- AFTER THE WAR
- Bringing back My Grandfather: John H. Thompson; Son Of Ruby Alice Side Thompson
- For Genealogy Lovers: THE THOMPSON FAMILY (A Search into History) Compiled by Edward Thompson (1879-1970)
- Letters to and From Esther Pissaro (wife of Lucien...
- Collection of World War ll Letters (not related to...
- CopyRight Statement
- World War ll London Blitz: Buy On Smashwords
I am the great-granddaughter of Ruby Side Thompson.Recently I started re-reading the World War ll journals and felt that they were such an important part of a history that will soon be forgotten if not published and shared with the world. These diary excerpts are not the entirety of what is published in print and kindle.Ruby grew up during a time when education was just beginning to be encouraged for both upper and middle class women. During the late 1890's Ruby explored many radical political ideas of London, England. She met many famous people including the writers George Bernard Shaw and William Butler Yeats.5.0 out of 5 stars A choice pick, not to be overlooked, November 6, 2011 By Midwest Book Review (Oregon, WI USA)
World War ll London Blitz: 5-8-43 to May 24, 1943 A raid came first before seven this morning. Junkers’ 88’s. Six of them. One was brought down at Benfleet, one at Stapleford Abbots. Gunfire in this locality is very heavy. We hear there was a bad raid yesterday over Yarmouth, many casualties. Oh, this damned damned war!
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May 4, 1943
Catastrophe. Ted returned to the house by taxi about noon, in frightful pain. He had been knocked off his bicycle in Harold Wood by a lorry. I got Ted into another taxi and off to Old Church Hospital. He was returned by ambulance at seven- thirty p.m. and has to go to back again tomorrow at noon, for another x-ray. He has a Pott’s fracture.
May 5, 1943
The ambulance took Ted to the Hospital and brought him home again. Today showed a second crack, in the fibula. It was too bad they couldn’t have kept him in the hospital last night, but wartime regulations. Nor can he stay in the hospital while his bones are mending. Beds must be left free for possible blitz victims. He is in great pain, and very ill with shock into the bargain. No wonder. I gather he was nearly killed.
Saturday, May 8, 1943
A raid came first before seven this morning. Junkers’ 88’s. Six of them. One was brought down at Benfleet, one at Stapleford Abbots. Gunfire in this locality is very heavy. We hear there was a bad raid yesterday over Yarmouth, many casualties. Oh, this damned damned war!
However, there is good news for us this morning. The Allies have beaten the Germans in Tunisia at last. There are reports this morning that our troops are in possession of Tunis and Bizerte. This will practically be the finish of the campaign in Africa. This news comes six months to the day of the news of the landings of our troops in North Africa. No further news of Artie.
May 13, 1943
The war in North Africa is ended. The following announcement was made last night from Allied Force Headquarters in North Africa:
Organized resistance in Tunisia, except by isolated pockets of the enemy, has ceased. General Von Armin, commander of the Axis Forces in Tunisia, has been captured. It is estimated that the total number of prisoners taken since May 5, is about one hundred and fifty thousand. Vast quantities of guns and war materials of all kinds have been captured, including guns and aircraft in serviceable condition.
Well, that’s the end of the Battle of Africa. Next will come the Battle of Europe. Shall we finish this war this year? God knows, but not very likely. Reports from Tunisia say the Germans had lost their morale, and were surrendering by entire companies, glad to get out of the fight. What about the Germans in Europe? Will their morale last? And how long?
Churchill is in Washington. This news was given to us yesterday. He has taken many important men with him and conferences are going on with Roosevelt and his chiefs of staff. Presumably plans are being arranged for the immediate invasion of the continent, then after Europe, will come Japan. Then what? The chaos of peace.
Evening and I have just received a letter from Artie:
Wednesday 28, April 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
I am writing this from the hospital. I did send news via Hilda and I hope you got it. I may as well go over the whole story again. On the twelfth of April at seven forty-five a.m. I was blown up by a Gerry land mine. My driver was killed. I escaped with some damage. I didn’t lose consciousness at all that’s I why I looked at the time and thought of you at home knowing you were thinking of me.
Wounds in my left leg are all very slight. The right leg was broken in two places and later on ex-ray showed that it would take over a year to heal and then be perfectly useless. So I had it amputated just above the knee.
I am perfectly fit and well and recovering quickly. I am not unhappy in the loss and pray that it won’t upset you or make you unhappy. I shall be sent back to Britain when I am fit to travel so I’ll surely see you this summer. I guess the war is over as far as I am concerned. I’ve not had a single letter from home since I’ve arrived in Africa yet. Perhaps some will catch up before I leave Africa.
Cheerio now. God bless you both and keep you both. My constant prayers for your safety and good health. Almost forgot, I had communion on Easter Sunday in the hospital. Regards to all. Fred.
