30th April 1941

Still no raids tonight. Went to the pictures this evening not so much to see a film as to sit in the warm and comfort for an hour or two. Bob and donkey are both out in the field now, grazing well, so there is no immediate anxiety about rations.

28th April 1941

That glorious feeling of freedom which I always have when my parents are away! How wrong of me! Rang up the Health Office this morning, and arranged that Mrs. Ward can have two extra gallons of petrol on the next job she does. Rang Mrs. Ward and told her so.

Fortnightly meeting at Birch. Very long and very dull. I was asked to go out after tea for half an hour when staff wages were discussed. I understand there is a suggestion of increased pay for myself and Nott. I don’t want anymore.

Today a letter came from [the archaeologist, Christopher] Hawkes. His letter deals largely with the “coin moulds” found at Sheepen Farm. It seems to be pretty firmly established now that these pitted clay slabs are coin moulds, for he gives several references to examples elsewhere. I believe I am right in claiming to be the first person to suggest the real purpose of these moulds, from a reference in the “Illustrated London News” where an exactly similar thing is illustrated from India. I told Hull, at the time, but no mention of this appears in the report.

Rain tonight. Turned in early, still feeling very miserable after yesterday’s ride. I wish I did not go in cars. Every time I feel like this, yet every time a chance comes I hope I shall be alright.

The coin moulds referred to here had been discovered during archaeological excavations at Sheepen Farm, Colchester in the 1930s. The moulds were used by the ancient Britons to produce coins.

27th April 1941 - Wartime visit to Maidenhead

Dull and cold. To Maidenhead today by car, driven by a member of the Women's Voluntary Services (WVS), who turned out to be none other than Mrs. Ward, who brought with her Nancy, who used to ride my ponies at Horse Shows in the long ago. Unfortunately, it was a very small car, and they had not reckoned on my going as well, so it was a terrible squeeze. However, we got an incredible amount of luggage roped onto the carrier, and we all packed in, leaving Colchester just on 10 o’clock. I felt fine, and, as I have so often done before, deluded myself that I should continue to feel so.

At Coggeshall I noticed the Church tower has quite disappeared [as a result of bomb damage in September 1940]. All the land round there, especially near Frank Warren’s [a member of the Essex War Agricultural Committee], looks very well.

At Braintree one can see the burnt and shattered roofs where mines fell on two streets, and the devastated area on Bank Corner where the bombs fell on February 15th. I was glad to see the Old White Hart showed little signs of damage. The Bank site has been well cleared up, and a temporary wooden building erected. The school nearby is badly damaged, and the garage on Colchester Road quite gone. It is miraculous that only 3 persons were killed, especially quite early in the evening as that was. In spite of this damage though, the largest “devastated area” in Braintree is the “slum clearance area” of Sandpit Lane, where both sides of the lane, including the old inn, with stables where I used to put up, charming little cottages, an orchard and sheds have all been wiped away.

All through Braintree, Rayne etc there were police “specials” on duty at by-roads. At first we thought some important personage might be expected, but I heard when I got home that it was part of some grand manoeuvres, which were to include the landing of parachute troops. Mrs. Ward wanted to stop and enquire, but this was considered imprudent as Nancy had no identity card, which might lead to awkward situations.

Dunmow was just the same, plenty of soldiers walking about. At Bishops Stortford we saw the College, badly damaged by a direct hit. Three young girls were killed there. Hertford showed several houses badly damaged on each side of the main road, rather as if a mine had fallen nearby. The lovely view across the river, when you come up from Ware, was the same as ever. (We made the same old mistake in Ware of overshooting the turning to Hertford).

By this time I felt very bad, and had to have the car stopped while I walked up and down for a time. Conditions in the rear of the vehicle were made worse by the fact that Mother insisted on smoking and could not bear to have the windows open at all. Father looked rather bad, but he never complained.

At Watford, one house had gone in the main road coming in from the By-Pass. At Rickmansworth there was a very pathetic sight – a long row of horrible new, cheap villas, stretching out into the county, and the last two houses had been destroyed by a direct hit. You could see a bath hanging by its waterpipes, leaning down in the room below. Two walls stood, but all the rest was timber and rubble. It seems impossible that anyone could have remained alive, but such amazing luck so often occurs. Another 50 yards, and the bomb would have been in open fields. A few doors away from the ruin, a man was digging in his front garden, and children were playing.

