1940, Friday, July 12th
Went collecting caterpillars on the cabbage with a gang of boys on Tuesday and got a lot. A good year for caterpillars! Yesterday an air battle over the Channel which was much to our advantage. Bombers escorted by fighters made an attack on a convoy, but 23 Germans were shot down.
Len Hayes with his five little boys brought form for free milk to sign. “If I wait long enough perhaps they’ll give me a cow” was his comment.
Sunday, July 14th
Still waiting for the attack to start. Observer thinks it will take form of air attacks on ports with all the weight of aircraft Germany has. P.M. to broadcast tonight, so it looks as though Der Tag near. Road blocking proceeding, concrete drums about, very decent m/g post just up the road to Peppard. Caversham Bridge at Reading reduced to one way traffic by big concrete blocks built into the bridge, but nothing on Henley Bridge as far as can be seen.
Monday, July 15th
Did not hear much of P.M.’s speech last night as yellow warning came through soon after he had started. He spoke of 1942 – 1942 struck cold on his listeners’ hearts. Otherwise a good night at the Town Hall, a fine session with the ex-acting governor of Borneo, alias the Controller, privately christened the Raspberry Blancmange, wobbly, popeyed, and wheezing, on the intimate life of the natives of those parts, progressing through fornication, adultery and incest, enlivened by randy anecdotes, which I feel would be out of place in such a historic document as this diary!
A letter from Phyllis Auty. “I’d forgotten how spacious life used to be” – we shall indeed have forgotten by 1942. But Nelson over two years never left the Victory off Toulon. Reading his life now, also Neville Henderson’s account of his time as ambassador in Berlin. Something unpleasant about the man, but can’t make out what. Raises question again, could we have fought at Munich?
Tuesday, July 16th*
Waiting to hear what powers will decide about summer holiday. Curious feeling abroad that because some people have no holidays, therefore no one ought to have any or enjoy themselves. Betty Fairthorne [art mistress] said today, never did hold with the argument that you ought to eat rice pudding because some people were hungry and would be glad of it! Certainly think dullness no help to victory or anything else.
Old headmaster, Mr Valpy, turned up this morning to look over school. Had left Walmer because of raids and gunfire and returned to Henley. A very moral man - always feel at a disadvantage with moral people, shades of Uncle Sam [Diarist’s formidable high church uncle, Rector of Shillingford, Exeter, in Diarist’s childhood) – but apparently combined this with bullying, beating, and sarcasm. Feel a meeting between Mr Valpy and the Raspberry Blancmange would be fun! Expressed disappointment that his text, Aim High, had been removed. Found on enquiry that this was a piece of paper pinned up in the entrance hall. “Influence” a wonderful thing, said Mr Valpy. His text influenced a boy who became a chaplain in the Navy and he used it to put boys on joining on the “right road”, so “influence” spread. Fortunately he did not stay long, though, on Miss Hunter’s advice, I showed him the mixed common room.
Tonight on the wireless a play about the discovery of the principle of the magnetic mine, Hitler’s “secret weapon”, last November. We had Hitler’s speech at Danzig, the sinking of the Simon Bolivar, the coast guards’ spotting of the parachute coming down on the shallow water of Shoeburyness on a moonlight night, the discovery of the mine, the arrival of experts from HMS Vernon, the undoing of the detonators with non-magnetic tools by the naval men. It was interesting, but as most people necessarily knew that the mine did not and would not explode, it was rather lacking in suspense. The names of the officers and men, and the decorations they received, were read out at the end.
A Lincolnshire vicar was sent to gaol for four weeks for ringing his church bells yesterday. A bit excessive I should think. I expect he did it to spite the bishop, from whom he had apparently received a letter asking him not to!
Shipping losses were heavy last week due to increased submarine and air activity and, of course, the possession of the French coast as a base.
*Day on which Hitler issued order to prepare for invasion of England
Saturday, July 20th
Another of Hitler’s “last and final offers”, accompanied by threats and abuse of Churchill. Stand by for the invasion.
Bit by bit the scandal of the refugees is coming out. Friendly Germans and Italians, prominent anti-fascists, shipped off to America in the Avandora Star by the War Office and then drowned. Casualty lists refused. All and sundry interned, whatever their antecedents and treatment. Later taken out of hands of the Home Office. A typical piece of official stupidity. How can we expect to start a revolution in Europe if that is how we go on?
Papers contain many reportings to police of remarks alleged to be defeatist, and some accounts of heavy sentences. Other magistrates seem to be more sensible in dismissing cases. Soon we shall be afraid to open our mouths in case we are denounced by some busybody. Music hall on wireless tonight. “Cheer up. Everything’s going to be lousy”.
Wednesday, July 24th
Assurances that C class aliens will have their cases properly investigated and many will be released. “Silent column” (to discourage talk) disowned by P.M. in House, or, as he put it, to be allowed to pass into “innocuous desuetude”. Also sentences passed by magistrate’s courts on people who said silly things. “The government has no desire to make crimes out of silly vapourings best dealt with on the spot by the more robust members of the company.” P.M. again!! Nora’s Aunt Nelly at Eastbourne robust enough. Says armed trawlers off pier give her a thrill and recalls being taken to out to see Northern Lights at time when Paris was besieged in 1870. (Diarist’s note: The old lady was blown up by a bomb in a daylight raid on Eastbourne in 1943)
Friday, July 26th
Broke up today for summer holidays – read them part of Funeral Speech and had Jerusalem instead of God Save. Some girls wanted to do land work, but hardly enough at present for boys.
Great activity of German air force in Channel against our convoys and big claims made of many ships sunk.Some grounds for believing German talk of invasion a plan to keep us occupied and sap our morale, as was the case with all the talk at the beginning of the war of laying London in ruins. Everyone expectedaying Nazis were divided on the issue, Goering, Keitel and Goebels against it, Ribbentrop for*. Heard from sister of air pilot that tremendous damage done in Hamburg and Ruhr, but bombing Hamburg like flying into Hell. Patrol hours also very long, sometimes nearly 24 hours with very little rest.
The sandbags at the Town Hall, which have been there since September, have now rotted, are being replaced by hollow concrete cubes.
*Diarist notes: The admirals were against. They only mustered four destroyers and one heavy ship. The RN had 14 capital ships, 5 carriers, 16 heavy and 46 light cruisers, 180 destroyers and 54 submarines.
Tuesday, July 30th
Big raid on Dover Harbour yesterday, but 21 shot down to two of our fighters lost. Foreign affairs debate today in secret.
Heard from Mrs Peach today of a woman of 50 living in Paris who bicycled on a man’s racing bicycle to Bordeaux to catch a boat to England. Her husband, an Englishman, had returned at the beginning of the war. She stayed on till her neighbours brought her the bicycle and advised her to leave. They gave her a pair of breeches and food – bread, cheese and grapefruit. She arrived in England after a week on the boat, a septic ulcer on her leg, her hands permanently bent from braking, and bruised black and blue with throwing herself down to escape gunning and bombing. She had one puncture!
