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Friday, 9 July 2010

1945 March

March. Shutting Randolph up. Clem Clifford on India. Goering's brio furioso. Long-tailed tits and goldfinches. Across the Rhine. Utility beef. No fraternisation.

Sunday, March 4th
Phyllis came down again from Thursday to Saturday. Churchill met Ibn Saud in Cairo. He introduced Randolph to the Emir, who examined him with interest and said, ”I have to like him”. Phyllis’ boss was shut up with Randolph for three weeks in a castle in Jugolsavia owing to the weather. He said he (Randolph) was so frightful, bullying and shouting and hectoring all the time, that to shut him up they had to make a large bet with him that he could read the whole Bible in a fortnight.
Food a problem in Italy. She avoided bits of bacon in the hors d’oeuvres, but was eventually persuaded to eat to some. She promptly got tapeworm. To get rid of it she had to go to hospital and when it was removed there was enough to skip with! She contrasted the conventions of the RAF with the emotionalism of the American air force. She went to an American air force dance where everyone was very drunk. She was sharing a room with another girl, but hearing a man with a girl in the room next door and then violent sobbing, she thought she had allowed a countrywomen to be raped and done nothing, so she went to see if she could help. The girl was all right. She had thrown the drunk out into the passage and the sobbing came from him.
This morning as I was making a breeding hutch for Hilary’s rabbits the siren went, but nothing happened. It seems to have been a piloted raid and six were brought down. (Added later: This was the last siren, although did not know it at the time).

Tuesday, March 6th
To-day Clifford turned up from Stanmore fighter station where he is now posted, or rather from hospital where he had been sent to be treated for malaria. The RAF had no objection to your dying, he said, as long as your papers were in order. He had been in Rangoon, Assam and Ceylon and had seen strange sights and strange places. He had a baked yellow appearance and seemed much older and wearier. Nora questioned him about India. He had been in Bengal during the famine and was impressed by the callous attitude to human life in the East. He told of some people who tried to storm a food truck and who were thown off. One man fell in the track and a wheel went over his legs and cut them off. The spectators stood there while he bled to death and the pi dogs ran off with his legs. One rich merchant had his house sandbagged with bags of rice while people were dying in the street outside.
Churchill has been in Germany to see Eisenhower. Typically enough he chalked ”To Hitler personally” on a shell and fired it into the enemy lines. ”One heave altogether from east and west and the job will be done”, he told the 31st Highland Division
Nora keeps on saying, ”I don’t see how they can go on much longer.” It’s all right, I say, they can’t. ”Will it be over by Easter?” she asked.

Friday, March 9th
We are over the Rhine at Remagen, 12 miles south of Bonn! …Goebbels writes: “The war has passed its climax….. in its last phase there will be a brio furioso of arms, and a sudden end. This last round will bring the decision.” He speaks the truth for once.
I picked the first primroses to-day in brilliant sunlight. The bees were flying in clouds. Seven out of eight hives have come through the winter and all seem healthy.
Last night went to a lecture with a funny man in Henley. He was a master at Eton and I think some kind of Royalist, but what indeed was he doing lecturing to the Workers’ Educational Association? I wrote a report for the organizers, adding, ”I do not think I shall send my son to study history at Eton under Mr Ireland.”

Saturday, March 10th
Digging all day. The sunshine of the last two days has brought the flowers out; daffodils by the beehives, wallflowers outside the house, a carpet of blue and white violets in the orchard and celandine and primroses on the sheltered banks. The birds are pairing. I saw long-tailed tits in the hedge and the field and goldfinches among the apple trees. The limes are surrounded by clouds of bees and the pollen carriers scurry in with bulging legs. Spring is here again.

Sunday, March 11th
An account to-night of the taking over control of Bonn by the Americans… Some wit had written up a remark of the Fuhrer’s: Give me five years and you will hardly know Germany.
The French government does not seem to be able to divide out justly, or collect efficiently, what supplies there are….. The French are paying very dearly for the failure to build up a decent civil service because they would not pay civil servants decently.
Rockets continue to fall on London. One fell on Smithfield Market at eleven in the morning and holds the record for casualties as there were queues of women shopping. The Germans are paying now for their concentration on new types of fighters, jet propelled, which won’t be ready before the summer, while they have lost the power to interfere with our concentration of forces or lines of communication.

Thursday, March 15th
Phyllis asked me what I should have done had England been occupied. Would I have had no dealings with the underground, would I have worked for the resistance movement. She would have dabbled in resistance, she said. A difficult question! What would one have done ? Would one’s faith and courage have been anywhere near equal to the task. ”Lead us not into temptation”. I replied that as the headmaster of a secondary school in a small town I should probably have been seized along with the Mayor, etc, as a hostage and shot as a reprisal for attempts on the occupying army.
There are some guesses about the use of new V weapons and a possible last minute blitz with rockets and flying bombs. Nora rather worried about Hilary.

