World War ll London Blitz: 4-2-43 to 4-30-43 Today all nurses, male and female, and all midwives born on and after March 31, 1883 had to register. 1883! That is before I was born. That’s the war, now taking old men and women of sixty, as well as the boys and girls of sixteen. Damn the war!
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April 2, 1943
A letter from Gladys arrived, after a very long silence she sent me some tea (three quarters of a pound), which comes like a lifesaver. I was down to my last two ounces. Also a letter from Cuthie, dated February 8. He says he has been very depressed the last six months or so, but is now back to normal spirits. Poor old Cuthie! Soon he will have been a prisoner three years.
April 3, 1943
I received a letter from Artie, the first since March 20, written from somewhere in British North Africa. No, not British North Africa, we think probably he is in Algiers, but from British forces in North Africa. I find this gives me a certain sense of relief. I was afraid he would be in the first company of men to invade across the channel, and somehow I think he will be safer fighting Rommel in Tunisia than storming the beaches of Northern France or the Lowlands of Belgium or Holland. He writes that he is permitted to tell us he is in North Africa. He says he feels well, the swimming is warm, all the boys are in good spirits, and glutting themselves with oranges after three years fast from them.
April 10, 1943
Today all nurses, male and female, and all midwives born on and after March 31, 1883 had to register. 1883! That is before I was born. That’s the war, now taking old men and women of sixty, as well as the boys and girls of sixteen. Damn the war!
April 15, 1943
I spent all my free time today writing to Eddie, with the result I am devastated with homesickness. It is now ten years since I was in America, eight years since I have seen Eddie and Harold. It is three years since I have seen Cuth and now Artie has gone to North Africa, and I wonder shall I ever see him again. I’m a Rachel. My sons, my sons! There was a bad raid here last night, it started soon after midnight, and lasted until two a.m.
April 17, 1943
I went to town yesterday. An alert sounded just as I reached Angel Road, but no gunfire followed, and the all clear was soon given. I have a queer let down feeling about Joan. I had an idea at the back of my head that she might have given me a pair of Mother’s earrings yesterday, or one of Mother’s keepers, as a birthday present. But no, she didn’t. In fact, she didn’t give me anything. Naturally I didn’t mention Mother’s jewelry. I have asked for some of it before, and I have offered to buy it, or so much of it as Joan would sell, but Joan won’t part with it, neither in gift nor sale. I wouldn’t mind if Joan was going to use it herself, but she isn’t, not any of it. So I feel she is mean. I know she is mean about other things.
Joan knew I was coming yesterday but all she provided for lunch was some cold beetroot, bread and butter and water to drink! It’s true she made a pot of tea before I left, and offered me a biscuit. To cap the matter, when I left she told me she had got to cook herself some cabbage for her supper, and she would make herself some scrambled eggs. Why couldn’t she have cooked the cabbage and eggs for lunch, and offered me a real meal? After all, Joan has received much hospitality in my house, and is welcome. Joan, it appears is one of life’s takers, not a giver. For instance, another thing, I took her in a packet of dried eggs, my weeks corn beef ration, a tin of powdered milk, and a half-pound of cocoa. Joan accepted it quite matter of factly, which was quite all right, I took it in voluntarily and offered it willingly. Joan produced for me a pound of jam and a pound of sugar off her ration, which she didn’t want! I had to pay for it! She duly pocketed the money. Strange sister, isn’t she? I shall never take her any more gifts of supplies. If she wants to sell me her surpluses, all right, I’ll buy them if it suits me but I am damned if I can see why I should give and she should sell. No, there’s nothing friendly, nothing sisterly in that.
April 18, 1941
This is my birthday today, but I do not know why I found myself recollecting Elizabeth Cady Stanton so compellingly. Perhaps it is because she too lived in Tenafly for years, and Tenafly is calling me so strongly nowadays. I‘ve got a terrible rebuffed feeling, hard to bear. It’s my own stupidity, of course, nothing deliberate has happened. I’m disappointed, but it is my own fault. With no real foundation for the expectations, yet I did expect Joan to make me a gift for my birthday. I thought she’d give me one of Mother’s trinkets and today I thought Ted might have given me something, perhaps a box of cigarettes. But no, neither of them has given me anything. Why should they? After all, an old woman having a birthday is nothing. Nevertheless I feel flattened.
Ted is out with the Home Guards, and I obviously, am not at church. Sitting through the mass I feel a complete hypocrite, I feel I can never do it again. I feel I must be true, true to myself, true in myself. This is a feeling that is becoming more and more insistent as the war goes on, and especially since Mother died. Mother was an absolutely true person. She never faked anything. She would not be diplomatic. She wouldn’t be tactful. She wouldn’t even hold her tongue. What she thought she uttered, if she felt like doing so. If you didn’t like what she said you could lump it. She never conciliated, and she certainly never accommodated her ideas to suit other people. She liked to please, of course, and to receive approbation but she couldn’t be other than herself to please you. Mother was an absolutely sincere person, a woman of integrity.
