E J Rudsdale

Eric John Rudsdale (seen here in 1934) was born in Colchester in Essex in 1910 to schoolteacher parents, John and Agnes Rudsdale (nee Webb). His father was from Whitby in North Yorkshire, where the family had owned a coach-building business, and this inspired Eric’s love of horses and horse-drawn transport. His mother’s family originated from North Wales and Eric maintained a strong attachment to his Welsh roots.

As a young boy he became fascinated with the history of Colchester and its Roman archaeology and his interest in history led him to seek a career as a museum curator. He gained the position of Curator’s Assistant at Colchester Castle Museum in 1928.

Eric had kept a diary from the age of 10, mainly with the aim of recording his archaeological finds. However, on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, he recognised the significance of this moment of living history and his wartime journals were expanded to form a social record of Colchester and its people in the era of total warfare. Eric undertook air raid shelter duties at Colchester Castle and, therefore, had the perfect opportunity to observe the changes inflicted on his home town by the conflict.

Eric’s writing is characterised throughout his journals by his wry observations of wartime officialdom and his lack of conformity with the prevailing views of the time. He was a reluctant participant in the war, partly due to his independent stance and support for pacifism but also owing to his poor physical health, which made him doubt his fitness for armed service. Even as a civilian, however, he found he was unable to avoid the consequences of total warfare because Colchester was a garrison town and a military target. His journals, therefore, reveal moments of real fear, anxiety and personal tragedy, but throughout it all his sense of humour is never diminished for long.

In 1945, Eric was appointed Curator of Wisbech Museum and Literary Institution in Cambridgeshire and also served as archaeological adviser to Scarborough Museum in the late 1940s. He died prematurely from kidney failure following an operation for appendicitus at Wisbech in 1951, at the age of 41.

E J Rudsdale's Journals

A few of the extracts from Eric’s wartime journals were published in his lifetime in a book entitled, Essex at War, which was edited by his friend Hervey Benham in 1945. Benham was keen to publish the diaries in full but Eric declined the offer stating that publication should not take place until 50 years after his death.

Consequently, Eric’s journals, covering the period from 1920-1951, were bequeathed to Essex Record Office in 1951 on condition that that they were not to be opened for 25 years. In 1998, whilst undertaking research on the history of Britain’s museums during the Second World War, Catherine Pearson was introduced to Eric’s diaries by a retired archivist from Essex Record Office. Since then she has edited his wartime journals and has undertaken further research on Eric’s life, resulting in the publication of this blog and a book: E.J. Rudsdale's Journals of Wartime Colchester.

The aim of this blog is to show, through Eric’s observations, how the town and the people he knew were directly affected by war. The diary extracts, therefore, have been edited to reflect this aim. Eric did not always write an entry in his diary every day and there are days when no entry appears in this account. Where necessary, short commentaries are provided to give the historical context for the events Eric describes in his journal. Each extract is published exactly 70 years after it was first written. The blog began on 3rd September 2009 with the publication of Eric's first wartime diary entry on 3rd September 1939 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

The diary extracts demonstrate Eric's ability to bring a scene vividly to life and each account highlights the daily pressures that people endured as they valiantly tried to carry on with normal life in spite of the war.

Please feel free to let me know if you are interested in following the blog. It gives us the opportunity to step back in time and witness wartime events on the home front as they occurred. CP

Acknowledgements

I am most grateful to the heirs of Eric Rudsdale’s estate and to Essex Record Office for granting their permission to reproduce these extracts for this blog. The extracts, and the photographs of Eric Rudsdale, appear courtesy of Essex Record Office (Ref: ERO A2308 (D/DU888)). All other photographs within this blog are my own. I am further grateful to Bill Lamin for his very helpful advice and support in the creation of this blog. Bill's blog: WW1: Experiences of an English Solider, based on the First World War letters sent by Private Harry Lamin, provided the inspiration for the publication of Eric Rudsdale's diaries via this blog.

Essex Record Office in Chelmsford is an excellent starting point for local history research on the county of Essex. The range of archive holdings is searchable via the Record Office’s online catalogue, SEAX. The archives can be used to help trace your Essex ancestors and to uncover the history of buildings, villages and towns in the county. There is also a vast range of resources available to show how national events, such as the Second World War, were experienced in Essex.

