31st March 1945

Fine but blustery, and rain came on this afternoon.  Examined the wood from Stag’s Holt, and put several pieces into soak in an attempt to restore their original shape.

This afternoon went to the Marches to see the Annual Stallion Parade.  There were 6 entries – 3 shires, 2 Suffolks, and a skewbald Welsh pony.  They were a good looking lot, but the show was badly arranged, in fact it was no show at all, as the cattle-market yard was full of lorries, so that the horses could barely find room to stand amongst them.  The two Suffolks were really magnificent, and the skewbald pony a delight.  Several ponies for sale in the yard, one grey cob rather the stamp of Bob, but a little lighter.

Town was packed today, everybody buying in stores in case “peace breaks out”, when all shops will instantly shut and thereby deprive the population of food and drink.  Big wedding this afternoon at the Congregational Church in Castle Square.

Bombers were going over all day, and the news tells us that the Allies are far into Germany.  For the last two days the newspapers have not mentioned either rockets or divers.  Evening papers tonight print warning articles on “What will Hitler do Next?” and the “Express” emphasises that we are ready for “his last fling”.  Eleven generals have been released from prison camps.  Perhaps Parrington’s brother is amongst them.  [Parrington of Sherbourne Mill, Lawford].

Tonight almost a gale, and much cloud rushing across the sky.  The wind howls and screams through cracks in this jerry-built little house, and the dining room door is continually blown open.

Can it really be that we have heard the sirens for the last time?  Rather sinister that the Germans are holding out in Scandinavia, from which they can launch attacks against the north.

30th March 1945

Good Friday
Sunny, but a strong cold west wind, and heavy showers both morning and evening.  News coming over the radio all day about the allied advances into Germany.  Even places like Hanover and Nuremberg are threatened.  But there is still an ominous silence from German sources, and no doubt Churchill’s policy of war to the bitter end and surrender without terms is costing thousands of lives on both sides.

There is so far no suggestion of the Germans withdrawing from Norway, Denmark, or Holland.

Went to Elm this afternoon, and began to pack old Warby’s pottery for removal to the Museum.  In the church-yard there saw many of the graves covered with yellow daffodils, and little parties moving about them, some planting bulbs.

Just past the church there was a man ridging up potatoes, with a fine pair of horses, one black and the other a half Suffolk, using an old Ransome’s iron tom.

Warby continues to produce the most amazing new treasures – he suddenly fished out a paper bag full of small pieces of much decayed wood, some show mortice holes and tenons.  These were found in 1933 at Stays’ Holt, eight feet deep, associated with quantities of rope, some of it in the form of a large “pig-net” with meshes about 4" square.  There was also one of the well-known “horse-bit” bronze amulets.  Warby was convinced at the time that this was some sort of cart or sled.  Amongst the wood were horse bones, - what looked like quantities of decayed barley or grain of some kind.  This important find was destroyed at once, and when Warby reported it to Curtis Edwards, Edwards said he thought it was of no importance.

Made a list of the all the colour ware, and packed it ready for removal.  Left at 5.30, hoping to have tea at the Limes, but there was no one there, so went back to Wisbech and had a late and delightful tea at Mrs. Burnett’s.

29th March 1945

Fine but overcast, clearing a little later.  Old Edwards came in and said that on the 11 o’clock European News Bulletin a special announcement had been made to the effect that, should hostilities cease, information would be sent out on the 11 o’clock bulletin on that day, and that all public houses would be closed.  Am determined that the Museum will be closed, too, for safety’s sake.  I should think the best thing would be to go to bed for the day.

The evening papers speak of the American forces being 50 miles beyond the Rhine, at Paardesbury.  No-one can remain unmoved at the thought of the sufferings of the people.  The Germans make no public comment on the present situation.

Went to lunch at the Corner Café in Market Street.  A party of Fenlanders at the next table were ridiculing rumours that the war would be over in a matter of weeks.  Some gave it 6 months, others 2 years.  It is of course in the interests of farmers to keep the war going as long as possible.

Down to the Control Room tonight to hear ITMA on the radio.  At one point old “Colonel Chinstrap” said “The war is over, Sir.” and the audience burst into tremendous applause.  The joke was apparently “What war?”  Answer – “The Boer War, Sir” but he was so put off by the cheering that he fluffed it.  Very feeble, and quite out of place.

Back to Clarkson Avenue at 10 o’clock.  A car’s headlights, coming up behind me, made the tall trees look exactly like a setting from “The Student of Prague” which I once saw about 20 years ago.  I strode onwards to meet my “doppelganger”.

House rather lonely now that Miss B has gone away for the holidays.  Writing until 11pm.

28th March 1945

Again fine.  Had a grapefruit for breakfast, for the first time for years.  Mrs Burnett had a few sent from South Africa.

Writing letters most of the day.  Back rather bad, and went to bed early.

27th March 1945

Fine, sunny, but cool.  News in the paper – Marw Anglwyd Lloyd-George.  Long obituary in the “Times”, explaining how he worked for Wales for 20 years and for L.G. for the next 50.  I can remember seeing him, his long white hair flowing, as he stood on the balcony at the Town Hall and addressed the crowd after the Colchester Oyster Feast.  This must have been 1922 or 1923.  I was at a party at the old Joscelyne’s Café, and we boys leaned out of the windows, above the densely packed crowd, to see the little figure on the balcony and catch a few phrases of the great Welsh oratory.

Bought some boxes on the way to the Museum, at a grocer’s, and hurt my back trying to carry them.

No Edwards this morning, to my great relief.  Old Warby called.  Long letter from Poulter who says 6 rockets fell near Colchester last Thursday night.  Hull is away ill.  Rex Wailes has suggested that Marriage’s ought to take over Bourne Mill, which would be an excellent arrangement, much better than having the place quitted.

Tonight called on Jones, the Deputy Borough Surveyor, and sounded him to see if he knew anything about ARP arrangements in the Museum – whether there is any chance of the Control Room being closed – but if he did he was not to be drawn.

A huge white misty moon tonight, and about 11 ‘planes were going out very low with hideous noise.  The news tells us that the Allies are 50 miles over the Rhine, but there is yet no sign of a general collapse.  The papers begin to give little hints, obviously “inspired”, of a war between America and Russia.

Back painful tonight.

26th March 1945 - The last air raid alarm?