Ginger Lane in Air Ministry wrote tonight: “A serious and reliable source at Belgrade has just reported that the Germans did not exterminate dogs of the Reich without reason. The largest and most active specimens were rounded up and infected with rabies. They will shortly be dropped by parachute on this country in order to bite the British dog, who will bite his master. Nor will retaliation be possible, as there will no longer be any free dogs left in Germany to be infected!!”
Wednesday, Aug 1st
Went down to caravan on Dartmoor with Molly, Ruth Brown and Cookie Pinley. Pitched by stream between Pizwell and Runnage farms.
Thursday, Aug 2nd
One disadvantage of moving for holidays in wartime is the difficulty of getting food. Spent part of the morning in Moreton Hampstead to cope with this. Occasional German aeroplane crossing at night on way to S. Wales and distant gunfire in the afternoon. Spent afternoon picking whortleberries.
Saturday, Aug 3rd
Went over to Postbridge by car and walked back via Bellever. Came past house of eccentric naval commander, who lives by himself almost entirely surrounded by a plantation of young firs. Wonder what he does all day, as no garden apart from a few bushes of rhododendron. On Thursday night we met him going off for duty at L.D.V. He had put on his uniform, but had carefully covered it up with a raincoat, and wore a soft hat. He said it was 45 years since he had had his first uniform, and now he had to start all over again. He seemed a nervous sort of man and looked ill – wonder if he is T.B. and has chosen a life on the moor for this reason. Funny how anything out of the ordinary attracts curiosity of a vulgar kind – has perfect right to plant a screen of fir trees and live behind it if he wants, but immediately would like to find out how he lives
Tuesday, Aug 6th
Windy this morning but sunny. Found a tick on my leg. A lot of aeroplanes over last night. Walked to Warren House Inn, but David, the black poodle, got stung by monks’ bees at Vitifer Mine and was sick
Thursday, Aug 8th
Walked to Cranmere Pool. In cloud during the morning, but cleared later in the afternoon. Had considerable difficulty finding it. Strain in my leg noticeable 'opping from 'ummock to 'ummock in the peat bog, but moor very dry. Second time I have been there. First time with Con, Molly and Tiger from Belstone in 1937. Lost my summer hat. Took 1 hour 50 minutes to get back to Postbridge.
Big air battle* yesterday, but only news verbal report of Mrs Coaker at Runnage Farm of wireless, as papers will not come till afternoon. Heavy burst of firing on way down from Cranmere and artillery practice going over at Oakhampton range and red flag flying. Planes over last night as usual.
*The beginning of the Battle of Britain.
Saturday, Aug 10th
A wild night. Tent billowing and struggling in the gale kept me awake and tent threatened to develop a rent along the ridge pole. In the afternoon walked to Bellever Tor and Laughter Tor. Picked whortleberries and back by Bellever Bridge. Wind fell rather and put bed other way in tent away from tear.
Sunday, Aug 11th
Heard yesterday that last Wednesday night a raid on Exeter and six bombs were dropped on St Thomas district beyond the Exe. Many windows and doors blown in, but only two people injured. Some or all of bombs were of screaming variety – i.e., had a little whistle on the fins to make them shriek as they fell. Tent much more comfortable last night with little or no rain. Very strong cold wind this a.m.
Monday*, Aug 12th
Collected whortleberries in morning, packed up in p.m. and returned (to Exton) for tea. Moor lovely; the distant views with cloud shadows and different appearances at all times of day and night delightful;
*Goering's Eagle Day - first day of all out air attack.
*Goering's Eagle Day - first day of all out air attack.
Tuesday, Aug 13th
Went to Budleigh for lunch. Barbed wire all along beach, machine gun emplacements to command gap between cliffs with crossfire and many road barricades made of concrete pipes set on end and filled with cement. Access to beach by gap in wire at cliff end and river end. Came back to Exton for tea in time for an air raid warning on camp siren, which, however, only lasted half an hour and no bombs dropped in neighbourhood. Main raid on Southampton.
Wednesday, Aug 14th
Bicycled to Exmouth this afternoon. Here conditions were much the same as at Budleigh, except that there were some heavy guns, carefully camouflaged and concealed, on far end of front, commanding the channel to the estuary. At Budleigh only about 40 people on our end of the beach. At Exmouth a good many, but chiefly, I think, local as it was early closing day.
The air fight along the south coast, which started on Sunday, continued yesterday. The Germans employed fully 500 planes. The losses on Sunday were 65, Monday 62, yesterday 78 (a record so far). It is believed that these raids are intended to find out whether German superiority in the air, a necessary condition for a successful invasion, could be obtained. On the results of this limited experiment a decision whether or not to throw in the whole weight of the German air power in an attempt to obtain local air superiority will be taken. Without it, invasion is not a practical proposition. Our own losses yesterday were 1 to 6 and a good proportion of pilots escaped safely from their damaged machines.
Thursday*, Aug 15th
Intensive air raids on S. E. resumed today and Croydon Airport attacked. Went into Exeter on bicycles to visit cinema. Molly and Cookie to see Pinocchio, which I had seen in London, and myself to The Grapes of Wrath, a grim story of evicted sharecroppers from Oklahoma moving in rickety old auto to California, only to fall victims to graft and exploitation there as well. After we started back heard German aeroplanes high up and noticed man on Ebford Hill staring skyward. Had suspicion that a raid might be in progress. Arrived home to find Maud and Father sitting under stairs, as warning had been sounded 15 minutes before, but we had never heard it. All clear went shortly afterwards.
*Diarist notes: The original date for Operation Sea Lion, Hitler’s invasion plan for England.
Friday, Aug 16th
Woken at 3.30 a.m. by heavy explosions. A curious lull, which I remember in the last war, followed, punctuated by barking of dogs. Two more salvoes were dropped at intervals and flashes in the sky could be seen. The broken drone of the raiders could be heard very clearly before the last bombs fell, and also, more distant, afterwards. Father was much upset by shock and complained at sharp pains in his throat. I stayed in bed, but he got up Cookie and the maid and they stayed under the stairs until I heard, very far away, an all clear siren and told them. The bombs fell at Heavitree, about 5 miles away, it appears, and there were no casualties.
A terrific day in the air yesterday. A thousand planes attacked our coasts from Newcastle to Plymouth and 160 were destroyed. We lost 27 fighters, but of these 8 pilots are safe.
We bicycled to Budleigh today. One warning when we were on the Common, so we sat under a hedge. Another must have gone when we having lunch on the beach, but we only heard the all clear. No deck chairs, no bathing huts, no rafts or floats, no tea huts. Only the bare shingle and the bands of barbed wire and a handful of people to keep alive the memories of 1921-39.
Maud just came in to say raiders reached S.W. suburbs of London today and dropped bombs. Some casualties.