On past Denham, the film studios all apparently closed, across the Uxbridge Road, and down to Slough, untouched and unharmed, the enormous Gas Works, Suttons Seed Farms, everything. We went past the little cafĂ© where I had lunch one day two years ago, and the forage merchant’s where I bought food for Bob. Through Slough, along by the Trading Estate, where there was a terrible accident – a car literally smashed to pieces, a broken motor cycle, petrol, oil, blood, and glass all over the road. On the grass verge, two still figures, each surrounded by a small crowd. There were several cars and lorries pulled up along the road on both sides. We edged our way through, just as an ambulance drew up.

On through Cippenham, with just a glimpse of Windsor Castle. I thought of the damage to Eton, and how I had looked with surprise at the air raid shelters being built there just two years ago. Under the railway and into Maidenhead, all unchanged, even the aged cab-horse still on the rank by the bridge, although with a brougham instead of a landau, presumably because of the cold weather. I have never seen anybody hire that landau yet. Through the town, directing Mrs. Ward through all the mazes of one way streets, and so up to Grenfell Road, past the old Park where I played as a child and up to No. 112. A hearty welcome, although I was disappointed to find that Maitland [EJR's cousin] had had to go off to Lambourne to Cousin Bert’s, to get his car overhauled. He did not know I was coming. We all had a hurried lunch, and a hasty goodbye before I started back with Mrs. Ward. I gave father £5. Aunt Het seemed very glad to see the old folks.

We left at about 2.30, and I had a little trouble in persuading them to go right into St. Albans town in order that I might have a few minutes in the Museum, which I had never seen since it was opened. This we did, and the Wards went to a visit a friend in the town while I dashed down Romeland Hill and by the old ford. I again noticed the old house I had hoped to have lived in, had I been able to get the Curatorship of the place. The Museum is beautifully arranged, rather like the Silchester Collection, indeed there is almost only one general method of showing stuff from a Roman town site. I could hardly have done this better myself. I asked for Corder [the Curator] but was surprised to hear that he was now engaged on special work at the British Museum, and only came to St Albans one day a week. I had only about 15 minutes in the Museum before I had to meet Mrs. Ward near the “Cricketer’s Arms”, so was only able to get a hurried impression of a very nice, well arranged collection. There were about 20 people in when I was there, although there was an admission charge of 6d.

I walked back through the Park, across the line of the city wall, past the old “Fighting Cocks”, where we all had bread and cheese with [R.E. Mortimer] Wheeler one day some years ago, under the great Abbey Gateway, by the scene of the Martyrdom, and so back into the main street. The Abbey looked as superb as ever. Pray that it is not damaged by bombs. The streets were crowded, and the tea shops open doing good trade. I looked at them longingly, as I had had nothing but a sandwich since lunch. Anyway, I soon found Mrs. Ward and we started back to Colchester, they full of tea, I eating the remainder of my sandwiches.

By the time we reached Bishops Stortford again I was feeling very ill indeed, and longed to stop the car, but they were in a desperate hurry to get home in order to hear the 6 o’clock News. Some people go almost insane if they miss one of the six daily news bulletins). However, miss it they did, as we did not reach Colchester until just on 7 o’clock. I got out in Crouch Street, thanked them, and staggered round to Seymour’s for some tea. Alas, hardly had I been there an hour when an alarm sounded and I had to go. A few planes came over, but nothing happened, and there was an early “All Clear”.

To bed terribly tired and feeling sick.

26th April 1941

Weather a little better, fine and sunny, but not very warm with a cold E. wind. Much carting to Harry [Day's]’s this afternoon. He gave me three eggs.

From what Folkard says, our whole staff is reserved at 25, although it seems very doubtful if this is so, in fact 35 is more likely. I wish I could find out for certain.

Mother making great preparations to go to Maidenhead tomorrow.

Rudsdale's parents were leaving Colchester because of the threat of invasion and had arranged to go and stay with Mrs Rudsdale's sister in Maidenhead.

25th April 1941

Still terribly cold.

Miss Joanna Round, our chief’s daughter began voluntary office work today [at the Essex War Agricultural Committee District office in Colchester]. She is tall, fair, not bad looking, but paints her finger nails and wears hideous little bracelets. Her clothes are good and look well. She and Nott are old friends, and spent a considerable time talking hunting and various County Balls and dances. Apart from that she is not at all snobbish or proud – I know in fact she does forestry work on the Birch Hall Estate.

24th April 1941

Still very cold. Let Bob and Donkey out into the paddock today, to eat off the fresh spring grass, but only for an hour or two in order to accustom them to it.

Saw [Councillor] Smallwood this evening and had a long talk. He told me what I already knew regarding the Chairman’s determination to have no scandal, and reaffirmed his determination to get the Museum “cleaned up”. He asked me to do all I could to keep the place together, and I said I would do my best.