Fine, dull, and very cold.  Felt tired.   Busy all day, but Edwards called and stopped me from doing anything for an hour and a half.  Must do something about this.

Went below to tackle Penny of the ARP about our tables and chairs.  He was very off-hand, and would not give any hint of the ARP organisation closing down.  “Germans aren’t done yet, you know,” he said with gloomy relish.

Tummy a little queer today, and felt really tired tonight.  Went up at 7, and fell asleep reading “Ego 5”, having finished “Ego 4” in the train yesterday.  These books are most extraordinarily good, and first class entertainment.

Shortly before midnight was wakened by the siren.  Went outside into a horrid grey world, lit with a few glimmering lamps here and there.  Heard a ‘plane come across from the S.W., but the all-clear came within four minutes, so that it was probably a false alarm.  Had a sudden feeling that this may be the last alarm of the war – surely the Germans cannot bother to send out any more raids?

25th March 1945

Wakened by the birds singing, and looked out onto a grey, damp, drizzle, low clouds sweeping over from the SE.  A four wheel milk cart came up the road, driven by a girl, (saw a nice pair of ponies on a trolley at Bletchley yesterday).

Lay reading, and wondered if there would be an alarm.  Sure enough, at 8 o’clock the sirens moaned out in the drizzle.  Heard a ‘diver’, a very long way off, rumbling along through the wet sky.  One never hears these things without thinking of Duncan Sandys inspired statement last year, when he said it would be impossible to launch them in wet or foggy weather, as the motor would not work.

There was a dull distant thump, and the ‘all clear’ came in a few minutes.  The range of the ‘divers’ must be considerably increased since last year.

Breakfast at 9.30, everything as it was a lifetime ago – grandmother’s Colchester clock on the wall, the broken spring chairs turned out of the dining room, the wood-block floor.  Went up to see Uncle before leaving.  He looked just as he had done last November, thin, pale, austere, obviously very weak.

Weather cleared, so decided to go via St. Albans.  Left at 10.30, just as the band of the Sea Cadets came marching up High Town Road, arms swinging, bugles blaring.

Went spinning along the Bath Road, through Taplow, under the railway bridge and away to Slough.  Nothing seemed changed since last November.  The great mountains of barbed wire are still overshadowing Taplow Station, and the Slough Trading Estate looks as cheap and shoddy as it ever did.  Slough itself shows no further sign of damage, but is if anything a trifle dingier.

Turned off along by the Gas Works, over the narrow, dangerous canal bridge, where a gang of a dozen men were busy repairing the crumbling parapets.  What a wonderful example of modern efficiency that after 20 years of ever increasing motor traffic, these ridiculous bridges still exist on a main road a few miles from London.

A little way along the Uxbridge Road is an Army Training Depôt, and a squad of unfortunate recruits in “civvies”, carrying rifles, were being marched through the gateway.  Nearby were some earnest soldiers learning flag signalling, a form of communication which one would have supposed to have been rather out of date.

And so to Uxbridge, crossing the Colne into Middlesex.  Saw boats on the canal, with the crews, both men and women, washing clothes on the quay side, giving an impression of an almost idyllic life.

A good deal of bomb damage in several parts of the town.  Went up to the main street, where the trolley-buses came in from Shepherd’s Bush, bringing crowds of young people, boy-scouts and girl-guides, going off for a day’s walking in the country.  Hundreds of cyclists, in great flocks, whizzed along the road towards the hills.  Odd to think of them coming from a “battle zone” – even here one sometimes heard the thump and rumble of rockets towards the east.

Realised that I would have done better to have turned off at Iver, but the sign posts around here have never been properly replaced and are very bad.  Turned back into Bucks, across the little stream marked on the map as “The Shire Ditch”.  Some costers came driving along in carts and trolleys, and there were several rough little ponies tied up outside public houses.  One lot came trotting along from Denham with a loose horse tied alongside the shafts.  Saw a brand-new breaking cart in a yard.

Turned off past the great brick wall of Denham Place, past the studios, and over the boundary-line into Hertfordshire and so to Rickmansworth.  Looked out for the bomb-damaged houses which I saw in 1941, but there was no sign of them.  Did I dream it?  Phantas-magoria?

Just outside Rickmansworth was this scene – the wide arterial road, with a grass margin several yards wide, one where two ponies were tethered, one grazing, one lying down.  On the other side of the road, a group of people were waiting in a bus shelter – an air-raid warden, an airman, a soldier and a girl, and two women.  Along the road came a 321 ‘bus, pulling in to the stop, and overtaking it was a blue racing-car driven by a young man in leather jacket, and goggles, roaring down the road like a flying bomb.  Ahead a Fort came flying over, very low.  The racing car vanished, the bus moved on, and all was peace.  No-one could have imagined that at any moment a rocket might have landed and dissolved the car, the bus, the ponies and all of us into atoms.

Stopped at Rickmansworth Station, at the top of a steep hill, and sat on a seat to eat some sandwiches, watching trains go by, and girls cycling along the road.  Army lorries were parked outside a WVS canteen opposite.  Every now and then there was a dull rumble from the south.

Got to Watford at 2, and found the tyre giving out again.  Had a cup of tea at a little café kept by a Greek or Maltese.  Quite clean, but smelt of cooking.  Around here were derelict A.A. gun sites and old battery offices – no guns left now, all having been moved into the Eastern Counties.  Quite a lot of bomb damage.

Arrived at St Albans at 3 o’clock.  Telephoned to the station from a call-box at the end of King Harry Lane, and found there was a train from Hatfield to Cambridge at 6.  This gave ample time to see the Museum, so whizzed down Romeland and Fishpool Street.  Found that Corder still goes twice a week, but his main duty is at the Society of Antiquaries, where he is still living.  He must have rendered invaluable service to the Society during the last 5 years. 

The collections are looking very good indeed, and the building was full of London visitors.  Walked into the church opposite to see once more the great man’s effigy, two young girls in cycling dress were looking at it, and one read out the inscription in the “new” pronunciation.  Notice that the authorities have optimistically given him no protection.  So far only a few odd bombs have fallen in the Park.  Looked at the theatre, and as I came away an elderly man came riding down the lane on a chestnut cob, very smart.