Saturday, Aug 17th
No alarms last night although I half expected it as German aeroplanes were about as early as 10.30 p.m. The night later became misty and there was ground fog this morning, which cleared later to a glorious summer day. Bicycled over to Ladram Bay. The small gully leading up from the beach had been blocked by brushwood and a fallen tree. There was however no other obstacle on the beach and it had a pre-war air. There were tents, deck chairs and floats you could hire. The stones grew very hot in the sun and the tide came in vary warm over them, so I bathed and went on a float. Six fighters flew over in formation during the afternoon, otherwise there was no sign of war. About 150 people came down on the beach and as the pre-war notice to say “Bathing forbidden except from tents” was still up, we went to the further end.
All quiet on the nine o-clock news today. Pray German air force licking its wounds. Enemy alleges that Big Ben struck 13 at 1 a.m. last night owing to the vibration from the Croydon raid. This, we are told, is a bad omen for the British Empire.
Duff Cooper broadcast tonight. Not very good, but said this was the week Hitler was to dictate peace to Gt. Britain. So far all he had achieved was heavy losses in the air. Foretold the march of the fighter pilots in the victory procession and said that many would instead of cheering fall on their knees in thanksgiving for this comparatively small band of young men upon whom are safety in the air depends.
The A.A. batteries have also come in for some well-deserved congratulation. V.C. awarded tonight to bomber pilot who came down to 180 ft in a lane of searchlights to bomb Dortmund-Ems Canal and brought his damaged machine and its crew safely back to England.
492 raiders destroyed in six days – another 60 or so today, when there were further raids on South London. Our policy of quality in men and machines as against numbers is bearing fruit. The designer of the Supermarine Spitfire, which first flew in 1926, is dead now, but the designer of the Hawker Hurricane is very much alive and very pleased, one imagines, with his work. Both machines came into service in 1938, the Spitfire at 367 m.p.h., the Hurricane, which is bigger, 335 m.p.h., both firing 9,600 rounds a minute.
Monday, August 19th
141, not 60, number of enemy aircraft destroyed yesterday. Apparently quiet today. According to wireless today, crowds of sightseers in bombed areas cause of much confusion and delay.
Tuesday, August 20th
Walked over to Budleigh from Exmouth and came back by bus and train. An attack made on Newton Abbot about tea time and some houses demolished and people killed. The two enemy bombers were shot down. About 8.30 p.m. two fighters came low over the camp circling and rolling just over the treetops. This was apparently to celebrate victory and let the officers in the camp know of it.
P.M.’s review of war in Commons – confident and resolute. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” Leasing of bases in Newfoundland and West Indies to U.S.A. Of famine in Europe: "We will arrange for the entry of food into any port when this port has been wholly cleared of Germans for us and generally regained its freedom.” “Hitler is now sprawled over Europe. Our offensive springs are being slowly compressed and we must resolutely prepare ourselves for the campaigns of 1941 and 1942 – for three years are not a long time in our short precious lives. They are nothing in the history of a nation…. The right to guide the course of world history is the noblest prize, a prize of victory. We cannot survey the landscape, or even imagine what its condition will be, when that longed for morning comes.”
Wednesday, Aug 21st
Distant explosions about four o’clock. Broadcast by Air Minister tonight. Can’t say we haven’t been warned. Told German force of heavy bombers almost intact and given an invasion warning!
Looked over Molly’s photograph albums today. Pictures of Spain, Holland, France Italy and holidays spent there. How remote a world it seems today.
Friday, Aug 23rd
Explosions on Wednesday were bombs on aerodrome at Hamilton Cyst. Fell in a field and killed some soldiers. Heard from Nora today the bombs fell in Wimbledon near her mother and burst a water main. Reading All Passion Spent. Hope old age (if any) quieter and more peaceful than that of Father and Mother-in-law!
Saturday, Aug 24th
Paddled at Exmouth in morning. To Pinocchio with M in evening. A lovely starry night coming back from cinema. Air raid warning about 1 o’clock. Did not last long.
Sunday, Aug 25th
To Ladram Bay in the morning, arrived about 11.45. After lunch got round to Chiselbury by wading. While out on the rocks heard what sounded like distant m/g fire. After tea walked up to Peak Hill. Sitting at highest point on the hill…. when siren started wailing in Sidmouth. Deep purple clouds made a continuous canopy over the sea, but fairly high. Felt that if a raid developed we would be in grandstand seats. After a little heard the noise of engines and saw aeroplanes coming in from the sea. One came directly over the sea towards us, so we crawled into the bracken, where we were quite invisible. They were, however, our own fighters returning to Honiton Clyst.
Later I saw in the paper that in the battle before tea about 130 enemy planes reached the Dorset coast and one of the fiercest battles of the war near Portland took place. 43 were destroyed. Another attack came about an hour and a half later and some of the enemy were chased to the French coast. When the all clear went we walked over to Sidmouth, where we got an excellent fish supper, and by bus back to Exeter. We had not been in long when the siren went.
Monday, Aug 26th
Caught 1.55 to Paddington. It was half an hour late, but managed to catch 6.13 to Henley.
Tuesday, Aug 27th
At 12.30 woken by bombs falling in Shiplake. No warning. Got up and listened at Hilary’s door, but he did not wake. Nora up in London for night.
Friday, Aug 30th
Extracted honey all day. A record crop I think.
Saturday, Sept 1st
Mr Brown [Mr and Mrs Brown lived at Assenden, with three daughters, Alison, M and Helen] presented me with a 3 gallon petrol coupon expiring today, so I decided to visit Con at Rickmansworth. Petrol ration 5 gallons a month at 1s 11½d a gallon. Arrived in middle of air raid warning, the second that morning, to be followed by three others. The last began about 5.30, just as I was starting for home. I waited to seven for all clear, then decided to go anyway. Never heard all clear at all.
We spent the day on the edge of a wood in the shadow of green larches. From time to time we saw flights of aircraft thousands of feet up, looking like little silver midges in the brilliant sunlight. Once saw something that looked like an air battle, but couldn’t be sure. Con was very sleepy as had spent most of the night in a dugout in the garden. Bombs had fallen near a few nights before, a mile or so. They get all the London area warnings, unlike Henley, and the atmosphere is quite different from here, full of L.D.V. men, assembly posts and so on. Con has been spending her holiday in Sussex, where dogfights over the Downs were daily occurrence, and had seen a Spitfire after having been brought down.
This week the Germans have copied our policy of night raiding, but have given up the massed daylight raids of few weeks ago and using diverging attacks on aerodromes instead. Their aim is believed to be the dispersal and damaging of our air force, with less cost to them, while they prepare fresh large scale attacks. At night the aircraft come singly or in small groups and fly very high.
(Added later: Saturday, Sept 7th.
This evening the code word Cromwell was sent out to the army, signifying “invasion imminent”).
Sunday, Sept 8th
Hilary’s birthday. Marred for Nora by big air attack on dock area of London, beginning yesterday afternoon and going on for most of the night – the night bombers being guided by fires started by evening raids. This attack the kind of thing we imagined would happen within a few hours of war a year ago and for which we have been preparing for so long…. Have just come down from the flat roof where watching searchlights groping in the low cloud and listening to the hum of engines and the distant thud of bomb salvoes. Air raid warning as I write.