We spoke of evacuation. He himself does not believe it will ever come, as he does not consider the Germans will make an attempt. If they do land, however, he is convinced that nothing will ever stop them, an opinion held by the majority in their inmost thoughts.

When I got up to Holly Trees tonight the front gate lock was jammed so that it was impossible to get in. Had to go all round by Roman Road. Then rang Poulter at the Liberal Club to tell him.

23rd April 1941

Bitterly cold weather. Three or four companies of soldiers came marching up East Hill this morning, headed by a band, and officers mounted, a sight I have not seen for years. Went to the pictures tonight, to see “No, No Nanette”, rather weak, but old, haunting tunes that I remember from years ago.

22nd April 1941

Museum Sub-Committee held today, on the instigation of [Councillors] Smallwood and Sam Blomfield, to enquire into the whole management of the Museum. From one point of view it was a hopeless failure, for this reason: Smallwood has told the Chairman his opinion of the Curator and his management of the affairs, and had stated plainly his determination to have an alteration before very long. Now an aged Chairman celebrates his 50th year on the Town Council in January 1942, and has been Chairman of the Museum ever since 1918. He is quite determined to see out his half century without a public scandal, and with this end in view he spoke to several Committee-men, and ensured that whatever criticisms were made by Smallwood they would be “toned down” before any recommendations were passed. This is, in fact, exactly what was done. Poulter is bitterly disappointed and has reverted to his despondent prophecy that Hull is here for another 25 years, but I quite appreciate the position – Sir W. Gurney Benham is not going to have any public scandal in the Museum while he is still Chairman. On the completion of his 50 years he will retire, - then anything may happen.

Today's meeting made only a few recommendations regarding Sunday opening and supervision, leaving Hull quite cocky. I believe he knew what was in the wind, and had been suffering considerable anxiety. Also discussion on what to do to “pack up” in case of compulsory evacuation, but mostly only talk. Nothing said about removing the Court Rolls.

M.R. Hull did remain as Curator of Colchester Castle for the next 25 years, retiring in 1963. CP

19th April 1941

Poulter was so upset at Hull’s news last night that he went to the Borough Treasurer this morning and asked him what really had happened last night. As I surmised, the situation, though alarming, is not as alarming as Hull made it sound. The meeting was one of the frequent ones now held by the Special Emergency Committee to discuss plans and details of evacuation should this be insisted upon by the army or the Civil Commission. Hull was certainly not instructed to close the museum, although he was asked what (if anything) had been done already. There was no mention whatever of [evacuating] the Court Rolls or other muniments. Poulter came back much refreshed and resumed his former attitude of complacency. Hull, on the other hand, still talks of burying the collection and bricking up the Castle and Holly Trees Muniment Rooms, none of which he has the slightest right to do without the consent and knowledge of the [Museum] Committee.

18th April 1941 - Fears of Invasion

Decided to go to the Regal [Cinema] tonight, and see “The Thief of Baghdad”, made all in colour. Although the story was not so good as the film I saw when a child, I was enthralled by the gorgeous colours.

Hull came into Holly Trees after nine, and told Poulter a great story of woe. It appears that there was an emergency meeting of the Mayor and Chief Officers this evening, from 5.30 to 9 o’clock, and from this Hull gathered that an invasion is imminent. Poulter believes him too, and when we went upstairs to have a cup of tea in his flat, all he would talk of was what was to become of Edith, (the housekeeper), and should he send a bag of clothes up to Scarborough, ready for a hurried departure? I told him that in my opinion Hull must have grossly exaggerated, as there is not the slightest sign of military preparedness in the town or district – no posts are manned, no bridges guarded, nor any evidence of activity in the barracks, other than the ordinary army affairs. Hull of course has again announced his intention of packing up the whole of the museum’s collections, and burying the pottery in the vaults. I told Poulter that this must be stopped at all costs, and that I was prepared to take any necessary action to get it stopped. I think my old people had better go. The atmosphere seems nervous and worrying.

17th April 1941: Heavy air raid on London

Tremendous raid on London last night. This is obviously the most violent raid ever launched. It has been increasingly the policy of the Government lately to minimise or falsify raid casualties, which are almost always described as “some”, “slight”, “including a few persons killed” or some such vague term. Thanks to the general narrow mindedness of the English, these unsatisfactory statements cause little interest or comment.

The raid on London on 16 April 1941 was one of the heaviest of the London Blitz when a 685 bomber raid caused more than 2,000 fires and killed over 1,000 people. The raid also damaged or destroyed historic churches and buildings.