Also received this letter:
Thursday May 6, 1943
Dear Mother and Dad,
Here is another letter but I am afraid no real news except that I am feeling very well and quite happy. About all I can do to pass the time is read and eat the splendid meals provided. I am getting really tired of lying on my back all day and look forward to the day I shall be able to leave it. I can at least struggle into a sitting position every now and again to write letters and eat and that is some increase in comfort. I hope you can manage to read my scribble. I’ve a different pen and besides that my elbow is bandaged up.
I’ve been thinking about my return to Blighty and I feel sure I’ll be confined to a military hospital for some time before I can get home. I will almost certainly be discharged from the Army after I have been provided with an artificial leg. I feel quite proud I’ve done the little I could do in this war and now my job is over. I always had a feeling I should live through this war but I didn’t expect to come out before the end. I can’t write to Sket from here so you must give him my news and my love.
I hope everything is well at home. Give my love to all who ask after me. I cannot foretell how soon I shall be on my way home but you can take it as certain that I shall come. God bless you and keep you safe. My undying love. Fred.
What is there to say! I haven’t been able to help crying but at least I can thank God he’s alive. Thank God he isn’t blinded. Thank God he’s now out of the war. Poor poor Artie!
There was a raid in the night tonight at two a.m. until three a.m. Also, at the same time a bad thunderstorm, all very frightening.
May 14, 1943
The following cards came in from Cuthie. Number one, addressed to me:
April 13, 1943
Just to say I am o.k. I am sorry to read that Grandma is dead. Somehow I always thought I would see her again. It made me realize that in a way you people at home are, to me, all dead. I get letters from you but if anyone died it would just mean a cessation of letters. I must be in a similar position to folks at home if I did not come back or ceased to write it would be as though I went in with my aircraft nearly three years ago. My love to you. Sket.
Number two addressed to Ted:
April 13, 1943
Easter is here in a few days and it has occurred to me that I have never told you that since I was shot down I have heard mass said by a French priest, by a German Army Chaplain, by a German parish priest and by a French Canadian missionary. We can hear mass each Sunday. I once told you that I heard a midnight mass at Christmas in 1941, but I had no reply. I hope that by 1945 I shall hear mass in Romford. I send you and Ma my love. Sket.
May 13, 1943
Noon. We are lucky. By first post this morning we received the following letter from Cuth:
Stalag Luft 3. 7, April 1943
I do not know what to write to you about this month as I think this letter might be more disjointed than usual. I am pleased to read your reply to my letter saying that I hope to work in Romford. I have made up my mind what things I do not want. I am waiting for my letter from Bertie to send my letter to him. I have not had any letter from you about my account, so I conclude that financial information is banned. I was surprised to learn that Art is married. I have nothing to say about the event. I cannot imagine myself getting married for a long time after my return. Sometimes I think about my headstrong behavior when I left the University. Had I taken your advice I would not be a “Kriege” but I would be in an officers mess; but at the same time I would still be an innocent schoolboy. I often think that doctors know much less than they are thought to know. We had a few new prisoners in lately. Some of them have not yet been caught for a month. I remember when I was only a month ole “kriege”. When I heard that France had capitulated I laughed at the Polish doctor who told me and told him to stop joking. It was a bitter pill to swallow when I found out that it was true. Well I come to the end of the paper. I send you my love and respect. Please do not send me anything at all unless I ask for it. I hope to see you next year. Tell Art that I shall write to him when I can find time to do so. Sket.
May 20, 1943
Ted is at the office. He had a taxi and went off about ten o’clock and will come back at two-thirty p.m. Last night he got himself upstairs and slept properly in bed. We had two raids, and I came downstairs each time, but he stayed up there. We have been having raids every night for over a week, usually two a night, small ones, but frightening just the same. The R.A.F. has done big damage in Germany this week, blasting great dams, and letting out water, which is flooding the Ruhr Valley, and doing tremendous damage. I can’t care. I’m so so sick of the war.
Churchill addressed Congress yesterday. His speech was broadcast; we received it here at six-thirty p.m. I can’t care about his speech either. Nor any man’s speech. I’m weary to death of men’s plans and men’s speeches. I’m weary to death of the war. I’m sick of the world.
May 22, 1943
It is three years today that Cuth was brought down over Amiens. Very surprising news was given at one o’clock, the official dissolution of the Communist Third International. This comes from Moscow. Query: What becomes of the Anti-Comintern Pact? What will Goebbels do now for a bogey?
May 24, 1943
There was news that the R.A.F. made a tremendous raid on Dortmund last night, dropping over two thousand tons of bombs on the city. This is the heaviest raid yet on Germany. Thirty-Eight of our bombers missing. This makes me feel sick. Also it makes me say, thank God Cuthie is safely out of it all. What Hell!
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.
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.