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The Barton name
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*Bernard Barton the Quaker Poet Correspondence
*Billy Barton Diary and Letters
*Cecil Barton Mountaineering Journals
*Emily Dougan's 1856 Sketchbook
*John Barton the Elder Correspondence
*Memoirs of Emily Elliott
*Memoirs of John Barton
*Nicolson et al 1777
*Ronald Barton Diary and Letters
Barton (hamlet & parish)
Bernard Barton of Carlisle (1728-1773)
Bernard Barton the Quaker poet (1784-1849)
Charles Elliott (1776-1856)
Charles Elliott the cabinet-maker (1752-1832)
Col. John Edward Broadbent (1845-1931)
Emily Elliott (1839-1924)
Esther Broadbent (1873-1959)
High Head Chapel
Ive Bank, Ivegill
John Barton (d.1720)
John Barton of Ivegill (d.1747)
John Barton Senior (1789-1852)
John Barton the Elder (1754-1789)
John Dougan (1765-1826)
Parishes of Cumberland and Westmorland
Rev. Cecil Barton (1870-1909)
Rev. Charles Boileau Elliott (1803-1875)
Rev. John Barton of Cambridge (1836-1908)
Ronald Barton (1901-1986)
Solomon Boileau (1745-1810)
Thomas Dougan (d.1797)
*Ronald Barton Diary and Letters
Ronald Barton (1901-1986)
began this diary on his 40th birthday, in the middle of World War 2. It is stylishly written and contains some wonderfully
of blitz devastation. At this time, he was a copywriter (i.e. composing slogans) at the advertising firm S. H. Benson Ltd. (where
Dorothy L. Sayers
had also worked as a copywriter from 1922-1931), which handled advertising for Guinness, amongst others. Some of Ronald's work on that campaign is
described in this diary
, and also in
this 2009 Independent article
Cover of the first diary (left) and (right) endsheet inscription by Ronald's son
, age 5 years, 7 months.
The diary consists of three volumes, written over eight months up until August 1941 when Ronald joined the RAF. Most of the first volume was transcribed by his wife
, and I (
) initially used this transcript, and have embedded her footnotes in the text, as well as adding some notes of my own. I expanded most of the abbreviations (e.g. N. to Nick - which is what he calls his son in a post-war letter, also reproduced
). After borrowing some of the original diaries (volumes 1 & 3), I am able to continue the transcription where Molly left off. However in looking at the originals I have found a number of sections - crossed out in the original, probably by Ronald himself - that Molly did not transcribe, and other sections that are not crossed out but which Molly omitted anyway. These tracts seem to have been omitted either because they were considered not interesting enough, or else because they were perhaps
interesting (i.e. a trifle
!). Feeling that enough time has passed, I have restored these parts but in
. There are some later corrections, clarifications or changes as well; where I consider it informative to do so I have included the original version in
grey text with a strike through effect
. I have also found places where Molly altered the text - for clarity perhaps, but I have reverted to the original. One recurring case concerns what Ronald called his wife: in the original he wrote 'B.', for Bunny - his pet name for her (perhaps to distinguish her from his elder brother
's wife who was also called Molly). In her transcript she altered 'B.' to 'M.'; I have gone with the original, but expanded the abbreviation.
For ease of reference, I have put in page numbers (in bold curly braces) which refer to the original diaries, not Molly's transcript. I have added days to the dates for clarity. I've also included some scans of original pages, to show off Ronald's beautiful penmanship.
A pdf version of this page (minus maps and illustrations) can be downloaded
The chief locations mentioned are shown in the interactive map below:
Ronald Barton's war diary 1941
in a larger map
The house at
1 Rowan Walk, Hampstead Garden Suburb
, still standing in 2011.
Table of Contents
January 10th, 1941 (Friday)
January 11th (Saturday)
January 12th (Sunday)
January 13th (Monday)
January 14th (Tuesday)
January 15th (Wednesday)
January 16th (Thursday)
January 17th (Friday)
January 18th (Saturday)
January 19th (Sunday)
January 20th (Monday)
January 21st (Tuesday)
January 22nd (Wednesday)
January 23rd (Thursday)
January 24th (Friday)
January 25th (Saturday)
January 26th (Sunday)
January 27th (Monday)
January 28th (Tuesday)
January 29th (Wednesday)
January 30th (Thursday)
January 31st (Friday)
February 1st (Saturday)
February 2nd (Sunday)
February 3rd (Monday)
February 4th (Tuesday)
February 5th (Wednesday)
February 6th (Thursday)
February 7th (Friday)
February 8th (Saturday)
February 9th (Sunday)
February 10th (Monday)
February 11th (Tuesday)
February 12th (Wednesday)
February 13th (Thursday)
February 14th (Friday)
February 15th (Saturday)
February 16th (Sunday)
February 17th (Monday)
February 18th (Tuesday)
February 19th (Wednesday)
February 20th (Thursday)
February 21st (Friday)
February 22nd (Saturday)
February 22nd (Sunday)
February 24th (Monday)
February 25th (Tuesday)
February 26th (Wednesday)
February 27th (Thursday)
February 28th (Friday)
March 1st (Saturday)
March 2nd (Sunday)
March 3rd (Monday)
March 4th (Tuesday)
March 5th (Wednesday)
March 6th (Thursday)
March 7th (Friday)
March 8th (Saturday)
March 9th (Sunday)
March 10th (Monday)
March 11th (Tuesday)
March 12th (Wednesday)
March 13th (Thursday)
March 14th (Friday)
March 15th (Saturday)
March 16th (Sunday)
March 17th (Monday)
March 18th (Tuesday)
March 19th (Wednesday)
March 20th (Thursday)
March 21st (Friday)
March 22nd (Saturday)
March 23rd (Sunday)
March 24th (Monday)
March 25th (Tuesday)
March 26th (Wednesday)
March 27th (Thursday)
March 28th (Friday)
March 29th (Saturday)
March 30th (Sunday)
March 31st (Monday)
April 1st (Tuesday)
April 2nd (Wednesday)
April 3rd (Thursday)
April 4th (Friday)
April 5th (Saturday)
April 6th (Sunday)
April 7th (Monday)
April 8th (Tuesday)
April 9th (Wednesday)
April 10th (Thursday)
June 16th (Monday)
Ronald Barton to Freddy Colquhoun, July 1946
January 10th, 1941
My birthday. Hence this volume. Though it has been, to a certain extent, wished on me by my family, there is a lot to be said for it. How much there is to be said
it remains to be seen. But reading
F. L. Lucas
's "Journal under the Terror, 1938" I wished I had myself kept a diary at that time. And that was really only under the threat of the Terror. 1941 is the genuine article. On the other hand, I am no Lucas. But as Churchill says, "We will do our best".
The day began earlier than usual as
do a short journey
spend a ha'penny, and so effectively woke us up that we decided to have tea right away. This provided a leisurely moment for undoing parcels - this diary, a most superior pair of slippers from
(which I gratefully put on at once) and, auxiliary presents from Nick, three coloured chalks wrapped up in a drawing, and an envelope containing a picture torn from one of his books and coloured by himself - with two paper ribbons fastened with safety-pins to the top corners, and joined with another, for hanging the picture up. Very fine presents indeed.
[his younger brother]
rang me up at Sunnyside
[the house at Rickmansworth to which some departments of the Advertising Agency, including Copy and Design, were evacuated]
. Mighty casual about their neglect of us at Christmas. "An oversight". However, I said the oversight would be overlooked for this once. Took the opportunity of urging him to read "
Babes in the Darkling Wood
H. G. Wells
. He promised he would. But I doubt it. My belief: he's afraid of Wells upsetting his fixed ideas.
Took farewell of Stobo who goes to Greenwich this week-end for a Navigation Course before joining the Navy. Miss Scott, preparing to take up residence at Sunnyside, rather torn between pleasure at the convenience of the arrangement and gloomy forebodings about the dirty condition of the bathroom.
[Stobo & Miss Scott: Colleagues in the Copy Department working at Rickmansworth.]
The expected raid failed to materialise, and evening and night were peaceful.
January 11th (Saturday)
Despairing of the dilatory
builders, I decided to put up the shelter shelves myself. Quite easy when you know how, and quite successfully accomplished. Nick very happy as my "assistant". Results highly gratifying to all.
After an early lunch, the family biked to Golders Green to visit the Gents' Outfitter where Bunny had discovered a useful Sale. While she invested in some shirts for Nick, I cautiously examined some grey flannels and then, plunging wildly, bought not only the trousers but an accompanying Sports Jacket, a very elegant affair of turquoise tweed.
The pictures at the Lido were only fair to moderate, the best item being a Ministry of Information Short "Christmas under Fire", very well done with commentary by
of "Colliers". Good stuff. Bunny a little distrait thinking about her engagement ring, accidentally thrown with rubbish into the boiler.
Home to a "party" tea, the elaborate preparations for which I had to elaborately ignore, so that I might react to the fait accompli
with proper surprise and gratification. Cake with 17 candles - why 17? -, jellies of Nick's "favourite colour", the whole works. So successful, in fact, that it made supper for us quite unnecessary. And a little too successful for poor Nick who again woke at 9-ish and was violently sick.
Raid started early - 6.15 - and was very noisy, a terrific clatter over our heads at about 8.0 startled
us both. Incendiary? Hasty investigation disclosed only tiles broken by shrapnel - they seemed to be cascading off many roofs in Rowan Walk. No fires to be seen, and an All Clear at 10.30.
Most of the morning occupied by a search for Bunny's ring. The boiler having been allowed to go out, we shovelled out the contents and, kneeling in supplication to the Fates, we sorted and sifted the heap of ash and clinker. But the Fates returned us a dusty answer. When the last lump of clinker had been broken up and everything, including our persons, was covered with fine ash, we had to give it up, and lighted the boiler again for much needed baths.
I just had time before lunch to investigate the damage to the roof. With unusual consideration,the lump of shrapnel had landed on the tiles just outside the loft window, so having scrounged a few derelict tiles from the half-built house across the road, I was able to replace the broken ones by simply leaning out of the window.
After lunch I completed my odd Jobs by chopping a
week's supply of firewood and mending the kitchen power-fuse ready for Monday's demands upon the washing-machine.
Our Sunday afternoon peace was disturbed just before tea by a
ring at the bell. Knowing it was the girls
[two school-girl neighbours, self-appointed "Nannies" to Nick]
, and having no desire to entertain them, the family immediately feigned sleep, Nick putting on a particularly good act. We heard their footsteps circumambulating the house and then mercifully going away, leaving us to enjoy our tea undisturbed.
A slightly later warning preceded another noisy evening. I have long since given up pretending to distinguish between the noise of bombs and the extraordinarily varied and diverse noises of the guns, but it certainly seemed that there were more than usual of the long thunderous rolling crashes that it is difficult to imagine guns producing. No fires visible, and once again the All Clear at bed-time allowed us to sleep in peace.
[a.k.a Bensons: head office of the Advertising Agency, S. H. Benson, Ltd.]
by arrangement. The journey by bus and tube, that once seemed so tedious, was ridiculously quick and easy after weeks of the Rickmansworth pilgrimage.
