31st December 1944 - New Year's Eve

Last day.  Up late.  Bright, clear, cold morning.  ‘Planes going out very early.  Glass still high.  Wondered whether or not to take the 6 train tonight or to go first thing tomorrow.  Decided on tomorrow, as not yet packed.  Rushed around all morning, and then cycled in to say goodbye to father.  He was alone, Miss Payne having gone to church.  Had tea with him, and lots of pleasant chat.  He did not seem very depressed at my going, in fact if anything rather pleased at my “success”.  Had a shock to receive another form of enquiry from the Ministry of Labour, delivered second post yesterday – when did I leave my job? and what am I doing now?  Should there be trouble, am wondering whether Spivy [of the Labour Exchange] would back me up – I have nothing from him in writing.

Miss Payne came back, talking nineteen to the dozen.  Went over to Rallings’, ‘phoned to Lawford, to Penry Rowland, to Watts about the stable, to Lyons at Ardleigh about Bob, and so forth.  Suggested to Mary Ralling that if Miss Payne went on holiday, perhaps Father could go to Winnock Lodge for a week, and she, dear good woman, willingly agreed.

Had a look at the Sunday papers, full of gloom.  The Germans, long ago “beaten” and “routed”, are striding into Belgium and probably France, while the British Government concerns itself entirely with the destruction of the Greek Socialists.  Gloom and depression everywhere, a quarter of a million more men to go into the army and the enemy preparing devastating attacks on all parts of this country.  Then, as a final bit of nonsense, it is reported that part of the famous Wren ceiling at Windsor Market Hall has collapsed, and “experts” (“experts”!  Great God!) are to see “whether the building should be demolished as it is unsafe.!

Said a final goodbye at home, and cycled slowly up the town.  Every now and again there were quick showers of sleet and snow, and the streets were full of ghosts.  Holly Trees and the Castle in deep darkness.

Decided to go out to Little Rivers, to say goodbye to the Roses, but found deep depression there too, as the baby is again desperately ill.  Dodo said that early this evening she collapsed completely, and she thought it was all over.  The doctor does not seem to know what the matter is, but it seems like severe gastro-enteritis.  Had the same sort of thing in the last war when I was 5.

Dodo is terribly worried but seemed disposed to chat, so stayed until nearly 10.  They both kept going up every few minutes to see the child, but she was now sleeping gently and seemed a good deal better.  We talked of everything and everybody.  Poor Mrs. Penton, dreadfully ill with cancer, is still alive, but there is no hope for her at all, yet no doubt every effort will be made to keep her alive as long as possible.

During the evening, rockets fell occasionally.  Dodo hates them, and was visibly affected.  Got back to Woodside at 10.30, in brilliant moonlight.  Very cold.  Settled up with Miss Bentley for everything.  She has been very kind to me, and seems as sorry that I am leaving as I am to go.  Am very grateful indeed for all she has done for me.

She went off to bed, and I went outside a minute or 2 before 12.  Faintly and far off came the sound of singing and cheering in the town, and the noise of a train going towards Ipswich, then a lot of shouting and a fusillade of shots at the aerodrome, where the Yankees were “making whoopee”.  Then all was silent, and 1944 ended, and with it the “Colchester Journal”.  How strange never again to begin a clean book with those familiar words.  Now must begin the “Wisbech Journal”.

And so closes another year of war and sorrow, with the prospect of yet another (and God knows how many more) before us.  The war, far from being over, seems to have begun again from the beginning.

30th December 1944

Very sharp frost.  

Had a taxi come from Dedham this afternoon, bringing books and papers which have been stored at Shermans for safety.  Still a lot of stuff left there.  Home for a “Saturday dinner”, the last for God knows how long.

29th December 1944

Still cold.  Another day in the stables, moving harness, carts and so forth into the old slaughterhouse, where Watts says they can be stored for some time at least.  Am very anxious to keep the ralli.

I think I am more sad almost to leave these old stables than to leave the Museum.  Feel sure I shall never drive again.

Home to wash, and then met Daphne at Culver Sreett and had a meal.  She was in great form, and looked very attractive.  Lot of talk about her work at the school, and what she hopes to do.  Took her home about 7, and then went up to Soar’s.  Four distant rockets fell during the evening, while the moon blazed full and glorious.  A lot of chat tonight, and then back to Boxted on roads crunching with hard glittering frost.

28th December 1944

Still cold and foggy.  Another letter from Ann, telling me about her Christmas in her home at Aberdeen.  Spent the whole day in the stables, clearing rubbish.  Made a big fire in the middle of the yard.  The jennet stood by, watching sadly, as she knew what all this meant.

Went home for an hour, washed, changed, and went out to tea with Dolly S [from the Telephone Exchange].  Had not seen her for a long time.  Had a lot of foolish chatter about the old days, Mary, Walker, Molly Bateman and the “treason case” and so on.  Tonight to Holly Trees, in the Muniment Room and the Essex Archaeological Society Library, and then to Boxted at 11 o’clock, very tired out.  The moon is full tomorrow night.

27th December 1944

In spite of all good intentions, up very late again.  Thick fog, but a few ‘planes went out.  Worked all morning sorting papers and packing.  Letter from dear Ann, which she wrote on Christmas Day.  Sent me a leather bookmark.  This is the first time I’ve seen her handwriting.

Went in to Colchester at 3, bitterly cold, and a thin low fog, the sun shining orange coloured through it.  Thunderbolts were coming in to land, glittering in the sun, then sinking out of sight into the fog as they came over the field.  Must be very terrifying to the pilots, having to land quite blind.

Had tea, went to stable, harnessed the jennet (with some difficulty) and brought home the big trunk from there to pack more books.

To Holly Trees, in the bright cold moonlight.  Poulter says the “little man” is furiously angry about my letter on the blankets, and threatens all sorts of things.  

Out to Boxted at 11, fog coming up over the moon, and the whole world white and still.

26th December 1944 - Boxing Day

Thick fog, and a very heavy hoar-frost.  Glorious scene from the window – like fine snow everywhere, all the trees in the wood thickly coated, all the telegraph wires, roof ridges, everything.  The dull brazen sun was shining through the mists.  ‘Planes began to go out, and then I slept again until 10.30, much too late.  This morning sleeping is a vile habit, one which I must break when I get to Wisbech.

Breakfast so late that I had no lunch.  Went to the Castle.  Searched the whole place for my blankets, at last found two upstairs on the firewatchers’ beds.  The best ones, which cost me 30/-, have gone, so took two others and two pillows, which have also been stolen.  All my crockery gone, and not a stick left of the deckchairs.

Went all over the place perhaps for the last time.  The Museum is in a disgusting state.  Timperley’s fine armour is a mass of rust with a few crude labels hung by strings onto the exhibits.  Thousands of objects have no labels at all – the famous “Sheila na gig” from Easthorpe church still has no mark on it, after being in the Museum for about 18 years.  Not half the cases in the building have any attempts at arrangement at all.

Found a nest of drawers under the Saxon and Norman coin-case unlocked, containing amphorae, stamps, etc. so pulled them all open and left them.   

My letter files are still in the office but the system of filing letters ended in 1940.  No Museum Reports are filed now, but are destroyed by Poulter as soon as they arrive.  

Fog worse than ever.  Went down to Cannon Street and called on Daphne.  Arranged to see her Friday.  

