History is never quite as real as when it is told by those who lived it. Ruby Thompson, living during the World War ll London Blitz bombing blasts history out of the realm of dry, dusty names and dates and places the reader in the midst of the terrifying events as they unfold. This is very important documentation and will have tremendous appeal to those who have an avid interest in the effect of the war on ordinary citizens.
I am saying damn the war ! Damn the war! Damn the war!
Last night at ten twenty p.m. we had an alert, and the all clear was not sounded until eleven p.m. Many doodles went over, I lost count of them. One seemed to trundle exactly over our chimney pots. I held my breath, and then when it continued past, going on towards the city, I vomited. Ted had already retired for the night and did not bother to come downstairs. He thinks it’s funny to be callous about the bombs, so I stick this war alone. So here I am, an old woman alone in a little room, sick with terror and anger and exasperation. You live your life alone, that’s positive. Do churches and masses help me? Not a whit. Dogmas? Evangelicals? What use are any of them against the flying bombs, the rockets, Hitler and all his gang? Did Christ save the world? He did not.
Here I will transcribe a letter, which appears in this week’s Time and Tide. It is:
Sir: I cannot agree with Four Winds (a contributor) about our food allowances. Since we are so often told that these are “adequate” I hope you will allow me, in the interests of historical accuracy, to put another view.
I myself, for instance, am often hungry. Indeed, I am almost always a little hungry, with hunger not to be satisfied with bread and potatoes and dried eggs. (How much less palatable are these, than the dried eggs of 1914-1918!) I am a middle aged woman, no hearty eater, but I crave for more meat, more eggs, more butter, and for milk with ‘some body’. I would not exaggerate the value of school and works canteens, of the special allowances for young mothers and young children, but such as they are, my household gets none of these benefits. It is rarely possible or convenient for us to have meals in hotels or restaurants, and when we do, we find ourselves eating the same ersatz food and meager helpings.
At the same time, my husband and I, besides our daily tasks—his in the office, mine in the house—have throughout the war spent our energies in Home Guard, Civil Defense, and many other national jobs.
I have never grumbled about food rationing. I have never tried to get more than our share from the butcher or grocer. I am not grumbling now. I accept civilian hardships as the least that I can do for my part in this momentous fight. I know that we must win, and I know where the real burden falls.
I do get peeved when I am constantly told, and the world is told, that in spite of war, I am well fed and nourished. We have plenty to eat, certainly, but no one can say that the plenty is also good.
Now of all the nations engaged in this struggle the British are admittedly making the greatest, longest, most forceful effort, individually, and I for one am grateful for the Christmas extras, about which so much noise is made. (A little extra sugar and margarine, a little more meat, for which, in this district, we went short last week, and a turkey here and there.) For the first time in months, we shall eat cake in our house. Usually, I have enough fats to make cakes, which are mostly flour and soda, and hardly eatable; for a week, we can be almost lavish with the breakfast margarine. There are thousands and thousands like me in Great Britain. I cannot feel that we need begrudge ourselves, or be begrudged, this small stimulant.
I am, etc., S.M.
Except that I know nothing of the dried eggs of 1914-1918, I endorse every word of this letter. Our diet is horrible. Thousands and thousands of us are suffering from various forms of scurvy, sore mouths, sore eyes, sties, irritations in our private parts, etc., and perpetual fatigue. We do not and cannot thrive on endless starch. As for the dried eggs, they have become nauseous to us. People won’t buy them anymore, though they are urged at us from the papers every day. The only way we can tolerate them is disguised in a pudding. Where are the puddings to come from? For we have neither sugar, fat, milk, nor fruit, to make them with. “Right mental attitude” can do a lot for the body, but it doesn’t help much in wartime when the Ministry of Food doesn’t cooperate to supply it with the very necessary material proteins and vitamins. An ample supply of good fresh food is what we primarily require for good health, and that we simply have not got.
Monday, January 8, 1945
It is a dreadful day. It is very wintry weather, icy pavements, impossible for me to go out. There is very bad war news. I can’t bear to listen to the war reports; the sufferings of the troops are beyond words. Twelve rockets here today between ten forty this morning and ten thirty tonight. We may get a couple more before midnight. Several have fallen in Chadwell Heath, I hear, opposite The Plough. The damage and death is awful. The Americans have been informed that they may expect flying bombs or rockets on New York and Washington, as those can be fired from U-boats.
Wednesday, January 10, 1945
It is the twin’s birthday. They are twenty-six today. It is Cuth’s fifth birthday in prison. Poor Cuthie! Artie, I have not seen since Christmas Day. Since his marriage I have lost Artie indeed. If I could have my life over again, knowing what I know now, I would not have children, not one. If my life had been arranged differently, if we had remained in America in the midst of our family, I might have had some joy, some satisfaction, and some friendship with my sons. I might have lost them all to their wives, much as I have lost Artie. Who knows? What is certain is that I have had more continuing grief because of my children than any other reason in my life. If I hadn’t had children I shouldn’t have had to leave them. Nor should I feel, as I do, that if my children forget me that is, after all, merely my just due.