Friday, March 16th
Our bridgehead over Rhine now 6 ½ miles deep and 12 miles long and enemy in Moselle-Rhine-Saar pocket in danger of being trapped, but country difficult.
Description of German towns: junk yards, 90% destroyed, but people saved by enormous air raid shelters, well-fed and happy looking. Walls covered with slogans of all kinds in white paint, white flags everywhere. Strict orders that there is to be no fraternization, but will it be possible to carry out – I doubt it.

Sunday, March 18th
German behaviour in Rhineland said to be influenced by deep sense of guilt, and to be so servile that “cringing” has been used to describe them. The ordinary people knew long ago that the war was lost, but the intellectuals have only just realized that the allies will accept no negotiated peace.
Correspondents emphasise appalling destruction in the Rhineland, town after town reduced to uninhabitable rubble heaps….. The Germans by continuing to fight are literally destroying the country for the next 30 years.
Much talk of world meat shortage and rumours of a possible cut in the meat ration. Nora reported that the butcher had a piece of meat on the counter which he picked up, saying he would not much care to eat it himself, to show stamped on the skin “utility beef ” with the date 1940!

Tuesday, March 20th
Yesterday was Nora’s birthday and I picked a bowl of white violets in the orchard, which is covered with them. I wonder if cropping by the geese has helped them. Have just started my usual spring cold. When will colds disappear? Can only hope that the semi-starvation in Europe will not provide another “Black Death” like that of 1919.
We had a rocket on Monday about 10 o’clock. I was in my room when there was “wump” or rather a kind of triple wump followed by an echo, though not a very prolonged one. It fell at the top of White Hill, about a mile away.

Wednesday, March 21st
It seems the meat question is causing some ill feeling in the USA. They (or some of them) say we have the biggest unallocated stocks of beef in the world and should disgorge some of them to feed Europe. Our ration of 1s 6d a week is mainly home, 5d, or S. American, 4 ½ d, and 2d comes from the USA. In any case the meat ration there is five times the size of ours; the public there appears to think it is much the same and they are being done down because Britain is hoarding supplies.
Allies are not easy! Apparently our Pacific fleet is said by the Americans to be too small, too slow and limited in range to compete with their Pacific fleet – altogether a liability and not an asset to them in their operations.

Sunday, March 25th
From nine o’clock on Friday evening till three o’clock yesterday the Rhine crossed at various points….. Vast airborne forces were dropped at the same time, 40 000 of them, according to New York…. Churchill is at the front, staying with Montgomery and watched the Rhine crossings. He issued message saying, ”May God prosper our arms in the noble adventure after our long struggle for King and Country, for dear life, and for the freedom of mankind.”

Monday, March 26th
Lloyd George died to-day. The architect of victory in the last war, he did not quite live to see victory again in this, though it is not far away. I only saw him once, but that was very close to in 1918. I happened to be walking up a side street behind the Central Hall, Westminster, and all the cabinet came out from an election meeting there to avoid the crowds at the front, so I had a good view of them, Bonar Law, Curzon and Lloyd George.
Montgomery’s “no fraternization” order published. “In streets, houses, cafés, cinemas you must keep clear of Germans, man, woman and child, unless you meet them in the course of duty. You must not walk out with them, or shake hands with them, or visit their homes or make gifts to them or take gifts from them. You must not play games with them or share any social events with them... A guilty nation..… must realize its guilt. Only then can the first steps be taken to re-educate it. Last time we won the war and then let the peace slip from our hands. This time we must not ease off – we must win both war and peace.” These men however are the sons of the men who gave away their rations to German children in 1919. Wonder how well this will look in two years time.

Tuesday, March 27th
We were intending to go to Star Cross for a holiday before Hilary came back from school, but Nora was disturbed by reports of rockets and flying bombs in Kent and Surrey so we brought him back early to take Hilary with us. I thought this a bit alarmist, but apparently have been some bombs quite near and Hilary said what a loud bang they make.

Thursday, March 29th
Started out with Hilary for Paddington. There we were marshalled by police in an enormous queue about 10 deep behind barriers. Hilary nearly lost me at one point. There was a good deal of pressure and he clutched my hand very tight indeed. Eventually we got on the platform and travelled comfortably on the second half of the 10.40, which got in (to Exeter) about 2.30. Had tea with Maud. Hilary very solemn, was shown the cathedral and the bombed foundations. Much impressed by the latter, and liked the flower stalls in the upper market. We reached Starcross about 6 o’clock. The estuary lovely, but blackened by rain squalls.
The hotel rather odd. Battle pictures in the dining room roused comment: 1) Trafalgar, 2) Waterloo, 3) Rorkes Drift. Retired to bed early after indigestible supper.

Friday, March 30th
Nora appeared about 10 from Exeter. We went on the 11.40 ferry to Exmouth, but it was a very windy day and the sand was airborne.
The hotel a lovely decayed regency building but the best room with a view of the estuary and out to sea is taken by a firm evacuated from Plymouth. The trains run above the level of the dining room and cut off the light when they go by. There is also the ferry and much to interest Hilary. 100 years ago with no trains outside, the Courtney Arms must have been a beautiful hotel. It is still a lovely and spacious building and Starcross a place of leisure and dignity, if dull too.

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