Wrote a letter to Hull about the blankets, as he will no doubt accuse me of stealing them.  As I was writing, heard the sound of firebells, and ran out in time to see one of the big red engines dashing down High St. in the fog, bell clanging.  It stopped at Queen St. corner, and a man got down and questioned a bystander.  The answer was apparently unsatisfactory, because he climbed back on the engine, which reversed, turned, dashed away up the street, gong still clanging.  I walked as far as the Castle Inn, and then heard another appliance, a tender with a trailer pump this time, coming up from East Hill at full speed, fog lamp blazing, the crew flashing torches everywhere like small searchlights.  This looked like a real fire somewhere, but just at that moment the first engine reappeared, still at full speed, and one had the exquisite pleasure of seeing two fire-engines, both presumably looking for the same fire, dashing past each other at full speed in a thick fog, their bells ringing like carillons, for all the world like two excited tourers after a car.

The tender pulled up at Bedwells’ the pawnbrokers’, and men began to flash torches along the shop fronts.  Somebody called out in the dark “What are you looking for mate?” and several firemen called back “No. 70”.  At this moment I noticed Inspector Bonnicoat standing right by me, so I said “surely 70 is opposite Holly Trees, near the Nurses’ Home.”  He said “I believe you’re right,” so we walked back there, and sure enough it was the Nurses’ Home, and the first engine was there already.  There was nothing happening, so no doubt it was just an electrical fuse or something of that sort – people send for firemen on the most flimsy excuses in these days.

Meanwhile the tender and trailer arrived, having been further up the street to turn round.  It seemed a fantastic thing that two fire engines should be sent out without apparently a single man among the crews knowing where the fire was.  In the old days every firemen knew the town inside out, but now under the National Fire Service organisation the crews are made up from men from all over the country, who may not even know where the Town Hall is.  This is the third or fourth time I have known cases of fire engines being unable to find the fire to which they have been sent.  Wrote a note on this for Benham, but don't suppose he will publish, as the N.F.S. is one of the services which is never criticised in the press.

Went up to Seymour’s.  Geoff Saunders was there, and is off to the Orkneys tomorrow.  About 24 hours from now he will be going through Inverness, hardly a mile from Ann Maclean.  Said that he hated Scotland and loathed the Orkneys.  Stayed until 11.30, quite like old times.  Back to Boxted in freezing cold fog, the sound of cheerful shouts and singing from people coming home from parties, though what they have to be cheerful about is hard to say.

No more reports of ‘divers’ in the North of England, but if the Germans regain all Belgium and Holland there will be much more severe attacks here.

25th December 1944 - Christmas Day

Wakened at about 7 by noise of aero engines warming up, but dozed off again.  ‘Planes began to go out before light.  Brilliant sunny morning, but freezing cold.  Voices sounding clearly through the frosty air from distant cottages. 

Did a few jobs, wrote several letters, packed nearly all my books which I am taking.  The main bulk of course will be left at home.  Am taking all the Journals and notebooks.

Went in to Colchester for Christmas dinner at home.  The streets were very empty, just a few lonely Americans slinking about, no doubt thinking of Christmas in New England and California and Texas and wondering if they will ever see another, just as I am wondering if I shall ever see another in Colchester.  The empty streets, in winter sunlight, long vistas of pale light and shade, looked very much like the old “primitive” photographs of the town.

Miss Payne laid on a royal spread, and enjoyed herself enormously.  After dinner went upstairs to my little room, and sorted books.  Packed one of Father’s old wooden trunks.

To Holly Trees again for a couple of hours, in the Muniment Room, and then back to Boxted.  A few ‘planes about, floating like little beetles under the light of the moon.  Owls crying in the woods, the farm horses rustling in the straw yard.  Bed at midnight.

24th December 1944 - Christmas Eve

Cold, damp day.  Big explosions during the day at odd times.

Had lunch at Boxted, then to Holly Trees for the rest of the afternoon, working on Dr Laver’s index in the Muniment Room.  Home to tea.  Father very well and happy.  Got him a pound of the best tobacco that I could find.

This evening to Seymour’s at 8, stayed talking until after 11, and so home to Boxted through empty deserted streets.

23rd December 1944

Two alarms, at 7.15 and 8 A.M.  Three ‘divers’ burst to the E. and one went over a little to our north.  Saw it from the field behind the house.  Fine day, but waves of fog during the morning.  Went into town, very busy on odd jobs.  To Library and coming out ran into Sam Blomfield.  He was a bit short, and obviously very put out at my going.  Said: “Do you think you’ll ever come back?”  Answered that I had not the least idea.  

Home for tea, and then went out to Little Rivers, but found Dodo ill again, so could not stay long.  On the Boxted Road a brass band was playing carols in the misty moonlight, and a few rockets fell in the distance.  Dodo seemed far more nervous of rockets than she ever was of bombs, whereas I am not.  Gave them a print, and they gave me a print, and left at quarter to 10.  Miss Bentley said she thought there had been an alarm during the evening.  Her sister is here from London, seeming very nervous.

Walked out into the bright moonlight, and could hear a lot of singing and shouting from the Americans on the aerodrome.

Tomorrow being Sunday, today serves as Christmas Eve, and a lot of people are having parties tonight.

22nd December 1944

Fog so thick that it was dark at 10 o’clock this morning.  Miss Bentley had it from Mrs. Smith that the big explosion yesterday morning was a rocket dropped by “a plane” on Witham Station, blocking the line.  Don’t suppose there is a word of truth in it.

Went to Bank for Father and paid in his pension, £60 for the quarter.  Can't understand how he manages on so little.  Tried to get “British Diarists” for Daphne, but unobtainable.  Nor could I get any O.S. sheets for the Isle of Ely.

Fog cleared and the sun came out.  A few ‘planes were over, mostly Thunderbolts from Boxted, stunting aimlessly.  

Went home and gave Miss Payne a water-proof shopping bag which I got Harry Day to make for me, and gave dear Mary Ralling some Wisbech apples.  Dear old Father seemed very well, happy and cheerful.

To tea at Winnie’s with Daphne, who looked as lively and charming as I have ever seen her.  When we came out the moon was shining through a thin mist.

Went to Holly Trees, and saw Poulter.  The Liberal Club now takes the blackest view of the war, and think it must last 2 years more. 

To Boxted at 9.30.  Listened to some Gilbert and Sullivan music, reminding me of the happy nights in Edinburgh so few weeks ago.  At eleven o’clock the fog very thick again, so some hope for a quiet night.  Sat reading until nearly 1.00am.

Don't expect I shall see Hull again.  How extraordinary to go like this, after nearly 17 years.  How he must dislike me.  Poulter says he was frightfully drunk this afternoon.  It is possible that his feelings were deeply hurt when I got the Wisbech job without asking him for a reference.  I did not mean to hurt his self-respect, but it would obviously be absurd for me to apply to him for a testimonial.

Heard that a rocket fell just clear of the Hoffmann works in Chelmsford, and brought down most of the remaining houses in Henry Rd, where so much damage was done in the raid in 1942 and killed 39 people.  So a chance shot, fired 200 miles away, does more execution than a carefully planned air-raid.  This ought to be written up over the desk of every RAF officer.  

Saw Diana today, walking past the Albert Hall, with her brother, a very handsome young sailor.