Heartening news of agreement with U.S.A. on joint defence board with Canada, lease of bases for 99 years and transfer of 50 destroyers. America now our “non-belligerent” ally.
An excellent broadcast by J. B. Priestley on the citizen soldier, not tucked away in a corner, but becomes a historic personage! Did perhaps in last war! Or perhaps not!
Paper now at an end. Wonder if I can get any more.
Tuesday, Sept 10th
Bombs again tonight at about 11 o’clock and fairly near. Air raid attacks on London continuing by day and night. Henley filling up with refugees.
Wednesday, Sept 11th
Speech by P.M. at six o’clock. Told of concentrations of merchant vessels and self-propelled barges, stores, ships and troops on coast from Norway to Bordeaux. Invasion likely in next few weeks on England, Scotland and Ireland, or all at once. German warfare aimed at wearing down our fighter squadrons and discouraging our aerodromes preparatory to invasion. The air attacks on London now become quite indiscriminate, aiming at spreading terror and panic, again as a preliminary to invasion.
Man for English job has not turned up. Telegrams and letters all very slow and no guarantee of delivery in course of day. Perhaps he may appear tomorrow. Mr Alp’s mother turned up instead. Full of stories of how last night’s raids on London worst so far. Nora is in deep gloom. She now hears no news on B.B.C. because too bad. However, this is not borne out by 9 o’clock bulletin. Damage widespread but casualties small. 400 killed on Monday night, many of them homeless people in a school building, which received direct hit and collapsed. But so far only about 20 known from last night.
Much zooming backwards and forwards after bomb salvo last night. Each time, when awake, lay in bed and expected another packet, but only the one. Hilary did not wake up, nor, apparently, did Tiger [fox terrier]. So far bombing chiefly characterized by vibration like the slamming of a great door, whereas from last war remember it chiefly as a colossal noise, probably because nearer.
Much made of bomb which went off against wall of Buckingham Palace and smashed glass of King’s window, but, as said to Hilary, P.M. more important than King. However, as Nora says, “King says you must do so and so”, to this remark of mine regarded by him as in nature of a joke.
Architect turned up today to see about air raid shelters at school. Told him I hoped they would be ready for peace celebrations. To be brick and concrete, but apparently concrete very difficult to obtain. Don’t wonder, as army using so much concrete on fortifications.
Bryant went off today. As expert on surveying, they put him in the chemical warfare section at Andover. Owens, chemistry master, still here, so think his and Bryant’s papers may have been changed round!
(Added later: Bryant killed in Germany in 1945, only member of school staff to be killed in the war).
Thursday, Sept 12th
Woken up by bombs last night at about three o’clock. Heard this morning that they fell over at the Suttons Seed trial ground near Reading. Term began today, started with prayers followed by air raid drill! Read Psalm 91.5, Terror that flieth by night, at prayers as seemed very appropriate, but wonder what Terror that flew by night really was. Not presumably a Junker 88.
Raids on London last might met by greatly reinforced A.A. barrage and (say the papers) new methods of prediction (i.e., forecasting the flight of aeroplane in relation to shells). Believe guns moved to London from all over England. Anyway never hear any about here, but instead the German planes zooming round followed by searchlight beams, then the thud of bombs. Henley full of evacuees as a result of London raids. Heard of man paying £2 – 10s a week for bed under the stairs.
Miss Luce, domestic science mistress, spent night in London tube, and very glad when they were let out next morning and found all the windows in the house where she was staying were broken. Miss Sheehan, from Liverpool, said Customs House found missing one morning. Miss Hunter, outside Derby, heard screaming bombs within ¼ of a mile; very terrifying as they make you think they are going to hit you.
Friday, Sept 13th
“This wicked man, this repository and embodiment of many forms of soul destroying hatreds, this monstrous product of former wrongs and shame, has now decided to break our island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction.” W.S.C’s speech
Today Buckingham Palace bombed by five bombers and fire bombs scattered on Downing Street – even one on House of Lords.
‘Owling ‘Orace went off again at 9.30 while writing this. A programme on wireless tonight on Free France – French songs too much for my emotions so switched off….
A good talk on air raids by John Langdon Davies. Been in Barcelona, Finland, France and London, so plenty of experience. Reliance of Nazis on noise, counter by our own noise – the barrage. “Wasn’t it lovely!”, a woman said to him.
My new master, Mr Brophy*, adjutant of Wargrave L.D.V., has got an American machine gun recently. Tells me that church bells to be rung if more than 25 parachutists descend.
Telephone communications with London subject to “indefinite delay”. Telegrams hardly quicker than letters would normally take. Papers very late.
[Author and journalist, 1899 – 1965, father of novelist Brigid Brophy, 1929 – 1995]
Saturday, Sept 14th
Various schools of thought on invasion. Some say next week for sure – flat bottomed barges to go into shallow water where destroyers can’t follow them, seizure of deep sea port by isolating it in a kind of aerial box barrage – this essential. London to be terrorized, so that refugees will hamper troops, just as in France. Others think November fogs and long winter nights more likely. Others again think attempt will be postponed, but threat will immobilize men who could be used in the Near East, where the real blow will fall. French fleet of four modern cruisers and destroyers reported to have passed the Straits [of Gibraltar] steaming west. Making for Channel? No! Dakar.
Heard today that last Sunday morning all local fire engines massed in Broad St, Reading, and despatched on telephone instructions to various parts of London. Know that only amateur fire quenchers in Henley. Tom says that last night the barrage seen like a ring of fire over London. Not visible from our house owing to beech avenue. Warning last night from 8.30 to 2.30 a.m., but no bombs.
(Added later: German staff’s final plan for invasion between Folkestone and Worthing issued on Sept 14).
Sunday, Sept 15th
Another day of intense warfare*. Two big attempts to reach London and more bombing of Buckingham Palace, but 165 German planes down – the engine of one fell in the forecourt of Victoria Station. The attacks came from the S.E. and up the Thames estuary. One short raid warning in the afternoon, otherwise quiet here.
As Priestley said tonight, we are in the middle of a real, terrific honest to god battle, one of the supreme battles for human freedom. As civilians, it is hell, but for a soldier’s life in battle it is not too bad, meals pretty regular and wounded receiving rapid attention. He mentioned the sight of a London bus flattened like a child’s toy against the second story of a block of flats. London is bearing the brunt of the battle for freedom, just as Paris, now temporarily out of action, has done in the past.
Nora feels she’s out of it – has much more affection for London as London than I have, and feels as I should at the bombing of Oxford. Got a telephone call through to Wimbledon today. Grandma now sleeping on the ground floor and seems to be bearing up well.
*Added later: “One of the decisive battles of the war, and like Waterloo it was on a Sunday” – W.S.C.).
Monday, Sept 16th
Distant bombs at night. Yesterday the greatest air victory in the Battle of Britain to date. Swarms of bombers and fighters approached London, 185 were destroyed, 170 by our fighters, with loss of 21 fighters and 12 pilots safe. The P.M. has sent a message of congratulation to Fighter Command.