Places in E J Rudsdale's Journals

Colchester Castle Museum
Colchester Castle is the largest keep ever built by the Normans. It was constructed between 1076 and 1125 on the foundations of the Temple of Claudius, which had been built by the Romans one thousand years earlier.

The town’s museum was transferred to the Castle in 1855 to provide space for Colchester’s growing archaeological collections. The Castle Museum opened to the public in 1860. Eric Rudsdale joined the Museum staff in 1928.  During the 1930s, the Castle Museum witnessed a period of expansion as the Museum authorities embarked on a series of major archaeological works in Colchester and instigated the re-roofing of the remains of the Norman Castle in 1935 to provide an enlarged museum. 

During the Second World War, the Castle's Roman foundation vaults were requistioned as an air raid shelter and Eric Rudsdale became responsible for superintending the shelter and for undertaking firewatch duty at the Castle, in addition to his curatorial duties and his work for the Essex War Agricultural Committee from 1941.


Hollytrees Museum
In 1927 the Museum authorities acquired Hollytrees Mansion, a Georgian townhouse on the edge of Castle Park, and this was opened as a social history museum in 1929. Eric Rudsdale was closely involved in all of these museum developments in the inter-war years. 
During the Second World War, the first floor of Hollytrees Museum was requistioned as offices for the Essex War Agricultural Committee (Lexden & Winstree District) and Eric Rudsdale was seconded from the Museum Service to the War Agricultural District Committee as its secretary in 1941.

Both museums remain open to the public today and in more recent times Colchester Museums Service has expanded to incorporate the Natural History Museum in All Saints Church.


Bourne Mill, Colchester
Bourne Mill was built in 1591 as a fishing lodge and was later converted to a watermill. Much of the mill machinery, including the waterwheel remains. The property is owned by the National Trust, who acquired it in 1936 after members of Colchester Civic Society including Professor Lionel Penrose and Eric Rudsdale campaigned to save it. Through the war years, Rudsdale maintained a watch over the building on behalf of the National Trust and stabled his horse, Bob, there. Bourne Mill is open to the public.

Gordon Villas, Winnock Road, Colchester
Eric Rudsdale's parents rented one half of 'Gordon Villas', Winnock Road, in the New Town district of Colchester. The family had moved there in 1917, when Eric was 7 years old.  Eric Rudsdale's parents were still living in the house during the Second World War and he frequently wrote that he had 'called in at home' to see them in his journal accounts.  The Rudsdale family had always lived in the New Town District of Colchester.  Eric Rudsdale was born in Harsnett Road and his mother's family had lived in Wimpole Road.

Lawford, Essex
Eric Rudsdale moved to the village of Lawford in Essex in May 1942, where he lodged with Matthew and Joy Parrington who farmed at Sherbourne Mill, not far from Lawford Parish Church. 

People in E J Rudsdale's Journals

Eric’s family:

Agnes Rudsdale
(nee Webb) was Eric’s mother. She was born in Colchester in 1870 and had been an assistant schoolmistress before her marriage to John Rudsdale.

John Rudsdale was Eric’s father. Born in Whitby, North Yorkshire in 1875, he trained as a schoolmaster and left his home town to take up a post as a mathematics teacher in Colchester in 1896. Here he met and married Agnes Webb and their only son, Eric, was born in 1910. John Rudsdale had retired from teaching in 1936 owing to ill health.

Frederick Maitland Underhill was Eric’s cousin. He was born in 1907 and lived in Maidenhead, Berkshire. By 1939 he was working as a bank manager. Like Eric, he shared a love of history and antiquities and in addition to his full-time job, he was also the Honorary Curator of Hambleden Museum in Buckinghamshire and a lifelong member of the Berkshire Archaeological Society.

Margery Warren was Eric's cousin. She lived at Shurlock Row in Berkshire.

Frank Webb was Eric's uncle and was younger brother to Eric's mother, Agnes. He lived at Purley.


