May. Margaret Sheehan goes up to the guns. "God's frozen people." Tom commands travelling workshop. Harsh speech by Churchill. Oh, la, la: Ration books reveal women's age. Miss Daniels in love.
Saturday, May 2nd
Margaret Sheehan came in to lunch. Had spent part of her holiday at Cleethorpes near Grimsby where her husband is on AA site. Said that although in Liverpool blitz, she had got out of practice for bombing and felt very windy in Cleethorpes. Her husband all right on gun site where plenty to do in raid, but could not stand or rather lie in bed together waiting for the next bomb to come whistling down, so got up, dressed, and both went up to the guns, where felt better.
Sunday, May 3rd
On coming back from chiropractor in Reading was able to walk around the garden and see what an excellent crop of black currants there promises to be this year, and as I have some bee sugar over we shall be able to make a decent bit of jam, I hope. Have been 10 weeks in bed and likely to stay there for all the doctor could do for me.
Hilary very well and sunburnt. Been able to dress himself for some time now but at present in stage of pyromania. Fortunately supply of matches very limited – only two or three in bottom of a box as a rule, but great idea is to make a bonfire.
Govt scheme to ration fuel. Seems it will take as many clerks to administer it as it would take miners to get out extra coal. Hopeless mess made of mining industry, as usual. Stocks in hand on fall of France gone, more fuel demanded by munitions factories, and miners called up to army, which now refuses to disgorge them. Have bought crosscut saw, but can’t get at the wood. Prospect next winter grim. Paper headline, "God’s frozen people!" How we lived in 1942!
Tuesday, May 5th
Another reprisal raid on Exeter last night but 7 out of 30 bombers destroyed. City dive-bombed and machine-gunned, a girls’ school hit. Wonder if Molly’s old school, Bishop Blackall.
Executions going on in oppressed Europe, 72 Dutchmen shot, and 10 French hostages at Lille. Fighting on Burma Road, outlook for British force very poor.
Wednesday, May 6th
Food Ministry hopes to give everyone 6lb of tomatoes this year at a controlled price. Hilary was bought a pair of utility shorts at Woolworth’s for 2/- a leg.
Friday, May 8th
Tom Wheeler in to-day. Trained as an electrical engineer on army cars, carriers and tanks, will now be in charge of a travelling workshop. Says we have not manufactured a rifle that will fire German ammunition. They could use ours, but ours was slightly too big. Should be useful for guerrillas in France, Belgium and Holland.
Heard that High Street, Exeter, badly damaged by fire. Lloyds Bank, GPO, Woolworth’s, etc, all down, but Cathedral and Guild Hall undamaged. Molly’s school not hit, but Dellers, where had many pleasant meals for so many years, is gone. The last was in September and am glad I spread myself with salmon and mayonaise!
Saturday, May 9th
Hilary a bit jealous of attention paid to me in bed and remarked yesterday to Nora : ”If I were very, very ill, you’d all come up and have dinner in my bedroom.”
Sunday, May 10th
Many anniversaries to-day. The beech is in full leaf, the apples in blossom, lilac, magnolia, double cherry and the chestnuts’ flowery candles lit, but the day rather dull and cold. In that lovely magical summer of 1940 the invasion of Holland, last year the great raid on London before the Luftwaffe turned east against Russia, the amazing attempt of Hess to bring off some kind of deal on the basis of the Russian attack.
The defence of Malta has filled everyone with pride and admiration and the island has been given the George Cross. It has been bombed and bombed and bombed again this spring, day and night for weeks on end, but has remained unconquered - non mole sed fortitudine magna. The defence largely centred around the personality of one man, Sir William Dobbie, the governor - a very remarkable soldier in, I imagine, the Gordon and Roberts tradition. Simple and unaffected with bushy eyebrows and a ragged moustache, a teetotaller and a Plymouth Brother, he has fought with a pistol in one hand and the Bible in the other. His narrow but sincere and simple piety has caught the imagination of the Catholic Maltese…
Churchill’s speech to-night, which lasted 40 minutes and was made on the anniversary of his taking office in 1940, a very grim and menacing but very confident speech. “With the measure which ye meet it shall be measured out to you again” the note struck throughout. Our future in our hands and we have only to endure and to prepare to conquer. He said that on a conservative estimate more Germans were killed by the Russian winter than were killed in the whole of the last war. What an awful revelation. We had waited and endured long for the turning of the tables – now our time had come…If the German civilians did not like the bombing, let them leave the factories.
He gave one public and solemn warning to the Nazis. The Russians had reported that they suspected poison gas was to be used as part of a new eastern offensive. If gas used, we had superiority in bomber strength and we should retaliate with gas. Obviously the best thing to warn the Germans but let us hope we do not have to take this road.
He ended on a note of good cheer, but the speech as a whole was harsh and full of retribution for the crimes which the rulers and peoples of Germany had committed and which we were now increasingly able to repay.
"We have heard his threats before. Eighteen months ago in September, 1940, when he thought he had an overwhelming air force at his command, he declared that he would ”rub out” - that was the actual expression – our towns and cities. Now the boot is on the other leg. Herr Hitler has even called into question the humanity of these grim developments of war. What a pity his conversion did not take place before he had bombed Warsaw or massacred 20,000 Dutch folk in defenceless Rotterdam and wrecked vengeance upon the open city of Belgrade.
“Is there any sensible and thoughtful person who cannot see how vastly and decisively the awful balances have turned to the advantage of the cause of freedom….. Therefore to-night I give you a message of good cheer. You deserve and the facts endorse it. But be it good cheer or bad cheer will make no difference to us. We shall live on to the end and do our duty, win or die. God helping us we can do no other.”