Re-assuring, too, to find London standing where, and very much as, it did. Reports had it, though, that Saturday night's blitz had come pretty close to Bensons,
Lambert & Butler place just behind us having been burnt out. The bombed "subway" of the official communique was generally identified as the main booking-hall rotunda of the Bank
station, where the killed were variously assessed at anything from 80 to 200. And Lloyd Jones
[a Benson colleague]
"proudly presented" his own portrait on the front page of the EXPRESS, fighting a fire at the corner of
Cheapside on Saturday night. A heavy bomb, arriving on the scene just before he did, killed four AFS men from his establishment.
Closeted with Hervey & Herridge all morning and after a hasty lunch resumed the discussion now with Graves & Thomas of Bemax
wheatgerm breakfast cereal
Home about 6.15. The tube shelterers looked a lot more comfortable than they used to - bunks in nearly all the stations, and the usual offices much more like the usual offices.
Found the thwarted girls in occupation at home, but they were gently but firmly ejected before supper. Quiet night.
Back to Rickmansworth. Not much doing. Hunter
[a Benson colleague]
, in fact, spent most of the day messing about with the boiler, with a marked lack of success. He started by giving the new boy a Demonstration of the Whole Art and Science of Boiler Lighting with some Notes on the General Theory of Forced Draughts. The boiler then went out. The boy re-lit it, following his advice to the letter; the boiler, however, refused to co-operate and went out again. Third time lucky, their joint efforts got the radiators just luke-warm by the time for going home.
Walking down to the station, Burrett revealed that Bullock
[two more Benson colleagues]
possessed strange powers of divination, enabling him to predict whether or not there would be an air-raid. This, Burrett felt, was probably connected in some obscure way with the fact that Bullock is, surprisingly, an ardent Mormon whose proselytising zeal goes to the lengths of running a Mormon Sunday School at St. Albans. His ministerial activities have even got him exemption from military service, though one would imagine his prophetic gift might be useful to the country. But it appears to be not altogether reliable since he had
prognosticated a raid for this evening, which was, in fact, what the Express refers to as an "Off-blitz" night.
Informed by Munro, on arriving at Rickmansworth, that as the black-out was now later, it will no longer be permitted to leave the office at 4.20. Received the information in complete silence, which left Munro somewhat baffled. Brooded darkly for some time on this latest
piece of paltriness
[Molly altered this to '
, and eventually decided that it constituted a last straw. Nothing very much in itself, but it represents the withdrawal of the one and only concession that has been made to the Londoners
[members of the staff working at Rick, but still living at their homes]
. So something must be done about it.
Moreover, learned later from Burrett that nothing had been said to him about it, though we had been informed that he was included.
Miss Scott and Hunter both in town, so I had the room to myself. To think that not so very long ago I always had my room to myself!
All of a fidget in the bus going home in case I should find the garage shut when I got to Hendon
[where he left his bicycle, going out, and collected it going home]
. And so I did. But the office was open, and the good lady after waving
away my offered half-crown, saying she hadn't any change and I could pay tomorrow, gave me access to the garage through the office. The snow, which had been falling all day, was already freezing and fairly crackled and snapped under my wheels.
The evening was quiet and peaceful. I sat up later than I meant to, completing a foolish puzzle that Bunny had brought from Elizabeth
[Lotery; a suburb neighbour]
. As I was digging out the fire, to convey it to the boiler
[making the fuel go further]
, I pricked up my ears. That muffled thunder – was it just the wind roaring down the chimney, or was it guns? I went to the backdoor and listened. There it was again. Yes, but - guns or wind? I couldn't be sure. Tried the front door. Certainly sounded like guns, though there had been no warning. Still, it might not be, so I said nothing and went to bed.
In the shelter, it was hard to say if I was hearing anything or just imagining. But I kept lifting my head from the pillow to listen with both ears. And wondering whether Bunny had heard it.
Then there was a loud one, unmistakable. And as we were discussing it, the belated sirens. So I was right - and could sleep at ease.
Something has been done about it. Fortified by my morning coffee, I walked into Richards'
[Agency Art Director, in charge of "creative" staff at Rickmansworth]
room and without preamble, laid my cards on the table. "Injustice" I said. "Everything for some, nothing for others." Feelingly I described the rigours of the journey, and the even greater unpleasantness of paying large sums to live in two rooms in someone else's house.
Without allowing Richards a word in edgeways, I said that I was quite able to take it
it was borne in mind that some people had a great deal more to put up with than others and were therefore entitled to ask for some concessions to alleviate their particular difficulties.
Having heard me out, Richards put up practically no defence, merely saying that the present position was not permanent, and agreeing that while it lasted the inequalities of it would be borne in mind and concessions made.
This achieved, I attacked my second objective, my position in the office. Here again Richards yielded all along the line, even to the extent of admitting that Munro was not really the right man for the job. So it was established that I
should be responsible only to Richards for my work, and have direct access to him on all matters affecting it. It was a famous victory.
Returned to library "
The Long Week-end
). Disappointing. Apart from the interest of recalling one's own reactions to the events chronicled, there was nothing to it. No colour, no comment, no personal viewpoint expressed or implied by the authors to give the chronicle character. The only figure for whom the authors (Graves, presumably) appeared to have any admiration was -
of all people
. And of all reasons, chiefly because she had achieved a "complete synthesis" summed up in her quoted aphorism "Historical events have ceased to happen". Well, well!
An early evening warning produced no unpleasant consequences - no gunfire, not even an interruption in the wireless. A second warning, about bedtime, was followed by the sound of a plane and a burst of local gunfire, but that too died away, and no further noises interrupted our repose.
Realised that I had let Thursday go by without writing my
weekly letter to
, so spent lunch-time rectifying the omission. If it did nothing else, this diary would justify its existence by providing me with ready-made material for this letter, which used to involve a prodigious cudgelling of the brains in the effort to
find something to say
[altered by Molly to "
remember the week' s happenings
It suited my own convenience today to collaborate with Munro, since I had done the preliminary work on the Bemax Quiz and wanted it tidied up into a presentable lay-out. As it is I, and not he, who contact Hervey on the account, I have no objection to Munro's making himself useful. Anyway, he had nothing else to do.
As I was wide awake at 8.0 am and Bunny was still sleepy, it would have been silly to insist on her getting up to make the breakfast, so I did it myself. But, breakfast over, I very gratefully accepted her suggestion that I should go back to bed - or rather, to bunk - and read, while she did the house and the shopping.
So back I went, with Nick in the bunk
below me. He manfully restrained his natural impulse to talk all the time, and we came to a gentleman's agreement that he should be quiet and let me read for 15 minutes and then we should talk for five minutes, and so on. He succeeded in keeping to, at any rate, the spirit of this agreement, and occupied himself in drawing maps "of the whole world" which really showed a very creditable
grasp of the positions and even the proportions of most countries.
We were up and dressed by 12.30 by which time Bunny had returned from her shopping and made the lunch. In spite of the fact that it was
snowing hard, with some three inches already on the ground, we sallied forth to our pictures, and actually walked all the way to the Lido. "
Strike up the Band
" - not a particularly good picture but more to Nick's taste than last week's. In fact he could hardly be torn away at the end, having developed a great hero-worship for "Jimmy", alias
and not a bad hero for a small boy either
- and said he would like to see the whole picture over again.
We ran our two evening meals into one and had an enormous high tea in the dining-room which we used
because that fire has more effect in keeping the plumbing warm than the drawing-room.
There had been a theory that we might try to get in touch with the Moerans
[friends made the previous winter during the family's sojourn in the Stanmore flat, the Moerans then living in the flat below]
over the weekend, but we were saved the trouble by Nadine ringing up and asking us over to Stanmore - where Edward is now posted - for the day on Sunday. Offer gratefully accepted.
Getting up fairly early and doing only the minimum of housework, we managed to get away by 10.30. The ground was ankle-deep in slush, so we abandoned the walk to Golders Green and bussed. A bus from Edgware took us through Stanmore and up the hill where we eventually found the Moerans. Another guest arriving at the same time was received by Nadine with blank non-recognition. He turned out to be an old school-chum of Edward's. Dull, red-faced man, name of Gussie, got up very horsey.
Nadine and Edward living in a most curious establishment, half a cottage owned by the Riding-Schoolmaster, the only access to it through the other half's rooms (all of them). Other half being an agreeable City gent called Henschel,
who turned out to be an old buddy of
it seems to work all right.
Edward disappeared in search of drinks, returning with beer and sherry. General consumption and chit-chat. Nadine and Nick disappeared in turn to prepare lunch, Nick firmly refusing all offers of assistance. Horsey Gussie and his dumb little daughter having departed, lunch was served on a long fireside stool on which the six plates were set out in a row. Fine, informal meal - tinned pilchard things, baked potatoes, enormous bowl of raw-cabbage-carrot-apple-grapefruit-salad. Rice pudding with mixed fruit
(Edward's making) to follow. The men washed up in the kitchen-bathroom downstairs after which Henschel detached himself for a snooze.
Much discussion about a walk. Finally Edward, Nick and I went, the females staying put. Walked over snowy-slushy common, Edward and I trying to fit fragments of political debate in between snowball fights which Nick found highly entertaining. Edward seems rather less politically, rather more psychologically minded, but it was difficult to get anywhere with Nick clamouring for fun and games.
Followed a hasty tea, to let Edward get off in time to his duty. He had been occupying odd moments polishing his buttons, assisted of course by Nick. Doing without a batman they get his allowance of 14/- a week. Family left soon after Edward and got home about 6.30.
A most satisfactory re-union. They seemed to think so too, Edward confiding, in Bunny that they had found they had very few friends, really, "with the same ideas". Oddly the same thought had occurred to me.
Feeling strongly about political - social - psychological problems does make one impatient of otherwise agreeable people who can't - or won't - see what's going on or what it's all about. The Sillars, for example. It's an aspect of what HGW calls the "Prig" sort of mind. Not that I care. I like being a "Prig" and confining friendship to other like-minded "Prigs".
[H. G. Wells wrote five books that some have called the 'Prig novels':
'stories that "turn on a man asking himself what he shall do with his life"'
Read the papers by a roaring fire and suppered late off sausages. A latish warning followed by what seemed almost continuous gun-fire but all pretty remote - away to the south it appeared when I looked out at bed-time.
Left - in pouring rain which but for Bunny's timely intervention I should have absorbed umbrella-less - in time to look for a resting place for my bike at Finchley Road Station. Penetrating an almost deserted mews behind the station, I found signs of bombage at the bottom - garages with their doors blown away and others, further from the crater with doors of a kind but no contents of any kind. Tracking
down a native I made my enquiries and was directed to an upper room over one of the more secure garages where a trousered female most affably gave me full permission to use the garage, free, gratis and for nothing.
