I have just had a visit from Mrs. Peel, Doreen’s mother. She explained why Doreen hasn’t been to see me for such a long time. It is because she has a job in the city, and now lives in town. All the same this doesvvn’t explain why Doreen has never written to me. Oh, well. The explanation is rather obvious, I think, now that Artie is married, what is the point in a girl visiting here? Nevertheless I had expected differently from Doreen Peel, but here it is, another disappointment, somebody else glittering but not gold.
When Miss Coppen visits me on Mondays she brings me her Sunday papers, The Sunday Times, and The Observer. Today there is one item worth noting. First, this from The Observer: The Journal De Genève reported yesterday (that would be January 29) that Himmler had been relieved of his position as Minister of the Interior in Germany. Possibly he has been executed, added the report, which mentioned rumors that a brutal elimination of Hitler had been planned inside Germany. — B.U.P
February 2, 1944
Last night Ted went to the house of Mr. Hedge, in Massiters Walk, to play the piano and to rehearse for a band of Civil Defense Workers who are preparing a Christ minstrel show. When he came home about eleven he was full of laughter, because he had overheard Hedge say to a newcomer whom he was admitting to the house. Come in, Mr. Thompson is here, a fine old man. It strikes him as funny that the world now sees him as an old man. Of course he is an old man. After all, he will be sixty-five this year, and what is that but old age? He is not very old, but old just the same. Several times this winter he has told me how young people have got up and given him their seat in the bus, occasionally have even taken his arm across the road, so he must strike the public as an old man. Of course his beard adds to the impression. Quite early in the war he let his beard grow, because he began to find the barbers too crowded, and his impatience couldn’t wait long for a turn, well, his beard is quite white, and so is his hair. Now his gait is bad because of his broken ankle, so why wouldn’t the world consider him old? Of course he is old and so am I.
It is two p.m. and the dishes are out of the way and I have a clear empty afternoon before me, so I ought to begin to write the letters I owe, but am disinclined to begin. Perhaps it is the general unsettlement of my mind at the present, which makes me wary of writing any statements to my friends and relations, no matter how trivial. It doesn’t matter how often and how much I go back on myself in a private record like this, in fact, this is really how I sift over in my mind and sort out its debris, but I think it would matter if I went back on myself to my correspondents and perhaps not. Those who love me, love me, I have to believe that. Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am huge. I contain multitudes.
Of course first of all above everything I believe in the individual soul, but not the sort of theoretical general masculine soul priests and parsons talk about. I believe in my individual woman’s soul, and I hold that it contains within itself its own recognition of validity and truth, and its own surety and witness to its own value and its own end. I am because I am, and know that I am. Morality, therefore, for me, consists in my soul’s recognition of right and wrong, and not in man’s words or dictates, nor in the performance of any act either of custom or utility or expedience. The justification of morality lays in my inexpugnable sense of duty towards a personal, absolute and above all, a good God. The God who made me is good so I must be good. I must choose the good. I must. If I go against it I suffer more than I can bear. That is why the war is such suffering for me, and for all women. Women know that war is the voluntary inexcusable wickedness of men, and to think about it is to go mad.
Actually I think it is not church I am bothering about, but Ted. Ah! Now I see, my problem is not a problem about right belief, which is the true church etc, but it is a problem about fidelity.
Fidelity. To be faithful and true. Whose truth and where is it? Am I to be true to myself, or true to Ted? Perhaps it is only in being true to him that I can be true to myself. Perhaps it is Artie’s lack of fidelity to me, which has shocked me so horribly, his being faithless to the relationship between us, which has cut me so deeply. “To thine self be true.” Yes, but which self? You are an awfully complicated sort of person when you happen to be a married woman, particularly an old married woman. Am I the sort of woman I once was, or the woman I have become? What sort of woman have I become? What sort am I tonight and tomorrow morning? Am I more or less myself as now, when I sit quietly writing in an empty house in a still afternoon or when I crouch in a corn shaking and vomiting with fright when an enemy raid flies over and around us? Who and what exactly am I? Who and where is my true self and what is her name? Am I still Ruby Side or have I become totally Ruby Thompson? I don’t know. Not knowing, that is the trouble. When my soul can recognize facts, the truth, then I can act and then I am at peace. The trouble is, sometimes I think I see the truth only to have it vanish. My souls pretty much at sea in a dirty fog.