There came to my mind the earlier expression of Churchill’s – "the closing net of doom”.
Thursday, May 14th
More austerity! No meal to cost more than 5/- or consist of more than three courses. Certain restaurants to be allowed on licence to charge for “covers”.
A Russian offensive before Kharkov.
Friday, May 15th
Gordon came in. Master here in 1939, now working in fighter station in Essex in control room. Says Air Force now very severe on petrol waste or scrounging and an excellent American pilot was set home for stealing a couple of gallons of petrol. Things very different from a year ago.
Sunday, May 17th
One of the most horrible stories to come out of this horrible war is the story of the Norwegian teachers who were taken as hostages by the Germans, because of the refusal of the profession to submit to Hitler’s Quislings, and put in a small steamer, a sort of floating Black Hole of Calcutta, but cold instead of hot, and sent without proper food, clothing and accommodation to travel up the Norwegian coast. Their sufferings were terrible and many died of disease, exposure, and the conditions in which they had to exist.
Everywhere in Europe there is a hatred of the Germans, from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, from the Atlantic to the Aegean. A tremendous subterranean pressure is accumulating which must soon explode and blow the German herrenfolk and the police rule they have set up from one end of Europe to the other to pieces. You feel you are waiting and watching the hand of the pressure gauge….
Monday, May 18th
Admiralty asking for snapshots of ”foreign parts”! Say often supply information about coasts and beaches not otherwise obtainable; in one place a casual snapshot showed a large car with two men on either side of it at bottom of a road onto the beach. This made clear road wide enough to take tanks.
Just counted pages in Diary and find I wrote 40 pages [manuscript pages] up to last May but only 31 up to this. Why? Being in bed and having to write leaning on elbow may have had something to do with it.
Tuesday, May 19th
Germans counter attack and fail to hold Russians in Ukraine; tank battles; Russians say they are near vital road, but as usual no names given.
The campaign in Burma is over. Rearguard has now reached the frontier with Assam.
Thursday, May 21st
Speech by Goering yesterday confirms belief hat there was nearly a complete break up on the Russian front in December. "The winter campaign has been terrible. There was no question of giving up our front positions because behind us was only a heap of ruins. One large white couch of death spread itself over the vast country. The Russians were in our rear. Guerrilla troops blew up the railways and cut our supplies. The terrible cold almost froze our troops. The engine tenders burst. The engines could not be made to work. For whole days the front was cut off from munitions, food and clothing. If a rifleman touched his rifle, his skin stuck to it.” The Fuhrer was the guarantee of German victory. The Almighty had blessed them with the Fuhrer! Perhaps. ”I’ve ’eard different,” as Robertson used to say.
[Sir William Robertson, 1860 - 1933, first British field marshall to start in the ranks, Chief of Imperial General Staff in First World War.]
Whit Sunday, May 24th
Ninth visit to osteopath to-day. Leg can be raised at right angle to the body so am getting on!
Glad to say that sanity has prevailed at G.O.C. in England - has issued orders that blood lust and hatred are not to be inculcated as part of battle school training.
Monday, May 25th
Some women indignant because for new ration books age has to be entered on identity cards and this means, as pointed out in letters to The Times, that ”friends” from whom this information has long been concealed will now in some cases be able to find it out through working in such organizations as the W.V.S.
About 50,000 people gathered in Trafalgar Square yesterday to demand a second front..... Various responsible people have been saying that it will be sooner than later but not this year. American ministers have been issuing warnings against undue optimism and say the war will be long.
Tuesday, May 26th
Hilary was taken to the zoo for the second time. It was rather windy and rained later. Unlike most of the adults, he saw nothing funny in the chimpanzees but after watching them with interest he said, ”Aren’t they clever.” He asked to be taken to see the parrots, which had impressed him by their colour on his first visit. There were some Indian soldiers there and he was struck by their dark faces and ”funny hats.” On his way back there was time to spare so at Baker Street Nora took him to a news cinema for 40 minutes. This was his first official visit to the cinema as the only other films he had seen were in Warships Week in a church hall and by a travelling projector in the Market Place in War Weapons Week. He was most anxious and pleased to be taken and not at all nervous. First there was a newsreel with the King and Queen and then Mr Churchill at Leeds and battleships being launched; after this a colour film of lumbering, then a Mickey Mouse, which amused him very much for the mouse ran about on a piano. When he got back he came to my bedroom to tell me about it. I told him how, when I was 5 ½, there were no cinemas, for fathers will be fathers. I wonder, Hilary, whether this entry will amuse you when we are dust.
Friday, May 29th
We have had a terrific gale for the past fortnight and it seems to have affected my leg for the worse, which is depressing.
A big tank battle is going on in Libya. The Germans are making big claims in the battle going on in the Ukraine. In Prague the German tyrant Heydrick has been shot and now reprisals have started.
Yesterday passed unnoticed. It was only in the evening after going to bed after a painful walk that I remembered that it was the anniversary of the beginning of this Diary. I turned up 1941 and see I had a note of shipping losses. They are still very serious this year in the Caribbean and off the American coast.
Sunday, May 31st
A macabre air raid by a single German plane on S.E. coastal town. A stick of bombs hit a cemetery, threw monuments about and raised the coffins from their graves.
Hilary Daniels down for the day. Says she is much troubled by constantly falling in love, and now in love with two men. Asked her what her symptoms were. Says inability to put thought of them out of her head and warm sensation in her stomach!