World War ll London Blitz: 3-4-43 to 3-31-43 Well, today, March Fourth, I live. I still live. Last night we had two bad raids. The first came at eight-thirty and went on until ten p.m. The second came at four thirty this morning, and lasted until a quarter to six. Our gunfire was terrific.
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March 4, 1943
Well, today, March Fourth, I live. I still live. Last night we had two bad raids. The first came at eight-thirty and went on until ten p.m. The second came at four thirty this morning, and lasted until a quarter to six. Our gunfire was terrific. I have not heard yet what damage was done. Nothing in this immediate vicinity, though when Ted returned from the Home Guard he said one of their officers had come in, in an extremely nervous state, and said bombs had fallen in Collier Row. However, when the radioman came this morning, about a half and hour ago, he said, no, not Collier Row last night, but nearer to Fairlop and Warley, the airdromes, well, we’ll know later. Whilst the racket is going on I get very sick, and retch constantly. I can’t help it, and I can’t stop it. This morning I feel sore in the ribs, as though somebody had kicked me. If a bombardment went on for twelve or eighteen hours, I think I should expire, not from a direct hit, but from my one bodily mechanism, which will not behave properly, and which I can’t control, no matter how emphatically my will commands it. Sheer animal fear, over which the soul has no control, yes, sure it can kill you. This blasted war! When, oh when, will it finish? If there is anything in this world stupider than war I have never heard of it. Men deliberately destroying mankind, men deliberately destroying the entire world, could there possibly be anything more insane? Well, I pray like mad. God be merciful to me, a sinner. Deliver us from evil. Oh deliver us from evil.
This afternoon I went to tea, on invitation, with Mrs. Owlett. Before going out I wrote a letter to Artie, and posted it at the corner. When I got back to the house after leaving the Owlett’s, I found this letter from Artie:
Dear Mother and Dad,
I am glad you sent me news of Maureen’s wedding so that I was able to send a greetings telegram on Saturday morning. Do you remember the brown leather case you let me use? Well I have finally disposed of it. Hilda paid me a visit so I let her take it back with her to keep for me at her house, with my good greatcoat. I have asked Hilda always to keep in touch with you, and should she at any time be posted near Romford will you please give her all the love and care you give me. I know she is happy with you and admires and loves you both. She means everything to me.
Just now it is like the beginning of summer. Dry and warm, perfectly glorious. I shall try and write you again later this week, “meanwhile all my love for the two of you now and always. Fred (also called Artie)
This overwhelms me with sadness. Indirectly this is a notification of his embarkation, for somewhere or other; for he said that when he sent his greatcoat home, then we would know he was off. He had hoped to be sent to Africa, but Ted thinks it is more likely that he will be with the men to be used for the Invasion of Europe. It’s awful. Of course we always knew that as a soldier he must fight someday, but when the reality comes, it stuns.
March 5, 1943
I wrote Artie today, also Hilda, and Hilda’s mother, Mrs. Kane. I am weepy. I can’t help it. There is news today of a terrible accident on Wednesday night, mostly women and children, and sixty injured when the crowd entering the shelter after the alert, tripped up and fell on top of one another, blocking a stairway. They were suffocated to death. Authorities say there was no panic, and the nearest bomb to fall was two mile away. There must have been panic. There were nearly two thousand people already in the shelter, and many more coming in. A woman with a baby and a bundle tripped near the foot of a flight of nineteen steps, which leads down from the street. This flight of steps terminates on a landing. The woman fell down the last two or three steps and lay on the landing. Her fall tripped an elderly man behind her and he fell similarly. Their bodies again tripped up those behind them, and within a few seconds a large number of people were lying on the lower steps and the landing, completely blocking the stairway. Within a minute there were hundreds of people crushed together. What a terrible accident!
This was announced over the radio, but I heard of another awful disaster this afternoon, which has not been broadcast, nor put in the papers. Mrs. James came in as I was finishing my letters, and she told me of it. She got the news from the wives of two railway men who live in the neighborhood and are customers of Mrs. Dumaresque’s. On Wednesday the bombs hit the railway, at Sheffield, when the Harwich Express came through it went straight down into the crater. The engine catapulted three times and the four first coaches were completely smashed. Nobody got out alive. The train was full of sailors, returning to their ships at Harwich.
We boast about what we do to the German railroads, but we don’t utter a word about what the Germans do to ours. No, we are not told half the news, nor yet a quarter of it. We are lied to, half-lied to, and kept ignorant of events. Propaganda? The Germans are not the only liars.
March 10, 1943 — Ash Wednesday
Ted is with the Home Guards. All is quiet for the present. On the six o’clock news we heard that all boys and girls of sixteen and seventeen must register next Saturday. What next? Are the children now to fight? Blast the war!
