31st May 1940: The wartime removal of signposts

There is a great scare now – we are going to be invaded by Germans landing by parachutes, so in order to confuse them every place-name in the whole of Britain is to be obliterated. I can see that this would have some value in rural districts, but I really cannot believe that it is possible for the Germans to reach Colchester without knowing where they were. It doesn’t seem to occur to anybody that the Germans have maps.

Corporation men were running round tonight taking down all signposts or boards with the name “Colchester” on them.

30th May 1940

Rose’s brother Archie is safe back from France. He had a very bad time, but is now safely housed near Dorchester. I don't think Rose knew how narrow an escape he had this last few days.

Rose's brother had been amongst the British Forces evacuated from Dunkirk.

29th May 1940

Went to the pictures tonight with Rose. Saw “Sherlock Holmes”, very well done and most life like.

28th May 1940

News very bad today. Belgians suddenly make an unconditional surrender.

They are now talking about the evacuation of the East and South Coast towns. I fear Colchester will be included in this. Children are being moved from Harwich, Clacton and Southend.

27th May 1940

Took Father and Mother up to London. I got them to Paddington and put them on the train, and while I was on the platform who should come by but Balfour of Sutton’s Farms at Slough. I spoke to him, and introduced him to my parents. He said he was very busy now, and was in charge of the Local Defence Volunteers.

After the parents had left, I took the Tube to Tottenham Court Road. At Bond Street a girl got in and, after studying the route maps, asked me if she was right for the Post Office. We chatted on, and she told me she had been a reporter on the “Liverpool Post” and came from Manchester. She had resigned her job and had come South to join the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), but had been turned down on medical grounds. She was now more or less on her beam ends in London, working as an attendant at the Monsignor Cinema near Marble Arch for 36/- a week, which is not a high wage for a B.S.c. Manchester.

She was greatly interested in London, and found considerable difficulty in finding her way about, so I gave her my street map, for which she was grateful. They cost 2/6, and you don't get many half-crowns spare out of 36/-, after paying 17/- a week for a room with breakfast in Kildare Terrace, Paddington.




A typical London street map of the time similar to the copy that Eric gave away.

26th May 1940

Packing up to take Father and Mother to Maidenhead [to stay with Mrs Rudsdale's sister and her family]. Germans advance into Channel ports.

24th May 1940

Germans still advance.

Bought a very nice brass medallion today, commemorating the marriage of George III in 1761. It was found above an old ceiling in the new Police HQ in Queen Street, probably dropped through a crack in the floor above.

23rd May 1940

Germans are now in Boulogne, and advance quite unchecked, only 30 miles from the English coast.

22nd May 1940

The news in the papers today seemed a little better, but was followed almost at once with the startling intelligence that the Germans were in Abbeville, miles from where they were expected to be. It is obvious that the BEF are in a very tight corner. There is great consternation everywhere.

In view of the greatly increased danger of air raids and the possibility that the country will soon be invaded, I told Father that he and Mother must move.



Eric made the following sketches of Bob and the Donkey and another horse, called Nick, at Bourne Mill on this day in 1940 and pasted them into his journal

21st May 1940

Germans advancing very fast. The radio news gets more and more gloomy every hour.

18th May 1940

German advance continues unchecked. The weather is so beautiful it seems incredible that war is advancing upon us such a comparatively short distance away.

17th May 1940

Papers as pessimistic today as they were optimistic yesterday. German army irresistible. Trade in Colchester seems to be very good, although there are a good many empty houses in the town.

What was the Corporation dump in Land Lane is now being ploughed, making a rural scene so near High Street.

16th May 1940

The papers seem more optimistic today, and claim that the advance in Belgium is halted.

15th May 1940

Had to give a short talk this afternoon on Dr. Gilberd at Holy Trinity Church to the Lexden Archaeological Society. Frightful bore.

Holland very wisely gave up fighting today to stop further slaughter and destruction. Weather continues wonderful.

Dr William Gilberd (1544-c1603) lived in Trinity Street, Colchester. Part of his house, Tymperleys, still survives and is now a clock museum. Gilberd was a pioneer of the study of magnetism and was also court physician to Elizabeth I and president of the Royal College of Physicians. He is buried at Holy Trinity Church, Colchester.

14th May 1940

German army running very fast through Holland. A great deal of chatter in the Press about forming “Local Defence Volunteers”. People seem to be a little nervous war is getting so close. Beautiful weather today.

13th May 1940: Whit Monday

Some shops open today, others shut. Quite a lot of people stopped work, and buses to Mersea were full.

There is a guard on East Bridge now, and all persons are stopped after dark. There was a barrier of barbed wire across East Street, just where Ipswich Road comes in. Very fine hot day.

12th May 1940

We could hear A.A. firing this morning. At 1 o’clock eleven planes flew over, going east and about 3 eight came back, so I suppose they had been over to Holland or Belgium bombing. Soldiers seem to have been allowed out again today. Beautiful fine weather.