21st December 1944

Fog still very thick.  Lay late in bed, after a wonderful night.  About quarter past 10, the house was violently shaken by a rocket, somewhere S. or S.W.  Cleaned cycle, went into town.  This afternoon went round to War Agricultural Committee and saw Capt. Folkard who was very kind.  Collected a lot of books, papers, antiquities, etc. which I had left there, also my paper cabinet, but the filing cabinet which I lent them had quite disappeared.  I suggest Nott has taken it for the depôt.  Decided to leave my drawing board which is used for maps, and they have nothing else.  A glamorous red-head has been added to the staff.  Thelma is still there, dashing about very happily.  Says she is anxious to join the WRNS.  Funny that after all I never had my office in dear old A.G. Wright’s house [former Curator of Colchester Castle Museum] – how odd, I might have had his bedroom, where he died.  Remember so well standing talking to his sister in the dining room [after his death] in 1926, with never the slightest idea that I should ever enter that house again.

Home to tea.  Fog a little clearer, and some bombers beginning to go out.

To Holly Trees.  Poulter even more despondent, about the Museum, my going, the troubles in Parliament and in Greece.  There is now talk among some Home Guard commanders about leaving the Home Guard armed, so as to deal “with any indiscipline among civilians” at the end of the war.

Fog coming on again, the lights in High Street glowing through misty halos.  Crowds of people going home, carrying parcels and bunches of holly, trying so desperately to keep up the old Christmas traditions.  Got to Boxted soon after 8.  Listened to 9 o’c news.  The Government intend to send the ATS abroad compulsorily, into battle areas if necessary.  But one light in the glum – public clocks may now be lit at night.

Trier has been badly raided – what tragedy.  God knows what dreadful damage may have been done to the Porta Nigia and the rest.

The “East Anglian” today records the death on Monday last of dear old Bull of Great Baddow, who for these 10 years and more has been a wonderful friend to the Museum.  The old chap was 82 – had never thought of him being so old.  The last important find which he reported to us was the mediaeval tile-kiln, at Danbury, in the spring of 1939.

He was always so kind to us when we went out there, and so full of enthusiasm for his discoveries.  His work at the Twitty Fee site was very valuable.

On the back page of the same paper is a paragraph about my appointment, in which I am credited with being a member of the Essex Archaeological Society – which I am not.

Coming out through Mile End tonight, heard down Mill Rd, childish voices singing “Nowell”, while some drunk Americans at the bus stop were bawling “Jingle bells, jingle bells.”

Sat down and made a new will – £100 to Rose Browne, all the rest to Father, and after him to the Quakers for relief.  £10 to horses’ home, same to the Van Horse Society for prizes.  All my notebooks, diaries, plans, everything, to the British Museum.  The Colchester “Prospect” of photographs to the National Buildings Record: all my books to the Roses: architectural books to Sissons; any pottery or other antiquities to Chelmsford Museum, the “John Rudsdale” mug to York Museum; horse books to Grubb; the phaeton to the Science Museum, old Bob to be destroyed; the stable to Hampshire; my saddles to Joy Parrington; to Colchester Museum – my best wishes.

20th December 1944 - Wisbech - Colchester

Up early.  Thick fog, but decided to cycle to Ely as I had intended.  Lights on at 9 o’clock, and some pair-horse drays, mere shapes in the gloom, moving slowly over the bridge.  At breakfast one of the Yorkshire “commercials” was being heavily humorous with Veronica Flood as to where she was so late last night.  We neither of us rose to the bait.  She goes back to London soon.

Paid bill - £2.14.0 for 4 days, not too dear, but a very bad hotel.  Arranged to come back, if I cannot get in anywhere else, at 11/- a day, more than I can afford.  Set off at 9.30am.  Asked a woman standing at a doorway in Elm Road if I was right for Ely, but she appeared never to have heard of the place.

All the way to Upwell there is a rail-road, now used only for goods but formerly for passenger “trams” as well.  At times one gets a glimpse of the derelict canal, part of the same waterway which runs through Wisbech.  Fog too thick to see Beaupré Hall, which is said to be very fine but much damaged.  Nothing to be seen but muddy dykes, full of weeds, and flat, black fields vanishing into the fog.  Outwell Church at 10 o’clock.  Across the old and New Bedford Rivers, and the desolate Washes, (In Welney noticed a shop with a wicker-work eel-trap in the window, exactly as shown in medieval drawings).  On the Wash road are boards marked in feet, to give the height of water in flood. 

So into Littleport.  A slight rise of ground, the first since Wisbech.  Felt a little anxious about trains, but got to Ely at midday.  Fog so thick that the top of the Cathedral was invisible, the great grey arches soaring away to be hidden in the clouds.  Hope to come here again soon in better weather.

Caught the train easily, which arrived on time but waited 45 minutes for a train from Norwich.  It was packed, and had to stand in the corridor wedged against two Artillery sergeants talking about Greece.  One said: “I’m thankful I’m not there.  Damned if I’d shoot the poor buggers,” meaning the “Reds” as they are now called.  Both talked about leave passes, Sergeant Majors, officers, immorality the colonel, etc.  One said that his Segeant Major was so afraid of being murdered by his men that he would never leave his own hut after dark, but had his supper sent in from the canteen.  They talked about service conditions, and thought that the total length of service of conscripted men would be about 10 years – one spoke of men of 42 recently conscripted – “poor sods, you ought to see ‘em!” – who would be 50 by the time they got out, “and what chance in hell have they got then?”

On my other side was a dreadful ugly woman with a screaming, coughing baby, a little boy, and a meek harassed looking air-man husband.  The woman said: “Coo, Jerry didn’t half give us what for the other morning, didn’t half wake us up.”  The poor little boy could do nothing right, the mother screaming at him wherever he stood.  The baby coughed and yelled, took some milk out of a bottle, spluttering hideously.  The mother said: “Nasty cough he’s got.  He don't half bring something up sometimes!”  Baby did so at once.

At last left Ely at quarter to two instead of 12.25, got to Cambridge at 2.15, past long lines of fog – men with their glowing braziers, the fog-signals banging like small bombs.

Colchester train left almost at once, being over an hour late, and crawled down to Bartlow, there to wait another 40 minutes.  Tall, very handsome blonde got in, very impatient about delay.  She was trying to get to Grays Thurrock, via Colchester and Chelmsford, where she hoped to get a bus, thus going about 90 miles to cover what was really 50.  She is the music teacher at Linton Rural College.  The journey would take her at least 10 hours.

Then a Women's Land Army girl got in at Haverhill.  She worked for the West Suffolk Committee, and had to reach Euston tonight to get to Stoke on Trent.  Asked her why she didn’t go by Peterborough, but her geography was not strong enough to discuss this proposition.  Another delay of half an hour at Long Melford, and finally got to Colchester at 6, 2 and a half hours late.  Gave the two girls some tea.

As I came away from the station the Edinburgh train was just about to pull out porters shouting “Edinburgh train!  Manningtree, Ipswich and the North!  Edinburgh train!”  Longed to jump on it and be safe and warm in Glengyle Terrace tomorrow morning.  Felt very sick from this awful journey, terrible headache.

Had another cup of tea at Winnie’s and then to see Poulter.  He was very despondent.  Said that at the Museum Committee yesterday there was no actual decision about my release, but that afterwards Hull and Brown (the Committee Clerk) concocted a minute to the effect that I leave on the 30th.  He says that the Committee made some “laudatory remarks” about me, which Hull is to convey to me, and which of course he won’t. (Later note: "He never did").  Sam Blomfield is very anxious to know what I am going to do with my Colchester photos.  So he may be.

Fog very thick tonight, so ‘divers’ unlikely.  Only rockets tonight.