Other people mentioned in Eric's journals:

Penelope Belfield lived near Dedham. Eric first met her when visiting the Parrington family in nearby Lawford.

Hervey Benham was the son of Sir William Gurney Benham and worked for the Essex County Standard newspaper. He was a friend of Eric's and later published some extracts from Eric's journals in a volume entitled Essex at War (1945).

Maura Benham was the daughter of Sir William Gurney Benham. She worked at Paddington Hospital in London.

Sir William Gurney Benham, was the proprietor of Benham & Co, printers of Colchester, and editor of Colchester’s local newspaper, the Essex County Standard. Benham was also Chairman of Colchester Corporation's Museum Committee.

Alderman Sam Blomfield was a member of Colchester Corporation's Museum Committee.

Molly Blomfield was the daughter of Alderman Sam Blomfield.

Rose Browne was Eric’s girlfriend from 1939-1941. She ran a café in Church Walk, Colchester.

George Farmer was Eric’s schoolfriend and had worked with Eric on archaeological excavations. The Farmer family ran an ironmongery shop in Colchester. George Farmer was called up to the RAF in 1940.

Capt F T Folkard was the District Officer to the Lexden and Winstree District Committee of the Essex War Agricultural Committee at Colchester.

Eilean Grubb ran a riding school at Fingringhoe, near Colchester. This was where Eric had learnt to ride a horse.

Hampshire Bacon shared the stables at Port Lane, Colchester with Eric.

Stanley Hills was a schoolfriend of Eric's.

Rex Hull was the curator of Colchester Castle Museum from 1926-1963 and a renowned archaeologist. Eric became his assistant in 1928.

Dr Philip Guyon Laver was the Honorary Curator at Colchester Castle Museum and had also been a General Practitioner in the town. Eric often refers to him simply as ‘The Doctor’. He died in 1941.

J C Leslie was the Principal of the Essex Agricultural Institute at Writtle, Chelmsford and became the Executive Officer of the Essex War Agricultural Committee (EWAC) during the Second World War. The EWAC took over the Essex Agricultural Institute for its headquarters for the duration of the war.

Matthew ('Parry') and Joy Parrington were farmers at Sherbourne Mill, Lawford, near Manningtree in Essex.

Professor Lionel Penrose was Chairman of Colchester Civic Society and Eric served as the Society's Secretary. Both had campaigned throughout the 1930s to conserve historic buildings in Colchester. Penrose was a renowned psychiatrist, medical geneticist and mathematician and was the older brother of the artist, Roland Penrose.

Harold Poulter was the Assistant Curator and technician with responsibility for Hollytrees Museum and workshop in the Castle Park. Eric often refers to him as HWP.

Stanley Nott was the Cultivation Officer for the Essex War Agricultural Committee, Lexden & Winstree District

Annie and Mary Ralling were neighbours of the Rudsdale family in the New Town district of Colchester.

Stuart Rose was an artist who worked on the land during the war. He and his wife, Dodo, lived at Boxted for most of the war.  Stuart Rose later became the Design Director to the General Post Office from 1968 to 1976.

Capt. (later Colonel) Round, was Chairman of the Lexden & Winstree District Committee of the Essex War Agricultural Committee. He lived at Birch Hall.

Joanna Round, was the daughter of Capt. Round. She began undertaking wartime work for the Essex War Agricultural Committee at Colchester in the spring of 1941.

R N Sadler, Deputy to J C Leslie, Executive Officer of the Essex War Agricultural Committee at Writtle, Chelmsford.

Jeffrey Saunders was a schoolfriend of Eric's.

Seymour was a teacher at Colchester Royal Grammar School. His son, Alan, was a schoolfriend of Eric's.

Marshall Sisson, RA was an architect, then living at 'Sherman's' an 18th century house in Dedham, Essex with his wife, Marjorie. Sisson specialised in the restoration of old buildings and was appointed as an advisor on bomb damage to historic buildings in 1941.

Daven Soar was one of Rudsdale’s schoolfriends and worked as a telephone engineer.

Mary Tovell was the bookshop assistant at Colchester Castle Museum when war broke out but left soon after to train as a nurse at Erith in Kent.