February 4, 1944
I have been given an answer to my religious problem, but not through the workings of the subconscious but through the workings of Hitler. Between a quarter to five and a quarter past six this morning we endured another very bad air raid. It was frightful. Sitting in my corner, retching, shaking, praying, I looked across at Ted who was reclining on his sofa, and all at once I saw what I had to do, and that is, stay in the Catholic Church, at least “for the duration.” I thought, supposing I was to get killed in one of these raids, what a distress it would be for Ted if he couldn’t bury me as a Catholic! So, for Ted’s sake, I must stay a Catholic. I am resolved to put out of my mind all my irritations and disbelief's about Catholicism, and all my attractions to Anglicanism. I will believe what I can and all I can. I will meditate on the fundamental doctrines of Christianity and ignore, as far as I can, all those aceretionary dogmas, which float my intelligence.
No authentic news of the raid yet. A big fire was burning all morning across the tracks but I don’t know exactly where. Ted has heard bombs were dropped in Stanley Avenue, Hornchurch, and Dorset Avenue, Hornchurch because people were in the office looking for houses. There are reports of them falling in Upminster and Chelmsford and also on Fords at Dagenham, though Ted said he heard they only struck the car park, not the works. The salvage man, who came at breakfast time, said he was out fire-watching last night, and he saw three Gerry’s brought down at Upminster. There must have been hundreds over here, by the sound they made; it was ceaseless, like as in 1940-1941. This terrible world!
It is all quiet, no raids yesterday, nor last night. Miss White and Daisy came today, and told us that last Thursday a whole street behind the cinema at Upminster was demolished, and many houses at Great Nessing, near Chelmsford. I have not been to church. I guess my resolution is not so much to remain a Catholic, as not to become an Anglican.
February 7, 1944
A letter from Artie to his father, acknowledging the receipt of a parcel with battle-dress and shoe, and a letter from Eddie which Ted had forwarded. He said Eddie’s letter gave no family news. At the end of his letter he wrote: Fondest love to you and to Mother. This is the first mention he has made of me since he went away. I suspect Eddie must have said something about me in his letter to Artie, and thus pricked Artie’s conscience. However I do not feel pleased at all. Artie has been silent too long, repudiated me too thoroughly, I do not feel I want his love anymore it has proved rather a worthless love I think. I think the boy has no filial principles. Suppose Hilda did dislike me, what of it? She is at liberty to dislike me. That he should go away, behind my back, as he did, with no word of farewell, and then to treat me with silence. I am afraid he is an expediency man. Why didn’t he stand up to Hilda, and say, No, I don’t treat my Mother like that. I will take you back to Scotland, since you wish it so much, but not underhandedly. Not sneaking away. Why doesn’t he say to Hilda: Alright, dislike my mother if you must, but you can’t stop me loving her. Artie has behaved abominably towards me. He has treated me with disdain, or as though I were dead, and it makes me feel as though he had died. My fondest love to Mother. I don’t think it means anything. It’s just a phrase. I don’t believe it.
Mrs. Whitbread was here, so I went out shopping as well as to the library this morning. At Forster’s the chemists, Mr. Forster produced a roll of Selo Film, which he said he was saving for Artie. This I have made up into a small parcel, with a few Chesterfield cigarettes, and a very short note, and posted off to Glasgow. I had thought I would never write to Artie until he had first written to me, however, perhaps it is necessary for me to break the ice, so I have done so.
February 12, 1944
We had a raid last night between seven-thirty and eight-thirty p.m. Southeast England, and the London area. Reports the B.B.C. bombs dropped in several places and “some” casualties reported. I was sick with fright, as usual, and shook so uncontrollably that I am still tired from it today. I feel as though I have been beaten. Oh this blasted war! When are the lunatic men going to stop it? The weather continues bright, cold and frosty, very healthy.
February 14, 1944 St. Valentine’s Day
I am just back from town. I went to get Ted’s newspaper and to draw some money out of the post office bank. I withdrew three pounds and will withdraw another three pounds tomorrow. With what I have on hand this will give me a total of ten pounds to take to town on Wednesday. Perhaps I shall spend it all, and perhaps I shan’t. What I don’t spend if any I will redeposit on Thursday. I am determined to get myself the Wordsworth and the Shakespeare. Money in the bank is only good to be spent these days I think, we may be dead tomorrow, anyone of us. Last night we had a most awful raid, lasting from eight thirty p.m. until ten o’clock. It was awful.