Had tea at a rather dirty ABC café, but got enough to eat.  Pumped up the tyre again, and so on to Hatfield.  Crossed the Great North Road, and down to the station.  While I waited, heard the church bells ringing out under the grey silent sky.  Got the train at last, and got in with a party of three young men and a girl from Cambridge.  They talked about agriculture, and the possibility of “wangling into things”, how to avoid service, and so on.  The men were talking lightly abut the rockets and discussed their mechanical side with enthusiasm.  Apparently the whole party worked on the land in some capacity or other.

In the Fens, there was a pink sunset, and the great flat fields were tinged blood-red.

Cambridge at last, and missed a Wisbech connection by 10 minutes.  Had to wait in the gathering dark until 9.30.  Bombers were going out singly all the time.

At long last got to March by quarter to eleven, and set out on the last 10 miles to Wisbech, a dreary ride under the lowering clouds.  Wisbech at midnight, no sound but a solitary ‘plane diving somewhere in the darkness.  To bed, rather tired.

24th March 1945

Glorious cool morning, not a cloud in the sky.  Daffodils blowing in the garden, and the plum trees in blossom. The garden is looking wonderfully well, and dear old Uncle Jim still works in it.  The primroses are out by the nut-tree bower where I played as a child.

“Liberators” were going over very early, and there was the sound of gunfire in the distance – probably somebody shooting at flying-bombs.  Marjorie says there has been a ‘diver’ near Cox’s Green, which did a certain amount of damage, this must have travelled about 250 miles.

Sat in the garden reading “The New Statesman”.  Left at 12 for Maidenhead, Marjorie to come over later.  Hedges in bloom, and the hawthorn out.  Two or three biplanes were flying very low from Waltham, and in front of them, at a great height, a big flight of Forts going out, on their way to bomb a few thousand more civilians.  Saw the little Queen Anne Cottage, where I once wanted to live, and Shottesbroke Church.  Will either of them yet be destroyed?  Thought of Mother walking down the lane from the bus-stop.

Bought a lamp-battery at White Waltham, the shopkeeper looking at me very suspiciously, perhaps wondering if I were a deserter or a spy.  At Cox Green saw the trains roaring down to the West.  Great longing for Wales.

Delightful lunch at Aunt’s.  Gave her a week’s meat coupon.  

This afternoon cycled down to the Library for an hour.  Found “The London Topographical Record”.  Very well done.  Should like to see something of this sort for Colchester.

Streets crowded with Saturday shoppers.  Saw Spindler’s, Alexander’s, and the Rialto Café, and thought of Mother going there in the mornings for coffee, sitting at the window to watch the crowds go by, just such crowds as were there this afternoon.

Back for tea.  Marjorie came, and we had a jolly party.  News on the radio that the Allies are over the Rhine, but Aunt still pessimistic.  Said there was an alarm this morning when I heard the guns.

Marjorie went back on the bus, and I took Jocelyn [Eric's cousin] to the cinema.  Always a pleasure to take her out.  Saw “Waterloo Road”, very well done indeed.  Came back in the grey dusk, under a pale watery moon.  Glass going back.  If the weather breaks, the new offensive will fail.

At supper, talk about what has been happening in the war, local excitements and so on – Queen Wilhelmina has been living at Stubbings, going out onto the Thicket to paint.  Some time ago a ‘diver’ fell near the house and killed a guard, but the Queen was not at home at the time.  Doolittle’s HQ is near Marlow, and the whole district is thick with Americans.

Bed in Maitland’s old room at 11.30, a dark wet night.  Lay reading until nearly 2am.

23rd March 1945

Up in the dark.  Caught the 7.23, Cambridge just after 9.  Got the 9.30 to Bletchley, arriving at 11.22.  Slept in the train, tired, having got up at 4am to patch clothes before coming on this trip.

At Cambridge, standing on the platform, was attracted by the activities of some Americans just over the wall, in the sidings.  Peeped over, and saw six men and two sergeants unloading coffins from a railway van into three closed motor-trucks.  There seemed to be about a dozen coffins, all very new and shiny varnish, glittering brass handles.  As each was dragged out of the railway-van it was covered for an instant with a Stars-and-Stripes, which was whipped off again as they were slid into the motors.  All this took place in bright sunlight, under the eyes of a few inquisitive travellers.  No doubt it was the crew of a bomber.

On the journey, saw huge dumps and camps near Woburn, which must annoy the good Duke of Bedford.  At Fenny Stratford passed under Watling Street with memories of the journey down it in Rose’s little car.

Got the cycle out at Bletchley, and found the tyre flat.  Very pleasant country, well farmed.  Hardly any traffic, fine, smooth roads.  Through Newton Longville – a few little houses, a church, a red brick inn, clean and inviting, a cross-roads, a group waiting for a bus, and children coming out of school.

Noticed I was only 7 miles from Winslow, and much regretted no time to go to see it.  Glorious country, rolling, sweeping hills, and a lot of arable land.  Farm buildings need repair.  At Stewkley, stopped at a garage and mended the punctured tyre myself, as there was nobody there to do it.  Had a cider at the King’s Arms, listening to loud excited talk in the passage way outside, from which I gathered that some woman had just been telephoned to go to a dying relative – “Won’t last more than a few hours, they said.”

Stewkley is a long straggling village, with a magnificent Norman church, the W. end very fine, with bold arch and pretty arcading and a well built squat central tower.  Much regretted no time to go in.  Left Stewkley at 1.15.  On to Wing, past a huge lonely aerodrome, ‘planes parked on the dispersal points, and some farmer’s horse and tumbril proceeding slowly along a wide concrete runway.  The village itself is up a hill, a pleasant street, in which stands the Cock Inn, with a big cock crowing over the roadway.

Got onto the main Leighton Buzzard road, and rushed along gaily through Rowsham, with a pretty looking ancient inn, and not far from there a little old brick-built brewery, a faded board inscribed “Thomas Gurney Licensed Brewer”.  Perhaps related to the Gurneys.

Crossed the Thame, and got to Bierton at half past 2.  Hurried on into the town, through a confusing maze of “one-way” streets.  Got to the Museum in time for the end of the business meeting.  Mrs. Bond [Secretary of the Museums Association] was there, looking very charming, and about a dozen assorted curators looking very bedraggled.  Clarke from Letchworth, Dr Wallis of Bristol, and Miss Baker of Aylesbury were the only ones I knew.

