about Goring that is two of the rogues who
can be counted out.
July 14, 1941 — Bastille Day
In unoccupied France Marshal Petain has ordered it
to be observed as a day of meditation and devotion, i.e.
mourning. In Syria the armistice has been signed, the
Vichy French have laid down their arms and the free
French are celebrating the day, as Frenchmen should.
July 15, 1941 — St. Swithin’s Day
In this little house the laundry baskets have to stand
at the head of the stairs, and on laundry days they have
to be brought down and I sort out and make up the
laundry at the foot of the stairs in this tiny hallway. The
stairs are narrow and have a turning-platform halfway,
so taking the big baskets up and down is an awkward
job. Sometimes I do it myself, and sometimes I ask Ted
to do it. I asked him to do it this morning because I am
leery of my back. So, when he finished up his coffee I
said, Will you hand me down the laundry baskets please?
I stood at the foot of the stairs, ready to receive them. He
came first with the tall full one. As he dropped it into my
grasp it wrenched my wrist so when he came again with
the big square one, I said, Just drop it.
He expostulated, I thought you said, ‘Hand me the
baskets.’ why don’t you say what you mean?
I didn’t answer him. I just took the basket, other wise
he would have stood there holding it until I did, and
stood it upended. What a wave of repugnance for this
man went through me! His literalness, of which this is
an exact specimen, how it bores me! His petty criticisms,
how weary I am of them! I want to live alone! Well now I
have to attend to the laundry, so Au-revoir.
July 17, 1941 Ted’s birthday. Born in eighteen seventy-nine he must
be sixty-two today. I went out this morning to buy a pair
of pajamas to send to Cuthie, so I bought Ted a tie.
This week we have to register anew for rations. This
morning I went over to Carlton Parade and registered
with Wenden for meat, and Mrs. Dennis for groceries,
butter, eggs, etc. Sainsbury’s will have a shock when I
do not re-register with them, but their wartime service
is very unsatisfactory. Anyhow, I prefer to patronize the
little one-man business. I am especially interested in
Mrs. Dennis. She is a war widow from the last war. She
has one son who is conscripted for this war. So that she
should not have to carry on the business alone the son
married when he was called up, and his young wife works
with the mother in the shop. They are two lone women. I
think they should be helped. A wealthy corporation like
Sainsbury’s can look after itself. Mrs. Prior should have
come today but didn’t.
July 19, 1941 Waiting for deliveries. I had a minor shock last night,
which sent me to bed full of bad feeling, but happily I am
recovered this morning. When Ted came in last night he
brought his commanding officer, a Mr. Cardon, in with
him. The night had turned stormy, and Cardon had driven
Ted home in his car. We had whiskey and cigarettes, and
much talk of the last war, in which Cardon was flying
as one of the first observers, over Egypt, Palestine, and
elsewhere in the near East.
Cardon of course was asking about Cuthie. He told us
of another Romford boy, named Tisford, who is a prisoner
in Germany, but who, with two other English prisoners,
is domiciled with a German farmer. This boy writes
home that the German farmer is very good to them, that
they like the life, and they like the whole family. It isn’t
the people who want war, said Cardon. Exactly. Governments make wars. If the politicians in power could be
taken out and shot there would be no more wars.
Enquiring of Ted how far East he had been, Ted
brought out his map and showed the line of his travels
in Italy in nineteen thirty-nine. Then he produced his
passport from his pocket to show its stampings! With
the passport there fell on the table a foreign letter,
addressed to the office, in the handwriting, I think, of
his American German lady friend, which he immediately
covered, and then apparently unobtrusively (but I saw)
picked up and slipped into his pocket. I pretended not
to notice, but I was filled with a feeling of sick disgust.
My hero! My saint! Men were deceivers ever, all right.
Jealousy, I suppose; but more emphatically than jealousy,
distaste and disdain for the hypocrite, the slyness, and
the secrecy. This is the Catholic. I say that the Catholic
mind tends naturally to secrecy, prevarication, deception, and downright lying. It is The Jesuitical mind, to which Ted has a natural affinity. Why doesn’t Ted tell
me of his correspondent? Why does he conjure his letter
out of sight? Why doesn’t he tell me who knits gloves for
him? Or enquire for them when they are missing?