This morning the B.B.C. laconically reports: We brought down four bombers last night, out of a more numerous lot than have been sent over during the last three or four raids. Idiotic! We know they were more numerous all right!
During the raid Ted kept saying. Well, I’d rather them come now, early, than after I had gone to bed. How convenient for slumber! The milk boy this morning said he saw one brought down at Havering. It fell in a field, three men in it killed, but one man escaped by parachute. Poor boys, poor German boys! They were only doing their duty, the same as our boys over Germany. I grieve for all the young men destroyed horribly in this bestial war, whether friend or foe. Poor lads, they didn’t start the war, they only have to fight it. Oh lunacy, lunacy! Bestial hellish madness! It does not bear thinking on, that way madness lies.
February 16, 1944
My mother’s birthday, had she lived she would have been eighty-one today.
I am too ill to go to town. I think perhaps I’ve got a touch of pleurisy, because of constant pain at the top of my ribs; or it maybe simply soreness from coughing. Ted is really concerned about me and says, Get the doctor. I don’t want to do that. The doctor would only send me to bed, and I don’t want to go to bed. The bedroom is cold, and there is no one here to do anything in the house. There is no help obtainable any more for anybody. I’m better off fully dressed and sitting downstairs by the fire. My breathing is very bad. This was Mother’s complaint, shortness of breath, bronchitis. I am growing like her in a lot of ways, and it seems I am even going to copy her sickness too. What I need is drinks of hot whiskey, but there isn’t any whiskey. There isn’t anything. No beef for beef tea, no chickens for chicken broth, no milk, no eggs. Oh this damned war! If you are sick you can just die.
There was shocking news at one o’clock. The B.B.C. said we were out over Berlin last night, and made the heaviest air attack ever on any objective in this war yet.
February 17, 1944
I had a letter from Eddie yesterday, written in January, in reply to my last letter to him in which I told him dad wanted me to make a will, and asked him if there was anything particular he would like left to him. He writes, It amazes me to hear you talk about legacies (either of you), I hope you and Dad enjoy yourselves and don’t leave a dime to anyone. I think I’m safe in saying that all of us over here would prefer you to enjoy whatever you have, all of it. Hell, it’s yours! If you and Dad ever have any thought of leaving any money, don’t. Spend it and enjoy it, and the easiest way is an annuity. Turn your money into an annuity for yourself.
February 19, 1944
We had a bad raid last night between one and two a.m. The B.B.C. says more raiders than usual got through to London, but no details are given yet. There was news yesterday from Russia of the annihilation of the encircled German divisions in the Dieppe Bend, and the capture of Nikopol. This was the trapped German Eighth Army. Stalin announces fifty-two thousand Germans killed and eleven thousand taken prisoner. It is said that the Germans were issued with triple doses of rum and told to try and cut themselves out, and ordered to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Russians, Hitler’s orders. Do young German’s still think it glorious to die for Hitler? I wonder! Oh God! When will men return to their senses?
In Italy we are only just holding our ground. This week we have destroyed the Monastery of Monte Cassino. Questions have been asked in Parliament about the destruction of ancient monuments, and there has been an awful lot of gabble about it, in fact, this question of the preservation of historic buildings has been turned into a burning war issue. People talk about the value of civilization of the great architectural monuments of the past, but not those who have sons and brothers, husbands and lovers, doing the fighting. We are not giving our men so that they may save the manifestations of civilization, but so that they may save civilization it self. Civilization ultimately survives in the minds of men, not in bricks and mortar, oil and canvas, print and parchment, and the survival of civilization depends on the civilization of civilized men. In war civilized men die. We cannot afford to lose our civilized men for material things. Things can be replaced. What man has made once he can make again. Europe is too cluttered anyhow with the tangible remains of the past. Let us destroy the destroyer. That is the task, and when he is destroyed we can rebuild Monte Cassino if we want to. What man has done, man can do again to satisfy the spiritual and artistic needs of his soul. Creation, destruction, creation; that has been the law of life. It may cease to be the law if the creative force itself, civilized man, perishes. I would not throw away the life of one man to save one historic building, no matter how grand or beautiful. I want to bring near the end of this hellish war, and if the German’s want to fight in the Vatican, all right, let the Vatican perish along with the Germans. Why be tender to monuments? It is our young men we must save, not old marbles.