A man named Prince gave a talk on town planning, although difficult to see how this concerns a Museums Federation.  He talked the usual rubbish, but made one interesting point – under the 1944 Act the Minister can order towns to protect their ancient houses, and can forbid any alterations to the structures.  The onus for making such an order is upon the Minister.  This is most important, but when, at question time, I asked if any such orders had ever been made? he was vague and evasive.

At tea, Mrs. Bond said she had seen Maitland Underhill [Eric's cousin], a few days ago, and had expected him here today, but he had sent a note to say he was unable to get away.  He has been having trouble with Lord Hambledon over the Hambledon Museum, which his Lordship wishes to use as a village hall.  An official report on this outrageous proposal was before us today, and it was agreed to ask the Museums Association to protest. 

After tea, (which was very nice, with homemade cakes) we looked over the Museum, which is very good indeed and beautifully kept.  The Curator lives on the premises.  The main building is a nice 18c house, with a well-built modern extension at the back.  There is a nice lot of bygones, including, oddly enough, a few things from an old lady who lived at Wisbech St Mary and afterwards moved to Aylesbury.  Miss Baker offered me these, as they included a nice “Pope Joan” board, so I took them.

There is Roman pottery from as far afield as Oxfordshire, and a beautiful gold coin of Cunobeline, found in September 1925 at Great Kimble, about five miles South of Aylesbury, where, I am astonished to learn, there is a tumulus called “Kymbelin’s Grave”.  Obviously the chance similarity of the name Kimble to the old English rendering of Cunobeline has given rise to this, but it will be amusing to spring this suddenly on Colchester, and to watch their reaction.  It is further curious that quite a number of Cunobeline’s coins have been found in Gt. Kimble, indicating that at any rate these parts were within the territory of “Rex Brittanorum”.  The name of the tumulus may of course be of ancient origin, and perhaps represents a faint memory of the great king.  This should be investigated.

The Aylesbury museum is very pleasant and the labels are very good.  I regretted there was so little time to see details.

Went out about 5.30, into the quiet sunny street, with the fine Georgian houses, and the ancient church at the end of it, so quiet and remote.  No aircraft in the sky.

Cycled down a long cobbled alley to the station, and caught a train to High Wycombe at 5 minutes to 6.  Travelled with a handsome, dark haired woman who was going back to London.  Talked about conditions there.  She obviously was very worried about the rockets.  (Mrs. Bond has also been having a terrible time and has stuck to the Museums Association Office, through thick and thin).

On the way saw “Hughenden”.  Every hillcrest is now crowned with “villas” and the valleys are becoming filled with cheap ugly factories.

Went through High Wycombe and down the valley to Maidenhead.  Suddenly saw a narrow street, a railway gate, a high brick wall, and a little house with a window against the line.  Recognised it at once – it was Bourne End, where Uncle Underhill was organist, and the little house was where we went to tea, more than 30 years ago.  I have never seen it from that day to this.  Can't even remember who lived in the house.

Saw a glorious sunset over Winter Hill, and rushed down the deep cuttings, past Furze Platt, under the high bridge at Castle Hill, and out into the broad valley, the old causeway where we ran our scooters below, Cox’s Woodyards on the right.  Went up to Grenfell Road and saw Aunt for a few minutes before going to Shurlock Row.  She was very well, but Uncle is no better.  Aunt very pessimistic about the war.  Says a rocket fell near Henley the other night.

Left for Shurlock Row under the crescent moon.  Sinister crowds around the aerodrome at Waltham, lights glittering and flashing.

Got to Shurlock Row soon after 8.  Marjorie made me a bed on the couch in the front parlour, and there I slept in the room where a long time ago, I saw Frankie [Marjorie's brother] come in wearing white flannels, and felt afraid of him, and where I teased poor Dick the dog.  Lay a long time listening to the church clock striking and the aircraft passing over.

The 9 o’clock news warned that air-attacks are likely to get worse – but fire-guards are now being abandoned.

22nd March 1945

Glorious day.  Daffodils coming out.  Very noisy all night, ‘planes going over for hours.

Making preparations to go to Aylesbury.  Paid Mrs. B. by cheque, and cashed another for myself.  Must be more careful with money. 

Papers full of “war almost over” stories.

Cannot find the “Fox One” manuscript anywhere, which causes me anxiety.  Awkward if it has disappeared in the Museum.

This afternoon Miss Quail brought in a party from the Grammar School “Prep”.  Showed them Roman stuff.

A most extraordinary accident at Parson’s Drove.  An RAF ‘plane made a forced landing in a ploughed field, and when endeavouring to take off again it ran over and killed a little girl.

Bed early tonight.  Wrote to Father for his birthday tomorrow.

21st March 1945

Noises all night, and slept very badly.  Fine sunny morning.  “Daily Express” had a flaring headline “All Men of 35 To Be Called Up”, followed by an article stating categorically that all men born after 1909 are to be called-up, regarded, and kept in the army until the end of the Japanese war.  The article suggests there has been some “mis-apprehension” about the position of men of these ages, which the Ministry of Labour is anxious to clear up.  Am wondering whether Spivy was correct in what he told me last December, when he assured me I was free to take the Wisbech post.  I told him that I was born in 1910 and was Grade III, when he said: “Well, that’s alright, you’re quite free to take the job if you can get it.”  I remember telling Poulter shortly afterwards that I felt I ought to have had this in writing.  Incidentally, in his last letter Poulter said that Spivy had been asking after me very kindly.

Bought the “Herald” and “The Times”, but neither mention this business, so that it may be nothing more than a piece of dirty “Express” journalism.  But it makes one very anxious.

20th March 1945

Fine, but still windy, and a clear night, with a crescent moon.  Busy on museum chores, and then in the afternoon Mr A.P.D. Penrose called.  He is very like his brother Lionel.  We had an interesting talk on museum matters, and he left to go to tea with his aunt, Miss Peckover, at Bank House.

Tonight at 8 went to a meeting of the Wisbech Society at the Grammar School, when S.E. Dykes-Bower gave a talk on “Village Building After the War” (always assuming that there is an “after the war”.  Penrose was in the chair.  Dykes-Bower gave a good talk on the usual lines, but showed a considerable ignorance of the Fens – he could not understand why the Fen villages were not built round village greens in the traditional way, and suggested that more use ought to be made of the “local stone” such as flints!