Thence to Kingsway. Nothing much new except for the fire-watching organisation now functioning. Three at a shift, volunteers patrol the building at nights and weekends, and Gilroy's room is now their rest-room, complete with carpet, mattresses and electric stove. 3/- is allowed for a night-shift, 5/- for a week-end shift, and watchers are generously informed that the Holborn Lyons is open from 6.0 am.
A busy day with Bemax, Graves coming in just as I was thinking of departing, and prolonging my stay by a couple of hours.
Home at 6.30, to find Nick very disconsolately listening to the end of the Roosevelt inauguration broadcast which I had rather ill-advisedly described to him, in advance, as a "party", the best word I could think of, familiar to him, for a state ceremony. "Nothing but talking" he complained with feeling. "No nice music."
Interesting broadcast later, "The Office of President", uninterrupted by any alarms.
January 21st (Tuesday)
In spite of the rain, which pretty well soaked me on my bike-ride, my first journey by Finchley Road an enormous improvement on the other way. Leaving home at the usual time, I found I had a quarter of an hour to wait at Finchley Road before catching the train
my usual one.
Hours for the whole office now officially extended to 5.0 pm. Immediately followed up my
by telling him that "I took it" we would be allowed to leave in time to catch the 5.3, next train being at 5.30. "Oh yes, that's all right." Easy!
Journey home equally quick and comfortable. Found James
[Molly/Bunny's brother, then serving with the Auxiliary Fire Service]
at home, and Nick highly delighted with a train they had made together out of match boxes and reels.
Rather touched by James bringing me "
The Spirit and Structure of Fascism
". His political education must be progressing if he can assimilate that for it is pretty heavy going. He was less cantankerous than usual, and
after dinner he gave us an entertaining account of the damage to his own house, and of his and Elsie's efforts to salvage some of their furniture, Elsie much concerned lest the wardrobe be scratched in the process of extricating what remained of it
from the bedstead on which it was firmly impaled! Also of his permitted "looting" of a neighbour's
house from which he was told he could take what he liked. "But you had to be careful pulling things out because you couldn't tell which things mightn't be supporting the whole house."
After a day of alarms - 3 in town and 4, I think, at Rickmansworth, during one of which a few alarmists claimed to have heard the German plane going over - it was rather surprising to have no night alarm at all.
). A most extraordinary but most entertaining book. A rollicking and
extravaganza. The author has something of
's simple but intense satisfaction at the mere fact of being alive, and having friends and food to eat, not to mention other "facts of life" in the most technical sense. Like Saroyan too, he has a boundless and burning affection for the "despised and rejected of men" particularly his fellow-Jews. For all its fantastic invention and crazy inconsequence, it manages to say many things that are as unexpected as they are profound. For example "True marriage is
not living with someone because you love them, but loving someone because you live with them". And there's a lot in that.
Found the girls at home when I got back from Rickmansworth, but they seemed to have learned their lesson in manners, and departed quite docilely when Bunny announced that it was Nick's bedtime.
Virtuously spent the evening writing cheques for various accumulated bills, and doing accounts generally.
Rewarded by the final calculation that we could put another £20 in the Savings Bank, bringing the total to about £525.
Went to Boots and changed my book before going up to Sunnyside. Got "
Journey into Fear
) which I half consumed at lunch-time and polished off at night. A competent thriller, adequately well written, but without any very great drama (as in
) or imagination (as in
A foggy and depressing day, which both Bunny and I found for some reason curiously fatiguing.
[On my return]
Bunny reported that she had - very properly - turned down flat an Army officer's offer to rent the house for 3 guineas a week.
We are very happy at home, and certainly do not intend to allow ourselves to be exploited by
people using the blitz as a blackmail to get a town house dirt cheap.
Also reported by Bunny - Nick having listened to the 1.0 p.m. News came into the kitchen to tell her that we had captured Torquay. He has heard us talking of the Van der Werffs
[neighbours at the Stanmore flat]
living at Torquay, which he naturally substituted for the strange-sounding Tobruk. He has recently acquired a tendency to Spoonerise, and the other day warned me to be careful not to "dress his dropping-gown" - a jeu d'esprit that he regards as pretty brilliant. "Ossipote" for "opposite" is a nice word, too.
Another "off-blitz" night. This peculiar inactivity is a bit hard on the aspiring diary-writer, keyed up to chronicle stirring and sensational events which obstinately refuse to happen. Still, better a dull diary than a defeated or defunct diarist. At this stage of affairs, no news is definitely good news.
Announced today that "friendly aliens" are to be allowed their wireless sets again. This presumably means that the Levy's
[next-door neighbours at Rowan Walk]
will want back the two sets we have been harbouring for them in the loft and - more important - the little set we have been using, our own being at Rickmansworth.
Immediately after breakfast Fraulein Kate was on the doorstep asking for the wireless sets. Bunny promised them in half an hour, and I abandoned my idea of going back to bed and got dressed in time to hand them over to Levy when he called.
Gathered some vegetables, chopped some wood and did other odd jobs while Bunny shopped. An early lunch, then on bikes through the rain to the Lido, "
He stayed to breakfast
", an entertaining picture with
converted from his idle rich playboy of "
" to an ardent Communist and re-converted to respectable bourgeouisie by the charms of
. Also "
Gold Rush Maisie
", a comedy treatment of the "transients" from "
The Grapes of Wrath
While Bunny prepared the high tea, I went round to the Lotery's to collect a little wireless set lent by Elizabeth. Found Geoffrey consuming his high tea before going on duty at his factory. While I was talking to him, Elizabeth returned from somewhere with apologies for having left the wireless at the shop where it was getting a new aerial. She suggested I should collect it in her car. Felt quite absurdly nervous driving a car again and was glad Elizabeth
had gone indoors and didn't witness my very unskilled attempts to back the car out of the gate. Once in the road, however, I soon found myself at ease and enormously enjoyed the ½-mile joy-ride to the shop and back again. The little set - it was no bigger than a fair-sized loaf of bread - proved to be adequate for the evening's programmes but painfully strident in tone.
Yet another raid-less night.
Coming last on the list, l enjoyed a bumper bath, in which I wallowed luxuriously. The papers had to be fetched, so we decided to make an outing of it, well goloshed against the muddy roads. A distant figure, approaching with a Charlie Chaplin walk down Kingsley Way, turned out to be Geoffrey, cake-laden. Here are mysteries - where does he buy cakes on a Sunday?
And even more mysterious - what strange kink prevents a man who owns a car, has plenty of money to run it and can pull the strings that operate the petrol pumps even in wartime - what overwhelming inhibition denies him the pleasure - for which I would sell my soul - and the convenience of driving.
Promising to return later for a drink, we went and inspected
the damage at Willifield Green. The worst damaged houses here have been demolished, and nothing marks the site of them except a row of little white gates in an almost undamaged hedge, gates that open forlornly on to a blank and brick-strewn desert.
Over a hasty glass of Sherry, a repeated invitation to see the Lotery film that evening, met with a half-promise that Bunny would come round while I stayed on duty.
[Back at home,]
settled down by the fire to read the papers. In pursuit of an hour's peace, rather misguidedly allowed the girls to take Nick for a walk - misguidedly, because on their return they looked like staying for the night. This in spite of the fact that I had fallen asleep and Bunny received them in the kitchen.
When I woke they infiltrated past Bunny's defences into the drawing room from which they were dislodged only by the most pointed back-turning and room-leaving.
Nick at high tea displayed a strange distaste for a(n) omelette, which, in the making, he described to Bunny as "a kind of eggs beginning with N.".
A lovely evening by the fire, ending with a good political discussion inspired by
's grand BBC "Postscript".
Bound for Kingsway, I was walking along Market Place buswards when I became aware that a female figure had attached itself to me and was even plucking at my sleeve. My astonishment was not much the less when I recognised
. She is apparently sharing a flat with two other Missionary Misses, and though she has been in residence for some time, has not thought fit to make her presence known. Strange, unsisterly behaviour,
to be sure, but if she wants it that way she can have it that way.
, Molly Bushby,
; probably at Ted & Molly's wedding in 1924.
On my way home, called at Thurlow Road
[No. 17 Thurlow Road was the post-Moorcroft home of Aunt
and Sarah, now evacuated, used as a kind of London base by all Bartons]
where I found the caretaker Mrs. Burr, dutifully taking care. Having succeeded in assuring her of my bona fides, I was permitted to pack up
's wireless which was standing silent beneath a protective layer of cushions in the study. Unable to phone for a taxi, I had to go down to the rank, where I secured the last and lonely cab to convey me, with the wireless set, back home. I had it functioning before supper - a great improvement on Elizabeth's brassy-voiced baby, though it did not succeed in bringing in
Another "Lullablitz",as the ever-fertile Daily Express now calls it.
A busy day for the sirens - otherwise uneventful at Rickmansworth.
At home Bunny reported not only alarms but also excursions to the shelter. At lunch-time she and Nick were listening to a plane overhead and speculating as to its identity - there had been no warning - when they were startled out of their skins by a really prodigious crash. As there was no premonitory whistle it was presumably only the Hampstead Heath
guns speaking in unison. But Nick instinctively ducked under the table, and Bunny conducting an orderly retreat to the shelter found him paper-white. This is a little alarming, as we had thought that he was quite untroubled by raids. But since the pallor was only momentary and there were no other signs of fear, I think it must have been only a natural physical reaction to the sudden violent noise, and not anything that could possibly be described as nerves. But we shall have to watch him.
Most people seemed to expect a raid at night. Personally I didn't, as the weather continued much as it had been for a week - rain and low cloud - and if it was indeed the weather that had been keeping them away, I couldn't see why it shouldn't again.
I was right. It did.
". Agate, I think, must be a horrid old man but, skipping the horses and the French tragediennes, I find his diaries entertaining. he obviously fancies himself as a sort of Falstaff, "
not only witty in himself but the cause of wit in others
", though, in fact, his own wit is mostly second-hand stuff consisting largely of labour-saving allusions to literary and dramatic figures, which are his substitute for original description.
The Evening Standard announced the expected new proclamation covering the 18-19 and 37-40 age-groups. So my time draws near. What exactly I shall do remains to be seen,
but a man with a wife and child cannot afford the luxury of rushing into the ranks
. If the office applies for an extension for me I shall not refuse it, and if it is possible to start with a commission, in the R.A.F. or elsewhere,
it will presumably be a more satisfactory way of using such ability as I may possess, as well as a way of easing the problem of supporting my family
[Molly changed this section to "
then so much the better
The day having been colder but dry, I was expecting a night raid, but I certainly didn't expect it to start before black-out time - in fact at the moment when I arrived at Finchley
Road station. However, it was not until about 8.0 - Nicholas has fortunately just gone to sleep - that we heard any guns. One plane went over very close, and roused the Heath guns to a salvo or two. But it wasn't much of a raid and all over by about 10.0.
As I had hoped,
's wireless proved capable of making itself heard in spite of the usual air-raid impediment in its speech. Though in fact we only listened to the news, since we both feel that when planes are out we would rather hear what they are up to.