The largest bomb of the war to be dropped on England fell in Deans Yard near St Paul’s. It penetrated 27 feet into the ground, but failed to explode. A squad of the bomb disposal unit under Lt. Davies dug down to it, first dealing with a burst gas main that overcame some of them. The bomb had been highly polished by its passage through the air and earth and was extremely slippery. Special tackle had to be devised to raise it. It was lifted out and put on two lorries in tandem. It was driven at high speed by Lt. Davies to Hackney Marshes through streets cleared of their inhabitants by police and there exploded. It blew an enormous crater in the marsh, so that had it exploded in Deans Yard it would have brought St Paul’s Cathedral to the ground. A lucky escape for the cathedral – and for Lt. Davies.
Letter from Con this morning. On her way to Sussex last week she was so thrilled by the air fighting that she reproached herself for forgetting the destruction caused to human life by the bombers. She recalled a remark of mine as we strolled by the Thames at the time of Munich about going to look for the last time at the doomed city. Have always felt a bit like a visitor to Pompeii. At Pulborough from half past eight at night the air is thick with German planes on their way to London.
Nora remarked tonight that the requisites for successful invasion are lacking, which were as she put it, 1) destruction of the field army at Dunkirk, 2) air supremacy, 3) command of the sea. The P.M. in his message said that the great victory of yesterday was won without draining our reserves of machines or pilots. He also mentioned the part played by French, Polish and Czechoslovak pilots. Incredible to think that these battles may take place at 30,000 feet, higher than Everest, and men who bail out fall tens of thousands of feet before their parachutes open, the force of the air tearing at their clothes and feeling, as one airman put it, as if a wing of a plane had hit you.
Large numbers of the population less disciplined than 2B [12-year-olds]. Though warned that crashed aeroplanes are dangerous, when one came down they rushed in crowds to collect souvenirs, bombs went off and many souvenir hunters killed.
Tuesday, Sept 17th
Talking to Mrs Brophy today on difficulties of evacuating schools. In early days private schools were evacuated to the country, but after a few weeks parents took their children back to London. If the schools were able to move back, they have now lost all their children for the second time.
Although the A.R.P. services have done well in the war on London, the care of homeless people from the poor districts seems to have been badly mismanaged. “Rest centres” were allocated beforehand, but they were intended to be clearing centres passing the homeless on. Instead many people were kept there for a week and more days without any hot meals or cooking facilities or adequate washing accommodation..… Though many of the badly hit borough authorities have acted with great decision and vigour, they have been too poor, and their resources and powers too limited, to deal with the problem. When there are hundreds of private motor cars to be had, the homeless have been moved in corporation dust carts!
The West End has been hit. Regent Street and Piccadilly were bombed. Apparently people from the east migrate there at night and wait outside for the shelters to open on an air raid warning. They bring with them blankets and bedding. Some of the Tubes have been kept open and people allowed to stay down there all night, although the government repeatedly declared before that that no one would allowed to shelter there.
Today have written two statements, the first on behalf of Lev Horovitz, boy in 5th Form, a Jewish refugee from Frankfurt, hoping to save him from internment, the second for David Ansell, a pacifist [who later married Betty Fairthorne, art mistress], testifying to my belief in the sincerity of his views on non-resistance. He will submit this to a tribunal for adjudication on conscientious objectors. Careful to point out that I did not hold with his views. No need for him to go before a tribunal at present as he is a civil servant in a reserved occupation, but determined on martyrdom of some kind!
Mr Alp very anxious to find out at what time all clear went last night (it went at 1.30 a.m.) because if it does not go till after midnight, school starts an hour later. Reason: loss of sleep of teachers and children. Teachers more likely to lose sleep keeping awake to hear if they are going to be late in the morning.
Saturday, Sept 21st
Extract from letter from Grandma in Wimbledon written a week ago. “The gunfire has been very heavy and loud. It’s now going on. When the music of the all clear goes, everyone rushes out to do some shopping and I go to get a breath of fresh air and freedom. There are cars, lorries, buses, trams, provision carts, bicycles and prams all going at top speed to make up for time lost, shops crowded with folk who want to be served quickly and a general bustle to get home before the next one… During the raids in the daytime I polish furniture and turn out cupboards etc etc, as one cannot possibly do anything restful.”
Timothy Auty looked in one day. She is still in London, but says the barrage is so terrific that one night she could only walk up and down and wring her hands.
Dreadful muddle in East End coming out in papers. Evacuating buses went to wrong rendezvous in the wrong district. (Evacuees) spent one extra night in rickety school. (Buses) came again next day, but as air raid warning official decided to abandon attempt, another extra night in school, which bombed again and many of these homeless people, whose only wish was to get out of doomed area, were killed. Heard from Con that child of 12 lost father, mother, grandmother, uncle and two sisters. East End clergy apparently splendid, but lack of coordination and departmentalism (Home Office, Ministry of Health) did their work. Insufficient blankets, no food supplies, no beds or bedding. Mothers crouching on all fours over their babies to protect them from glass in dangerous and unprepared buildings. Others sheltering under railway arches.
Visited the communists [Mr and Mrs Peto, Reading] on Thursday. They seem to think bombing of East End a good thing, as brings their precious revolution one stage nearer. (They are) very pleased that term “refugees” being used as well as "evacuees".
Tuesday, Sept 24th
Raiding on London goes on steadily each night, but sporadic and less intensive than the blitzkrieg of the opening days. On our part, tremendous raids on invasion ports of Antwerp, Dunkirk, Ostend, Calais and Boulogne. Difficult to estimate the effects of our bombing on Germany. The Times says the northern neutrals in Sweden report that civilian population very discouraged by another winter of war and army fed up with failure to reach a decision this summer. Also populations of Hamburg, Bremen and Ruhr very discontented. Heard report from R.A.F. pilot that very little left of Ruhr and people evacuated westward into France to avoid spreading truth about the devastation of Germany itself.
Have decided to give up the Manchester Guardian for the present, as it arrives days late, and take The Times instead, but don’t like it much and it is 1d dearer than Telegraph. Petrol again gone up and is now 2s 0½d a gallon.
The King gave a good speech yesterday from his dugout under Buckingham Palace. Able to say his home has been bombed. Wonder Nazis haven’t said we did it ourselves for propaganda purposes!
An encouraging speech from the economist J. M. Keynes, telling us that so far we are not showing symptoms of inflation.
Just written this when loud bomb explosion and drone of aircraft. Wonder when they will blow the siren! Did for a moment think that it might be a time bomb going off, but don’t think it could have been. Generally when bombs are dropped they come as a salvo of four of five; this was a single one by its sounds.
Keynes on German rationing; “As a method of organizing acute scarcity nothing can be more efficient than this. The elaboration of a system for preventing individuals from doing or getting what they want appears to be a task particularly suited to the Prussian genius.”
Some funny business is taking place at Dakar, where de Gaulle’s free Frenchmen have landed under cover of British warships.