I feel I must be like that. I can’t any longer pretend to be what I am not, to believe what I don’t believe, to feel what I don’t feel. Conformity for the sake of peace, the appearances of conformity for the sake of love, these are prices I can no longer pay. I cannot. Nor reciprocity, I no longer value that. Reciprocity has always an unfair balance; one side always gives more, or loses more, than the other. No, I no longer care a damn for reciprocity. What I’ll give, I’ll give but no demands and none on me either. All I care for is truth, and truth in the inner being above all. I cannot go against myself any more.
I am thinking of Eddie who is thirty-seven today. My first-born. Thinking of all my children, all in the world and I cannot see any of them. Oh God, how to endure this exile. We had an alert at two o’clock. It was probably only a solitary raider, as no guns were heard. I have a hunch we shall get a bad raid tonight. The moon is nearly full and I expect Gerry will come in force. Suppose we were blitzed. We could be. The bombs drop anywhere.
April 19, 1943
As I anticipated we had raids last night. The first one came at ten-thirty, before I had gone up to bed, the second at one a.m. this morning. We also had one at two o’clock yesterday afternoon. Last week’s raids hit Chelmsford severely, and also Ongar. Today I am very tired, through lack of sleep.
April 20, 1943
I got a letter from Sket today, date of March 5, also one from Artie, which must have been the first he wrote after leaving England, not dated, and also an aerograph letter for me for my birthday. This is written April 4, he says he is well and happy. Good. Cuthie’s letter is more downcast. Poor boy, it is almost three years now he has been a prisoner.
April 21, 1943
At eight fifty-five this morning the telegraph boy brought this message to the house:
Important, Hand Delivery. Mrs. A.F. Thompson 78 Western Road. Romford, Essex.
Regret to inform you of report dated 16 April 1943 received from North Africa that Lieut. A.F. Thompson, Reconnaissance Corps has been wounded inaction. Letter follows shortly.
Under Secretary of State for War.
Although addressed to Hilda I opened it and read it, and then gave it back to the boy for re-transmission to Glasgow. First, of course, I made a copy of it for us, and then I telephoned it through to Ted. Now this afternoon I must write to Hilda. My idea is that Artie gave this address as Hilda’s purposely, and for our satisfaction. The wound must be serious, or there would be no notification. I pray it is not his eyes. My instant private hope is, that it is bad enough to keep him out of the war. I’m no patriot. I say damn and damn the war. Poor Artie! Yesterday’s letter was so bright and happy.
I received American mail this morning, a birthday card from Eddie and Chic, and a letter from Marjorie. Marjorie writes that she and Charlie have signed contracts to buy a house in Westwood, New Jersey. It has eight rooms, and four acres of ground and a barn. That’s fine. That’s the kind of home I’d like.
Every time I think of Artie I begin to cry. What am I to say to Hilda, poor child?
April 22, 1943
It is true; troubles never come singly. This morning we received the following letter form Harold: 39-15 212 St. Bayside, L.I. March 16, 1943
Dear Ma and Dear Dad,
I haven’t written for a long long time. I’ve been heartsick and generally upset since last June, the culmination occurred today when I had Kay committed to a State Hospital from the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital.
Now that it’s done I am greatly relived. I’m sure its for the best and that those people can straighten her out whereas I’ve gone broke in vain with twenty doctors and a private hospital and St. Vincent’s Retreat and household help while she’s been away before.
The immediate problem now is maintaining my four children under one roof with me. Sheila and Dick present no difficulty, they are both in school and able to take care of things unaided, however, Robby and Susan require someone in the house to attend to them if I am to go on business.
I’ve been through the mill in the last two days trying to secure a housekeeper, been told by all agencies employment and social service, that the job is next to impossible. I am running an advertisement in the Tribune for the next three days asking for a woman even with two children to come and take care of my kiddies as my paid guest. If I can’t land one I must face the alternative of giving my Sue and Robby to the Catholic Orphan Asylum to be placed in a suitable home for a while.
Lord North’s wife is a person of consequence in Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital and today I looked her up and introduced her to Kay in the ward, hoping she could put Kay at ease regarding Central Islip where she is to go.
Kay is taking it hard though and I do hope she will change her attitude and cooperate. The view of the three doctors who have seen her at Bellevue is not pessimistic; they say that with proper treatment she will recover in an indeterminate period of time, a matter of months in any case. Meanwhile I suppose everyone has troubles of his own, mine cant be unique. What are yours?
I’m keeping Lent again, no alcohol, no nicotine! I miss the smokes for the first few days and then it doesn’t matter. Where and how is Artie? Love, Harold.
This is pretty awful news. We don’t know whether this means Kay is crazy or a drunk. Probably crazy since Harold writes, “he had her committed” to the State Hospital. Poor boy and poor children!
What are the rest of the boys doing that they can’t come to the rescue? True, both Doris and Chic are expecting to be confined this month, but there is still Ruth and Marjorie to fall back on. Marjorie is supposed to be slightly T.B. however she writes me of buying a much larger house, with much ground. Ruth? It is true she has five children of her own already, but when I was young I took care of seven children all at once. Surely these young women could take an extra child a piece for a little while.