Chapman } Both were museum attendants
Harding } at the Castle Museum.


Animals mentioned in Eric's journals:

Bob
was Eric’s horse, a Welsh cob, who was stabled at Bourne Mill in Colchester.

Robin was Eric's second horse, who he acquired in 1942.

A Brief History of Colchester in Essex

The town of Colchester in Essex lies on the river Colne and has been a place of settlement since the late Iron Age. By the first century BC it had become the tribal capital of the Trinovantian kingdom, and was soon presided over by their powerful ruler, Cunobelin, who was king of both the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni tribes.

When the Roman army invaded the country in AD 43, their objective was the capture of Colchester or Camulodunum as it was then known. The Emperor Claudius arrived to personally take possession of Colchester where he received the formal surrender of several British kings. The town became the first capital of the new Roman province and archaeological evidence of the Roman occupation continues to be unearthed today.

Colchester fell into decline following the abandonment of Britain by the Romans in AD 410 but had begun to grow in importance again by the late Saxon period. After the Norman Conquest in 1066, Colchester witnessed considerable growth. Owing to its strategic importance on the route from East Anglia to London, William the Conqueror ordered the building of a stone castle at Colchester, which was built on the site of the earlier Roman Temple of Claudius.

Colchester prospered from the opportunity to market agricultural produce from the rich farming lands that surrounded the town. The town port at the Hythe also enabled Colchester to conduct coastal and overseas trade. However, by the late 12th century, the town began to specialise in textiles and the arrival of Dutch refugee weavers in the late 16th century helped to continue the manufacture of cloth into the mid-18th century. Another ancient industry was the oyster fishery, which was the property of the freemen of the Borough who carefully guarded the fishing rights.

Colchester suffered several setbacks in the 17th century. Firstly, the town was ravaged by the devastating effects of the Siege of Colchester in 1648 when the Parliamentarian army laid siege to the town after the Royalist forces had entered it. The town was slowly starved over a period of 76 days and when it capitulated, the Royalist commanders were captured and later executed outside the Castle. Then twenty years later, the Black Death appeared in Colchester, leaving more than a quarter of the population dead. Nevertheless, the town quickly recovered and continued to rely on agriculture and the cloth trade for its prosperity.

The town had traditionally served as a gathering point for troops en route to the Continent and the numbers of troops arriving in Colchester during the French Revolutionary Wars led to the establishment of the first permanent barracks in the town in 1794. This created new demands on the town’s services but it was not until later in the 19th century that its traditional reliance on agriculture began to give way to the arrival of new engineering industries. These contributed to a building boom at the end of the 19th century with new housing being provided for the influx of workers. The architecture of Colchester, therefore, reflects its varied historical past with Roman, Saxon and Medieval remains being evident alongside timber-framed buildings, Georgian townhouses, Victorian civic buildings and modern amenities.

By 1939, Colchester had become a large garrison town and its leading industries were engineering (Diesel engines being a speciality), clothing manufacture and rose growing. The population numbered approximately 52,000. The outbreak of war in September 1939, however, posed immediate threats to the town and its inhabitants. Colchester was vulnerable to air attack, owing to the vital role of its engineering industries in the war effort and due to its military importance as a garrison town. The town was also on the flight path for enemy bombers on their journeys to and from London and this often led to stray or unused bombs being jettisoned onto the fields surrounding the town. Finally, Colchester’s proximity to the east coast made it a likely target for invasion. The town was ringed by over 120 pillboxes and other defensive structures which formed part of the Colchester stop-line set up to repel enemy invaders. Therefore, as Eric Rudsdale began to record the events of the Second World War in his journal, he would have been well aware of the threats that this new conflict posed to his home town and to its long history.

For more information on the history of Colchester visit British History On-Line.
Maps of Colchester can be found on the Colchester Museums website.

Museums and the Second World War

Back to the Future: How World War II shaped today’s museums. By Catherine Pearson

Over sixty years ago, towards the close of the Second World War, an editorial in the Museums Journal reflected on the effects of the conflict:

In the midst of the darkness and brutality of war, museums have seized all available opportunities for spreading the light of learning and culture. Their amazing development during the last twenty years has been tremendously accelerated - not retarded as was first anticipated - by war conditions. (Museums Journal, April 1945, p1)

By contrast, the general conception of the wartime museum is now one of decline: the result of the enforced closure of museums, the underground storage of precious objects and the depletion of curatorial staff. So why did contemporaries present such an alternative view and can knowledge of this period be of any relevance to museum policy today?