Paid an early visit to Boots to return "
" (Nicoll Smith) a very inferior and infuriating book. I had the liveliest hopes of the combination of an American journalist and the story of one of the most astonishing and inspiring achievements of mankind. To my disgust I found I was being fobbed off with a series of cheap magazine stories, alleged to have been told to the author by various people he met, recounted with a flashy and completely phoney melodrama, something like William Seabrook, but worse. The only decent thing in the book was the photographs, some of which did convey something of the magnificent story that was there to be written.
for her Cambridge address which I had mislaid. He reported a considerable epidemic of flu which was a little unfortunate as I had just written
a Bemax "reader"
some copy based on the rather surprising absence of the threatened epidemics.
Still, - "I don't suppose it will matter!"
Much wailing of sirens again and, during a long alarm which lasted most of the afternoon, two bouts of banging in the distance. (Later reported
by Miss Rea, via Muriel Stobo,
that bombs had fallen at Watford and Bushey.) This time it was the All Clear that was sounding as I got out at Finchley Road.
Bunny and Nick had made a gallant sortie to the pictures in spite of considerable barrage. Bunny, admittedly nervous, enquired rather anxiously whether Nick would like to go back, but he nonchalantly assured her that there was nothing to be afraid of - particularly as she had a "warden" with her. So obviously there is nothing wrong with his nerves, which is a relief.
There were no raids at night.
A summons in the morning to attend at Kingsway at 2.30
for a meeting with
A warning sounded as I entrained at Rickmansworth, and
at the other end of the journey - during which I ate my lunch - I was received with a ragged salute of gun-fire. No-one paid the least attention. The general phlegm was given expression by Waring, taking me up in the lift. Regarding me with lack-lustre eye, he observed in his world-weary Cockney drawl "I suppose you know you're in imminent danger".
Seeking out Hughes I enquired further of the matter to be discussed. Something about Virol's quota having been cut down, involving the projection of some discreditable wangle with the advertising to avoid EPD
[Enemy Propaganda Department??]
. A chance remark of Hughes suggested to me the following definition of Pielow's inanity "When the phone rings and you find the line is dead, you know you're talking to Pielow".
The danger was apparently something too imminent for
Pielow, since Goodyear came in to say that
client, who sent a message to say he wasn't coming and the meeting was postponed till Monday. Spent the afternoon preparing something to be discussed at the meeting and went home via Finchley Road where I collected my bike.
No night Raid.
Devoted most of the morning - while Bunny was out shopping -
to overhauling our ARP
apparatus, and had a dress rehearsal, with props,
on Bunny's return.
To get the proper atmosphere we started from scratch by lying down on our bunks
[in the shelter]
, where Bunny insisted that the rehersal should start by my pooh-poohing her suggestion that she had heard an incendiary and maintaining that there was no such person. She, having convinced me that there was at least matter for investigation, then ran round the house with Nick - in place of taking him next door. Meanwhile I made a false start by charging upstairs and then realising I had forgotten my hand-props - the dust-bin lid for a shield, and the boiler poker for a jemmy. When Bunny joined me, with Nick an interested spectator, she produced a fine impressive jet with the stirrup pump which I directed out of the window. This appeared to exhaust the possibilities of mock-firefighting - though doubtless we shall be well provided with impromptu "business" on the night - so we had lunch.
This week's picture was "
They knew what they wanted
" at the Regal. A good part for
and a good performance. But the lesser picture was even better - "
We who are young
". Just a story of the trials and tribulations of a young married couple - nothing to it, but so human, so simple, so sympathetically told and
acted, that it was quite as gripping, and even more moving than the be-starred and be-trumpeted "big picture".
I was quite certain there would be a night-raid as the day had been fine and the clouds were high and open. But I was wrong. Which shook me, I must say. Because it looked as if I had been wrong all this time in my explanation of the lull - "Weather. Nothing else - just bad weather." But it looks as if there must be
else. The uneasy question is - "what?"
For the first time for many grey weeks, the almost forgotten sun shone. In fact it was a nice morning for a walk, so we went up to the Heath to see whet the military were up to. What we saw was most mysterious - an enormous area, the whole stretch between the guns and the path, several acres in fact, stripped of its turf and reduced to a muddy desert, like a last war No-man’s-land. And this vast ploughed field had been planted with steel poles some 8 feet high and 12-15 feet apart. Over the entire top of this strange plantation green netting had been stretched. It looked like camouflage of sorts - but for what? If they wanted to park lorries or dump ammunition invisible from the air, why first remove the turf and reduce the park or dump to a quagmire?
All very rum and peculiar.
We walked round the Heath and then up Ingram Avenue. Emerging into Winnington Road, we found ourselves opposite the House of David
, Nick's school buddy, who was visible with his mother on the doorstep. We were seen, recognised, and invited in for a drink. They seem an agreeable and friendly couple
, neither so plutocratic nor so patronising as the Loterys
Returning down Winnington Road, Bunny spied Miss Shaw, an ex-co-ambulance driver, also on her doorstep. She, it appears, is now running, with a friend, a mobile canteen under the auspices of the
They serve the troops during the week, and at the week-ends soak the rich attending West End concerts and suchlike - 6d a cupper tea, 9d a cheesecake - in aid of the Lord Mayor's Air Raid Fund. A nice Jekyll and Hyde idea, or Robin Hood Brought up to Date.
Going down with Nick to collect the papers, we found a gang of local boys making good their fire-defences, distributing sandbags and the like. Among them Lisle, who explained that this was a Holne Chase organisation, but introduced me to the Warden in charge, who promised to include 1 Rowan Walk if it could be managed.
[The house, on the corner, was as much in Holne Chase as in Rowan Walk.]
A period of peace with the papers after lunch, Nick being first
at rest and later scouting outside for the Moerans and Van der Werffs expected to tea. The Moerans arrived first, escaping his notice, and when we went in search of him, the first thing we saw was the Van der Werff car, also unperceived by the scout. At that moment he appeared, flushed and triumphant, on top of the pile of bricks on the vacant lot opposite where, with seven other devils, he was playing at forts.
It was a good party round a good fire with a good tea, scones, jam arid cake home-made by Bunny and much appreciated. A ring at the door announced the arrival of an uninvited guest, to wit
, who fortunately claimed to have teaed already, as only broken fragments remained.
A good time was being had by all when poor Nick announced that he had a headache. Given an aspirin, he sat quietly on my knee for a bit waiting for recovery, but finding it not immediately forthcoming, he gave way to increasing unhappiness. Eventually when some of the party had gone out to see bombage, he asked to be put to bed, during which process he was very sick indeed.
However when the party had taken their several leaves he went straight off to sleep, so Bunny went round to Kingsley Lodge, impelled more by a sense of duty than by the hope of entertainment.
She returned some 2 hours later, bored to tears by the film, half-frozen, and wishing she hadn't bothered. Supper by the fire soon restored warmth and equanimity, and we went peacefully to bed, undisturbed by alarms.
To Kingsway, chiefly for the postponed
meeting, which duly took place and occupied most of the morning. When
Pielow had finally talked himself out and away
it was over, I hurried round to the Strand Palace where Bunny was waiting for me. Having parked Nick chez David
, she was able to snatch a rare day in town, and as I was in town too we were able to fix a lunch in town together, our first for goodness knows how long.
Our first experience of a rationed restaurant meal demonstrated clearly enough how those who can afford to eat regularly in restaurants can almost entirely escape the rigours of rationing. Generous hors d'oeuvres were by egg or fish (fish-cakes, actually) and these by themselves proved so satisfying that Bunny didn't realise that the main dish was yet to come. True, in pre-war times the choice would hardly have been limited to Rabbit, Vegetable Pie or Tripe, but even so we did ourselves proud, and
the fact that there had been quite heavy gun-fire in the morning and, since there were no sirens either before or after, the raid for all we knew was still on, certainly didn't affect our appetites.
Bunny and Nick were only just in when I got home from the office, Nick having had a grand day at David's and come home in triumph with a borrowed milk-cart, and Bunny having stayed for tea with Elizabeth
Lotery, who has so little to do that she has to occupy herself making doll's clothes!
Another quiet night. The authorities have at Iast seen fit to check the growing volume of speculation and rumour about the long-continued lull, by an official announcement that it can be put down to bad weather alone.
Kingsway again, by arrangement. Seeing Geoffrey Lotery starting out in his chauffered car as I passed his gate, I got a lift as far as Hampstead. Geoffrey apparently received his calling-up papers recently - followed immediately by an official apology.
Definitely one of the Chosen People.
Planned to get home early for a change and to that end worked through the lunch hours. Plans defeated, however, by having to wait until 5.15 for the return of Goodyear, and finally left
the office about 6.0.
Just got home in time to hear the sirens sounding, at an hour which looked more like business. There was a certain amount of gunnery, and planes overhead, but nothing of any consequence to us and it was all over by 10.30.
At 8.0 I went out to a meeting at 26 Holne Chase, summoned to fix up about fire-watching patrols. Of about 30 Holne Chase residents assembled only about 6 were British. I sat next an officer in khaki with "POLAND" emblazoned on his shoulder, but most of them were - as Levy described himself to the warden in charge - "Bloody German".
The talk was rather aimless and undirected, but it emerged that there would be 3 watchers on duty every night from 10.0 to 7.0., of whom only one at a time need be up and doing. There are so many empty houses in Holne Chase that the duty works out at one night in nine. I am to serve with the Levy's Fraulein Kate and
Walbrook's Frieda, the Levy family making up another party of 3. The post each night will be the house of one member of the patrol on duty, which means that on my night I can at any rate stay at home.
I sat next Barker who told me that when a Molotoff fell on the Mayfair recently there was such competition to get at them that he was nearly knocked down in the rush and couldn't get near a fire.
Having only 3 days to travel, decided to go by the bus-to-Harrow route. Unfortunately, this decision coincided with a new cold snap. The journey was unpleasantly chilly, and Sunnyside, when I got there, simply a refrigerator. I didn't stop shivering until lunch-time when the radiators began to warm up.
A busy but boring day, and I was particularly glad to get home to a glorious fire and a grand dinner. We had got washed up and settled down when there was a quite considerable banging. It might have been bombs, or it might have been guns, but whichever, it was quite definitely a raid. The sirens, however, took about 20 minutes to come to this conclusion. There was rather more noise than usual, and on one occasion the house shook itself slightly. It was not the sea-sick heave of a really close bomb, but enough to remind us that an air-raid did not consist entirely of gun-fire.
Bunny and I had a slight difference of opinion, she being for taking shelter for a while and I for taking no notice. I was wrong, of course.
Whatever I may prefer to do myself, I am certainly not entitled
to augment any anxiety she may be feeling by refusing to shelter when she feels that it is indicated. Particularly as it is only rarely that she does feel that way.
Having seen and admitted the error of my ways, I was rewarded for my virtue by an absence of any further alarms, and the All-Clear went at 10.30.
A real Wenceslas of a morning, "when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even". 5 or 6 inches, I should think, and though I set off nonchalantly enough on my bike, I soon found myself plunging and veering wildly all over the shop, completely out of control.