He talked until about 9.15, and was just beginning to show lantern slides, when the siren sounded.  The lecturer made some facetious remark about it being obviously desirable to get on with his talk without delay, and the audience sat in grim expectant silence, while outside in the moonlight ‘planes of unknown nationality dived and soared.  The slides were run through by about a quarter to ten.  Whereupon Penrose thanked the speaker and said that “under the circumstances” it was probably just as well to conclude the meeting, adding grimly “I hope you all arrive home safely.”

I had promised to go back with old Curtis Edwards, so instead of being free to scuttle through back lanes and alleys, I had to walk very slowly through the town and across the Park.  Just as we came into the Park, a ‘plane dived in from the east in a most alarming manner, I quite thought it was a jerry, and said to Edwards, quickly, “If he drops anything, lie down!”  “Who?  Who?” asked the old man, “Who drop anything?”  Age must have many compensations.  However, the ‘plane dropped a red flare and scuttled away towards Lincolnshire.  Nothing else came over, but there was no ‘all-clear’ until 11 o’clock.  Begins to look as if the Germans had formed another air-force.

Noticed this morning that builders’ ladders were leaned against the Mayor’s house, where the bombs fell the other night, and men were at work.  The “unexploded bomb” has not yet been found, and there is still a soldier on duty in the Vicarage Paddock.

19th March 1945

Cloudy day, and rain at 4 o’clock.  Went out to buy tobacco for Father’s birthday on Friday.  This morning 1 and a half tons of coke arrived, which was more than welcome.

After tea the weather got worse, the wind blew half a gale, and the rain fell in torrents.  Stayed in all evening, reading.

18th March 1945

Was glad to hear the sound of the birds singing and chirping about 5.30 this morning, and the daylight was creeping in through the cracks of the curtains.  Fine sunny morning.  Had a delicious breakfast in my room.  Heard Mrs. B. talking to the girl who brings the milk, who said one of the bombs had fallen in Alexandra Road, and another in or near the Park.

This afternoon, reading and writing, and then out to the post.  Walked back past the Museum, with the usual feeling of irritation at not being able to go there on a Sunday.  Home to tea, which was most enjoyable.  Mrs. B’s tea is always delightful.  Afterwards went down to Elm for a couple of hours.  Mrs Coulter was in “a rare state” about the attack.

17th March 1945

Dull morning, but sunny at times.  Fairly warm.  Old Edwards in again of course.  Girling came in, about my salary, and pretended there are difficulties about assessing the Income Tax.  Said that if it was not straightened out by the end of the month, he would pay me £40 on account, instead of the £56 which is due to me.  Feel I must keep an eye on W.R.G. who looks far too much of a “business man” for me.

Went out for a few minutes to see the Market.  About 15 horses, including the nice cob mare which was there last week.  The dealer again tried to sell it to me, and I had to repulse him firmly.  In the Old Market they were selling strawberry plants, fruit-trees, boots and leggings, a 1937 Morris car “in running order”, an old buck-cart, some harness, halters, ropes, stack covers, etc.

Levers came in just before lunch, and stayed 10 minutes.  Have now begun cleaning the leather bindings in the Library.  Many are so dry that it is unsafe to open the books.

At a quarter past 2 set off to cycle to Lynn.  Turned off to West Walton to see the church, which is very fine, and all the more interesting as being less restored than most of the Fen churches.  The founder’s effigy most interesting, found quite by chance.  So too is the large tomb of John Rappers, 1561, with only the brass inscription left, mounted on a board, quite loose, dirty and dusty.

The brick floors and white walls are very attractive.  The N. Aisle is now not used at all, and is quite bare.  At the W. end of it there is a neat wooden screen, with little Doric pilasters, which forms a vestry.  At the end of the S. Aisle, on the S. wall, is a board with painted inscription, setting out the facts relating to the great floods of 1613.  A similar inscription formerly existed in Wisbech.  The angel hammer beams are fine.

The whole of the W. end of the church is violently out of the perpendicular, and the scars where the original tower sheered away are clearly visible.

In the churchyard are several interesting tombstones, some showing a heart-motif, and one a mourning skeleton, Death.

Country very lovely, hawthorn coming into blossom, hedges budding pale green.  People were everywhere at work, spraying in orchards or ploughing with horse and tractor.  Near Tilney there was a fine pair of Suffolks and a lovely dapple grey working harrows at Tenington.  Nearby was a man opening up between ridges of vegetables, walking slowly backwards across a vast flat field, pulling after him a sort of hand-drawn cultivator.

To Lynn at 3.15.  Called at the Museum and saw old Bocking, and spoke to him about St.George’s Hall in King Street.  Penrose is very interested in this, as there is some likelihood of it being pulled down.  For many years past it has belonged to Bridges, a maker of theatrical scenery, who has been using it as a store.  He now offers it for sale, and if bought as a commercial proposition it will almost certainly be destroyed.  Bocking told me to meet a man across the road whom he knew who at one time worked for Bridges, and who could remember quite a lot about the Georgian theatre which at one time was fitted into the Hall.  He said that up among the rafters the “thunder sheet” and the “rain machine” still survive – the latter a large cylindrical basket with pebbles in it, which was rotated on an axle.

Went round to see the place, called at Bridges’ house next door, got a key and went in.  It is certainly a most striking building, although drastic alterations to the E. wall have destroyed almost all appearance of antiquity, but in the N. wall several blocked 15c windows retain their original tracery.  Nothing remains of the Georgian theatre except the rain-machine, the floor, and a few pieces of wood indicating the site of the proscenicum.

To the Library, and went through several books, searching for references to the Hall and the Theatre.  There seems little doubt that Shakespeare’s plays were acted in the place in the 16th and 17th c, but there is no foundation whatever for the legend that Shakespeare himself played there.  Found in a book of newspaper cuttings a photo (from a paper) of the E. Wall before its great window was taken out.

Had tea at a very decent, clean café, with some difficulty, as they were anxious to shut at 5 sharp.

The “local” room at the Library is in a state of confusion, and there seems nobody in charge except a few girls.

Left Lynn at 6.30, and made Wisbech by 7.45, feeling very tired.  Called at Museum – no E.C.S. and no letter from home, but one from Fisher, denying that he has sold Robin to Chitty.  He says he sold him to a man at Cornard, who could do nothing with him, so he chopped him for a piebald.  He is now supposed to be with “a Mr. Pipe”.  Shall write and ask for him back, and if necessary will sell him up here.