I have been in the most awful desolated mood all day. I long for someone to take me and hold me and love me and comfort me. Who have I, Oh Lord, on Earth? Who is there in Heaven? To whom can I go? I feel like a lost and frightened child, and I long, literally, for some kind being to find me, and pick me up in their arms, and soothe me. I want a bosom to cry on, a heart to lie against. Where? Whose? For me there is no one.
Thursday, January 11, 1945
Danny Hartnett has been in to see me. He is a nice boy. He told me that on Christmas Eve, he and Lily, Mary, John, and Tony went to London and heard the midnight mass in Westminster Cathedral. He said there were thousands of people there, and everybody went up for Communion. Somehow this pleases me quite a lot. I love the Cathedral. Talking to Danny like this, somehow I can contact a little faith from his faith. He doesn’t know what doubt is.
He said a queer thing about me. I inquired after his Aunt Rose. “Well she seems to be getting a lot older,” he said, “but she’s just as nice as ever. She’s like you. I always think of you and Aunt Rose together; you’re both so kind, so safe.” So safe! Here it comes again, this telling of a sense of reliability, which I convey to others. Yet could anyone in this world be more interiorly unreliable, unsteady, unsafe, than I am? How queer!
Friday, January 12, 1945
News today of the signing of an armistice in Athens between General Scobie and E.L.A.S. Well that is something.
Tuesday, January 16, 1945
We had two awful rockets in the night; one at eleven fifteen, just as I was going up to bed. The reverberations seemed to go on a very long time. I was on the staircase and every stair seemed to tremble. The concussion claps were deafening. The other was at three o’clock this morning. The last one, very close, seemed to lift the house from its sockets and then drop it back again.
I have just learnt via Mrs. Capes, via Mr. Harden who boards with Mrs. Capes, who is clerk of the works at the town hall, that the eleven o’clock one fell in Rainham, on a group of houses of a new estate, killing many; and the three o’clock one fell near Gallows’ Corner, Straight Road, in the direction of Noah Hill. This last, absolutely terrific, luckily killed no one, for it fell on open ground. A nearby farm had its roof taken off, and all windows blown out, but nobody or animal hurt. It could have destroyed scores, for it was an extra big one, but apart from damaging the farmhouse it has only caused two immense craters.
Wednesday, January 17, 1945
It is reported on the B.B.C. that just before five o’clock this afternoon Marshal Stalin broadcast from Moscow that the Red Army under Marshal Zhukov has taken Warsaw; and a little later the announcement was made of the capture of Czestochowa, a German defense base only fifteen miles from the Silesian Frontier, and of two other Polish towns. Rudomesko and Pryedbory.
Thursday, January 18, 1945
Late last night the Lublin wireless announced that Cracow, the second city in Poland, had been liberated. Five million Russians are moving on the Reich. Pray God this is at last the beginning of the end. In Parliament Mr. Churchill is making a statement on Greece, and on the general movement of the war. When the war is over I think nothing will ever trouble me again, nothing.
Friday, January 19, 1945
I received a letter from Eddie. After Ted went to bed last night I had a second reading through Eddie’s letter. I did not share it with Ted. It would only hurt him and what’s the good?
The letter was in reply to mine of November 5; it was posted in Washington, December 6, and took until yesterday to get here! He writes:
Have found out that Westwood is better fixed up, but you know Chilly and Marge. They’d drive me nuts. I hate good people. It was a saint who messed up my family and almost messed me up, only I didn’t let him. I hate virtue and piety and sanctity and seriousness. I want to be comfortable, and if being comfortable means being bad then G-D I want to be bad. As for Heaven, with the entire lily livered nincompoops going to Heaven, I want to go to Hell; it may be hot but it won’t be dull. Who wants to go to Heaven to meet his mother-in-law again? Or a twice-married man to meet both his wives? Or a divorcee to meet all her husbands? Woodrow Wilson will agree with Franklin Roosevelt!!! Priests and nuns, timid creatures, afraid of life, all of them. (It takes guts to live; any coward can run away!) Oh, I don’t blame them, I just feel sorry for them. To send me to a heaven littered up with such non-entities, that would indeed be Hell for me. It’s too bad, but to what some people is sublime, to me is just ridiculous. I don’t care if the world is going to Hell; I want to enjoy the ride while I am here. I’m shocking bad, mother mine, but my little family loves me and that’s all that matters. They don’t care what I think, only how I treat them.
However, if you want to come to our place you are welcome. It’s funny, now that I don’t worry about money anymore, it just seems to take care of itself; it comes in, and somehow there’s always enough. I’ll always make a good living, because I am happy and well cared for and I like my job, (and I have the best wife in the world.) I’m not afraid, no matter what I take on as extra obligations, bonds, insurance, etc. I always seem to have enough. I buy a lot of things I think are damned foolishness, but if it makes people happy, why not? You can’t take it with you. I struggled for the first half of my life, and now I’m enjoying the second half. I am too busy living this one to worry about the next one. You can’t frighten me; I am an adult now.