19th December 1944 - Wisbech

Thick fog all day.  Spent the whole time in the Museum.  Among other things, there is a manuscript account, apparently by an eye-witness, of the trial of the Earl of Essex, found among rubbish in a Wisbech lawyers’ office. 

This evening got talking to a very pleasant girl called Flood, (Veronica) a London school teacher evacuated here, and took her to the cinema.  She talked a good deal about her life here. She is a Catholic, and told me of the incredible insults she had to put up with on that account.  Catholic children from South London were treated badly when they came here in 1939.  A strong type of Calvinism is rampant here, which makes life very hard for strangers.

All this was said while we walked along the river bank after the cinema, and we did not get back to the “Lion” until 11.15, to find the whole place shut up and in darkness – the streets were also in almost complete darkness by this time, too.  Had some trouble to get in, being at last admitted by a surly bad-tempered boot-boy.  Among other things Veronica talked of was the degree of illiteracy in Wisbech.  She says hundreds of children can neither read nor write.  This wants a lot of believing, but may well be true.

18th December 1944 - Wisbech

Wakened about 4am by sirens.  So surprised felt no alarm at all.  Looked out to see a still calm night, with the gentle murmur of a ‘plane far away.  Heard somebody get up and go out, and the sound of a car or two travelling at speed.  Wondered whether the Germans now intend to send in ‘divers’ over the WashLondon is only 80 miles, and there are no defences whatever.  It would be just my luck to walk into such a thing as that.  ‘All-clear’ came in about 15 minutes.

Later today a mass of fantastic rumours were going round the town – Jerry ‘planes at King’s Lynn, where they had 2 alarms, an unexploded bomb at Smeeth Road station, (about 3 miles away), a flying bomb at or near Spalding.  Some say they heard machine guns.  All I heard was one fighter go over, to the north, but everybody else felt the windows shake.

Lovely sunny day.  Went all over the town trying to get rooms, but without success, in most places being rebuffed with extraordinary rudeness, old women shouting that they “never took lodgers”, in spite of their names and addresses being on the list provided by the Billeting Office.  Shall have to stay at the “Lion” for a time.

Sent off 7lbs of Fen apples to Edinburgh for the Biggams, and some cigarettes and a long letter to Ann at Inverness.  This afternoon went round to see if there was any chance of getting a stable, so that I could bring Robin here, but again quite unlucky.  Found a riding school a long way along North Brink, even more dilapidated and dirty than poor old Grubb’s.  It is run by a Miss Russell who looks very much like Grubb, but is very much ruder.  Told me there was no chance whatever of livery there.  Anyway, a horrible looking collection of broken down sheds, everything knee-deep in mud.  She has, however, a covered school.  Told me she has to pay £10 a ton for mixture.

Went to Museum for a couple of hours, going through drawers and cupboards.  The wealth of the collection is surprising.  To Edwards again for tea, and then tonight spent 4 hours writing letters, journal, etc.  Cannot realise that this, and not Colchester is now my town, and perhaps likely to be for 10, 20 or even 30 years.  No doubt all the work I have done in Colchester will be entirely forgotten.  Hull will destroy all he can, Poulter will leave, and there will soon be no sign that I ever lived there.  If I were to go back there a quarter of a century from now, no doubt the town will be unrecognisable, and if I said “I worked here for 20 years”, they will say “Did you?  What did you do?”

Looked out at midnight, impenetrable fog, and not a sound anywhere, so perhaps we may have a quiet night.  Then, just as I shut the window, far away comes the clanking of a train shunting.

17th December 1944 - Wisbech

Violent stormy night.  Out at 9, and walked round the deserted streets, rain clouds blowing up from the S.W.  Looked at the Museum and the nice houses in the Crescent.  Must try and get rooms in one of them.  An American lorry parked in the Market Place, obviously been there all night.  Noticed one or two ancient names – “Hogshead Lane”, “Little Ship Street” (now Church Street) “Love Lane” by the Churchyard.

Bought a Sunday paper – a serious crisis between England and America can no longer be concealed.

Back to hotel, and old Edwards came in.  Said he would take me to the Museum, but he thought the caretaker “would not like it, as she is very strict”.  Asked me to tea.  This afternoon reading and writing in the lounge, while Salvation Army carol singers and band played “Good King Wenceslas” by the river side.  Some women in the lounge were talking about workers near Norwich.

Went to Clarkson Avenue to tea.  Crowds of Italians with young girls in the Park.  After we went round to Sandringham Avenue to call on dear old Guy Pearson.  He looks very much like Father.  Went back to Curtis Edwards’, and a very pleasant looking woman came in, with a little girl.  I think her name was Dimmock or something like that.  Her husband is a schoolteacher, now serving in Africa.

Went back to the hotel, old Edwards warning me very solemnly about the danger of getting lost in the Park (200 yards wide!) in the “blackout”.  He has apparently never seen the street lamps are now lit.  The church bells were ringing out for evening service, and bombers were beginning to stream out from Lincolnshire.  A big noisy swearing crowd outside the cinema.

Had a poor meal, and spent the rest of the evening reading, bed at 10.30, hoping for sleep.

16th December 1944

Still not sure that I am doing the right thing.  It would be a small thing indeed to change my tune towards Sam Blomfield, and to ask humbly if I may go back to my own job, the job which is still mine.  Wondering whether Father really wants me to go?  Feel that my time here is up –  Hull wants me to go, and I feel too ill and too tired to go on with the battle of the last sixteen years.  But how reluctant I am to leave my own home.

Fine and cold at first, but came on to rain about 11.  Meant to catch 1.15 to Wisbech, but so great a crowd at the station could not get a ticket.  Went home.  All well there.  Father genuinely anxious for me to “better myself”.  Called at Holly Trees.  Poulter says Sam is making difficulties about my release, saying the War Agricultural Committee can’t let me go, and that he doesn’t think the Museum Committee can either.  Too late, dear Sam, too late.  You should have thought of that before.

Caught the 4 o’clock to Cambridge.  Rain gone, and a huge crimson sunset over the fields at Marks Tey.  A jolly girl with a soldier and 2 school girls going to Haverhill got in.

Train dragged slowly through all the little stations along this line, and at last crawled into Cambridge.  Much too dark to see the Bartlow Hills.  Just caught a Wisbech train, which was apparently very late, the guard cursing me for the trouble of getting my cycle on board.  Train went via Ely, and then across the broad flat Fens, silent under the stars – no aircraft, no ‘divers’, nothing.  Wisbech at quarter to 9, and walked through the silent shabby streets, the sound of church bells ringing.  Hardly anybody about, and most houses with lights in their bedroom windows.  Trying to think what it will be like to make a home here, perhaps for the rest of my life.  Bed in a cold cheerless room at the “White Lion” after a surly welcome by the land-lady.  Lay in bed listening to the noise of drunks being turned out of a dance in the Town Hall opposite, streams of filthy language floating across the black river among the glittering gas lamps, most of which were put out at about 11 o’clock.

15th December 1944

Letter from Wisbech – I have been appointed Curator and Librarian.  

Tonight went out to Lt. Rivers, to see the Roses who were delighted, but Stuart very dubious about my leaving Colchester.  ‘Phoned to the Wisbech “White Lion” from the call-box at Boxted, and got a bed for a couple of nights, which ought to give me time to get settled in somewhere.  Shall certainly try for the Crescent.

Stayed talking to the Roses until past 11.  No alarm, although a fine night.

Back to Woodside, bed at quarter to one, and lay awake wondering if I have done right.