Just had cocoa and biscuits, when the siren sounded.  Lovely clear moonlight night, and all the street lights were on, burning merrily.  Four searchlights were concentrated a little to the east, tracking a ‘plane which seemed to be going SW.  I walked out to Staithe Lane, clear of the houses, to see what was going on.  What amazing stupidity, to have all the lights on in this manner.

A ‘plane came in very low, passed over to the W.  Then a bomber came over very high, flashing his lights.  A few minutes later another very low flying ‘plane came rushing in, right over the town, and then the whizz and shriek of bombs and flashes and explosions.  The ‘plane swung E. and rushed cheerfully away.  A goods train clattered along the line from Lynn.  Waited to see if the German would come back to shoot up the town – what a target, with all the blazing lights.  Walked down Norwich Road.  

Over towards Marshland cones of searchlights were sometimes pointing towards a dozen ‘planes at once.  At last came the “all-clear” and heard the church clock strike 10.  As the sirens still howled, a ‘plane went over very high and dropped three scarlet flares away to the north.

Hurried back to Clarkson Ave.  House all in darkness, Mrs. B. having gone to bed.  The Swifts’ house dark too, so did not call.  Crowds of drunks everywhere, and, to my delight, the lamplighter was just beginning his round, an hour late, putting out the gas-lamps!

To bed at midnight.

16th March 1945

Writing in my room until nearly 2am, then dozed in the armchair.  Twice the rooks in the trees outside woke chattering, and at about 3 o’clock a ‘plane limping very badly, roared and rumbled across the north of the town.

Woke at 6.30 to the sound of heavy rain, but fine again by 8, and the sky becoming blue in patches when the post-girl, in a white raincoat and scarlet scarf round her head, was coming in at the gate.

Went round to Oldham’s chemist’s shop, now kept by Mr Rigg, to see the groined vault in the basement.  It was originally divided into three four centred bays, each with a carved boss and carved corbels.  Some few years ago the two most easterly bays were destroyed in order to lower the floor of the shop, as the vaults stood about 3’6” above the present street level.  This happened not more than 10 or 12 years ago, but no effort was made to secure the bosses nor to make any record.

Busy all day on letters, etc. and did some labels – for new accessions, as I daren’t re-label any of the stuff done by Edwards.  Actually, there are very few errors on his labels at all.

Spent evening reading in my room, in front of the gas-fire.

15th March 1945

Another lovely day, although cold and grey at first.  Daffodils are beginning to appear among the grass in the churchyard.  Went down there and made a careful examination of some of the very fine 18th Century headstones.  There must have been a very fine school of masons here from about 1700 to 1810.

This afternoon a Grammar “Prep” party, not very successful.  Don't like talking to small boys.

Went out to “Advertiser” and collected a packet of appeals for Edward’s testimonial, put them in envelopes, addressed them and posted them.

Just before lunch, in the Library, suddenly heard the noise of cement or plaster falling down the chimney.  Must have been a pigeon inside, but was alarmed in case it might be the stack cracking or settling.  Went up on the roof to see if anything was to be seen, but there was nothing, only the sound of the fluttering of the wretched bird inside.  The roof seems in pretty fair order, but the woodwork needs repainting.  Fascinating views down onto the roofs, and gardens of the Castle, where I have never been.

After tea went to see old Pearson about the appeals, and then spent the rest of the evening indoors, with great contentment.

14th March 1945

At about 2 o’clock this afternoon a big searchlight battery came through the town and crossed over the bridge in the direction of Wisbech St Mary.  Looked ominous, as there have been no searchlights in this district for two years now.  Nobody likes to have the lights about, as they say they “attract bombs”, in much the same way people might say candles attract moths.  It was a big convoy, with stoves, sections of portable huts, all the kit, generator trailers, bicycles strapped on everywhere.  Thought of all the days long ago when I used to see the horse-drawn coopers trundling smoking up Wimpole Road, the cooks walking behind, and the great pontoons with their teams of eight or ten horses.

A fine warm day.  Worked in the office until 8, then home to more writing.

13th March 1945

Fine, cold, lovely morning.  Aconites are appearing, and the trees are showing signs of buds.

This afternoon Guy Pearson came in, and showed me a draft of an appeal which is to be issued in connection with a “testimonial” for Edwards – this, as I suspected, was the reason of the “secret session” after the last meeting.  If it is to be limited to the 20 odd members of the Committee, it is not likely to produce very much.  Guy Pearson wants a presentation to be made at the Annual General Meeting on May 7th.  He told me that for 20 years not more than two persons, other than the Committee have ever attended an Annual Meeting.  This must be altered.  As the meeting is always held at the ridiculous hour of 12 midday they can hardly expect people to come.  Obviously we need an evening meeting, with special exhibits, coffee and sandwiches and so forth. 

To the Museum for an hour after tea.  Fog coming up.

12th March 1945

Cold, but brilliantly sunny day.  Finished going through the maps in the great chest in the Library, sorted out all those relating to Wisbech, and moved the remainder, and the chest, into the basement passage.  This will eventually go into the Town Library Room.  Felt very satisfied with the day’s work.

Fine starlight night.  Walked home across the Park.

11th March 1945

Had breakfast in my room.  This being the custom here on Sunday mornings.  Wrote letters.  This afternoon to Elm, to the Limes.  Mrs. Coulter had heard that during the raids last week there were attacks on Ipswich, Bury, and Spalding.  Stayed to ten, and cycled home under a clear sky, studded with brilliant stars.

9th March 1945

Fine, cloudy, a smell of spring in the air.  Am enjoying this house.  Food excellent.  Miss Brewer a delightful girl, an excellently witty talker.

Busy all day on Museum chores.  Tonight to Arts Club.  Called for Jessie Swift, and took her along, going through the dark damp park, a place where she most rightly said she would not like to go alone. 

Arts Club quite amusing, did a little drawing.  Left at 10.  Old Market full of drunks.  Went into Swifts for 10 minutes, but Jessie so obviously longing for bed, soon retired to my own.  Miss Quail, the mistress of the Grammar School Preparatory, was talking at the Arts Club about a new school for which she has applied.  (The “Pie” will shortly be closed under the new Education Act).  This other school is (I think) at Leicester, and one feature of its organisation is that every pupil has a “dossier” of her life at the school, from which no personal detail is omitted – peculiarities of dress or behaviour, every single detail.  This follows the child all through the school.  What happens to it then is not recorded.