Wednesday, Sept 25th
No papers today, which may be the result of last night’s raids. People sleeping regularly in Tube stations; 3,000 at Piccadilly. One man and wife from Elephant & Castle, whose home had been destroyed, had slept on Piccadilly for eleven nights. Another young wife and baby had been sleeping at Oxford Circus for eight nights. “It is nice and quiet. We don’t hear the bombs drop and we don’t notice the trains.”
Famous last words: “This side of the street is perfectly safe, old boy.”
Did not realize till other day that flying time of fighter aircraft is little over an hour, so advance bases essential. Biggin Hill so badly bombed that although still used by us we blew up the hangars, then left alone.
Saturday, Sept 28th
Ate some stinking fish on Thursday in restaurant in Reading, because too weak to send it back, and very ill yesterday afternoon with shivers and temperature. Had our nearest air raid so far on Thursday night at 5.30 a.m. Parachute flares were dropped and then we heard the bombs whistling down. Was asleep at the time, but rushed into Hilary’s room. He was sitting up in bed and said, “What’s that? I don’t like it!.” Nora took him into her room and he fell asleep again. The bombs fell mainly in the woods on the other side of the river and one in the grounds of Fawley Court. On Friday we had our first air raid during school hours. It lasted about half an hour and everything went smoothly. No bombs were dropped. A quiet night last night and very glad as felt so poorly. This morning N’s mother rang up to say all top windows blown out by bomb that fell in park on other side of the street. The lodgers’ flat’s windows also blown in.
Timothy Auty looked in for tea. Been sleeping in basement flat in Notting Hill on lilo that has a slow puncture. Very fed up with war, though looked well. She says what did we talk about in peacetime. Now in London no one can talk about anything except raids and bombs and swap casualty stories. Tried hard not to talk about our bombs here, but presently Timothy swapped some stories of the Tube subway blown up at Marble Arch and first aid stretcher bearers sorting out the bits. Says damage in West End, apart from John Lewis, which looks like Alcazar, not very noticeable, and bought new coat in Selfridges, which had had some damage done to it.
According to the papers. East End sentiment much upset by burial in shrouds, as no coffins available. Suppose cremation not favoured either, as seems obvious solution.
Have a seismographic door in sitting room which registers slightest bomb vibration. Just gone off, at 8.40 p.m.
Yesterday there were two big daylight raids on London and one on Bristol. – 134 German planes were destroyed and 34 fighters, but 14 pilots safe. The thing now in London is to have roof spotters, and until they report danger imminent, things do not close down after siren, or “alert”, as we are told to call it, goes.
Persistent rumours that invasion attempt has been made and failed disastrously. Some think on Southern Ireland, but Timothy Auty full of story of 40,000 Germans drowned trying to land on Hayling Island. May be of the same order as story that Henley Bridge blown up.
At intervals the door rattles and in the east the barrage rumbles. These seem symbols of evil walking in the darkness.
Sunday, Sept 29th
Today Mr Alp, the lodger, started off very early to collect his furniture from his Chelsea flat, which had the windows blown out last Wednesday. He was back by dinnertime and started bringing in easy chairs. This looks like a permanent occupation, I thought. Nora reminded me how Bloody Florence remarked when they arrived in September, 1939, “We shall only be here for a fortnight, and I replied, “More likely two years”, but if two, why not four?
[Mr and Mrs Alp and son Peter were evacuees who came to live the the Diarist in September, 1939]
Story of air raid warden in London who saw some lights coming from a bedroom window and said, “You’ve got a chink in your bedroom.” “Oh, no,” she replied, “He’s a Japanese gentleman.”
Miss Barnes and her mother came in this morning. Her mother now conducts evacuation parties, as the school is occupied by the homeless from Silvertown. They have free meals and are just living there; though billets have been found for them, they refuse to move out, and no one will take responsibility for shifting them out. Apparently in Leyton or thereabouts they dropped a bomb on or near a gasometer, whereat the authorities as a precaution opened the valves and let all the gas out. When later they refilled the mains they did not flush them properly and they all exploded. The roads were just as though a big jig saw puzzle had been messed up, so now no gas in the area and any kind of oil cooker is worth its weight in gold.
Miss Barnes’s school at Pinner spends most of its time in trenches, but decided that school certificate work must go on, so now she shouts down one end of the shelter and some one else bawls at the other. Educational methods of 1940 AD.
Timothy to tea this p.m. Asked if we were going to have inoculations as thinks it probable that the dirt and overcrowding in London Tubes and shelters will produce epidemics. Says she never saw anything like the filth and destitution of the refugees in the Underground at Liverpool Street, even in pre-war Poland.
If epidemics do start, they will have to release doctors from the army. In fact the army might do more than it is doing – e.g. in A.R.P. work in London. When there were no meals for the homeless in London, why didn’t army cooks come in, as in Ohio Valley floods in U.S.A.?
Long discussion after tea on fear and its connection with physical weaknesses, what people fear and so on. Timothy feels less afraid when below ground; once there she can sleep and read. Discussion also on noise and how it varies in a very unaccountable way. Timothy up for a breath of fresh air when a bomb fell near next block of flats, tremendous vibration, but no deafness as a result of explosion.
Monday, Sept 30th
Charabancs in some parts of London are running 2s 6d trips out of the city to “safe” areas where you can sleep – in the charabanc.
A warning at teatime. Saw some fighters diving very high up for a few seconds, then they were gone. Hardly visible to the naked eye. Tried to put through a call to Malvern, but told two to four hour delay.
Went for a walk up the valley after tea and got some spindle. Reflected that though our civilization has produced the horrors of indiscriminate bombing, the days in which we live bring a heightened appreciation of those unbought pleasures which remain to us. Perhaps in peace we shall find them higher still. I hope so.
Today is the anniversary of Munich. I thought of the other anniversaries, Hitler becomes Chancellor, the Reichstag fire, the murders of June, all when we were at Leicester; the newsboy on a Saturday morning at Oxford with the contents bill announcing the occupation of the Rhineland. And Munich, when as Churchill said, “Everything was thrown away, with its false hopes and deluded crowds cheering peace in our time.” How low England sank and what a terrible price we are paying for the old men’s cowardice, double dealing and folly. The fatuous belief that Mussolini, Hitler and Franco could be bought, the betrayal of the League, of Abyssinia and Republican Spain, of China, of all the liberal ideas for which England’s policy once stood. “Ay. In the catalogue ye go for men.”
Notice I have used the words “contents bill.” The shortage of paper today long ago produced their disappearance. In their place the news agents use blackboards and chalk. This gives them an opportunity for displaying their wit, but they don’t always attain accurate sumM.
Thursday, Oct 3rd
On Monday night a stick of bombs dropped across Reading and children arrived with stories of how school bus had to go round edge of crater in the Caversham Road. Windows broken but no casualties. Today low mist and driving rain. About 3.30 some bombs were dropped fairly near. No siren went. I brought the children down to the ground floor, but as the other school did nothing, some confusion was caused! As there was no warning there could be no all clear. The plane circled a little while, but after a bit I sent the children home. Very difficult to know what to do in the circumstances.