I am more than ever determined to get whatever I wanted, whilst I can get it. Today alone I live. As with the books I ordered that came today, they are not necessities, oh, no. I am not going to content myself with necessities, not ever, not ever again. Why save for a future, which may never dawn? This week is a “Wings for Victory Week,” and the city of London has set itself the job of collecting one hundred and fifty million pounds for the war effort. Hundreds of millions has already been reached. This leaves me cold. The men wanted this war, let them pay for it, that’s what I think. I’ll never save. I’ll soon be fifty-nine if Hitler lets me reach my birthday. Even if the war stops, how many years are left to me anyhow? We considered Mother a very old lady yet she was only twenty-one years older than me. I intend to get all the pleasure I can out of whatever time remains to me. I intend to spend my own money while I know it is expendable. God knows what life will be like when the war is over. Well, I am not going to voluntarily put myself into any sort of straight jacket. Save? Economize? Give to charity? Not me. No, I’ve no sympathy, no charity, and no patriotism. I realize there isn’t a darn thing I can do about the outside world, so I quit trying. To keep myself secure, serene, inviolate, that’s my object. To keep still, and let the damned war wash over me, and so to keep sane, that’s what I must do. Today, tomorrow, if there is a tomorrow. Every day.
March 12, 1943
Whilst I was in the bathroom washing, just before seven -thirty this morning, I was considerably startled by what sounded like the wheels of a plane directly on the roof, and a second later a huge machine flew in view, right over the gardens, away towards the town. Then there was firing, and a minute later, the alert. From the back window I saw smoke, a row of it, running down along the railway.
Six enemy planes were over this district; flying so low they cut the tops off the trees, machine gunning and bombing. They set fire to the gasometer, hit the brewery, and took the roof off the water-works; they machine gunned people in Old Church Road, in the buses, and the trains on the line. Our butcher’s boy, crossing the railway bridge from Victoria Road, was hit in the leg. It is not known yet how many people have been killed on the streets. Leaving here they flew on to Ilford and Barkingside. At Ilford they hit the co-op stores, completely destroying them, and two buses standing near. Both drivers were killed, and several passengers inside, also passengers waiting in the ques. At Barking they dropped their biggest bombs, bringing down several streets. All of this out of the blue, before breakfast this morning. War, damnable war! Death may come without warning, and not to the soldier, but to the civilians going to work, and to the women and children in the houses. It is simply devilish. Yes, today alone we live, and for many of us, not even today. Oh, when will all madness end?
March 16, 1943
Doreen Peel was here from about two-thirty until nearly nine this evening. I am absolutely exhausted. These girls bring me all their troubles and talk by the hour about their love affairs. I try to help them with practical advice, but I really don’t suppose it s the slightest bit of good. I had Dorrie Stanford here last Saturday, talking, talking. I do get weary of it. When Doreen left just now she said, “I wish you were my mother, then maybe I wouldn’t fall down so often.” There it is, the same old remark, “I wish you were my mother.” Horrid really. In the end nearly every young girl I come in contact with says that to me. It turns me kind of sick. For I don’t want to be their mothers; and I feel it a slight to their own mothers, the women of my generation.
March 17, 1943 — St. Patrick’s Day
The death of Cardinal Hinsley was announced this morning. It was a terribly foggy morning. I went to town, and had to wait fifty-five minutes on Romford Station for a train. Whilst waiting I was joined by Jean Lee, and then later by Doreen Peel, who was in her W. R.A’s uniform. So of course we all rode up to Liverpool Street together.
I got a jolt of enlightenment about Doreen. Yesterday she had been weepy in my house, telling all about her love affair with a Belgian officer, Sylvain Zuka, and how she didn’t know what he meant, and why didn’t he propose? She couldn’t stand it much longer, she’d have a break down and so forth. In the train today she was a different girl, all girly-girly and talking about “the services” all to show off, and impress Jean, who is a mere married woman, not in uniform, and the rest of the people in the compartment. She wasn’t a bit unhappy, and I just thought “You little exhibitionist!” I also thought, I’m damned if I ever listen to any more of that fool girls confidential troubles! Why do they talk to me? It’s simply because I listen, whereas their aunts and mothers won’t. Silly female egotists, “floating their own glory” as my mother would have said. No, I’m going to act stony hearted in the future. They only want to talk, and to talk about themselves. Well, I’m going to be short in the future in my listening.
Anyhow today when I looked at Doreen “in public”, as it were, and saw her placed against a back frown of strangers, I saw how truly insignificant she is. Of course, I thought, her Belgian will never marry her. She is earmarked as a born old maid. I guess he is only passing time with her when he has nothing better to do. She is not the sort of girl virile men marry; and probably she has magnified in her imagination all his contacts with her. Silly little Doreen!
March 31, 1943
The war gets worse and worse but seems now to be mounting to a zenith. At this last full moon we expected to be told any hour that we had begun the invasion of Europe. No, the moon is waning, and except the increasing aerial bombing by the R.A.F. nothing has been done. The Germans are still in Russia, still in North Africa. Artie has vanished. He is probably at least off on invasion tactics somewhere. God knows. No more word of Cuthie since the Third of January. No news from America. My sons, where are they?
I am terribly restless. Some days I feel I cannot endure the war, this life, any longer. Here I am, still here, still miserable.