Well, a guilty conscience needs no accuser. This
damnable secrecy: this holding me off outside of all
confidence: this deliberate planned deception. Yes, it is
all hateful to me, hateful beyond all words, and I hate
the secretive and the deceptive one. This is the Catholic
Christian: the man who goes regularly to confession, and
to mass every day. He is a Pharisee, always ready with
censure for the other fellow and he is a hypocrite and a
liar. Not the simple liar, who merely utters a direct falsehood; he is the accomplished liar who deceives deliberately by indirection and by systematic silence.
There is no real friendliness in Ted for me. I have felt
this lack of friendliness for years; occasional lust, yes; but
honest true affection, no. He lives his own life, regardless. He does what he wants, always. He is essentially
as selfish and as ruthless as his brother Herbert, but he
is glossed and camouflaged with his fancy religion, his
damnable Catholicism, which is the most selfish and the
most materialistic religion in the world. Oh well! Here’s
the grocer, so Au-revoir.
July 20, 1941 It is a lovely morning. Ted off to his Home-Guarding
and I have a dinner to cook. When Captain Cardon
was here the other evening he told us of a new detachment of our boys now training in Scotland and known
as the Spear-Head Boys. We are systematically training
our troops for invasion of the continent. Constantly our
boys are practiced in the loading and unloading of ferry-barges, and shock tactics. The Spearhead Boys are the
soldiers who will go forward in the very front, and they are trained to throw themselves on to the barbed wire,
and to lay on it and hold it down whilst the following
fellows clamber right over them, actually running over
their backs. My God! How many broken backs shall we
have? All for what? My God! My God! This crazy war!
Here’s a funny tale to note. It is about Herbert. One
day last week Ted saw Bert at the gate of the Masonic
Hall, “one foot only over the line,” making inquiries
about some R.A.F. boys who have been billeted on him.
It appeared they arrived without their ration cards
(of course) and moreover, Bert wanted to go away for
a weekend, so what was he to do with the boys? We
laughed about this, because Bert hates having anyone
billeted on him, and has successfully dodged all billetees up until now, and we thought, Jolly good for Bert!
Let him do something for his country! I got a report on
the situation via the R.A.F. boy next door, which makes
it even funnier. It seems the boys sent to Arden Cottage
very much dislike being there, and are actually embarrassed by “the family.”
They don’t mind the old boy so much, reports Eric, but
they can’t stand his woman. They think she’s crazy. For
instance, in the middle of dinner, apropos of nothing at all,
she will get up and go to the organ and sing hymns.
Hymns mark you. Very likely she is drunk, but she
is such a steady old sock the youngsters probably can’t
detect her drunkenness. But hymns! All this is further
evidence of how cracked old Bert is, to tie himself up with
this kind of female. She is a tippling whore, religious in
her cups; of course, she came from the slums originally,
and is a completely ignorant tough. I suppose that is
why Bert is her meat, birds of a feather. Bert has simply
reverted to the society he came from, the common and
the low. What a fool! Here is a man who had achieved
much, but cannot stay with his achievements. His brain has softened and his character gone mushy, the whole
man has deteriorated. Why? There is a crack in his brain
somewhere. What is wrong with the Thompson brain? I
suppose a trained neurologist could name the exact flaw
at once but I can’t.
July 21, 1941
I have been reading Virginia Woolf’s last book,
Between the acts. I’ve liked it, and not liked it. I like
its evocation of a summer day and a company of country
people. I like its sense of life and continuity but I dislike
its emotion, which is a continuous sense of desolation.
Implicit in the whole book, it seems to me, is the confession of Virginia Woolf, herself. I think her character Isa,
is herself. I think she is exposed in this last book her
own obsessions: obsessions with words, with moods,
with regrets, with her relationships with brother and
with husband, and her thoughts of suicide.
Virginia Woolf committed suicide this early spring, by
drowning herself in a country stream. She was supposed
never to have recovered from the death of her brother
Hugo. I think all this, her grief and her intention, is
apparent in this last book. I also appreciate her awareness and her statement of the latent hatred that lie below
sexual love, the duel of the sexes, and the everlasting
tragedy of marriage.
Now I shall take the book down to Boots and change
it. I don’t want Ted to dip into it. Why? Because its too
true; and because, like the Isa of the story, I’m afraid of
the man who is my husband. The last thing I want him
to find out is my real thought, my real feeling. This is a
terrible book, really.