I had hopes that the more frequented Meadway might "go", but it was too much for me. Quite apart from the rink-like slipperiness, the snow clogged the wheels and piled up round the pedals, and I had to retreat baffled, with a new admiration for our gallant Greek allies who manage to advance in similarly inclement conditions. Having returned my bike, I set out again on foot and reached Harrow in time to catch the same train as Taylor.
The day, surprisingly, was quite warm and the snow soon melted to ankle-deep slush. Even more surprising, there was a warning in the afternoon, but as it almost ran into the All-Clear,
which followed not five minutes later, it must have been a false alarm.
Strange times we live in, to be sure! What could be more contrary to all precedent and tradition than the job I was commissioned to do this afternoon? A number of Tea posters are being prepared for canteens and so on, showing cups of tea being handed out by what are, in theory at any rate, highly alluring and desirable young women. Required, a number of phrases which, apparently only an innocent reference to the virtues of tea, could be taken by those of the rude and licentious soldiery so minded as anything but innocent allusions to the lack of virtue of the young women. So instead of the authorities frowning upon an idea because of some fancied impropriety, we now have them specifying impropriety and not being happy until they get it. Suggested : "If you can take it , I can dish it out" but this perhaps going a little far. Compromised with "Your cup of tea?" and "Nice and hot!"
Returning home, I succeeded in repelling a threatened invasion of girls by conversing with them at the gate and then firmly bidding them goodnight. Extracted the information, not necessarily reliable, that the previous night's bomb was at Muswell Hill. For some reason,
this is a locality that I am unable to take seriously.
A quiet night with a good documentary broadcast "Crosstown New York",
a sound-picture of 52nd Avenue
. The evocation of the lights of Broadway by a staccato, antiphonal declaiming of jingling verse was particularly clever.
The day before's trampled slush, iced over during the night, made the going sufficiently difficult to excuse me from biking to Hendon, a run which, though shorter, I find for some reason much more
[Molly changed this to '
than to Finchley Road.
Cheerfulness breaks in
) which I started by enjoying for its easy and amusing dialogue, and ended by loathing for its all-pervading odour of patronising snobbery. To adapt
E. M. Forster
's summing-up of the egregious "
", this book might be described as "Top drawer but two".
Nick today, relentless in the pursuit of knowledge, flummoxed his unprepared mother by pointing to the bottle of Tomato Sauce and demanding "What vitamins has that got in it?" Quiet night.
Pleasantly domestic morning occupied by chopping wood and
other mild exercise. Annoyed to find that an increasing painfulness in my right eye-lid has developed into a stye. This is, literally, a new one on me, and I regard it as a highly undesirable innovation.
Today's pictures at the Lido not very satisfactory. "
" is an unpleasant and depressing picture, not even particularly well done. it might have been redeemed by some forceful acting in the leading parts, which was certainly not forthcoming from that prissy and wooden couple,
. Nor did the American half of the programme shine even by contrast - "
The Golden Fleecing
", a piece of foolishness that was as complicated as it was unfunny. In fact we were glad to get home to a good fire, a good meal, and a good satisfying undisturbed evening.
Nick being invited to spend the day with David
, we walked him up there at 11.30. The really very hospitable Castles were just leaving for a lunch-date in town and offered us a lift, gladly accepted. Their income must have been more affected than some of our neighbours', for though their house is spacious and sumptuous, they seem to live entirely in the one sitting-room (off which their shelter opens), have dispensed with a Nanny, and run a car which is not merely a humble Hillman
Minx but a disgracefully dirty Minx, at that. Not but what it was luxurious to us to be driving in a real live motor-car again.
We left them at the entrance to some Park Lane pile, and set off on our tour of inspection. From Marble Arch, poster-plastered, down Oxford Street and New Bond Street there was "nothing to report". Old Bond Street was rather more ruinous, and the supposed site of Gieves is now only of antiquarian interest. In Piccadilly, judgement has very properly descended upon the upstart 50/- Tailors, of which there is nothing left but the pit from whence their foundations were digged.
In the Brasserie of the Corner House, however, all was life and animated bustle, and though early we had to queue for our lunch. Seated in one of the Peruvian pagodas which the architect presumably regarded as the acme of modernity, we were interested by a youthful sailor obviously alone and palely loitering over his trifle. So interested, in fact, that we dispatched a note to him, via the waiter, which brought him over to our table, pink but most polite, to accept an invitation to visit us at home that evening.
Lunch over, we returned to "viewing the remains". We debated whether or not we were behaving in a reprehensibly ghoulish manner,
and returned a verdict of "Not Guilty". What rank oblivion might not a later generation charge us with if to their inquiry "What did London look like after the blitz?" we could reply only "Well, as a matter of fact, we didn't bother to look".
Passing through Leicester Square we skirted the chasm where lately a bomb on the Green Room Club all too successfully brought the house down. Trafalgar Square and the Strand much as usual, and we couldn't get in to the Temple.
It wasn't till we got to the lower end of Fleet Street that we really began to see things. Turning into Salisbury Square we found Church Missionary House roofless, its top two floors burnt out, though the fire-watchers managed to save the rest. The walls and spire of St. Bride's were a whited sepulchre, the inside blackened, charred and ragged with wreckage. In St. Paul's Churchyard we stopped to put pennies in the monster time-bomb that fell just outside the cathedral, now disarmed and doing penance by collecting for a Spitfire Fund.
The passage through to Cheapside was the border-line between civilisation and barbarity. On our right towered the great bulk of the Cathedral, massive, magnificent and miraculously undamaged. On our left, a forlorn fringe or surviving shops and offices stood shoulder to shoulder along the pavement as though they were trying to
conceal from view the mutilated corpses behind them. But between them - and sometimes, where ground-floor windows and doors gaped blackly, through them - we could see the gaunt and grisly skeletons of twisted steel, the shambles of shattered walls and dynamited debris. People like
some country cousins we
who airily dismiss the damage to London as "practically nothing" should be taken to St. Paul's and told to obey the instructions given in Wren's epitaph "
Si monumentum requiris, circumspice
[Two of the locations destroyed in this attack were of family significance: Ronald's grandfather
Rev. John Barton of Cambridge (1836-1908)
had worked at Church Missionary House in Salisbury Square, and his grandfather
John Barton the Elder (1754-1789)
had lived at Cheapside when he first moved to London. Both premises were no more after the blitz.]
So it was all along Cheapside as far as the Bank. On either side of the street a quite solid-looking facade of "spacious business premises, every mod. conv." And behind this every-day familiar front, the abomination of desolation. To look down any side street was to see not the London of 1941 but Ypres, 1917. The Menin Road
[a poetic allusion to the trail of damage, referring to the
Menin Road in Ypres
ran parallel with Cheapside.
So we came to what used to be the Bank Station, but is now "the largest crater in London"
And there was the
, built in a week by the Royal Engineers, stretching across the ruin and rubbish down below like a yellow ribbon laid across a dustbin. The buses trundled Eastwards over it in single file, but pedestrians, and we with them, had to detour round by
St. Stephen's, Walbrook, and King William Street where The London Assurance appeared to be reassuringly solid and upstanding.
Museum of London
Beyond the Bank the damage seemed much less, and when we reached Aldgate we decided we had seen enough and took a bus back to Tottenham Court Road. Indeed we had seen more than enough. I had no idea, none at all, what it was like. No-one has unless they have seen it for themselves. In the bus I found myself repeating Horatio's words - he too had been seeing ghosts -
Before my God, I might not this believe
Without the sensible and true avouch
Of mine own eyes.
Hamlet, Act I, Scene I
It was like returning from the nether regions to get back to tea and toasted crumpets at the Corner House and then to the ordered comfort and peace of home, where Nick was duly returned about 6.0 by Marian. He was just in bed when the warning sounded again - it had gone off alarmingly close to our bus in Holborn and the All Clear had been announced by loud-speaker while we were at tea.
We imagined we should hear no more of our sailor friend, but at 7.45 there he was on the door-step, having charted an unerring course to the house in spite of the black-out. Bunny prepared a meal
which we finished just in time to listen to Churchill's broadcast. ( I was struck again with the tremendous
that the old boy displays on these occasions. How he smacks his lips over his defiant taunts to the enemy, and even over his warnings to us of grim things to come! How he revels in the drama of it, the big situation, the knowledge that he is not only reporting history but making it!)
In conversation our sailor proved himself quite charming. South African, RNVR, recommended for a commission, on six days leave before joining
HMS King Alfred
. Anything less like the traditional "Colonial" it would be hard to imagine. Quiet, soft-spoken, without a trace of any accent
- completely unassuming
. (It was his unwarlike, not to say meek and mild appearance, that first drew our attention to him.) Contrasting himself with older members of his family - "older in years, that is, I think I am older in my ideas" - who on a pre-war visit preferred the livelier USA to the old country, he described himself - it was hardly necessary, really - as "the studious type". His intelligence was obvious, and was reinforced by the most delightful manners. Most appreciative of our entertainment - we persuaded him to stay the night - there was nothing effusive or embarrassing about his gratitude, and he made himself at home with admirable poise.
Hawksworth AB and embryo Sub-Lieutenant, came down to his breakfast in his dressing-gown (mine, actually) having been called by a much thrilled Nick. He left about an hour after me, having a 10.30 date in town.
I left my bike in the depository we had discovered on Saturday at Golder's Green Station, thus stealing a march on the bus-route and saving a good 10 minutes.
Henridge had plenty of work for me but this time I succeeded in getting
[Molly replaced all this with '
away from the office in reasonable time and was home by 5.30.
Finding the family out, I made myself a cup of tea and lit the fire. They
[Molly replaced this with '
returned at 6.0 from an unexpected tea chez David
. There had been no evening warning but the wireless lost its voice which presumably indicated enemy activity somewhere.
Back on the Finchley Road route to Rickmansworth, with much satisfaction. Quite thick fog, but it softly and silently vanished away at lunch-time, revealing a really Spring-like afternoon. Spent the lunch-hour excavating in our left luggage in the Sunnyside Garage, for various oddments ranging from Eno's to "Reading Without Tears" Returning through the Stobo kitchen
[The Stobos had a flat in the otherwise office house; Philip by this time was away to the RNVR]
, I found Muriel poking disconsolately, and most incompetently,
at a stopped-up sink. Suction with the suction thing proving unavailing, I had to put in a further 10 minutes excavating in the drain pipe and eventually succeeded in unscrewing the "escape hatch" at the bottom of the trap and removing a quantity of extremely unpleasant foreign bodies.*
Bunny having been specially invited by Elizabeth to attend a "double feature" film programme, and not wishing to sever diplomatic relations, went round about 8.0 and I read very contently until her return at 11.15 or so. The double feature apparently achieved only a double dose of boredom, the films being antiquated and bad. It's a pity Geoffrey hasn't the sense to laugh at his own pictures when they're not good, but he will have it that any Lotery film is, ipso facto, the finest ever seen. If he "presented" a little less "proudly" his audience would be able to enjoy themselves more.