We had a raid early this evening, not too bad.
The weather is still uncomfortably cold. Of course I made the attempt to go out. I am still quite ill, though slowly improving now I think. I spent the day writing letters. Sorting out my drawer I find I owe eighteen letters. What a task before me! Anyhow I will write them all. I wrote three long ones today, one to Gladys, one to Harold, and one to Johnnie. Johnnie and Harold’s birthdays are this week; Johnnie will be thirty-four tomorrow, and Harold thirty-six on the twenty-fifth.
We had a bad raid this evening, lasting from nine- twenty p.m. until ten-forty five p.m. The B.B.C. says we were out over Leipzig last night “in great strength.” We lost seventy-nine bombers.
February 21, 1944
There was another raid during the night, lasting
from two-thirty a.m. until three-fifteen a.m.
February 22, 1944
It is Washington’s Birthday. It is extremely cold. Some snow fell this morning, but blew away. We had a raid in the night between three and three-thirty a.m., less noisy then the previous nights.
Elizabeth Coppen came this morning and brought me an egg, straight from the hen. She made me promise not to make pancakes with it! It seems this is Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, but I hadn’t realized it. I shall boil it for my tea, and eat it with thankfulness. For Ted I will boil some leeks. This diet question is an awful business. Everyone is craving fresh food, and there isn’t any. I crave fresh fruit, fresh meat, and some real bread. The National Bread gets worse and worse, and it is horribly indigestible. However, we survive it.
We are increasing terrifically the weight of our bombing over Germany. Two thousand allied aircraft, including a very large force of heavy bombers, made a daylight attack on Sunday; following a night attack of nearly a thousand R.A.F. bombers the previous night, on Leipzig. They were out in force again yesterday; and all this morning I heard droves of planes flying over. Tonight I expect the Germans will come back at us. Will there be any world left at all? What is so appalling is how we have all come to take destruction for granted. Oh God, when will this awful war end?
Ted came back from church with his nice black mark right in the middle of his forehead. This is preposterous really. The childishness and the rank materialism of the Roman Catholic religion have to be lived with and experienced to be believed. It is a religion for morons. What has all this got to do with today, with the war? A silly game of make believe, that is what the Catholic religion is, and all it is.
We had another bad raid last night. It was just midnight when I came downstairs at one-thirty a.m. when the all clear went. It was a terrible raid. I thought one bomb was falling in our side alley, but no, it wasn’t. When I went back to bed I saw from the bathroom window a big fire blazing across the tracks, Victoria Road or Brent- wood again, I suppose. At eight a.m. the B.B.C. said we brought down six bombers during the night.
Yesterday Churchill spoke in Parliament reviewing the war. He says our attacks on Europe will increase all during spring and summer and we must expect increasing retaliation. Naturally, but the complacency with which men, men who don’t have to fight, talk about war, infuriates me. God, how I hate old men! I think “our elder statesmen” enjoy themselves over the war. Blast them! Shall we ever know a natural life again? I wonder. I am miserable. I don’t know what to do with myself. Existence is almost unbearable. Weather is abominable. The house is gloomy, I am tired from lack of sleep, and I had bad cramps last night in my left thigh, to add to my troubles. Churchill’s speech is most depressing. The war stretches forward indefinitely. Hell, hell, hell!
February 24, 1944
I just got back from another quick trip to the library and feeling better for the outing. There is heavy frost on everything and all the little puddles are iced, but the sky is clear and the sun shining; good healthy weather. I am feeling better, but not yet well. I have a cold still in my head and in my chest. Anyhow, I feel better, so that’s good. We had a small sharp raid between eighty-thirty and nine-fifteen this morning; the first day light raid for a long time. I distinctly saw two of the Gerry’s fly right over this house.
Well! Well, is it possible to respect a man, to believe in this notion? I don’t think so. An old maid might, or any sex ignorant person, but certainly emphatically not an old wife.