14th December 1944

Woke at 4, and got up.  Very dark under glittering stars.  Up at 8, still dark, and low clouds drifting up from the S.W.  The glass remains high. 

To town early, and did some shopping.  Nothing from Wisbech – am becoming very anxious.  Saw Poulter, and he obviously hopes I hear nothing.  Went home, had a talk with Father, did not in any way show my anxiety about the job.  

This afternoon to the Public Library for a couple of hours, going through “Essex Review”.  

Went over to the Rep.  Met the delightful Yvonne, who hailed me rapturously as “Darling!”  Had a cup of tea there with her and Diana, and Diana got me a seat for tonight’s performance.  It was first class – “Lady into Fox”, most excellently done, part of “Les Sylphides”, which I could with ease watch for hours on end, and the usual oddments, including the delightful “brothel scene” which I always enjoy so much.

If I don't get the job, I don't know what on earth I shall do, yet I cannot bear the thought of leaving Colchester for ever.  If only the war would end, it would make a great difference in these things.

Had a letter from Maidstone this morning, very sharp, unnecessarily so I thought, asking me to take my pony and trap away from Wigborough.  The Committee have had good use of it this last year or so, anyway.

Went to see Poulter again after the ballet, and more talk.  He senses now that I will go if I get the chance, and feels both sad and angry.  Said he would miss me a lot.  Tried to cheer him up by telling him I haven’t gone yet.  He says Hull’s behaviour during the last few days has been quite indescribable.  Maybe he has got wind of my plans – much as he would like me to go, he would not like me to do so without his permission.

To Boxted 10.30, sat reading, and to bed at midnight.  Fine but misty.

13th December 1944

Up at 9.  Hard frost but a beautiful bright morning. 

Writing, then to town this afternoon.  Thick fog came on.  Home, and had tea there.  Father seemed very well and happy.  Wrote to Capt. Folkard, telling him I was trying to get to Wisbech, and asking him to allow any decision on my War Agricultural Committee future to stand over until the result is known.

Nothing from Wisbech, nor from Daphne, from whom I have expected a letter for the last fortnight.

Letter and testimonial came from Sam – nothing to criticise in either, but he is obviously very sore indeed.

Left home at 6 to go to Boxted, but felt ill at ease and reluctant for some reason to travel on the main road.  Went by way of Lexden and Cook’s Lane to West Bergholt.  Went right round by West Wood, and at the back of Pictsbury, down Coach Road, past the bungalow where Hull lived 16 years ago, to Woodside.  In a field near Pictsbury Wood saw a curious light, like a bicycle lamp, in the middle of the field.

Tonight made a new will, and wrote out 2 copies.  Rockets falling occasionally.  Fog very thick.

12th December 1944

Up rather late.  Fine and dull.  A lot of ‘planes about in hazy cloud.  Writing all the morning, then went to Colchester and saw Poulter.  Told me Sam had now written a testimonial, and that I should have it tomorrow.  Sam is still in a bad mood.  Poulter wanted to know whether I intended to tell Hull?  But I said certainly not until I knew whether I had got Wisbech or not.

Went home for a couple of hours.  Father very well.  Told him all that I had done about Wisbech.  Miss Payne very excited about the whole thing.

To Dedham, and found Mrs Sisson and Rhoda Dawson making puppets.  Five fire engines in Dedham Street, but no fire.  Apparently a false alarm.  Told Mrs. Sisson about Wisbech.  She emphasised the importance of the Penrose connection, but said she thought that Lionel Penrose did not have much to do with the one at Bradenham or with his aunt, Miss Peckover.

Old Canon Rendall is apparently sinking.

Managed to leave at 7, only 10 minutes before the sirens sounded.  Two divers went by, somewhere beyond Higham, perhaps beyond Hadleigh.  Only one searchlight was used, in a vague, uncertain manner.

Boxted by 9, and early and hopefully to bed.

11th December 1944

Up at 8.30.  Lovely day.  Thousands of ‘planes going out.  Cold and frosty.   

Went to Holly Trees and saw Poulter.  He had seen Sam, and told him of my plans and that I should like a reference from him, but Sam was very annoyed and turned awkward, saying that he will have to think this over.  He never for a moment imagined that I should get away.

Went to Town Hall, to see Gunton, and to my surprise (and delight) was paid £22 outstanding salary which I had forgotten about.

Called for Diana and took her to tea in the upper room at Last’s.  She wanted to go to a cinema afterwards, but I did not feel well enough and cried off, which I am afraid rather annoyed her.  Left, and headed for Boxted at half past six, in rising fog.  A little gunfire to the E, but no alarm.  Went on to Little Rivers, and had a long talk with the Roses.  Stuart thinks I ought to go, if only to show Colchester that I am not going to be Sam’s lackey.  Dodo was very kind and gave me a delicious supper.

Got back to Woodside at 11, and there was an alarm for 10 minutes a few minutes later.  Went to look around, but nothing done.  Fog quite thick.

Cycling out tonight saw a large American truck filled with cases of whisky loading up at Wheeler’s place in Culver Street.  Yet an Englishman can’t get any spirits at all.

Poulter told me that at Pascall and Cann’s last auction sale, a child’s pram and a child’s tricycle together made £52.

Rain began as I went to bed.

10th December 1944

Woke very early, and was given a can of hot water.  Got down at 8, to find a cold bright morning, the crescent moon still showing, the street lamps alight, and great sheets of crimson cirrus cloud in the east, where the sun struggled up.

Caught the 8.50 to Ipswich, jogging slowly along by Six Mile Bottom, across the Devil’s Dyke, to Newmarket, with its rows of railway horseboxes, and so to Bury.  Should always have liked to have had the Museum there.  Then on to Stowmarket, Haughley and Ipswich.  Big crowd there, but only 18 minutes to wait for the Colchester train.

Lunched on sandwiches and soup at the Milk Bar in St John’s Street, then went to Holly Trees to wash and shave.  Saw Poulter and told him all.  He was quite shaken - Hull will wreck the Museum, Poulter will retire in 1946, and what happens then? But then he said it was useless – Councillor Sam Blomfield was terrified of “the little man’s shattering rages”, and would not even mention my return to him. Then why the hell, I ask, did Sam make use of me during these last 4 years, often to my very great inconvenience?  “Sam’s that sort” he said, “He’ll use you to the last minute, but he won’t fight Hull for you.”

We sat and gloomed in the flat this dull December afternoon, with occasional explosions far away, and the old man said these words, which have so often been said in one form or another by people who have given years of their lives for the benefit of Colchester: “I wish I’d never come here.  It was a mistake ever to leave the North.”

He said that if I go, he will not stay beyond his time, and that he was only keeping Holly Trees for me to come back to.

Feeling of great sadness.  Rain began to fall, heavily.  Went across to Winnie’s and had sausages for tea.  Terrible gale sprang up, almost due South, so was blown out to Boxted in record time, amidst sheets of rain.  Suddenly, just at the corner of Horkesley Road, heard sirens sounding an “all clear”.  Felt terrified, as having heard no alarm, I wondered if I had had another “black-out” and missed it altogether, but before the “All-clear” had died away the aerodrome sirens gave an alarm, about a minute later, Colchester began an alarm as well.  Heavy rain still falling, but felt I must stay out at any rate for a time, to see what on earth could happen on such a night.  Set off round by the Queen’s and Holly Lodge, right past the Observer Post (just a glimpse of a helmeted head above the parapet) to Boxted village.  Gunfire to the South, probably at Bradwell, and a few flashes through the rain.  Two ‘divers’ could be heard very faintly, then, just by Boxted Hall turning, another sounded much closer, and cut out.  Very alarming not having any idea how far it might drift in such a wind, but nothing whatever happened, and it must have been blown far away perhaps to fall quite silently on some village or farmhouse.