The air is full of invasion talk. The threat hangs over our heads like one of those fogs in the upper air over London under which life goes on more or less normally but in an all-pervading crepuscular gloom. The
Standard is running a series of articles by its experts in the various
branches of warfare, air, sea and land, which seem to me very soundly reasoned and convincing. The main fact - I suppose even this is only theory - that I have extracted from them is that there is bound to be
warning when the thing becomes really imminent, chiefly in the form of intensive air attack on our Fighter stations.
A Government statement in the House of Commons promises us that we shall be given, in time, detailed instructions of what is expected of us. This is something, but does not resolve our personal problem which is to decide between (a) sending Nick away, e.g. to Torquay, and staying at home ourselves, (b) all moving out to Rickmansworth again, and (c) all staying at home. Bunny and I have discussed it and definitely ruled out (a) since there is no certainty that Nick would be any safer at Torquay and whatever happens it seems to us better to be all together. On the whole we incline to (c) since to move anywhere may only be moving out of the frying-pan into the firing-line, and at home we shall have, at any rate, the re-assurance of our own shelter, our own supplies and only our own selves to consider. Hamlet, as usual, supplies the summing-up:
"If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all." [
Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2
We will concentrate on making ready.
February 13th (Thursday)
Returning home in the evening, feeling particularly good, I leapt nimbly from the train at Finchley Road while it was still moving. But not nimbly enough. The carriage door, swinging to, caught my left heel just above the shoe, and I sustained a nasty flesh-wound. When I got home I was about to attend to it when the girls arrived with a message for Bunny who was out
(after a dash to the pictures)
collecting Nick from tea with Paul and Clive. A period of some confusion then ensued, the return of the family, Nick's gas-mask forgotten (retrieved by the girls), my Achilles Heel, dinner to prepare, girls to listen to, all happening at the same moment. Nick was really splendid, and most helpfully popped straight into bed without a murmur.
Peace having been restored and dinner over, there were interruptions from another quarter. "Listen!" said Bunny. And above a distant wumping and crumping, the noise of a plane came nearer. Too near. We started for the shelter. Before we got there - I dallied foolishly - there was a hefty bang which we somehow knew was a bomb though the house shook not at all.
chose this, of all moments, to ring up with an invitation to tea, and some 10 minutes
later the sirens announced that a raid had really taken place. After a decent interval of absolute peace, they were good enough to admit that it was now over.
Pursuing our policy of readiness, Bunny and I decided to augment our stores of food and first aid, and made a list of the required items. Obviously, more perishable foods (e.g. potatoes) can be stored now, since anything that is likely to happen is likely to happen soon.
Reported by Taylor that last night's bomb fell in Hendon, near the Welsh Harp. He saw considerable damage from the bus, and there are stories of 80 killed, 250 injured and 400/500 houses damaged. Exaggerated, probably, but the absence of any warning would increase the casualties, people still being about in the streets.
My first fire-watch tonight. Arriving home, I called on the warden, Gee, to enquire about tin hats and whistles, but he wasn't home. Made what preparations I could, bringing the stirrup-pump down to the hall, and assembling dustbin lid and wood-chopper.
The evening warning went at supper-time. Shortly afterwards Gee arrived bringing his own tin-hat, whistle and business-like hatchet, on loan for the night. After a quiet period quite a
little blitz developed. Gunfire was considerable, and I began to think I had picked an unfortunate night for my debut.
At 9.45 my 2 fellow-watchers arrived from Drew's house across the road where they are caretaking. Doffing their rubber boots in the hall, and inspecting the stirrup-pump with mechanics' eyes, they came into the drawing-room in their socks. One of them, a chirpy black-haired fellow with a toothbrush moustache, chauffeur 'by profession' I believe, had to leave early the following morning, so he was allotted first watch. The other, lantern-jawed, lugubrious and laconic, offered to take the last watch, under the impression, I think, that I would prefer the middle one.
I felt a little like the visiting chaplain lunching on the trampsteamer who, when asked by the captain, serving the roly poly, if he liked the end, replied "No" and was told "Well, me and my Mate does!", captain & mate then taking half the roly poly each, leaving the chaplain the non-existent middle.
But as a matter of fact I didn't really care, and so it was arranged.
Bunny then produced tea. Our thoughtful visitors produced their own sugar from their coat-pockets. There was some discussion as to where and how the two not watching should take their rest. Mattresses in the hall were suggested, but
they seemed to prefer the idea of making do with chair and sofa. The matter was settled by the sounding of the All Clear just as we were getting down to business. So our visitors took themselves off, promising to return and ring the bell furiously if there was a later alarm which I might not hear. I saw them off the premises with the polite hope that I should not see them again. Nor did I.
A very nice morning, with intimations of Spring. The general plan was to do something about the garden, but there were various oddments to clear up first. Nick and I went down with Bunny to the shops, returning without her but loaded to the
- or wherever it is you load things to - with a cargo of stores and medical equipment. The convoy having reached port safely, I closeted myself in the shelter, emerging later to display with justifiable pride the light I had fitted to Bunny's bunk. Then out to the garage, Nick gambolling and skipping like a ram, to (a) wash, and (b) mend my rubber boots, completely sabotaged by splits in both toes. A puncture-repair outfit supplied the patches, and Nick the running commentary, and the result was decorative if not durable.
After the lunch interval I sallied forth in the now waterproof
Wellingtons to clear the allotment of decayed vegetable matter in preparation for the spring sowing. Having carried my mopping-up operations about 1/5th of the way down, being entertained during the later stages by Nick's extremely sentimental conversation with a worm whose earthy way he industriously made smooth, I returned to a bath and change of clothes. The family then set off together to tea with Aunt
The flat she is sharing in Lyttelton Court has a pleasant southward outlook over the Recreation Ground to the Spaniards Inn ridge, and a balcony to look out from which Nick found rather exciting.
Her co-tenant, Gwen Watts by name, is doubtless a most worthy woman but it is a pity she looks like the traditional caricature of her kind - the earnest, bespectacled churchworker with scraped back hair and projecting teeth. Still, the tea was satisfactory, and later she
[Molly changed this to "
After a satisfactory tea
's co-tenant, Gwen Watts by name,
kept Nicholas very happy with non-stop games of Snap, all of which he won, while we discussed family news.
We tore ourselves away from this giddy social whirl about 6.15, and succeeded in getting Nick to bed before the sirens sounded. The raid was about as usual, noisy but not otherwise alarming.
The postscript to the News deserves mention. It was a definite attack on
's postscripts, particularly his appeal for a statement of Peace Aims, with the usual platitudes about "one thing at a time" supported (?) by the usual phoney analogies about "not selecting the golf club until you see how the ball is lying", and a fortunately unusual sneer at Priestley personally. Let us have Open Forum by all means, but let it be openly conducted, preferably in personal debate, and certainly not by means of anonymous innuendo.
Fortunately we were up pretty early for the phone started ringing soon after breakfast, first with an invitation for Nick to spend the day with David [Castle], which most conveniently left us free to accept a long-distance invitation from
from Cambridge to lunch with him at the
. We again wangled a lift from the lunch-bound Castles as far as the Ritz. Filling in time, we strolled down Piccadilly where a warning overtook us.
(The things one sees. Approaching us as the sirens sounded was a middle-aged gentleman, pink and prosperous-looking, carrying a neatly rolled umbrella, gas mask and attaché case. Cocking an eye skywards, as who should look to see if a shower was going to be heavy, he stopped on the pavement, opened his case.
Extracted a tin hat. Took off his Anthony Eden. Put on the tin hat. Stowed the Anthony Eden neatly in the case. Closed it. Proceeded satisfied on his way, "same man, different hat".)
We took coffee in the Corner House, roamed through Regent Street and back by much bombed by-ways to Berkeley Square, where a taxi, drawing up beside us, decanted Arthur
and then bore
on to the Dorchester where she was lunching with brother
, briefly visiting this country in his capacity as Governor of Trinidad to discuss the leased-to-America naval bases.
was a relative by two different marriages: she was the daughter of Ronald's Great Aunt
Sir William Mackworth Young (b.1840)
by his second wife
Frances May Egerton
. Lucia married
. Meanwhile, Isabel's own granddaughter Katherine Munro married Arthur's brother George Beamish.]
as dignified and elegant as on our last visit (pre-war) and apparently undamaged. But almost deserted. Only half a dozen tables in the dining-room occupied, and a uniform at nearly each of them. The lunch was good, and so it was to talk to Arthur and hear news of Cambridge. Corpus, he reports, still largely occupied by civil servants, but University life much more normal than he remembers it in the last war. The CUMC
[Cambridge University Music Club]
, for example, crowded out every week, though the standard of playing has gone down. The continuity he attributes at least in part to the women, who have now established themselves as at any rate de facto members of the University and are "carrying on" in the best tradition.
himself conducts a sadly diminished business from a one-room office in Trumpington Street, and
is now winning at least the half loaf that is better than no bread by teaching at Byron House School. The slightly unnatural combination of mother and school-mistress in one person is resulting in some very natural psychological confusion in the children. Luke, meeting his mother in the corridor, addressed her thus: "Mrs. Beamish, you are my best friend in the school." Sylvia, on the other hand, seems to go out of her way to ask her mistress-mother questions that she cannot answer.
came round and joined us for half an hour
, Hubert very affable and making a very good impression on Bunny
. Leaving them to their own affairs, we said goodbye and walked rather vaguely down Piccadilly, then having decided to bus home, along Regent Street and Oxford Street.
The things one sees - No. 2. Just east of Selfridges there is a very deep excavation where a bomb must have damaged some mains or other below the bombed building. So deep have the repair parties had to go that they have sunk their shafts right
through the earth to the waters under the earth. Away down at the bottom of the chasm, as if it were a
Pennine pot-hole, one of London's underground rivers has unexpectedly appeared in public. I took it to be
(‘Nick’) would some 20 years later quite literally write the book on the
Lost Rivers of London
. Asked about this passage in 2011, he said he remembered it but was certain it was not a factor in his later interest.]
Oxford Street Lyons being already overflowing, we postponed our tea until we got to Golders Green where a new establishment discovered by Bunny produced a surprising richness of cakes. Leaving Bunny at home to prepare this and that, I cycled up to collect Nick, bringing him back on my carrier. He and David
had been having fun with a tin of red paint which, in the process of painting a sledge, had been liberally applied to Nick's best coat. However, turps. borrowed from Mrs. Levy removed the damned spots, though his shirt still looked rather like Exhibit A. in a murder trial.
Through the Dark Night
J. L. Hodson
. I found this War-Correspondence painstaking and conscientious rather than arresting. But then it's a dull war - all but a month of it, between the invasion of the Low Countries and the capitulation of France. This was much the best part of the book and did succeed in conveying - a fact that one is apt to forget - that for a brief period the Army was actually fighting, and fighting both hard and well.
Most luxurious this morning. Conveyed to Oxford Circus in Lisle's car
(which reminds me, I wonder what's happened to Lisle-Carr?