Ted this morning, up bright and early, and out to his mass and Holy Communion. Such goings on deflates religion in me absolutely. For me, “holy communion” is the intimate union of the man and wife in the bed; what “communion” can possibly be closer and deeper than that? Except the union of the child in the womb with it’s mother. Of course I am physically better for the nights experience, my body responds to what is naturally good for it, and I realize that I am fortunate that at our ages such experiences are still possible whenever they offer. For they cleanse my mind as well as my body of its humours, and they keep me the woman, well and in good health, as well as the man, but they certainly take me down to earth, out of the heady atmosphere of the brain and all illusions. Why did Jesus have so many women friends? I think it was because he didn’t ask sex of them.
We had another raid last night, from nine-thirty p.m. until ten p.m. It was not so heavy as before in this neighborhood, but have heard today it was the other side of London that got the worst of it, bombers brought down at Wembley and Ealing. Mrs. Whitbread was here today. She tells me a one thousand ton bomb fell in the middle of Hainault Road one night this week; nobody was killed, but there was much damage to the property. It is Harold’s thirty-sixth birthday today.
February 27, 1944
We had no raiders last night. It is two-fifteen p.m. now, and a most peculiar darkness has fallen over us. It is not fog, nor yet darkness like night, but a green- yellowy blight, obscuring everything. It began soon after one o’clock, whilst we were at dinner, and has gotten worse and worse. If I turn out the electric light the room is as black as a coal hole. Ted has just gone out “to walk around the block” for curiosity. Not a sound to be heard. It is most weird. It makes us think of that day in May when France fell, and a similar peculiar darkness fell over England. It makes me wonder: What is happening right now? Has the invasion begun? Has France broken into open revolution? Has Hitler been assassinated? One can’t help feeling that this worst peculiar, most unnatural, most frightening atmosphere and darkness are an omen from Heaven of some great world gloom and doom. What is it?
No raiders over last night.
On Saturday Ted received a letter from Artie, with an enclosure for me. This is it:
23, February 1944.
Dear Mother, It was very kind of you to purchase a film for me at Forster’s and send it on. I had it on order and they are so hard to get. The Chester- fields too were more than welcome and I was pleased to have them. I am sending you the money with this to cover the film. I hope you are feeling better and not disturbed by the raids. Love and prayers, Fred.
Ted wrote him last night, so I enclosed an equally short note. I told him it was not the raids which had made me ill, but a serious chill and that I had been very ill and was now getting better and I hoped he also was progressing. I sent my compliments to Mr. and Mrs. Kane, and also to Hilda and with love to him remained his affectionate mother.
That was all I wrote. I feel I have nothing to say to Artie any more. He has repudiated me. Things must stay that way.
February 29, 1944
I have had a letter from Joan, written Sunday. She writes:
Three times last week I tried to phone you but the queue of people waiting to use the phone was so long that I gave up as a bad job each time. We have had it very badly in Hinsmith, and all around us too, we have had oil bombs dropped here in each of the raids last week. On Wednesday night when I got back from the shelter I found this house had been blasted again, the front door was blown in and the window in this sitting room was blown complete with the frame out of the wall, and yet not a bit of glass broken. In Mother’s bedroom some of the ceiling was down and the whole house was covered with fine black and white dust. On Thursday men came and put the window back and saw to the front door, I cleared the mess up and once more I am clean and tidy.
One night the fires were so bad I was afraid to go to bed for hours after the all clear had sounded; the smoke of the fires came into the house. A number of houses on this road have lost their windows again and the same in King’s Street. I will not tell you where all the bombs fell in Hammersmith, but whole roads of houses have gone this time, and the reason why we have had it so badly is because General Montgomery has his Headquarters in St. Paul’s Boy’s School in Kensington; all around there is in a mess: as a matter of fact West London has had a packet full. I go over to the shelter as soon as the warning goes and hope for the best. I am very jittery, but thank goodness the desire to run away is no longer with me, so I suppose my nerves are standing up to the strain. Don’t you drag all this way over here to see me, especially just now when theline is up between here and Liverpool Street. It took Eric an hour to get from Paddington to Hinsmith yesterday. He took me out for a drink at lunchtime today. He is being moved to Wales next week. Except for the raids, life with me goes on very much as usual, and except for my back, which troubles me a bit, I am very well.
We had a raid this evening between nine-twenty p.m. and ten-fifteen p.m. Guns sounded further off than of late, and we did not hear anything, which seemed to be falling in this neighborhood. Oh, what a weariness!