Went down by Boxted Mill, and decided to call on the Rushburys, for want of anything else.  Don't know who is at Higham at the moment.  The rain stopped, and the “all clear” rang out far and near us.  I went by the gates of Thorington Hall – where, I wonder, are the Penroses at this very moment?  4,000 miles away, safe in another world.

Henry Rushbury was at home, as well as “Birdie” and little Janet who was busy designing the most delightful Christmas cards.  Henry Rushbury had just come back from the North, and we spent a pleasant hour talking about Northern Museums and Art Galleries.  Told him I had hoped to have gone to the Kirk Collection at York, had it not been for the war.  Left them at 10 o’clock, stars now glittering.  No aircraft about.  Boxted at 10.30.  Miss Bentley very glad to see me.  Told her there might be a chance of my going to Wisbech.  She said that on Friday night a rocket fell near Layer Breton, with a tremendous explosion, and that on either Thursday or Friday a ‘diver’ fell at Mersea, doing a lot of damage, broken windows and so forth.

Bed at 11.30, very tired, and hopeful of a quiet night.  Terribly anxious about Wisbech.

9th December 1944 - Wisbech - Cambridge

Woke about 7, to the sound of people in wooden soled shoes walking along the river brink.  Had a very good night.  Knocked up at 8 by a maid called Bella, with a terrific uproar.  Quite a good breakfast.

Sat opposite the fat schoolteacher, and another middle-aged woman who looked as if she might be a school-mistress as well.  The manageress of the “White Lion”.  Mrs Smith, came in and said to them:

“Did you hear about Mr Hoyles?”
“Which Mr Hoyles?”
The one you know.”
“What, West Hoyles? of Queen’s Road? What about him?”
“Well, I don't want to give you a shock, but he’s dead.  He died suddenly last night.”
Dead?” said the fat woman.  “My God, how awful.  Are you sure?”
“Well, my husband told me, and he got it from the Club last night.  Died right suddenly, after he’d drunk a cup of tea.”
“But how awful!  His wife and daughter were going off to Hunstanton for the weekend, and she asked me to go over tonight to see him as usual.  Of course he’d been ill, but how awfully sudden.
“Yes, well there is its, I’m sure it’s right, because I heard they were all talking about it at the Club.”

She went out, and the two women settled down to eat, because whoever might have died after drinking a cup of tea, tea must be drunk and sausages (however doubtful) must be eaten.  After a time the fat woman said thoughtfully: “Well, my God, what a thing to happen.  I must go over there right away.  The only thing is I must go over to school first, and I don't want to wear my fur coat there, so I suppose I shall have to come back and change before I go to Queen’s Road.”

The sallow one replied “Yes, that would be best … Sad about poor old Hoyles.  I always think it must be terrible for old men when they see people they know dying off.”  The other said, “Yes, I know, two girls I went to school with have died during the last year.  It makes you think doesn’t it?”  And she sat staring out of the window at the grey sky and the grey river, and that grand sweep of houses, banks and inns, wondering when the time would come for her to face eternity and join old Mr Hoyles and the two school-friends.  All the time bombers droned over, one by one.

Cold morning, but the sun came through the haze later.  Walked about the town, and admired the houses and the buildings, pushing my way through dense crowds of people.

Began looking for places where I might live, but only “in secret”, as chickens must not be counted before they are hatched.  The ideal would be to get a couple of rooms in the Crescent or in Museum Square, or better still, on North or South Brink.

Walked into the Church (a most extraordinary building with a double nave) and saw Canon Stallard again, who was just gong to take a children’s service.  He was very affable, and said he hoped I had liked the Museum.  Seemed quite anxious for me to take the job.  Looked round the church for a few minutes.  The double nave makes the place appear almost square.  There is a very long chancel to the N. nave, which contains 2 good wall-monuments, one to Parke, which is very fine, and a brass to Sir Thomas Bramstone, Constable of the Castle in 1401.  Must discover whether he is any connection with the Bramstons of Skreens.  Unfortunately the chancel is too dark to see the monuments properly.  Several good 18th century monuments, and a very fine and large coat of arms.

Caught train for Cambridge at 11.10, and trundled slowly down to March, and so by changing to Ely.  The Fens looked very different in the cold bright sunshine to what they did yesterday.  One gets an impression of a remoteness unfelt even in Wales or Scotland.  Another change at Ely, into a Norwich-London train, packed to the very doors.  20 or 30 people had to get into the brake-van, where I got a seat on a pile of kitbags.  Everybody seemed fairly good natured except a stout, red-faced man who shouted to the young guard (he didn’t look a day more than 19) “What about putting another coach on?  We’ve paid our fares you know!  Bloody scandal, I call it!”  Nobody, not even the guard took the slightest bit of notice.

Tremendous amount of sugar beet to be seen all along the line at every station – literally hundreds of trucks at Ely.  In some places beet was being carted straight off the fields to railway trucks in bright pink carts! usually hauled by two Percherons.  Once a gang of Italians in bright green uniforms swept by, walking slowly along the top of a dyke.  Everywhere one sees the glittering drains running straight as railway tracks.

The marshes between the Bedford Rivers was a huge shining lake.

At last pulled into Cambridge at one p.m.  Registered at the Gt. Northern Hotel, and went off to find some lunch.  Tried the “Victory Café”, hung with British and Greek flags, Greek waiters dashing about, and a radio playing very loudly.  Very expensive – soup and fish, and nothing else came to 3/11.  A young fair haired soldier came in, and moved to sit an empty table near the window.  At once, a dark waiter dashed forward, crying loudly “No sir, not there sir … I keep that table for a party of four.”  “Oh what the hell!” shouted the soldier.  “I’ll bloody well go somewhere else,” slamming the door so hard that the crockery rattled and the card saying “Café Open” fell down, showing the word “Closed” on the other side.  Everybody looked very uncomfortable.

Walked along to Downing Street, but the archaeology museum was shut – is apparently always shut on Saturday afternoons.

Crowds of pretty girls cycling off to hockey, with brilliantly coloured scarves and stockings, pleated skirts, and their hair blowing in the winds.  Plenty of black students about.  Noticed two black students in gowns, walking with a white woman. 
Walked down Trumpington Street, to the Fitzwilliam.  Love to see the clear streams of water trickling down the concrete gutters.  Went into the Museum – lovely, gracious, quiet.  Walked around for an hour or so, vaguely admiring the glorious treasures.

Then to the Folk Museum, to go carefully over the collections there.  Lambeth has done a splendid job.  The stuff is shown as well as can be under the circumstances.  Should have thought that there was some considerable risk in having so many small objects not in cases, but Lambeth told me that the only precaution he has found necessary is to compel all Americans to enter their names and serial numbers in the Visitors’ Book.  Lambert says that the Museum finances are almost non-existent, and that he and his wife keep the place going more as a labour of love than anything else.  (He of course has a salary as Rural Industries Organiser).  He was rather depressed altogether, and told me of the endless troubles he has with the Ministry of Labour, when trying to get blacksmiths released from industry to take up rural work.  The Ministry of Labour refuse to admit any necessity for rural farriers.