In fact, this period has closer connections to current issues than would at first appear. The outbreak of war coincided with the debates arising from the publication of Frank Markham’s Report on the Museums and Art Galleries of the British Isles (1938). Many of the issues Markham identified such as inadequate finance for regional museums, the lack of government recognition for the museum’s role in education and the need for appropriate salary scales for staff, remain familiar concerns today. The Report retains its relevance because the intervention of war shelved the Government’s consideration of Markham’s reforms and prevented them from being put into effect.

Nevertheless, the Report had a considerable influence on museum staff who responded to Markham’s vision of closer co-operation between museums and the increased use of ‘visual education’ through the means of temporary travelling exhibitions. Ironically, the war would create the conditions to enable these recommendations to be achieved. Markham called for collections to be linked to current issues in order to ‘make it obvious to the man in the street that he is part of history’. On the eve of a war that would encompass the total population, curators recognised the opportunity to fulfil this responsibility. They embarked on a period of experimentation in display and exhibition that is now largely forgotten but which attracted large audiences and, above all, new visitors to museums.

Early fears that museums would be closed for the duration of the conflict were quickly dismissed by a Museums Association campaign to gain Government approval for the service to continue. This was granted in January 1940 and it is estimated that between 1938 and 1948, 640 out of a total of 800 museums remained open. Those most affected by closure were the London based national museums (with the notable exception of the National Gallery) but this had the result of shifting attention and resources to the regional museums and enabled a renaissance that anticipated the recommendations of the Regional Task Force by some sixty years.

Since their most highly prized exhibits were now in storage for reasons of safety, regional museums found themselves having to re-evaluate their reserve collections or look at new ideas and concepts to create the themes for display. The use of the temporary exhibition became the cornerstone of wartime museum activity and the pooling of knowledge and resources between museums created a network for the circulation of shared exhibits. The introduction of modern art and design to new audiences was a major development from this time and is most clearly evidenced in the travelling exhibitions featuring the work of the Official War Artists or the Design and Industries Association, which were shown at the National Gallery before embarking on tours around the regions. Regional museums also created their own exhibitions such as ‘Moore-Piper-Sutherland’, which was devised by Philip Hendy, then Curator of Art at Leeds City Art Gallery and featured the work of these prominent contemporary artists. This exhibition toured the Midlands and the North of England during 1941 and 1942 to popular acclaim, attracting an audience of 52,000 in Leeds, whilst being voted the best exhibition in twelve months at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery. Exhibitions such as ‘Ballet Décor and Design’ (1943) were shown in conjunction with visits to towns by touring ballet companies and following the lead of the National Gallery, regional museums were quick to broaden their appeal by offering concerts in their galleries. Such events demonstrated the curiosity for new experiences that existed amongst museum audiences and confirmed that museums had adapted to recognise visitors’ wartime needs.


Wartime museum visitors at an exhibition held at Colchester Castle Museum, 1945 (courtesy of Colchester Museums Service)


Curators also began to listen to the views of their audiences to a much greater degree than ever before. A survey undertaken at Leicester Museum in 1942 on the subject of temporary exhibitions captured visitors’ impressions of the changing museum climate and analysed their reasons for visiting, eliciting such responses as: ‘I come whenever there is a special exhibition, as I find the permanent collection on the whole uninspiring’ and ‘No [I am not a regular visitor] but three times to this exhibition with progressive appreciation’.

This greater empathy with audiences witnessed the democratisation of the museum space as local communities were encouraged to make their own artistic contributions to museum displays. ‘Pictures from Halifax Homes’ an exhibition dating from 1942, consisted of paintings and drawings owned by the town’s citizens and can be seen as an early forerunner of the ‘People’s Shows’ devised by Walsall Museum in the early 1990s. The ‘Social History of British Life’ exhibition created by students of the Sheffield College of Arts and Crafts was shown at the Geffrye Museum and allowed children to directly engage with the display - a new concept in an era dominated by the glass case.

