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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

1944 December

December. Fred Andersen in Italy. Readying flagpole. Bryant killed. Battle of Bulge. On the goose standard. Trouble in Greece. Relieving senectitude.

Saturday, Dec 2nd
              Heard from air force officer Fred Anderson, last time reading Trollope on the Euphrates, this time a life of Disraeli on the coast of Italy.
              It seems likely that we shall have a general election next summer. Great pity that Churchill ever became chairman of the Conservative Party as now every nincompoop like our appeaser M.P. will be able to say a vote for me is a vote for Churchill.
              The Germans have been forbidden by Goebbels to express doubts about the final outcome of the war or to discuss in public shortages caused by bottlenecks, and again a policy of silence on air raids has been held up to them.

Sunday, Dec 3rd
              Bought some cord for the flagpole so that I could fly the flag on Armistice Day, but did not get the pole down to put it on and don’t think I shall be needing it before next summer anyway.
              The difficulties in liberated Belgium, Greece and Italy are beginning. The Belgian government from London is unpopular with the resistance movement, which still has arms. In Greece there has been fighting in Athens between the police and left-wing demonstrators. Not only are the restored governments unpopular because they contain conservative elements and have been “exile” governments, but because they cannot deliver the goods. “Liberation” does not look as good as it did. Food is short, fuel is short, there are unemployed. Our military authorities cannot have civil war in their rear and will naturally come down on the side of the official governments.
              A new unnamed battleship launched by Princess Elizabeth, one of her first public appearances. Apparently it is designed for use in the tropics and is the largest built so far. Why its name has been kept secret cannot imagine, unless it is associated in some way with the place of its building.

Wednesday, Dec 6th
              To-day heard that Toby Bryant, my history master, killed in Holland. Time passes so quickly that only four children in the school had been taught by him. The first of the five staff (in the forces) to lose his life.             
    Real trouble in Greece. Firing on left-wing demonstrators in Athens appears to have been preceded by the resignation of the left-wing members from the coalition government, the marching of left-wing armed forces towards the capital, and the declaration of a general strike. Clearly the whole thing an armed attempt to overthrow the government. P.M. said yesterday that we are not going to clear out to allow a Communist dictatorship to be established.

Friday, Dec 8th
              Mrs Bryant came to see me to-day. A Pole on her way to Sweden, she was caught here by the war and married Bryant after he joined up. Apparently he had been in the air defence of G.B. but when things got slack volunteered for an infantry regiment, for, as he said, he had talked a lot against fascism and he felt it was hit duty to fight it. He went to Holland without embarkation leave and was killed after 20 days.

Sunday, Dec 17th
              News to-night that the Germans have staged a comeback and made an armoured thrust against the American 1st Army using paratroops. A bigger attempt than anything since the fighting at Avranches in the summer.

Thursday, Dec 21st
              Foggy at home and at the front! No news for security reasons and what has come through is 48 hours old. Von Rundstedt has collected a reserve of picked divisions, armour, infantry, paratroops, assembled them in secrecy and cut right through the allied line between the northern offensive in the Rhineland and the southern offensive in the Saar. Faced with an attack on all fronts and the slow wearing down of his armies by an enemy in every way superior, he has chosen to attack himself. He hopes for a victory that will dislocate plans for two or three months, keep the west quiet, and allow his crack troops to move east to meet the Russian offensive. It is a supreme gamble, perhaps the last. Meanwhile the impetus of the attack appears to have taken the Germans forward about 30 miles towards Meuse and Liege….. Our intelligence appears to have been foxed and the attack came as a complete surprize.

Christmas Eve, Sunday
              Spent the day sawing logs and listening to music. Alexander Weiss came up and he and Hilary had a conversation on Dr Barnado’s Homes and what you would do if your parents died. Hilary said he would go to his uncle. He would earn his own living. The conversation then passed on to religion, instinct. “What’s instinct?” “Well instinct is what you know,” said Hilary. “You must listen to a well brought up person,” “Well I am a well brought up person.” “No, I mean a well brought up grown up person. You’ll learn a lot that way.” Unfortunately Nora only heard part of this very abstruse conversation as bombers were going over and much of it was lost.
              The news is a bit more reassuring to-day. The flanks are holding and both sides are regrouping for a second round. To-day was a lovely winter’s day with a white frost and then sunshine and a pale blue winter sky against which the tits flew from branch to branch. There is snow in the Ardennes and the trees are white like a Christmas card…
              In a way this is a rather disappointing Christmas. The great German attack in the Ardennes in full swing….. when we imagined they had no kick left in them. At the same time great difficulties between ourselves and Russia and the U.S.A. over Poland and Greece, a growing feeling in the U.S. that the Atlantic Charter has been thrown overboard and Europe is returning to the game of power politics. Rifts between the allies appearing even before the enemy has been defeated. Civil war in (?some of) the liberated countries and our men fighting and being killed by the people they came to liberate. All this combines to produce a mood of disillusionment, weariness and pessimism.
              To offset this (query), meat ration increased from 1s 2d to 1s 10d – Christmas week only. Debate continues whether to open Sauterne or not. Only N, H and myself can hardly do justice to a whole bottle….