Stayed to tea, and talked until half past 8.  Told me that a few ‘divers’ had passed S. of Cambridge, and got as far as Sandy and Potton in Bedfordshire.  A rocket fell at Fulbourn, about 6 miles away, but no serious damage.

Leaving Castle Street, felt rather sick, and a bad headache.  Decided not to have anything to eat but to go to a cinema instead.  Saw “The Eve of St Mark”, a very poor thing indeed.  But felt better.

Crowds in the Market Place and the streets, bright lights everywhere, undergraduates in gowns, bareheaded, wandering about.  Poor devils, they are almost all on army or air-force courses – hardly any other forms of study allowed.  On walls people had chalked: “Down with Churchill”, “Up with Churchill”, “Amery must Go”, “Save Greece”, “Britain is Fascist”, and so on.  Lots of posters about political meetings.

Walked back to the Gt. Northern Hotel at 10.30.  Seems decent and clean, but no hot water in bedroom.  Just was I was falling asleep, about 11.30, somebody in the street began shooting, single shots, then two together, about a dozen shots in all.  Sounded like a rifle.  Looked out, but could see nothing. Very curious.

8th December 1944 - Wisbech

Got away from Cambridge at 10 o’clock.  A dark morning, and icy cold, but thawed a little towards 11.  The train ran on over the endless Fens, Percheron horses tailing across the black peaty wastes.  Went through Histon, famous for its Percherons, Swavesey, St Ives, Chatteris, and so to March, where the line to Colchester came curving in.  Thought of the trains going to Edinburgh.

Long wait at March, and the rain came swooping across the dykes and muddy fields, bitterly cold.  Off at last, through a tiny station called Coldham, and so to Wisbech, running in past mean suburbs to a dirty, dilapidated station.  Nearly 2 hours to do 40 miles.

First sight of the town incredibly depressing – the rain was turning to sleety snow – rows of poor houses, half empty shops, many of them shut, a dreadful air of misery.  Yet we are always told that the Fens are so rich.

Walked through the streets, past a ruined cinema standing on the banks of a derelict canal, asking people for a direction to the Museum.  Nobody seemed to have heard of it.  Wandered on, across the canal, across a single track railway, until it was obvious that the town was ending in that direction.  Turned back through more dreary streets, and found the church, with the Museum on the far side of it, facing a neat little square of Georgian houses.  The front wall seems to have sunk on one side, like so many buildings do up here, owing to the unstable nature of the soil.  At the far end of the square is a long low house of yellow brick, with stone dressing, almost hidden behind a high brick wall and stone gateway, called “The Castle”. 

Went up the steps and was greeted by a gaunt sad faced man, with a very red nose, looking for all the world like a dyspeptic bloodhound, who was accompanied by an equally sad looking parson.  This was Curtis- Edwards, the Curator, and Canon Stalland, the Vicar, who is one of the Trustees. 

In the main gallery is a lot of very poor looking natural history specimens, of which Curtis Edwards seemed to be very proud, and some first class ethnological material.  What little Roman pottery there is in the place is hidden in an upper gallery in this room.

I asked what was the relationship between the Museum and the Town Council?  Curtis Edwards said very bad indeed, yet I notice on the reports that the previous Town Clerk was a member of the Museum Committee.

During the past 10 years the Reports show a variation of income from £1800 to £500 per annum.  Anyway, there seems to be ample to pay the not very high salary of £225, and no doubt I shall be able to extract a grant of some sort out of the Town Council, who at present pay nothing at all.

There is a caretaker living on the premises, so that the place is open at any hour.  Can't say I like the look of her very much – a cross eyed old woman, with a particularly unpleasant expression.

It was now lunch time, so went off and booked a room at the “White Lion” on South Brink, opposite the wonderful row of Georgian houses on the other Brink.  Had a good lunch at a café just behind the Museum.  

Back to Museum, and spent the rest of the afternoon there.  The variety of exhibits is quite astounding, but a lot of these are rubbish.  Among the pictures is an alleged Constable, two Birkett Fosters, a Rosa Benham, and a reputed Richard Wilson.  Most of them look very doubtful.

Local archaeology has been almost entirely neglected.  Asked Edwards if he ever got anything from street excavations, but he said he’d never seen any.  

The worst snag is the occupation of the basement by the ARP people, who have been there quite illegally since 1939.  The seizure of the property without any requisition notice led to a question in the House, but there are apparently persons here who can flout the Law, the Commons and the King if they wish.  The Museum Committee were terrified to make a stand, in case they were accused of “sabotage”!  So, at any rate, says Edwards.

These wretched people have been here 5 years, doing considerable damage, and they not only show no signs of going but only this week have moved in a lot more material.  The worst damage is undoubtedly to the Town Library, which was carted away in sacks because some man called Ollard, the ARP controller, could not bear to sleep in a room lined with books.  All the books are in the old workhouse cells, and are said by Edwards to be in a shocking condition.  A lot of pictures belonging to the Museum have also been sent away.  Edwards is not quite sure where.

Find it very hard to believe that the ARP people can sit here and still refuse to pay rent or compensation, but apparently in these areas that sort of thing can happen.

Curtis Edwards asked me to go home with him for tea.  We walked through several gloomy sordid streets, lit by glimmering gas lamps, peopled by individuals who looked as if they came out of a play by Chekov or Ibsen – old women, dressed in rags, with shawls over their heads, men in gumboots.  As we walked by one shop, the door opened and a can full of filthy rubbish was thrown out onto the street.  We crossed the stagnant canal which I saw earlier on and then we walked over what Edwards referred to as “the park” but which appeared to be an open common crossed by a few footpaths.  On the far side was a single track railway line, and then we reached his house in Clarkson Avenue (Named after Clarkson who worked with Wilberforce, and who was born in this town).

Mrs Edwards, elderly, slight, and very pleasant, made me most welcome and we had tea.  Talked a bit, and found that the old man was quite definitely assuming that I should take the job.  After tea, suggested we should walk round to the next street and see the senior Vice-President of the Committee, Mr Guy Pearson, which we did, going down some narrow passages and coming out into a road of very modern villas.  In one of these we found dear old Mr Pearson.  We talked for an hour or so, and parted most amicably.  He is the Senior Vice-President, and is more or less in charge of the management of the Committee, as they don't appear to have a chairman.  Guy Pearson looks astonishingly like Father.

Curtis Edwards wanted me to go back to his again, but I declined, as I had to be back at the “White Lion” for a meal not later than 6.30, so left him, and he warned me not to go back through “The Park” as I might “get lost in the blackout”.  Apparently he has not yet noticed that the street lamps are now lit again.

The evening meal at the “Lion” was pretty bad, in a hot airless room, full of loud mouthed commercial travellers.  One rather jolly looking woman with a Welsh accent, was obviously from her talk a schoolmistress.

Afterwards walked out and stared at the river, wandered through a few more streets and lanes.  Found the “Old Horsefair”, a wide irregular open space on the bank of the stinking canal, rather reminiscent of some of the “squares” in North London.  Several good Georgian houses about.

There are two cinemas in Hill Street, both very tawdry looking, and both surrounded by howling mobs of filthy children.  There was formerly a third cinema, but that was bombed 2 or 3 years ago.  Three separate attacks have been made on the town, but none recently, and of course flying bombs and rockets are quite unknown here.

7th December 1944

Cloudy, fine, warmer.  Miss Bentley says several great explosions in the night, shaking house, but I heard nothing.