In line with Markham’s plea for museums to reflect current issues, museum objects gained a further layer of meaning in this period through their use to demonstrate scientific and geological concerns, to highlight agricultural issues associated with increasing food production, or to draw attention to public health. Museum exhibition skills were in demand in order to transmit the messages of national publicity campaigns but government support came at a price. Whilst the increase in temporary exhibitions was centrally funded for the first time through organisations such as the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), museums were also obliged to show exhibitions that were more blatant in their propaganda, as devised by the Ministry of Information (MoI). These exhibitions were distributed by the Museums Association but met with diffidence on the part of curators who frequently attempted to tone down the theme of the displays or refused to co-operate at all. Curatorial complacence led the MoI to complain that ‘if the curators would play their part, the small travelling units provided by the MoI might well be made the centre of larger shows’. Nevertheless, the MoI’s resources helped to modernise display techniques and introduced the use of film projectors in museums on the understanding that MoI films were to be shown on alternate weeks to educational films.

Museums expanded their role in education through the wartime period, initially due to the necessity of meeting the schooling needs of evacuees but later through the development of specific classes and training to meet the demand for knowledge about music, art and literature, fuelled by the wartime cultural climate. The Geffrye Museum, Glasgow Museum and Art Gallery and Derbyshire Museums Service all either developed extensive education programmes or appointed their first Education Officers in this period. Other museums collaborated with the armed forces’ education divisions to offer art appreciation courses with the aim of fostering unit activities but also in anticipation of the vocational and leisure needs of service personnel following demobilisation. In all of these activities, the Museums Journal played a key role in sharing information about these initiatives and encouraging alliances and co-operation between museums.

Wartime curators expressed the view that their work in these years had made direct contact with their audiences and had achieved a much broader appeal to new visitors by connecting with the reality of daily life and relating collections, the arts and sciences to visitor’s demands. This developmental work was to be curtailed with the withdrawal of central support for temporary exhibitions and the shifting balance of interest towards the repairs and re-establishment of the national museums in the harsh post-war economic climate. A study of the wartime museum, however, illustrates that regional museums were able to successfully adapt and co-ordinate their activities in order to become a central part of their communities and this has a direct relevance to the aims of the Renaissance in the Regions programme. By gaining an insight into how these issues have been resolved in the past, museums could apply and adapt these outcomes to address policy and community concerns today. However, the lessons of the past also carry a warning. Frank Markham would be horrified to find that so much of his vision for museums in 1938 remains a part of museum debate over sixty years later. If museums gain a greater understanding of the legacy of the past, perhaps they can ensure that history’s judgement on their work is not one of missed opportunity.

This article first appeared in the Museums Journal, February 2005, Vol 105, No 2 pp 26-29.

Catherine Pearson investigated the history of Britain’s museums during the Second World War as the subject of her PhD at University College London, completed in 2008. Her research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). She is currently editing the Second World War diaries of the curator and archaeologist, E J Rudsdale.

Eric Rudsdale's WW2 Diary - Events to date

Eric’s diary blog begins on the day war was declared 3rd September 1939, when he experienced Colchester’s first air raid alarm.

The early months of the war were relatively quiet and became known as the period of the ‘Phoney War’. Nevertheless, preparations for war continued apace. In Colchester excavations for air raid shelters led to many archaeological discoveries and Eric was kept busy with these new artefacts being brought into the Museum. The Roman Vaults underneath Colchester Castle had been converted into a public air raid shelter and Eric was sworn in as a Special Constable to superintend the shelter.

January and February 1940 were to be dominated by the onset of the severest winter for 45 years, which added to wartime hardships. However, despite the bad weather, the war was drawing ever closer to Essex with the coastal areas putting up a defence against enemy aircraft.

14th February 2010 marked the Centenary of E J Rudsdale's Birth on 14th February 1910.

Events in the war now began to escalate as Eric recorded the German invasion of Norway and Denmark on 9th April 1940 and on 30 April 1940, the crash-landing of a German minelaying plane at Clacton caused the first civilian deaths of the war on mainland Britain.