If it weren’t wartime I would have the children brought over to me. I could take care of them. How to get them here now? This is where I get my sick old feeling against Ted again. He had no business ever to have brought me back to England. We should be in America, where our family is, we should still have a home there to which our children could have instant and constant recourse in trouble. Here we are in this damned England, and can do nothing at all for our children. It’s cruel. If ever a man lived his life for himself, that man is Ted Thompson. It’s no use repining. My children, oh my poor suffering children!
April 23, 1943 — Good Friday
My feeling of aversion for Ted is so acute it is nearly strangling me. I received a letter from Mrs. Kane this morning. She writes, on the twenty-first:
We are very sad to hear about Fred, Hilda received a telegram from the War Office, but Hilda thinks you will know also about Fred, as we both think you have re-directed to 49 Killeen St, seeing it had a Romford stamp on the telegram. Hilda has been weeping bitterly all day, until just now, and is going down to see our priest to offer up Mass for Fred. I’ve been trying to console her; she says: 'Maybe it is all in God’s hands. Maybe he will not have to fight anymore.' Her only wish is to be beside him, and comfort him. I know it will break her heart if he is not able to come back, she says, “I want him to come back no matter how disabled he is.' I have felt very sorry for her today; I share with her and you, dear Mrs. Thompson, in the sad news, and trust in God he is not seriously wounded. God bless you and Mr. Thompson. I will close with the best of love and wishes from yours very sincerely, H. Kane.
I laid this letter on Ted’s plate. When he came in to breakfast he read it. Then he began talking about heartbreaks, and how nobody ever died of a broken heart. "No doubt Hilda would think her heart was broken, but it wouldn’t be, she’d recover. Look at Joan who had already gotten over the loss of George. It was all talk, sentimental Victorianism, didn’t mean a thing. Anyhow, any suffering Hilda had, or Artie either, was their own darned fault."
I nearly stopped breathing. Such a callous remark is literally stunning. Ted forgets what it is to be in love. In fact, I think Ted has forgotten what love is altogether. As Eddie says of him, he is inhuman. I think Ted is incapable of love, of natural human love. His only love is his church and his religion. His damned religion. In moments like these I feel I can’t bear him, I simply can’t bear him. He has gone out now to church again I suppose. I am left with a feeling that I wish he’d never come home again. It’s awful.
April 24, 1943
We had a raid last night, lasting from ten-thirty to eleven forty-five p.m. No damage in this neighborhood. I have been writing letters these past two days. I have written long letters to Eddie, Charlie, and Harold and Marjorie.
April 27, 1943
This afternoon I received a letter from Hilda with an aerograph letter from Artie enclosed. It reads:
April 15, Darling Hilda, at the present moment I am in the hospital and shall be for a long time. I am o.k. I’ve got to lie still and let two broken bones set. There is no need to worry in the least, I am perfectly whole. My driver was killed beside me but I escaped with a broken leg and small wounds. It was a German land mine. Maybe I’ll be sent back to England this year. Please don’t worry darling, you can see this is my writing. I am recovering quickly. Please tell my people if you get this first, it would be best to send them this letter. My constant love for you dear. Fred.”
What a relief! If he wrote this on the fifteenth he was probably wounded on the fourteenth, perhaps before. Here in Romford this morning we received a picture postcard of Algiers, which he had written on the Eleventh of April. So maybe he only knew three days of battle, maybe less. Thank God he is safe in the hospital and will be safe there for some time to come. The fighting there in Tunisia gets worse and worse day-by-day and the worst must yet be to come. Oh, this awful war.
April 30, 1943
I awoke this morning with simmering excitement. I want to write my own story, and again the problem is how. Brooding about these ideas I came to the conclusion that I must tell the whole story of the whole family, but whether to attempt it straight forwardly as biographic fact, or indirectly as fiction, I did not know, I’ve thought much about both methods, but without ever reaching a decision, or making a start in either fashion I have felt an imperative need to begin somehow. I am realizing my own age and waning powers, and that if I don’t begin soon it will be too late, and I shall be unable ever to begin. I want to tell this story before it is completely forgotten, for my children. After all, I am one of the Victorians. The Victorians are fast expiring; soon nobody will ever be able to know a Victorian in the flesh any more; and as for my children, how very little they know me. They could have known me, but a ridiculous and unnecessary destiny removed me from my children whilst our lives had still very many years to run, and it is because of this, my tragedy, that I feel it so urgent to put myself on record in words for my children so that at least at some time in the future they can find out what sort of woman I was, that is, if they ever feel the urge to do so. Most of us are ultimately forgotten, that I know, but to be forgotten without ever having been reasonably known, no, I don’t want that. I know I am a nobody. Nevertheless I’m a woman who has born seven sons, and I can’t bear it that they don’t know me. I feel I must put myself on record, no matter how infinitesimal a nonentity, so that they can at least see my shape if ever they wish to look for it. Also, so far as I can, I want to record my times particularly my years before 1900.