Christmas Day
              A frosty Christmas. The ground white and the frost only melted a little while in the sun at midday. As Hilary and I went over to get a plant and flowers from the school we saw the sun rise. I gave him a copy of Treasure Island and he gave me Trevelyan’s Social History. Among other presents he had a saw, a hatchet and some wire cutters.
              We spent the morning doing housework and getting dinner ready. For dinner we had goose, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, Christmas pudding and brandy butter. In the end we did not open the Sauterne a there were too few of us to drink it. After washing up the dinner we heard the King’s speech. He spoke fairly well, for him, but there was one long and painful pause while he tried to get a word out. After this N and Hilary went for a walk. We had tea late and then lit the Christmas tress. This year, as I was able to borrow some candleholders, it had 15 candles, more than we had been able to raise for a war Christmas. One of the things we promise ourselves after the war is a tree with lots of candles, which we can burn as long as we like instead of blowing them out soon because there are no more and we want them to last.
              Hilary announced in the course of his walk that he wished to be a scientist.
              There are more sweets this Christmas than I have known since 1940 as the ration for children has been increased.

Boxing Day
              The frost still holds, “earth hard as stone”, the fields, trees and hedges covered in white. In the afternoon we walked along the towpath, difficult to keep warm, but the red winter sun cast lovely green shadows on the river. After tea read Hilary some Treasure Island.

Wednesday, Dec 27th
              A very severe frost continued, but started off for Exeter at 8.30. The train at Henley 20 minutes late starting and got to Paddington 40 minutes late at 10.40, when train for Exeter should have been moving out. However, I need not have worried. It was 50 minutes before the Exeter train even came into the platform. During this time walked up and down in vain endeavour to keep warm. I have never been so cold for 20 years. It was the coldest Christmas since 1872. The train however was not crowded and was well heated. It was an hour late starting and an hour and a half late arriving at Exeter.

Thursday, Dec 28th
              Went down to the front at Exmouth this morning and walked out towards Orcombe. Lovely day and much warmer, but a mist over the water so could not see very far. About half the tank obstacles have been cleared and the wire on the promenade removed. The A.A. Bofors guns have gone, but the heavy coast defence battery was still there looking very clean, oiled and wrapped up. In this small hamlet only two spectators turned up to stand down the Home Guard. Now project is coming forward for a tea next week as a mark of appreciation! Beer and cigarettes have been promised as well!
              Churchill and Eden back from round table conference with Greeks in Athens. No agreement has been reached except that all parties want a regency. The P.M. has said that we intend to clear the capital of armed forces with the surrounding districts of Attica. As the party were leaving the British Embassy they were fired on by a sniper, but no one was hit.

Friday, Dec 29th
              Went into Exeter to-day. Much impressed by the appearance of the early 19th century market, which now filled with the stalls of shops which have been destroyed. Went into the cathedral. Organ dismantled and people not admitted to choir. The damaged aisle was closed and red cassock of choir hanging in racks in the nave. Met a woman in Exton who said it was the spiritual side of Christmas that counted. Felt inclined to so say that with drinks so short she was lucky – but didn’t.

Sunday, Dec 31st
              Yesterday walked from Exmouth to Budleigh, but had to make two detours, one round range newly established on Straight Point, the other round some gun sites on the cliff above Budleigh. The weather was cloudy and turned milder and for a time it rained. to-day went down to look at the estuary. In the morning the tide was beginning to ebb and there were many waders, redshanks and ringed plover, to be seen quite near.
              Have been reading the Bp of Durham’s autobiography and came across this passage: “When after my marriage, my wife an I had for a while reason to hope that we too might have been granted the privilege of parenthood, I allowed myself to indulge in the fancy that a narrative of personal experience and activity might interest a child of my own.” I still indulge the fancy. However the Bishop goes on to explain that he was careful to write in a bold, clear hand that might be read without difficulty, and for this purpose used specially cut quill pens. No one has ever said that my writing was easy to read. In this I agree with him for in middle age I find it difficult to decipher myself, so whether, in the Bishop’s phrase, it will “relieve the tedium of senectitude” I do not know.

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