An interesting talk tonight by Air Marshall Sir Philip Joubert. Said air defences must be concentrated on vital points and enemy aircraft flying over other parts of England left unmolested, though they might drop bombs on such dangerous characters as the vicar, country doctor, etc (we live in such an area in this part of Oxfordshire). No solution to the problem of the night flying bomber had been found, either by our own scientists or the German scientists. The chances of a single bomber being picked up in mist when visibility a few yards, as today, was nil, though if any aiming was to be done he (the enemy bomber) must come low, when light A.A. got a chance. We had broken up all the massed attacks on this country by our fighters and artillery and in the future we might be able to curtail the activities of small raiding parties. For the present we could improve out shelter system, though our present mole-like existence did not suit our national temperament.
Today Chamberlain retired owing to ill health. Don’t think he will last long and many people believe him suffering from cancer. In the shuffle Tommy Inskip also went. Most of the worst of the old men of Munich have disappeared into harmless jobs or retirement – Hoare, Simon, Inskip, Chamberlain, but Halifax still remains and the F.O.
On Monday at tea time we had our first daylight raid. I was drinking tea when the siren went. Later we heard the drone of aeroplanes very high up, but when I went out to look the tiny specs of glinting metal were disappearing into the cloud. Apparently the bomber formations were seen clearly, pursued by fighters, but so high up that difficult to distinguish for long. Two were shot down and one fell in Windsor Great Park. Henley went into the street to look and took no notice of the siren, so I asked Miss Hunter to speak to the children about this. I did so, but Mr Brophy said I would have been amused to see him rushing down the garden with an American machine gun (by appointment of the Chicago gangsters) hoping to shoot something down.
Friday, Oct 4th
Went into Reading today for lunch with M and heard for the first time of a bouncing bomb, which explodes above ground and does not expend a good deal of energy in a crater. She said one had been dropped in Reading.
Wondering today how different the streets looked from peacetime. S + arrow signs to show where there are public shelters; sometimes these indicate the number the shelters will hold. Soldiers with white armlets and with slung rifles directing traffic, auxiliary territorial women in khaki, soldiers, airmen and WRAFs (Women’s Royal Air Force) – these look by far the smartest in their blue uniforms and rather full-peaked caps. Also they seem better turned out than the A.T.S. [Auxiliary Territorial Service]. The shop windows pretty much the same as in peace time, but note the seedsmen have no hyacinth bulbs for sale, with the exception of Suttons, who are selling them for 1s each, and butchers and fishmongers have not much on display. There are not many cakes in the windows of the confectioners, and though you see chocolate éclairs, there are no iced cakes of any kind and the sugar on the Bath buns is scanty. No lack of private cars. There seem to be more than ever, and people use them for short distances back and forward to local centres. The buses are very crowded.
The general conclusion that compared with two years ago there is really very little difference beyond the general crowding that results from evacuation. Trousers for women are certainly commoner and worn more freely in and about town. These make unnecessary the wearing of a belt and stockings and for this reason are favoured where dressing quickly at night may be necessary. They are also warmer. Women are also beginning to appear on the buses and trams as conductors, and they wear trousers. We are imitating the Chinks.
Saturday, Oct 5th
Con sent me a letter from her charwoman in London. Extract: “We were in a shelter in Vauxhall Bridge Road when the bomb dropped in the road and caught the side of the shelter. It was awful with all the bricks and mortar falling on us. We could not see one another for dust. And Mr Petter laid on Ronnie and I, so he really saved us from being hurt. When I saw the roaring flames I never thought we would get out alive…. There was no panic, but I am sure some poor souls must have been killed. There was about 500 people in there. My married sister with three little children are living with Dad and she has lost her little home in Bermondsey and most of the windows in Dad’s new flat are broken. But never mind, they are all keeping their chins up. Bermondsey is dreadful. Lipton’s and nearly all the big firms are down to the ground and Alma School, near your school, is down too.”
Sunday, Oct 6th
“Dictators on the Brenner”. Sounds like the title of a detective story, but it was the headline in The Times yesterday. General opinion that Africa was discussed … Garvin in The Observer, and he has several times been right recently, thinks an attack on the Sudan and then along the railway to Khartoum will develop first….. then when the Sudan has been taken a blitzkrieg with the aid of the German air force will drive towards Alexandria. The ultimate object the control of the Iraq oil fields and pipeline and elimination of the British fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean.
A very bad week with the submarines. Sinking of ships nearly up to peak levels of 1917. Due perhaps to the shortage of escorts, which American destroyers will help to rectify, but largely to use of Atlantic ports by Germans – no passage through the straits or north round Scotland now necessary.
Monday, Oct 7th
A good article on East London in the New Statesman. “Everything done to prepare for death and injury. Tens of thousands of papier maché coffins were ready; excellent hospital arrangements were made; first class ambulance and first aid and nursing arrangements were ready. But no thought had been given to the living and uninjured homeless….. The shelters have stood up well to blast and splinters. But where a surface shelter is turned into rubble by a direct hit, everyone sees it and no one will enter what is afterwards regarded as a tomb.”
Sir John Andersen has been proved wrong about there being no need for deep shelters. He has been replaced by Herbert Morrison, who may not have been governor of Bengal but does know London. Let’s hope he provides more basement shelters and opens up more Tubes and tunnels from the Underground system.
An interesting letter from Liddell Hart in the N.S. He has been accused of misleading opinion on the strength of defences and writes a reply. In the course of this he points out that 1) The offensive needed a 3 to 1 superiority in men and materials – this the Germans had. 2) The defence must have sufficient planes to hold their own. This the French had not. The Germans actually had a 4 to 1 superiority in planes and tanks. By directing the first attacks against Holland and Belgium they lured the French and British out of their defensive line and extended their front from 200 to 500 miles, thus obtaining room for manoeuvre against the French rear. 3) A new weapon, heavy tanks and parachute troops. 4) Extraordinarily bad generalship – e.g., 20 of the best French and British divisions on the 60 miles Antwerp – Namur, while a single division left to hold 20 miles near Sedan. After nine months of war the French still had only their three mechanized divisions, and not a single British mechanized division was in France ready to take part in a counterstroke.
Tuesday, Oct 8th
The governors met today and debated what was to be done with children who travelled by public buses if those buses ran when there was an air raid warning. Were they to be sent home from school to join their buses or not? Finally decided parents to be asked to make the decision.
Walked up valley today looking for mushrooms and reflected that the countryside with so much plough land will look, in these parts, vastly improved in wartime, with a varied patchwork instead of continuous grass fields.
Wednesday, Oct 9th
Bombs fell this morning at Emmer Green between here and Reading at 5.45 a.m.
In his speech to the House of Commons last night the P.M. said no respite from bombing to be expected through bad weather in winter. He ended: “Because we feel easier in ourselves..… do not let us dull for one moment the sense of the awful hazards in which we stand. Do not let us lose the conviction that it is only by supreme and confident exertions that we shall save our souls alive. No one can predict, no one can even imagine, how this terrible war against Germany and Nazi aggression will run its course, how far it will spread or how long it will last. Long dark months of tribulation lie before us…. Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valour our only shield. We must be united, we must be undaunted, we must be inflexible. Our qualities and deeds must burn and glow through the gloom of Europe until they become the veritable beacon of its salvation.”