[does this half-joke refer to
along with a neighbour from Milton Close answering to the name of Charles. Came over all reckless at lunch-time, and not only bought a new over-coat off the peg, but got myself measured for a new suit. It was just as well that I couldn't decide on a material for the suit and only went as far as collecting some patterns, because I (a) don't really need another suit, having just invested in sports-coat and flannels, and (b) couldn't pay for it without overdrawing, having transferred rather more than our surplus bank balance to the Savings Account.
By the time I got home - nice and early, having accepted Lisle’s offer of a return journey - I had seen the error of my ways, and decided to postpone the suit at any rate until my neglected wife had had her turn. Anyway, I didn't like any of the patterns.
We don't bother with the wireless when there's a raid on, as there was tonight, and gun-fire doesn't disturb our reading, but there is one noise that cannot be disregarded and that is the
tearing-calico whistle of something coming down. We both heard it simultaneously and I just beat Bunny to the door, she being busy knitting and concerned, even at that moment, to avoid dropping stitches. The idea of opening the door for her was gallant enough, but the performance was definitely poor; I fumbled it so badly that by the time I had got the damned door open, the whistle had ended without an explosion - ergo, it was only shrapnel anyway.
The moral, which we shall not forget, seems to be that those who live in blitz houses should leave the door open.
With conscience-stricken promptness I carried out Bunny's commission to disinter her black coat-material from the trunk so that she could get it made up. While I was at it, collected my country shoes for my daily pilgrimage to Metro-land.
"You wouldn't think there was a war-time on" was Nick's appreciative comment on the birthday cake of which he had partaken at Susan Blatchley's party, at which he apparently acquitted himself well.
Bunny had also been out to tea with Elizabeth, who in surprising contrast to her recent peevishness "couldn't have been nicer".
Quiet night and early bed.
Unpleasant morning, with driving sleet which drove me to abandon my bike at Golders Green and bus on. A sharp tussle between the claims of Conscience and Comfort was settled by the arbitration of Fate. Approaching the Golders Green traffic lights, I said to myself "If it's green when I get there I'll go on. If it's red, the bike stops here." Red it was. Conscience feebly objected that I had deliberately delayed my approach to let the light go red. Objection over-ruled.
I had to wait for a bus, and arrived at the Station to see the train just starting. Neatly dodging the guard who would have had me stand back, I hurled myself at the last door and inelegantly scrambled aboard, panting but proud.
During the afternoon, Bunny took Nick up to the Health Centre to be inoculated gainst diphtheria. This operation turned out to be less alarming than anticipated, though Nick reported that his arm was a little sore at bed-time. He is to get another injection in a month's time. Thus unobtrusively we begin to enjoy the advantages of a State Medical Service.
The warning was late and the raid short and inconsiderable.
Not so inconsiderable, according to the morning news. The Express described the raid, rather enigmatically, as "not heavy, but fierce". A London hospital was badly damaged, but the main raid was on Swansea. Bunny having seen the damage of Thursday night's one-bomb raid on Hendon from the bus on her way to her Kingsbury tailor, described it as terrible, streets and streets of houses without a window to their name.
Bunny & Nick taken to tea at John Barnes by Elizabeth with Antoinette in tow, but Elizabeth in her most infuriatingly patronising and peevish mood, and had the effrontery to complain of Nick's hands being dirty. To which Bunny replied very properly that no self respecting small boy ever had completely clean hands.
Isidore Lewis, whom Bunny phoned during the day,
[Molly altered this to
friendly and lavish with invitations to visit them at Stamford Dingley where they have settled down - oddly enough in Jewell's House, which must be the grown-up brother of Jewell's Cottage which the Beami
had. Asked after his offspring, the business-like Isidore had all the data neatly tabulated - age to the nearest week, weight, height, childish ailments sustained, new accomplishments mastered, etc.
There was a short pre-bedtime warning, during which we did not hear a sound, but our sleep was disturbed by a variety of "confused noises without" - the sirens several times, and once our guns all loosing off together simultaneously with the warning.
* I hereby record the fact that this evening we began on the new lot of coke recently delivered. Knowing the quantity precisely (9 cwt.) it will be interesting to work out our exact consumption.
I have got into the bad habit of neglecting this diary over the weekend and attempting to write it up from memory when I get back to Rickmansworth on Tuesday. This I am doing now, but memory has let me down and I cannot for the life of me recall a single incident of Friday that is worth recording. Certainly nothing startling happened, but even if there did take place any of the trivia that have their funny, or their significant side, they are gone for ever, and Friday must be written off as a Dies Non. In future my motto must be "My tablets, my tablets! Meet it is I set it down."
[Another reference to
Hamlet, Act I Scene I
My tables, - meet it is I set it down,
Up in time to listen to the 8.0 a.m. News while we had our tea. Then, without much urging, returned to bed, and did not breakfast
until 9.30. As usual, there was an accumulation of odd jobs to be attended to which pleasantly occupied the morning. After lunch the mild sunshine obviously indicated the garden. So to the allotment I betook myself, where Nick joined me after his rest. Adamson, my brother digger, having already started to expand westwards, I regard the south as my sphere of influence, and accordingly began to dig over the unused strip between his plot and mine.
This appendix is about 12 feet wide, so my plot thickens by about 50%. "Thickens" is the word, for the new piece is almost all clay and as heavy as hell. However, continuing after a cup of tea, I got about 6 feet down from the top, which I thought was enough for the beginning of the season.
A phone call after supper from the wife of Peter Sinclair
[an actor-singer friend of Bunny/Molly's when she was on the stage]
, to whom Bunny recently wrote after hearing him on the wireless, offering him a bed for the night if he should find himself in town. This invitation Mrs. would like to accept for the two of them. Bunny somewhat taken aback, invented a mythical visit to Cambridge on Sunday, and was chagrined to find that the proposed visit was for Monday night. However, she was really quite pleased at the prospect of visitors - our first for many a night.
My night on fire-watch, but there had been no alarm by bed-time. To be ready for an emergency, and for the better hearing of any noises off, I slept in my clothes in the drawing-room, constructing a rather third-class sleeper out of the square pouffe sandwiched between two facing arm-chairs. I woke in the small hours imagining I heard someone ringing the bell, but both front and back doors opened only on the black and empty night. So I refilled the coal-box, made up the fire, and returned to my uneasy couch.
Didn't wake till about 9.0, but this mattered the less as I was already dressed and our fire was not quenched. The usual invitation came from David
for the pleasure of Nick's company, so Bunny took him up while I went back to the land. The day being positively balmy I found this highly agreeable, particularly when I abandoned breaking new ground for the less strenuous turning over and tidying up of last year's
. Packed up at lunch time with about 1/3rd of the old plot ready for re-sowing.
Pottered pleasantly while Bunny bathed, and then enjoyed a leisurely bath
myself, before walking up to tea at the
House of David. A preliminary phone-call had informed us that David's parents were not back, but that tea would be forthcoming nevertheless. In fact, we met on the door-step.
In that large, expensive and handsomely appointed modern residence with at least "3 Rec."
it seemed slightly absurd for us 4 adults and 2 boys to be all piled into the one small room designed, presumably, as no more than a study. But it is there, apparently, that they live and move and have their being. But the tea left nothing to be desired, and the party left practically nothing of the tea.
David is an unprepossessing youth, but his parents are pleasant enough. She is quiet, friendly and quite unassuming; he is friendly,too, but a little overpowering and immensely cock-sure, talking a great deal
- and a great deal of nonsense -
in a rather loud voice, with nervous jerky movements of his right hand, stabbing and jabbing the inoffensive air with a long amber cigarette-holder.
There was an evening raid more or less according to precedent, with a warning about 8.45 and an All Clear at bedtime, and nothing very much in between, except a muting of the wireless which we abandoned in favour of reading.
An uneventful day at Kingsway, transport to and fro supplied by Lisle. Miss Bolland duly delivered the 5 Savings Certificates which I seem to have been an unconscionable time a-buying with my weekly half-crowns. Having made the gesture, I think I have done enough in that direction, and don't propose to
sit through the second house as well
[Molly changed this to '
do it again
The Sinclairs were expected about 5.30 at which time I got back to find Bunny alone, Nick having gone walking out with two girl-friends from across the road. He returned anon and was rapidly bathed and set down to his supper in the drawing-room. At 6.30, when we had decided to wait no longer for the visitors, they arrived. Peter looked extremely braw in kilt and tam-o-shanter and I carefully parked his twisted Harry-Lauder stick. Sadie, on the other hand, whom Bunny had rather expected to be decked in mink, looked like a tramp in shapeless dun corduroys.
Bunny produced a magnificent tea, most of which I consumed myself, as the visitors had just had a meal. Nick insisted that they should say goodnight to him in the shelter
where they significantly revealed the difference in their natures
, Peter bending his large bulk to kiss him in the most friendly
and spontaneous way, while Sadie had to be recalled to perform this ritual which one would have expected to come more naturally from her.
, in fact,
a very good fellow, with a large Scotch generosity and simple, genuine humanity which burst into a flame of righteous indignation when he described how the townspeople of
, supported by their Provost, were agitating to have their evacuees evacuated to make room for paying summer visitors. She has drive and intelligence, but tries to "run" him all the time, as when she suggested that he should sponsor a series of Porridge advertisements, a suggestion that Peter, seeing that I took rather a poor view of it, disclaimed on the modest grounds that he wasn't
This was at supper which we sat down to at 9.15. Later, over coffee, Peter and Bunny got to reminiscing over their stage adventures and acquaintances, and Sadie rather surprised me with an unusual grasp of the essentials of advertising, suggesting several slogans, mostly for Gold Flake - so someone does actually smoke the things! - which, being simple every-day phrases instead of the amateur’s usual strained artificialities, had at any rate the makings of possible slogans in them.
We had thought to show them a thing or two about blitzes, but thought better of it when we discovered they had been in Sheffield the night it got plastered. They had to spend the whole night under the stage of the theatre, with about 200 others, in the centre of a ring of furious fires, and the front of the theatre itself a mass of flames.
We chatted pleasantly
of this and that
till 11.30, when we went our several ways to bed, we to the shelter, they to our beds, where they were fortunately able to sleep unalarmed.
Today was the publicised zero hour for Bulgaria, so I was waiting on the 8.0 am News but there was "nothing to report". This may however be a good moment to record the war situation as it now stands, in preparation for rather more regular day-to-day bulletins of world affairs than have hitherto found their way into this diary.
Since February 12th, when I recorded the general impression that invasion of this country was imminent, this particular bogey has somewhat subsided. The threat is still there in the background, of course, like a bad tooth which may start aching again at any
moment. Just now the trouble has shifted to a pain in the neck, the result of an anxious turning of the head in the direction of Bulgaria, where a deplorably feeble show of opposition has done nothing to stem the steady flow of German troops preparing to occupy the country. Curious form of warfare in which the General Staff, now reported to be firmly established in Sofia, goes on ahead of the advancing army, and billets are requisitioned in readiness for the invaders!