I wrote Dad a very long letter recently. I don’t believe it pleased him, but I have had so much of his truth and ethics for so many years that I thought I would dish out some of my own.
I much prefer silence and tolerance to truth. Truth is a nasty sharp weapon. You can cut a man’s heart and spirit out with truth. It has happened to me. So I finally come back with the same “nasty knife, truth!” Of course it really can’t hurt much because his faith is a perfect shield, the douser the faith the thicker the shield. For years I violated my own feelings so as not to hurt his, while he soothes his own feelings, at the expense of others. Finally the nasty “truth” came out. Truth I could swear at. The big lesson in life is to learn to keep your big mouth shut, that’s what I found out. I would never think of indulging the “truth” at home. I value my happiness and my family. Its love that people want, appreciation, attention, yes even flattery to a certain extent, especially the ladies fair, and it sure gets business from the men. I finally stood up for my own code of ethics. My heart, as well as my head, is just as good as the next mans. Judging a tree by its fruit, my accomplishments speak for themselves. I welcome comparison.
When you add it all up it is all so childish, what do I care what people think? As long as they can do me no harm? So I get a fresh grip on myself. Others forgive sin, but I have to go on forgiving virtue. A virtue to which a whole family has been sacrificed. Do you wonder I dislike England and the Catholic Church? My love to my children doesn’t diminish my love for my wife, and neither one diminish my very natural love for my mother. We’re all sacrificed to the Church and country. As much as he has hurt me I couldn’t begin to express my opinion of his opinions. Not really. I couldn’t bring myself to hurt anybody that much. After all, his intentions are good. You are the one who constantly reminded me of his goodness when he angered me. You taught me tolerance and forgiveness. He never boosted your stock to me, except to damn with faint praise. For years I feared him and believed I was really a foolish nincompoop, until I found out I am just as smart as he is, every bit of it. He has no right to impose his philosophy on you. You are doing frightful harm to yourself trying to be somebody you are not. There is one thing you must do. You must rejoin your own church. You belong in it. You can’t be a carbon copy of someone else. It certainly can’t really harm a saint; his egotistical skin is already far too thick. (It will only add another diamond to his crown.) You will feel better physically too, if your mind is at peace. I pray you go to the church you belong to.
Harold is a product of Dad’s romanticism, “marry early” “mind over matter” “don’t take women seriously, they’re not smart” somewhat of an ascetic; so he muffed his marriage, all theory, no practice, all logic, no brains, much talk, little action. I’ve been giving him hell hoping he might wake up. Let’s hope. I’ll help everybody up, but no one can drag me down.
Johnnie is much like Dad, really very self-centered, a complete ego inside a hard core, difficult to hurt. His marriage is a half-marriage, because Ruth is really no company for him, never can be a real partner. He likes his job, etc, and enjoys good company, and has many interests and hobbies. Like Dad, he never loses his temper, and I really believe Ruth is afraid of him, over awed, impressed.
Jimmie loses himself in his work, has a host of friends, but they don’t come to the house. I believe he is afraid to think, to analyze his real situation.
Chilly is a glorious fool. Because of his gust enthusiasm it’s more glory than foolishness. He can remake the world between “breakfast and lunch,” but that wears me out. I quit remaking the world years ago; I’m content to live. His family life is happy.
I don’t have time for reading much, but I do a lot of writing, educational matter for salesmen and mechanics. I’m going places in this company, mother mine, so never worry about my finances. They sent me to straighten out a mess in a shipyard in Maine last summer, and last week they sent me by plane to New Orleans to do a little more troubleshooting. I’m doing a lot of pioneering for the company.
Merry Christmas if I am not too late. I wish you would go to the hospital and get yourself fixed up. Getting back to our starting place, if you are at peace with yourself, in your own church. I think you would feel safer about it. Dad has no right whatsoever to expect you to violate your personality, and no right in any way shape or form to criticize your religion. I know he has a way of ruining people’s pleasure in their own taste. I always hid from him anything I liked, or he could make me dislike it with that Midas touch. Many many pleasures has he killed for me, until I finally made my “Declaration of Independence.” He has to sit back on his haunches, no compromise. When the camel gets his head in the tent you are out in the cold.
I could write a book, but you know the story. So do I.
In the name of common sense make your Declaration of Independence from this colossal tyranny; step down off the sacrificial altar. So I’m going to shut up. Please do what I say. I always found that your advice to me was always good. It always worked fine. Suppose you take a chance on me this time.
Lots of love, mother mine. Eddie.
Well, I didn’t sit down to transcribe so much of this letter, yet here it is. If Ted knew what his family thought of him he would have a fit. He does not know what sort of man he is, he hasn’t the faintest idea. How we hate his goodness! No, not his goodness, his mushy piety, his controversial theology, his self-righteousness, his damned churchliness, his crushing domination. Ted’s conversion on top of his very peculiar nature was a disaster for all of us.