This evening, about 6 o’clock, I was cycling down High Street when there passed me, going east at a swift pace, an army car carrying a general’s flag, another army car, a dark coloured Rolls Royce, and lastly two military police on motorcycles. I afterwards learnt that this was the Duke of Gloucester, who is inspecting army units in the district tomorrow. Such is a modern, war-time royal procession.

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, (1900-1974), was the third son of King George V.

16th April 1941

Saw the Mayor, looking rather pale, [after collapsing a few days previously] hurrying up High Street this afternoon.

No less than five raid alarms during the day, but no planes were seen or heard. It seems a miracle that we are preserved so often.

Hull went into Castle Park again today, with two officers and two soldiers. There is certainly some plot being hatched down there. I only hope it will not involve damage to either the [Roman] Gate or the [Roman] Drain.

The Army were planning to construct a secret dugout which British Resistance fighters might occupy in case of invasion. M.R. Hull, the curator at Colchester Castle, assisted the Army to find a suitable location. As a result of the information provided in EJR's Journals, this dugout has now been identified by Colchester Castle Museum and Castle Park staff after 70 years. EJR was concerned that the Army's activities might damage the Roman archaeological remains in Colchester's Castle Park. The full story of the establishment of the secret dugout can be read in EJR's book.


Benton phoned today about the Little Horkesley figures, which he fears (rightly) may be further damaged by persons interfering with them in their present exposed position in the main hall [of the Castle]. I met Duncan Clark this morning, and he mentioned the same thing. I rang Blomfield, who promised to bring it to the notice of the Museum Committee. Duncan Clark has already reported it to the Chairman himself.

EJR refers to the wooden effigies and medieval brasses that the Museum staff had rescued and restored following the bombing of Little Horkesley Church in September 1940.


Many planes over tonight, from 9.30 onwards. Beautiful, clear starlight, pierced by the wandering beams of searchlights.

15th April 1941

Museum Committee today. Councillor Smallwood began his attack on Hull, gently but firmly [following the theft of coins from the Museum in March 1941]. The Chairman [Sir W. Gurney Benham] is anxious that there should be no open scandal, as it would reflect on him. Anyway, a Sub-Committee has been appointed to enquire into the whole organisation of the Museum, consisting of the Chairman, Benton, Blomfield, and Smallwood.

Took Bob and donkey to be shod today. Coming back across the Abbey Field, I accidentally let them go, but by great good fortune managed to seize Bob’s trailing rope after only 10 minutes careful stalking. The donkey was more elusive, and we finished the journey with her running before and behind like a sportive puppy.

Went to the pictures for an hour or two early this evening. Drunken Canadian soldiers outside the “Fleece” just after 10, shouting and swearing in the middle of the road.

Fine warm day, very sunny. Our men are hard at work drilling and cultivating.

14th April 1941: Easter Monday

[War Agricultural] Committee at Birch, four hours talk, not very much done. What a nonentity I am in this job. Understand that Miss Round [Captain Round's daughter] is definitely coming [to work in the Colchester office of the Essex War Agricultural Committee]. She actually went to the office at 10 to 9 this morning, but we were not there until 11, when I went to do the letters.

Thinking tonight of those other Easter Mondays at Regents Park. [When EJR used to attend the annual Van Horse Parade before the war].

13th April 1941: Easter Sunday

Lovely day, warm and sunny. Went out to Dedham to tea at the Sissons’. Talked about the war, now going so badly, the Museum, Hull and the future. Not a very cheerful conversation, but I enjoyed the ever charming atmosphere of the place. We also discussed whether the Germans had destroyed more historic buildings than local authorities had in this country, and decided that it was very doubtful. Unfortunately felt very ill on the way back, with pain in stomach and side.

11th April 1941 - Good Friday

Heard today that the Mayor was taken ill last night, collapsing suddenly in the Parlour, hurting his head and ribs on the fire irons.

To work as usual this morning, doing the weekly pay. Was surprised to hear in the Bank that Paxman’s [the Engineering Works] had paid yesterday, and were now having three days holiday. This seems very strange when one considers that the Government refuse to allow even the Bank holiday to be officially observed, although most shops and businesses are shutting. A good lot shut today as well. One reason of course is that they cannot get enough supplies.

This morning I had a trip round to Mersea and Layer Marney with Nott when he took the pay [to the War Agricultural Committees's farmworkers]. He was so quick I had hardly time to see anything. There have been a good few bombs at East Mersea, and some land mines, but remarkably little damage has been done, and as far as I could gather, no injuries caused. I saw where one mine fell right on the road, near East Mersea Church, fortunately without doing any damage to that building. We rushed from there to Haynes Green and Layer Wood, where derelict land is being cleared. How slow it is to clear this land which has been neglected so long. In one way it is a comfort for the future to know how many more acres there are to produce food in 1942, 1943, and the other black years that lie ahead. We were back in the town by 1.15pm.