11th May 1940

Special Notice appeared in Benham's [Press Office window] tonight from the Regional Commissioner, saying that all ARP organisations should now be ready for instant action, and warning people of the necessity of taking great care about lights. I started carrying my police helmet again. Most of the soldiers were confined to Barracks all day, and were only allowed out for a couple of hours this evening. By order of the new Government, the Whit Monday Bank Holiday is cancelled.

Winston Churchill had replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister on 10th May 1940.

10th May 1940

Announced on the Radio, 8 o’clock news, that the Germans have invaded Holland and Belgium this morning. Great excitement. General opinion is that the British Expeditionary Force will now smash them entirely, and the war will certainly end this year. Personally I am not so optimistic.

We had a meeting of the Civic Society this evening at 5 in the Holly Trees. I reported my business with the Town Clerk about the Council’s attitude to ancient monuments, in which he made it quite clear that the town would not consider any scheme for large scale preservation. This is very depressing, and I being to wonder if it is any use going on.

9th May 1940: Eric's eyewitness account of German Plane Crash at Clacton

Went off this afternoon on my cycle to see Clacton. It is a long time since I went so far on a bicycle. I took about 2 hours. It was a lovely spring day. Nearly all the little houses along the St. Osyth Road are empty now.

You have to go to within a few hundred yards of the smash before you see anything, then every house has a few windows gone, and as you get nearer the scene tiles are missing and gardens full of wreckage. The actual house that was hit is just a pile of bricks, and the two next ones are very badly damaged, having one wall quite gone. Thousands of windows are missing in the adjoining streets. Everywhere are lorries and even horse-drawn pantechnicons loading up furniture.

It is a sad scene of desolation and made me think of the days when I drove through these very roads in the yellow gig, Bob arching his neck and titupping along.

The devastated scene at Victoria Road, Clacton, following the crash landing of a German minelaying plane on 30th April 1940 (Courtesy of Essex Police Museum)

Clacton is I should think about half empty now. There are quite a lot of soldiers about, and most of the houses on the front seem to be taken over by the army.

The beach is quite open, no signs of fortifications like in the last war. The pavilion advertises band concerts by the Cavalry Band from Colchester. Shopping centre looks quite full, and as I got there newsboys were displaying the evening placards, which said “New Call-Up”, giving me an unpleasant feeling.

I came home by way of Jay Wick Lane. Saw Jack Eggleton walking with a young woman near Butlins. (That’s now a barracks, the gardens are still kept very nice). Got home about 7, much slower on the way back. Thankful for a following wind.

See Eric's previous posts on 1st May 1940 and 30th April 1940 for more information on the crash landing of a German minelaying plane on Victoria Road, Clacton.

1st May 1940: German Plane Crashes on Clacton

Went up to London today. Heard on the station that the bang last night was a German bomber which crashed at Clacton, so that its whole carcase exploded. Besides the crew, at least two people are dead, and several houses have been demolished.

These were the first civilian deaths of the war on mainland Britain. The German Heinkel He-111E plane had been on a mine-laying operation off the east coast when it was hit by anti-aircraft fire from Harwich and crashed onto Victoria Road, Clacton. The huge explosion, which had been heard by the Rudsdale family in Colchester (see 30th April 1940 journal entry), was caused by one of the remaining mines on the aircraft exploding. Eric gives an eyewitness account of the scene of devastation on 9th May 1940 and Mike Dennis provides information on his family's experience of this crash in his comments on Eric's blog for 22 August 1940. For more information on this crash see the book, Clacton at War, 1939-1945 by the Clacton VCH Group and there is also a thread about this crash on the WW2Talk discussion site. Newsreel footage of this incident is available on YouTube.

I went straight out to the Ada Cole Memorial Stables at S. Mimms, near St. Albans, in fact so near that I wished I had had more time to go on to see the Museum. I met Dr Rose Turner there, and we had a free discussion about what ought to be done with Bob in an emergency. I decided to give the Fund £15, in hope that they could support him for about six months, if they had him in the spring. The Ada Cole Memorial Stables was a home for retired horses and continues today as a horse rescue centre.

I discussed the possibility of my going in the army, and mentioned that my physical condition was poor. The old doctor at once insisted on running her stethoscope over me. I was most embarrassed. She calmly said my heart was sound, so I suppose all the pains I have been through this last 10 years are just imagination. However, the old dear meant very well.

Leaving there I went straight down to Piccadilly, to attend a Council meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute at Burlington House.

After that, I went round to Paddington to see if Maura Benham was in her “garette”, but she was out, so I walked along by countless dozens of empty houses to Hyde Park. The sun was setting as it does in London, a great crimson ball sinking into a bank of mist, with trees and distant buildings fading into a thickening gloom. Crowds lay upon the grass. There were quite a number of uniforms, but not a tremendous lot. Open air meetings were well attended, but hundreds of men and girls lay within earshot, playing with dogs, and entirely unheeding the words of doom which were being bellowed across the Park. Two ducks, solemnly stalking towards the Marble Arch, marched past the barrage balloon which lay tethered to the ground near Park Gate.

It all seemed very unreal. Came home on the 7.30, travelling in acute discomfort, feeling very sick.