8th March 1945

Wakened by the chorus of birds in the trees in Clarkson Avenue and in the gardens at the back.  Had a very good breakfast.  Miss Tovey turns out to be a most charming little old lady, of about 79 or 80.  Has lived in the Fens all her life, and knows everybody.

About 9.30, a very smart milk pony came clattering down the road, pulling a little green float on rubber tyres.

School party this morning, Grammar School VI form, to see material relating to the 18th century.  Very successful.

A lovely day.  Went back to Clarkson Avenue at 6, had an excellent “high tea” in the Wisbech manner, spent the evening writing and listening to the radio.

7th March 1945

Dull, and a little rain.  To office, hard work all day.  Got ready for a school-class in the library.  Parcel came from home, posted Monday morning, but reached here only today.  Miss Payne sent me an orange!  Bless her.  Letter tells me there were five alarms at Colchester on Friday, and one at 11.45 on Sunday morning.  Father has not been very well, but seems better now.

John Swift called for me in his car tonight, and I hope I have left the White Lion for ever.  43 Clarkson Ave. is a very pleasant house.  Had it all to myself this evening.  A lot of noise of aircraft, and a big explosion about 8 o’clock.

The only other lodger at the moment is Dorothy Brewer, headmistress of the Queen’s Girls School.  She is a very tall, good-looking Lancashire girl, very charming, and extremely young to be a headmistress – certainly not more than about 25 or 26.  There is also a Miss Tony who lives here permanently, a very old lady, but have not seen her yet.  The rest of the household consists of Mrs. B’s husband, semi-paralysed by a stroke and there is a son, Alan, who must weigh 18 or 19 stone, and only 19 years old, who has a terrific stammer.

News this morning that the little Jones girl has been reprieved.  Great indignation among the White Lion inhabitants, who were determined to a man (or rather to a woman) to hang her.

6th March 1945

Glorious morning.  Decided to go to King's Lynn.  Left at one, arrived 2.30.  In several places on the way saw ploughing and drilling with 3-horse teams.  Went to Lynn Market – several horses and ponies for sale.  A poor market though, very much down-at-heel.  The day of the country market is ended.

Went into Museum, which is in a terrible state of neglect and decay.  Quite the most derelict collection I have seen, yet containing so much good stuff.  A lot of birds, some rubbish, but including a sea-eagle from the Norfolk coast.

A Saxon skeleton is shown, not only with the objects associated with it, but with other objects found nearby, all huddled together in one case.  Labelling very poor.

In the main hall is a tiger given by George V, a good specimen but so unsuitable here.  Walls of the hall – (it is an old chapel) covered with heads and antlers, and at one end, a huge painting of a hunt, early 19th century.  Lighting poor.

A case labelled “bones” includes human and animal, some ancient, some modern anatomical specimens.  A label on a human femur says rather startingly: “Foremost of the mammiferous divisions of Creation, Man forms the culminating point of the great scheme of nature.”

In another case, an alleged “hoard” of arrowheads, found in Norfolk.  Several American specimens are labelled as being of Norfolk origin.  The stone implements, many from Norfolk, are very good.  All labels are typewritten, and are bad.

There are cases of fossils, bugs, butterflies, a large brown bear, a deer, foreign shells, a passenger pigeon, foxes, and monkeys, (the last all in one case).  At one end is a Morrison shelter, presumably for the Curator’s use.

The Archaeology is badly shown.  Everything they have is in one case – a beaker, Roman, Saxon and Medieval pottery, many with labels wildly wrong, but maybe they are on the wrong objects.  Noticed Romano-British sherds from Roman villa at Grimston, given by P.G. Laver.

Runcton Holme – material of the same character as that from the Redhills.

Some labels seek to absolve the local authorities from responsibility by saying “Classified by the British Museum.”

One label mentions 120 Romano-British pots (cinerary urns?) found near Swaffham in 1879 when cutting for the railway.  A nice beaker is shown, from Massingham, near the Peddar’s Way.

There is a nice specimen of the ichthyosaurus, found in 1844.

Behind the main hall is the old chapel school-room, now divided into two sections.  One is used for art exhibitions, and the other contains an astonishing mixture of Royal gifts, ethnology, and local Lynn and Norfolk bygones.  There are some very nice Lynn prints, relics of Eugene Arain, portrait of dear little Fanny Burney, a magnificent Viking period stirrup, inlaid with gold, half a dozen celd and a palstrave, a “Celtic” horse shoe, tobacco pipes, a wood “spud”, all in one case.  There are 15 loom weights, but no labels on them.  Every case is dirty.

Some of the African material is very good.

Quite a lot of pilgrim badges, dredged up from the Purfleet.  Some Roman coins, badly labelled, many of them obviously fakes.  Among the bygones is a fascinating “horn moon” a great rarity.  The collection has great possibilities.

Walked round the town.  Noticed very nice house, about 1525, Bennetts Yard, at the N. end of Tuesday Market.  Lower storey is stone, with a fine Tudor Gothic arch leading into yard at rear, and the upper is a massive-framing, overhanging on the street front.  The place is now derelict, but not beyond help.  It appears to be the only survivor of a considerable slum clearance.

Called at the Library, and saw in the Lynn paper that A.P.D. Penrose has been adopted candidate at the coming election.  Reference Library is still firmly closed.

After 6 the town was quite deserted, and rain began, with low scudding clouds.  Set off home, leaving Lynn in its black-out and rain.  Thought of the little Welsh girl Jones, who is to be hung for murder in 36 hours time.  Thought too of the possibility of increased air attacks this month, before the lighter nights come.

Saw the brighter street lights of Walsoken at quarter past 8.  Turned off at Sandringham Avenue, and called on the Levers.  He remarked on the brilliance of the gas-lamps in his road, all of which are left burning during raids.  The only thing to do, in event of an attack being obvious, house-holders to go out and smash the lamps.

Stayed until 10, then walked slowly back to the White Lion.  Found a very pleasant Irish girl there, a Miss Courtney, something to do with the Girls’ Life Brigades.  Sat talking about Ireland (she is from Ulster) until nearly midnight, and so sadly to bed.