What a long way we have come from last winter when another Prime Minister could stand up and say, “Hitler has missed the bus.”
The figure for bombing casualties… So far since the beginning of the war, 8,500 have been killed and 13,000 injured. Since heavy raiding began on September 7th, the figures for killed and seriously wounded have declined from just under 6,000 in the first week to under 3,000 in the fourth week. Last week 251 tons of high explosive was dropped on London and 180 persons were killed.
Dakar was the result of mistakes. Information that the cruisers from Toulon were approaching the Straits did not reach London until it was too late, and though some were forced back to Casablanca, others got through.
Thursday, Oct 10th
Bad news tonight on staff front. Brophy is going off to edit a London weekly paper and Owens is called up for next Thursday.
Night under present conditions rather reminds me of a Channel crossing. The passengers expect rough weather, but are falsely cheerful and reassuring, or effect to ignore the possibility of a bad crossing altogether. Everyone hopes for a quiet night, and if sirens, at any rate no bombs; daylight fades and soon the broken drone of high flying aeroplanes begins.
Germans are now in Rumania, though how many is not known, believed they hope to pass Bulgaria without fighting and reach the Straits, threatening Egypt by a pincer movement through Turkey and Libya. Rumours that a German general has replaced Graziani in Africa. But Egypt a hell of a long way and Asia Minor difficult to cross in winter, not to mention the inhabitants.
Sunday, Oct 13th
Priestley called Goering “a star spangled thing” and the Dictator a “screeching, chest thumping lunatic” – he was in good form.
Tuesday, Oct 15th
Bumps in the night now frequent. One big bang on Sunday night and many lesser bangs; bangs last night and much zooming. This reminds me of the dentist’s drill – oom, oom, oom. Sometimes it seems to circle and almost remain stationary for minutes at a time, at other times it reaches a peak and rapidly dies away. You lie in bed wondering if they are crossing the house and waiting for the crash. There is no gunfire and one feels very defenceless. By daytime the wide expanse of fields and woods makes the house seem very small and hidden away, but when night falls the universe contracts and the zoomers seem very much in the zenith. People from London say they miss the reassuring bangs of the barrage; here one’s only defence is protective colouration (!) and the odds in one’s favour. Our own bombers are passing, too, but it is impossible to distinguish engine sounds, so if pessimistic one fears they are Germans, and as they tend to be lower they certainly make more noise. In the last two nights, in spite of the bangs, we have had no sirens.
There is a training station near and today I should think a heavy bomber circled the school about a dozen times. I nearly gave up teaching altogether as I could not make myself heard.
Some time ago we sent some money to China Relief. Today the Chinese in Chungking are sending money to help London’s air raid victims. At the time I said to the VI Form, some day we may need their help. This was believed to be one of my jokes. It was in fact a true prophecy!
Thursday, Oct 17th
Things are getting difficult to get in the shops - many things are “extinct”, such as double saucepans! Tonight padlocks were not easy to find. Some people say this is because goods are being held up until the purchase tax comes into force on Monday.
N’s mother in a letter described a party to which she went in this year of grace 1940. As it was what she called a “gunny” afternoon, they sat on a feather bed placed under the dining room table, which had been fitted with an electric light.
Germans now using very fast, light, high flying fighters for day raids on London; their losses and ours yesterday about equal. Bomb loads must be very light. Brophy says his club in London destroyed, the Savage, together with the Carlton. Leicester Square bombed. Wonder if the Brasserie of the Marble Halls still there. (Added later: Yes, it survived).
A good story tonight of Italian hospital ship being guided to rafts and boats of sunk Italian destroyer by British Sunderland flying boat. Italians have not copied the German practice of machine-gunning pilots coming down by parachute but have waved to them, in one case at least.
Friday, Oct 18th
Timothy in today. Says there are now underground brothels in London! Silk stockings no longer to be manufactured. Six thousand people killed in air raids in September. Letter from Con, says devastation in London very depressing.
Monday, Oct 21st
Trafalgar Day – read an account of battle in assembly. A dull damp day with rain early, cloud and a stormy sunset. Rather depressing. Margaret Burton was here for the weekend and found her depressing, too – everything from unions to J. B. Priestley wrong. She is now working in Censor’s Office. Still in “pre-fire” house in Red Lion Passage. Sleeps in cellar because of noise, though it is not reinforced in any way. One night they had to go to a shelter as fires were started by incendiary bombs, but they did not reach “pre-fire” house. In the shelter there was a most extraordinary collection of animals and birds. These are not ordinarily allowed, but as there was a fire danger they were brought that night, canaries, budgerigars and so on.
It seems now that by chance or good intelligence the R.A.F. attack on invasion ports on Sept 16th caught the troops embarked in the flat bottomed barges and fearful destruction took place. The men were heavily equipped and many were drowned. The bodies were washed up all along the coast for weeks afterwards. Whether a genuine attempt was in contemplation or whether it was a practice embarkation we are not told. The first German to be washed ashore had been in the water for three weeks and was very dead.
Listened to W.S.C. broadcasting in English and French tonight to Frenchmen on the B.B.C. foreign programme. He spoke the kind of French I can understand. Wondered how many Frenchmen were listening to him in occupied and unoccupied France, and whether we car rouse Europe against these evil men.
The great news today is that the American Pacific fleet is at Manila in the Philippines. This will make the Japanese think again.
Tuesday, Oct 22nd
Reading article today on London Zoo in blitzkrieg. Bombs have fallen there but no casualties except sum escaped humming birds. The monkey hill was hit, but the monkeys were all in their deep shelters and suffered no ill effects apparently. The polar bears, lions and tigers are shut in their underground dens at night. “Numbers of visitors have testified to the feeling of escape into a saner and more agreeable world that accompanies an afternoon’s visit to the zoo.”
Thursday, Oct 24th
Laval has been to see Hitler and there are rumours (query wild) that Vichy France is to declare war on Britain….
More news is coming out about the German invasion preparations in September. Hundreds of barges were assembled at Antwerp, Calais, Dunkirk, Ostend, Nieuport, and Le Havre. The barges were about 150ft in length and capable of carrying about two trainloads of men and materials. It was known that Germany had commandeered every barge over 500 tons and armies of workmen were altering the bows to allow tanks and guns to be embarked and landed….. Great railway activity between Germany and the Low Countries…. The attack of the R.A.F. began on September 5th and has continued since. … Yet after six weeks the invasion threat still persists, the ships, the men and aircraft are still there – waiting.
Friday, Oct 25th
Margaret Burton remarked that it was funny to see foreign relief organisations like the American Red Cross running about London since we are so used to relieving other people.
Saturday, Oct 26th
Bombs last night about eight, flares dropped; Hilary, who was in N’s room, not frightened very much.