All the while I have been writing and guns have been
going off. I think a German plane or two is overhead
near by, it is a very cloudy morning, with poor visibility, just the kind of sky the raiders like. No alert has been
sounded, so I shall go out anyhow. By the way, I ordered
two more books yesterday. One is the new Oxford University Press’s, The Bible For Today. I have been on the
look-out for this for some time it was reviewed in the
Times Literary Supplement on Saturday, just out. The
other is Marjorie Greenbie’s, American Saga. I’m a
most desperately home sick for America. America, my
July 23, 1941 Gladys has been to see me today. Her account of the
blitzes in Plymouth is awful. She says there is practically no Plymouth left at all. It has literally been razed
to the ground. On the last blitz there were nine hundred
identified as dead, counting civilians only (the naval and
military casualties were not counted in with the civilians) the unidentified were uncountable; two shelters,
each holding about two hundred people were simply
limed and sealed up and the wounded number about
three thousand. This is war.
July 24,1941 Ted Home-Guarding. This has been one of my unaccountable bad days.
Why? I was in such a misery all morning I even felt
physically bad. I had that feeling of fright and guilt,
which is dreadful. Again the charwoman did not show
up, so I set to work and did a little house cleaning, but
not very much, because I felt I could not cope with the
house. I am dreadfully tired of house keeping anyhow. I
don’t want to dust another room, nor cook another meal,
ever. I don’t want a house. I don’t want belongings. I just
want to wander away; wander and wander. Of course
that’s impossible. I’ve just to keep on being Mrs. Edward Thompson, a working wife and housekeeper. Oh damnation. I can’t settle to anything. I can’t sew, I can’t read, I
can’t write. I can’t play. I can’t even think. Everything is
weariness, and I cannot hold my attention to anything.
Possibly what I really need is a good meal. I think my
system is in steady need of a steady diet of fresh meat.
One shillings worth of meat per week does not feed me.
This war diet is a very poor one. We are filled, but we are
not fed. Half a pound of good steak a day for the next
month would be the very best tonic I could have.
There is no meat. Yesterday I was able to get a stewing
foul, and it was one of the toughest old cocks I have ever
had. We had to eat it, because there was nothing else to
eat. Today Ted wouldn’t even try to eat the remnants. I
chewed my way through them, but Ted only ate vegetables with toast and some of the broth. Chicken broth!
What sort of dinner is that for two healthy adults, and
not even any rice or barley in it!
July 28, 1941 Waiting for Elizabeth Coppen. I’m awfully fond of
her, but I do wish she wouldn’t visit me every Monday.
It is my fault, of course. There isn’t anybody I want to
see regularly once a week the whole year round. Once a
week is too often and when it is always the same day too!
I find such visits a tax, a tie, and a burden. It is just the
same, even when I like the visitor. I am being anti-social, as usual. I like surprise visits. I really dislike these
regular day of the week-programmed visits. To be fitted
into somebody’s schedule! Gosh I do hate that. This is
trivial. So I am trivial. I’m dead tired. Last night Gerry
renewed his air attacks on this London area. We were
wakened by the alert at a quarter to two. Of course we
Now waiting another visitor: Miss Owlett, who asked over the garden fence could she come in tonight. Ted just
left for Home Guards. Our last nights raid was a fairly
bad one. One whistling bomb which we heard descending
caused Ted to roll off his sofa and get under the table!
Victoria Road was hit again; this time five bombs and
Also Catharine Road, Hamilton Road, Heath-Park Road,
our immediate vicinity. Many houses demolished, casualties not yet know. The Heath Park School has a D.A. so
school officially “broke up” toady, instead of waiting
until next Thursday. The London damage has not yet
been told us: but large fires were started there, and we
could see them still burning this morning. Oil bombs.
Our fighters went up and everything seemed be going
on immediately overhead. Three Gerry’s were brought
down in this neighborhood. I was very frightened, and
trembled. The all clear was given at four-fifteen a.m. All
day planes have been up much more than usual; some are
roaring over right now. I am afraid we shall have another
bad night. Five weeks now since the attack on Russia,
and Russia is still holding. Nine million men are arrayed
against each other on the Russo-German frontiers. The
carnage is frightful. Oh, God save the world!