5th March 1945

Quiet night.  Up early, and got ready for the meeting of the Committee at 12.  Eight members came, including old Edwards.  At the end, there was a “secret session”, when he and I were firmly excluded.  Seems probable that the Committee are about to make him some sort of presentation.  Quite right too.

Letter from dear Ann hardly readable, scrawled in pencil.  Says she is suffering badly with fibrositis in both arms and both legs, can scarcely move.

Worked in office until 8, and then walked out in the rain and went round to the Osbornes in Lynn Road.  We sat talking until 11 and past.  Home in the dark, - no moon until 12.30am.  As I lay reading in bed at one o’clock, a ‘plane crashed somewhere in the Fens, not very far off.

4th March 1945

Asleep last night before midnight, without a care in the world, only to be awakened soon after by the sirens.  Cloudy sky, and an obscured moon, not at all the sort of weather when an attack might be expected.

Most of the street lights were on, and cars were moving about, men and girls laughing and screaming outside the Town Hall, where there had been a dance.  Dressed over pyjamas and went down to the street to see what was happening.  Walking along South Brink.  The clocks struck one, and there was a distant explosion.  Met a group of “specials” at the corner of Somers Road, stopped to talk. 

Turned back along the Brink, walked round the Crescent, (another heavy distant explosion) and went through the churchyard.  Some men on the far side of the Market were singing and shouting. 

Most of the street lights still on – apparently no means of extinguishing them.  Streets silent now, except for the sound of footsteps echoing across the river.  The moon shone faintly on Bank House.  Wondered if Miss Simpkin [the housekeeper] was awake – Miss Peckover [the owner of Bank House] of course sleeping the blessed sleep of the deaf.

Gentle rain began to drip down like dew.  More flashes, East and North.  A car drove into the yard of the box factory, a man got out, roused the Watchman, unlocked a building.  Went in, put all the lights on regardless of raid and “semi-blackout”, came out dragging a heavy chain, piled it into his car, jumped in, called “Goodnight” and drove rapidly away towards the town.  Leverington Church struck 2, a faint, distant fairy bell.  Wisbech clocks both followed.  A “jeep” came rushing along at terrific speed.  The street lights were now out, except for those on the bridge, no doubt left on to help the enemy find this important target.

Met the “Specials” again.  Told them who I was.  One elderly man, (Mr Stimpson the Grocer) very pleasant, said he’d read about me in the paper, and asked how old Curtis Edwards was.  Suddenly at 2.25am the sirens screamed ‘all clear’. 

Sunny this morning.  Conversation at breakfast all about the alarm.  Fair fat blonde saying she was terrified, and intended to go home to Cheshire.

Rain this afternoon, but went to see Warby at Elm.  He gave me several more pots in fragments, and some more T.S. sherds.  Called at “The Limes”.  Delighted to find Mrs. Coulter there, her husband having gone to a pedigree Jersey farm in the Cotswolds to get some semen for one of his cows.  There is no doubt that farming is now reaching the ultimate insanity.

Mrs. Coulter talked about the raid last night.  Said she was very frightened, and just could not bear it if they were going to start regular nightly raids again.  Did not say that I fear this is only too probable.  Stayed talking until 10.30, then back to an early bed hopefully.

3rd March 1945

Another busy day.  Did 12 letters, mostly to Colchester.  

Tonight called on the Swifts’, and talked about my moving.  John very kindly offered to bring my things from the White Lion in his car.

2nd March 1945

Fine day.  Everybody on earth came in to see me while I was away, a mass of odd jobs and chores to be got through.  Miss  Thompson in a very bad temper all day.

Art Club tonight, a very pleasant meeting.

Saw Mrs Burnett today, and arranged to move next Wednesday.  Feel very happy in the prospect of leaving this hotel.  The dinner tonight was abominable.

1st March 1945 - St David's Day

Had a good breakfast, left at 9, and caught a bus on the Horkesley Road.  To the Museum and saw Poulter.  Spoke about a Mr Kitchen who lives at Bures and who is an official at the Ealing Film Studios.  Might be a useful contact.

Went to see Diana, and took her for a coffee.  She spoke about a woman who said she wanted her daughter trained for dancing, especially for the ballet.  The woman said: “She’s only eight, but she ballets beautifully!”  Diana said she wished I was back in Colchester.  Called at the Town Hall and spoke to Harvey about the ARP troubles at Wisbech.  He advised me to see the County Controller at March, or, failing him, the Regional Commissioner’s Office at Cambridge.

There was a small excavation just outside the Albert Hall, and a few fragments of Roman tile and Septaria were thrown up.  It is approximately where the north boundary wall of the Roman main street might be expected.

The station was full of conscripts and troops, with notices all over the place – “Recruits for Mecanee Report Here”, “All Returning BLA men Report RTO on other Platform” etc.  Saw old Sim the horse-loader, who asked about Grubb.  On the way down to the station, looked in at the North Castle Stables, but there was no sign of Robin.

The train was made up of decent, clean, comfortable coaches, most unusual.  Surprised to see Mrs Seymour and Anne get in, on their way to Ipswich.  Anne looked very pretty.  Her likeness to Alan in both appearance and mannerisms, as he was as a boy, is quite remarkable.

Train ran well on time, past all the old places – Ardleigh Station and the little gate lodge, the Land Settlement, Birketts Wood, the long meadow.  Humberlands among the trees, (What of the General?), then Sherbourne Mill, the house, and the buildings, with some washing hanging out.  At Manningtree the tide was full, and little sparkling waves glittered all over the estuary.

On the other side of Ipswich, up the green Gipping valley, the deep auburn coloured Suffolk horses were cropping the sparse grass under a pale eggshell blue sky.  The trees and hedges were just tipped with green, and the winter corn is beginning to show in the dry sandy fields.  The great timber mill looked very fine.  Here and there the landscape is spoilt by harsh lines of Council houses.  In many places horses were at plough. 

Got to March at 4.20, and found no train to Wisbech until 5.40.  Spent the time making sketches for an  Art Club competition “March” – they mean of course the month, but I can't resist a feeble pun.  Noticed what a common thing it is now for officers to carry their own luggage.  

Away at last, home at 6, and feel ready for a quiet night.  Called at the office, but disappointed to find no letters at all, nothing from Edinburgh, nothing from Ann.