This afternoon clearing rubbish in my paddock. Bitterly cold day. Skipping as usual on King’s Meadow. What is the origin of this?

Can anyone enlighten me as to the old tradition of skipping on Good Friday on Colchester's King's Meadow? Thanks, CP

10th April 1941

Went up this evening to see Daven Soar [EJR's schoolfriend], home for Easter with his wife and child. All is well with them. We went out for a couple of drinks at the “Berechurch Arms” [now the "Huntsman's Tavern"]and the “Leather Bottle”, both places absolutely packed. Old Daven just the same as ever. Still running after any pretty woman he sees.

9th April 1941

German advance into Greece continues.

Allied armies in full retreat in Libya as well.

George Orwell discusses the deteriorating wartime situation in Greece and Libya in more detail - see his diary entries for 7th - 9th April 1941. CP

7th April 1941

There was an alarm at 8.45pm, so I had to go on duty. Moon shining through gaps in clouds, a few planes about, but nothing dropped.

6th April 1941

Down at Bourne Mill all morning and most of the afternoon with Maura Benham, who seems to really enjoy paddling about in the mud and water there. We had hoped to have a bonfire, but unfortunately the sticks were too wet and would not burn. We had a lunch of sandwiches, sitting in the old granary, which, although a cold wind was blowing, was quite enjoyable. Maura just the same as ever.

The AFS were down at the pond this morning, doing hose work as usual, and practising running ladders up the side of the mill. Maura said that [her brother] Hervey’s leg was doing well, and he hoped to be back at Fingringhoe soon, which is indeed good news.

Hervey Benham was invalided out of the Navy after suffering an injury to his leg.

5th April 1941

Penelope Belfield drove in today, and put up at Port Lane. The little grey [pony] looks very well indeed. We spent the afternoon sorting out old stuff to give her in the way of a curry comber, bits of harness, etc. She looked lovely, in a green tweed coat, with a green bandeau round her hair, still stammering delightfully. I long to comment on it, and compare notes, but I just daren’t yet. I had hoped to give her tea, but we stayed too late so she had to drive away soon after 6. Tremendously heavy rain, which cleared up just before P.B. left. Harry Day gave me six eggs in exchange for a bundle of straw. Called at the Seymours’ tonight and hear that Jeff. Saunders is due to join the army on Monday. He is lucky that he is only going to Shotley, so I suppose will be able to get home fairly frequently. Poor Jeffrey, but I believe he is keen to go.

EJR spoke with a stammer and his journal must have been an important outlet for him to express his thoughts.


Jeffrey Saunders was a schoolfriend of EJR's and they had both had registered for National Service in the same week in 1940. CP

2nd April 1941

Weather a little better, though still cold. Heavy explosions about midday. This afternoon a man came in from St. Osyth and told us they were caused by some cows belonging to Foulds, which were grazing at St. Osyth Marshes, getting out into a field of land mines, carefully prepared for invading Germans. Five cows were killed, the front legs of one being blown right across Clacton Golf Links. A dog was sent through the barbed wire, and succeeded in getting the rest of the cows off without further harm either to themselves or to him. Foulds had previously lost one cow when it was struck by an AA shell fired from Weeley Heath. I do not know whether, in a case of this sort, a farmer can obtain immediate compensation from the army, or whether he will have to wait until after the war.

Went to the pictures early this evening, and then down to Rose’s but found her in a very bad temper.

EJR's relationship with Rose had been deteriorating for some time and they finally parted in April 1941. EJR's account of the end of their relationship appears in his book. CP

1st April 1941

Heavy rain nearly all day. Field and front paddock at Bourne Mill a marshy swamp, Bob and the donkey paddling about up to their eyes in mud. Fodder terribly hard to get – hay £9 a ton, oats and bran rationed to 1 cwt per month (half each), chaff 4/6 a bag. Been very lucky to get straw last October at 1/1 a truss. Now 1/6 in town.

Met Harvey, Town Clerk’s department, in the street today. He told me there were strong rumours about the alteration of the reserved age for Local Government staffs of up to 35, but that it would not take place until August. This is indeed good news.

Heard today that Hull, cycling home last night, ran into the back of a company of marching soldiers, half way down East Hill. This, like the fire-engine episode [see 17th March 1941], happened just after the pubs closing time.