The German invasion of Holland and Belgium on 10th May 1940 and the subsequent invasion of France brought the war closer to Britain's shores, especially as the evacuation from Dunkirk took place. Air raids over Colchester now began in earnest.

Early exchanges in the Battle of Britain were evident in Colchester's skies from 11th July 1940 and Eric witnessed the aerial battles that took place that summer. Meanwhile, Eric took time off from Colchester Museum during August 1940 to help with the harvest at Shirburn Mill, Lawford.

The 7th September 1940 marked the start of the Blitz with devastating air raids on London and air raids grew ever more frequent over Colchester. The expectation that the country was about to be invaded led to the evacuation of Colchester from 10th September 1940.

The autumn of 1940 witnessed many serious air raids and Eric recorded the resulting damage to Coggeshall Church and witnessed the destruction of Little Horkesley Church.

In January 1941, Eric was seconded from his post at Colchester Castle Museum to become Secretary of the Essex War Agricultural District Committee (Lexden & Winstree). Eric was able to continue his links with the Museum, however, because the War Agricultural Committee took over office space at Hollytrees Museum in Colchester Castle Park. Eric also continued his duties as a firewatcher and air raid shelter superintendent at Colchester Castle at night.

From his vantage point at Colchester Castle, Eric watched and recorded the air raids over East Anglia. The increased air raids over Harwich in February 1941, led to speculation that an invasion might soon take place. By the end of March 1941, preparations were being made to evacuate the civilian population of Colchester in case of invasion and in April 1941 the army constructed a secret dugout in Castle Park for the use of saboteurs in the event of an invasion.

Eric's work for the War Agricultural Committee led to his involvement in the National Farm Survey from July 1941. This Survey provided a comprehensive record of the condition of farms in England and Wales to enable wartime food production to be maximised.

The summer and autumn of 1941 continued to see regular air raids over Essex, which Eric witnessed from the roof of Colchester Castle such as a German plane being shot down near Clacton on 16th September 1941. However, Eric's firespotting duties also allowed him to see the Northern Lights when they appeared in the sky over Essex on 18th September 1941. He also recorded the arrival of the Indian Army in Colchester from mid-October 1941.

The threat posed by air raids to Colchester's historic buildings led Eric to start a photographic collection as a record of the town's architectural heritage in the autumn of 1941. He called this collection 'The Prospect of Colchester' and it now forms part of the collections held at Colchester Museums Resource Centre.

As 1941 drew to a close, Eric viewed the damage caused by a German air raid attack on the Great Bromley Pylons, which formed part of the Chain Home Radar Defence System. He was also listening to the radio on 11th December 1941, when it was announced that the United States had entered the war.

January and February 1942 brought harsh winter conditions, which were made worse by the wartime restrictions on fuel and food.  In April 1942 the 'Baedeker' air raids on British cultural towns began and left Eric wondering if Colchester's Castle and historic buildings would be the next targets to be attacked.

In May 1942, Eric decided to move to Shirburn Mill, Lawford to lodge with the farm's owners, Matthew and Joy Parrington, although he continued to work in Colchester and to undertake weekly shelter duties at Colchester Castle. 

With the arrival of American troops into Colchester in the summer of 1942, work began on building aerodromes for the American bases.  This work was closely monitored by the German Luftwaffe and led to increased air raids over Colchester.  On 11th August 1942, Colchester experienced its worst loss of civilian life during the war when bombs were dropped on Severalls Hospital.  Another serious air attack was made on residential streets in Colchester on 28th September 1942.

Keep up to date by following Eric’s diary blog at: http://wwar2homefront.blogspot.com/

E.J. Rudsdale's Journals of Wartime Colchester

Edited by Catherine Pearson

I am delighted to announce that the book, E.J. Rudsdale's Journals of Wartime Colchester is now available and has been published by The History Press (ISBN: 9780752458212).

Signed copies can be purchased directly from me via the E.J. Rudsdale's Journals website or contact me for further details. Alternatively, you can purchase the book direct from The History Press.

Catherine Pearson