Am beginning to worry about my money, but both the Corporation and War Agricultural Committee owe me a little.  To home, saw Father, who wished me luck, then caught 4 p.m. to Cambridge.  Long tedious journey in semi-dark carriage.  To Folk Museum, and the Lambeths made me very welcome, and apologised for having only vegetarian food.  Much talk about Museums, Wisbech, etc.  Interesting to find that even at Cambridge, Wisbech is regarded as the ends of the earth.  Lambeth never goes there.  He says the present Curator, Curtis-Edwards, is “a little peculiar”, but then what Curator isn’t?

6th December 1944

Hard white frost, and thick fog.  Thousands of ‘planes going out, high above it.  Cleared by the afternoon.  Went into town, bought a mackintosh, ready to go to Wisbech.  Cost £2.13.0, hope it is worth it.  To Library, and then to see Capt. Folkard  Felt very nervous, but he was extremely pleasant.  Walked up and down outside the office for about half an hour before going in.  It was suggested that I might resign as Secretary and then undertake part time work for a while, until quite fit again.  Everything was all very friendly, and I was glad that none of the horrid things had been said which I had so feared, and which I had thought of when cycling on lonely roads.

Thinking about Wisbech, decided to spend a night in Cambridge, to break a wearisome journey, and wrote to Lambeth [Curator of the Cambridge Folk Museum] asking him for a bed.

Had tea at Jacklin’s, then went home.  Long talk with Father, who seems really pleased with my chances to become a Curator.  But I do not really want to go.  Leaving in the falling darkness, a fog coming up, feel terribly nervous and depressed.  Called at Holly Trees, where Poulter greeted me sadly and said he had spoken to Sam Blomfield, who deplores my possible departure, but refuses to do anything.  Hull does not yet know of my intentions.

Clouds rolling up from the W.  Cycled slowly to Lawford to collect a little basket I had left there.  Joy just back from Banstead.  Some time ago a rocket fell on the piggeries at Banstead Asylum, killing the pigs and some of the inmates.  There was a warning there last night, and a ‘diver’ exploded somewhere near no doubt one that came over Colchester.  She says the South London suburbs are terribly depressed at these repeated attacks, which still come months after the French coast was cleared, when Sandys promised they would end.  Much talk about rockets and ‘divers’, discussing which is preferable.  Most people like the rockets best, because a) there are not so many of them, and b) because one does not have to do anything about them – they just arrive.

Had the usual delightful glass of milk, and left in intense darkness, a searchlight here and there, and a few Mosquitoes bumbling about high in the murk.  Called at Dedham to leave Mrs Sisson some tea.  She had just completed making a most repulsive marionette, with horrible hands and feet.  She said it represented one’s inner consciousness.

Went on slowly to Higham, heavy rain beginning.  Two ‘planes, carrying navigation lights, passed over heading for Raydon.  At the cottage found Joy’s mother Mrs. R., who was most amusing about her village of Belstone in Devon, where everybody appears to be German, Communist, Swede, Dane or 5th Columnist except herself.  The rest of the population signalling to each other and the enemy with red and yellow lights.

Then talked about stars, ghosts, prognostications, and so forth.  Left at 11.30, rain stopped, moon coming up.  Still no ‘divers’.  Odd to think of this old lady coming all the way from safe distant Devon to visit her little daughter.

Felt happier going home in the moonlight.

5th December 1944

Brilliant sunny morning, huge flights of aircraft going out.  Planning the Wisbech trip, timetables etc.  Terrible place to get to, and shall have to stay for a night.

Went up to the Repertory workshop, and found Diana.  Told her what I am trying to do.  Took her to lunch, and then to a very bad cinema show.  Dear Diana.  Talked about her charming little sister in Edinburgh, of whom she seems very fond.

Had tea alone at Winnie’s cafe.  Wrote to Wisbech, to go on Friday.

Felt terribly depressed as a result of this, and wandered off to Lexden.  Lovely starlit night.  A warning so I went up Baker’s Lane towards Bergholt, and three ‘divers’ came roaring past a little to the north, so low they seemed to scud along the ground.  A London train came behind them, very slowly and cautiously.  The alarm lasted from 8.15 to 8.45.  Two rockets fell far away between 10 and 10.30pm.

In Winnie’s café heard people talking of rumours of war with Greece.

Sharp frost tonight.  Bed early and hopefully.

4th December 1944

Quiet night, and a brilliant, cold morning.  While thinking about Wisbech last night, realised that I had seen some very fine and very old photographs of the place in the National Buildings Record at Oxford.  Unless the whole town has been pulled down to the ground then it must be a very attractive place.  In the early hours of this morning, decided to apply, and shall go over and see the place on Friday.  As soon as I got up, wrote a letter to that effect and posted it in Colchester.

An alarm tonight from 7.10pm to 8.15, but nothing happened.

Poulter told me today that Orchard [the Borough Engineer] had charged £143 for repairing the little “temple” on the Ramparts, which I and Sissons saved from destruction.  This is sheer spite.

There is now a “dim out” in Colchester, and windows give a faint glow for the first time for more than 5 years.  Nobody seems to mind streams of light pouring out of doorways, either.

3rd December 1944

Looked out at 6am – brilliant moon in a cloudless sky – not a ‘plane, not a sound.  At 9, pouring with rain, which was cleared by a strong NW wind.  Went over to Dedham.  Met Thelma on the way.  Chatted about the office and about Daphne.  Nobody at Dedham, and was unable to get any tea.  Went round to Ida’s and found dear little Jacquie there.  Went back with her to Higham, a lovely walk as the moon came up.  Spent a delightful evening, and stayed until 11.30.  At Dedham and Higham time seems longer and more pleasant than in Colchester.

A few ‘planes about tonight, but no ‘divers’.  In bed lay thinking what I shall do about Wisbech.

2nd December 1944

Cloudy calm morning, and then the sun came through.  ‘Planes going out early.  Two big distant explosions at 8.30, so Miss Bentley said, and the house shook, but I remained asleep.

Into town, shopping.  At lunch much talk about the rockets.  At the next table a Military Police sergeant, and an ATS Military Police talking loudly and earnestly about escaping prisoners.  Saw a large hornet in Culver Street, crawling on the sunny pavement.

To stables, empty and forlorn except for old Hampshire’s rubbish.  Sad to see my lovely traps and harness, nothing in the corn bins but a few mouldy grains.

Tea in the town, and to Library again.  Then back to Boxted at 7.15, as the moon came up.  Went to Lt. Rivers, was made very welcome.  Dodo seemed nervous of rockets, and worried about the baby, which has been ill again.  There was a big explosion at 10 o’clock, and the candles fluttered.

Called at Holly Trees before I came out, and Poulter told me that the “little man” distinguished himself by being late at the Society of Antiquaries on Thursday night, when he was being admitted.  Saw in the Museums Journal that there is a vacancy for a Curator at Wisbech Museum in the Fens.  Feel I must try for it.  Perhaps I shall go and see it next week.

1st December 1944

Fine, and quite warm, belying the old rhyme “Cold December hath come in …”  What would one give to be a boy again and hear the Bellman [calling that rhyme] far away in the dark.

Went to the Library, to see papers.  News uniformly bad.  To the Bank, drew some money.  Don't care how much I have left.  Met Maidstone as I came out, who was most kind and friendly.  From what he tells me the office is in chaos.  Home to tea.  Father very well.  Stayed until 9.30, then to see Dr Penry Rowland, but I could tell him so little, quite tongue-tied, so he could do little to help me.  He had heard from Edinburgh.

A very good night last night, and hope for another.  Fine, and high thin clouds all day.