The Army of the Nile seems to be resting on its Libyan laurels, though our advances continue in Italian Somaliland, Eritrea and Abyssinia. It looks as if
was getting ready to deal with a really powerful German thrust in the Near East. This impression re-inforced by tonight's news that
[Chief of Imperial General Staff]
are in Turkey. The Greek advance in Albania has slowed down, too, so they are probably preparing for the tug-of-war that will come when Greek meets German.
As Frank Owen in the Evening Standard points out, there seems to have been a curious disregard in this country of the one real threat contained in Hitler's recent speech - "undreamed of U-boat attacks" within the next few weeks. Whatever else may or may
not happen, I think enormously intensified attacks on our shipping are certain, together - probably - with concentrated air attacks on our ports, of which the recent 3-night blitz on Swansea may be the beginning. Perhaps this, and not invasion, may be Hitler's way of dealing with our hope of re-inforcements under the USA Lease-and-Lend Bill, now almost hatched after its interminable incubation in Congress and Senate.
Goings-on in the Far East all very obscure, but Japan very busy protesting that there is offence taken where none intended. Their attitude is rather "I do not bite my thumb at you, sir. But I do bite my thumb."
Romeo & Juliet, Act I Scene I
After this fashion, more or less, the stage is set. The overture is working up to its climax. Any moment now the curtain may go up.
Bunny slept in her own bed last night for the first time since September. She was prepared to descend to the shelter if there were any disturbances, but she was permitted to sleep in peace. I slept as usual in the shelter, as Nick was already asleep there. I sleep very adequately in my bunk, but it was
interesting to hear from Bunny that she found sleeping in her bed an altogether more satisfactory affair than sleeping in the bunk - what Horlicks doubtless would call "First group sleep"
. The trouble about the bunks is that, being built in pairs, any movement of one sleeper is communicated to, and disturbs, the other.
Note on the food situation. Biscuits being scarce, and apples a forgotten fruit, a problem arose over the "lunch" that Nick takes to school for 11.0 am. Bunny's solution would earn her a medal from the Ministry of Food. For Nick goes off very happily every morning with a pocketful of - raw carrots! I think this qualifies for the Express's "Odd Spot", almost the oddest feature of it being that Nick now prefers this peculiar pabulum to cake. Unlike Nebuchadnezzar,
"He murmurs as he champs the unwonted food
'I'm told it's wholesome, and I think it's good!'"
The raid this evening rather more businesslike, though all at a respectful distance. Looking out once I saw to the East a curious cluster of orange stars hanging in the distant sky. These must be the new flares that the Express describes as "chandeliers". Bunny reluctantly abandoned bed for bunk as the raid was still in progress.
Having finally abandoned the idea of returning to Rickmansworth, we may as well have our belongings at home instead of 20 miles away. So this morning I took an empty suit-case with me for the smaller impedimenta and finding it difficult to control on the bike, I left the bike at Golders Green and proceeded by bus.
It took me over an hour at lunch-time to pack everything ready for Carter Paterson
[a road haulage firm]
, the toughest job being to parcel up Nick's cot - with which was associated my trouser-press - in acres of paper and furlongs of string. The trunk, too, took a deal of roping - chiefly because I had a deal of rope, which, being Bunny's clothes-line, I did not dare to cut. Four assorted packages went off in Carter Paterson's van, and there wasn't much over for the suit-case which, on arrival at Golders Green, I managed to attach precariously to the carrier of my bike, and pedalled home carefully maintaining my perpendicularity.
Bunny and Nick had managed to get to the pictures, Nick showing good taste in preferring
[implying that the film was probably
Tin Pan Alley
, which starred both]
though Bunny reports the latter much improved.
The day had been violently windy and wet, so I was not surprised to have a raid-free
night, which enabled Bunny to sleep in her bed again.
Being already delayed by having to relight the boiler which the gale had caused to burn out in the night, I decided to make a real job of being late and take the bus instead of battling with the wind on my bike. Met
and the other two Weird Sisters
at the bus-stop and learnt
has had some distant bombs at Cambridge.
Brazenly arrived at the office at 10.15 or so, but without comment.
The Integration of the Personality
) which had defeated me, to the library via Hunter, but as they had none of the books on my list, he brought back - on the girls' selection - some tripe by
. So as the boy was making a later trip to the village, I got him to retrieve Jung whom I will attack again.
Negligible raid during the evening, and All Clear in time for me, in turn, to sample the comfort of a real bed again.
It's funny, I used to be ridiculously fussy about my bed, insisting on an absolute absence of irregularities in the surface of sheets and blankets. Now I have got so used to the comparative
imperfections of a bunk and what
rather disgustingly described as "the rough male kiss of blankets" that I could sleep in a boarding-house bed without complaint, and the comfort of my own bed is something passing all belief.
Waking at 7.45 and dozing luxuriously until 8.0 when I intended to get up and make the tea to the accompaniment of the news, I was joined first by Nick and then by Bunny who most nobly descended again to make the tea in my stead. Spoiling me still further, she left me to doze again while she made the breakfast. So I continued wallowing in bed till 8.30. After breakfasting, making the shelter beds, shaving while Bunny shopped and dressing, I filled in time by chopping another week's supply of firewood. Then we packed a picnic lunch into my haversack on top of the gasmasks, and fortified by cups of
, set off on our bikes, tacking against the wind, to the Regal to see
The Great Dictator
". A film I wouldn't have missed, with some brilliant moments, but curiously antiquated in execution. There is something oddly "stagey" about it too, the effect of some highly unconvincing settings and a Keystone exaggeration
of make-up. Going early, we had our own pick of the 9d's. Considerably amused to find Miss Levy also enjoying a solitary proletarian ninepenneth a few seats along, obviously much put out at having been detected in such unrefined surroundings. Home at 3.0, had an interim cup of tea, then out with Nick to the allotment, leaving Bunny who had somehow acquired one of her stiff necks, by the fire. Continued work on my newly occupied territory where I discovered that the clay is only a layer, one spade deep, superimposed - by the builders presumably - upon the good earth below. So I abandoned mock trenching in favour of the genuine article, reversing the position of top and bottom layers. Somewhat more laborious, but worth it.
Back to a most satisfying dinner at 7.0 to which Nick was allowed to stay up. So satisfying that later by the fire I had a great exposition of sleep come upon me, and when a warning doused the wireless, took a nap before the news.
German troops now admitted in Sofia and Vanna, Bulgaria having today signed the pact and joined the Axis.
All Clear before 9.0, and at 9.30 I was preparing for another night in bed when a second warning sounded. And this was my
night on fire-watch. Sent Bunny to bed and prepared to watch. Joined about 10.15 by my mates, one of whom brought a tin hat to add to the two supplied by the road's subscriptions. The lugubrious "Charlie" also produced with pride his own whistle. When his buddy wanted to know what on earth he wanted his own whistle for, he replied with superb solemnity "In case I'm molested".
We were discussing the perennial problem as to whether you do or you don't hear the bomb that hits you, when the second All Clear went. So the problem is still undecided, my mates took themselves off, and in pursuance of my recently recorded good resolution, I brought this diary up to date and went, after all, to bed.
To bed - but not, as I had too sanguinely expected, to sleep. I was in the very act of pulling the bedclothes up to my ears, when, with an unmistakable note of derision, the damned sirens sounded again. Up I got and dressed, and down I went to await the arrival of my mates. In five minutes there was a ring. As I opened the door I heard
the All Clear.
We were not amused. The mate - I don't even know which it was for he never emerged into the light - went back to his bed and I, via the kitchen where I solaced my ruffled feelings with a curious meal of biscuits and peaches, to mine.
It was 8.15 when I became aware of Nick standing beside my bed, into which I admitted him on condition that he made no sound, and 8.50 when I at last got up & made the tea. Drinking it while we listened to the News I learnt from Bunny that her neck was worse, so I decided to keep her in bed for the day. She breakfasted with us in the kitchen, and then retired upstairs.
The gale that had been bellowing all night was still throwing handfuls of rain against the window,
so it didn't look as if Bunny would miss much.
But by the time I was up and dressed
and ready to take Nick up to David, from whom he had received his regular invitation,
it was much improved and pretty soon the sky was blown clean of clouds and the soft spring sun was shining,
I went round by
's flat and finding her out - at Church I suppose - left a not asking her to tea.
Then back to bunny with the papers. By this time it was really lovely out,
so I put in an hour's digging in the allotment.
During an "Easy all", had words with my co-worker Adamson, who turns out to be an official of the National Portrait Gallery. He used to know "Steegy"
[John Steegeman, Director of the National Portrait Gallery, was a Cambridge contemporary]
well, but the latter has now gotten himself a job at the Ministry of Home Security. I think he must be writing the Air Raid Communiques, for at Cambridge it was proverbial that in Marlowe Society productions of Elizabethan tragedies, Steegy was always cast as the character who arrives at the end of the play, and sums up a stage littered with corpses with the words "This was a fatal night" or "Remove the bodies".
Bunny's day in bed might have been - though it wasn't - carefully planned for the larder was full of remnants from which in ten minutes I constructed a highly satisfactory lunch, which I ate upstairs with Bunny. By the time I had washed and dried the dishes and washed and clothed my person it was 4.15 and
was on the doorstep.
We had tea upstairs with Bunny, and then talked of this and that - literally this and that for Dora only seems
to have two topics on conversation nowadays, "this" being the affairs of the family, and "that" the even less important affairs of the CMS
[Church Missionary Society]
. At Bunny's suggestion, Dora and I walked together up to David's house to collect Nick again - as last week - impinging upon Barry Castle's after-tea snooze.
[Molly replaced all this with "
Dora came to tea and afterwards walked with me up to David's house to collect Nick. Barry Castle...
joins the RAF on Friday, having firmly asked for and obtained the maximum period of leave (8 days) before reporting at Torquay.
Dora departed and I bathed Nick and put him to bed, then joined Bunny upstairs and read the papers in peace. Interlude for supper - sausage-rolls & coffee also, by a lucky chance, ready-made - a brief and uneventful warning - News and Priestley - tucked Bunny up for the night - and so to bed.
Good staff work enabled the entire family to be out of the house, leaving it swept and garnished, by 8.50 am. Leaving Nick with Mrs. Lisle for the odd 1/2 hour before school, Bunny and I were taken as far as Oxford Circus in Lisle's car, thence getting a bus to Ludgate Hill to change my new overcoat,
of which Bunny - with my second-thoughts agreement - heartily disapproved. Our joint choice was narrowed down to two, both of which were possible, and honour was satisfied by my giving a casting vote in favour of the fawn which I preferred and against the blue-grey which she slightly favoured. We bussed back to Kingsway where Bunny proceeded on her way to shop, and I to the office.
During the morning, James deposited at Bensons two parcels of food for the store-cupboard,
and the three of us forgathered at Lyons Brasserie for lunch
[altered to "
he and I joined Bunny, who was in town doing some shopping, for lunch at Lyons Brasserie
. The good James was not, properly speaking, on leave, but had forgone his allotted sleeping period to bring us the supplies we were purchasing from him. In consequence, he looked a bit tired and drawn, but seemed well satisfied with life now that he has his family established within reach at Watford. The journey is, of course, rather an expense when he wants to visit them on his days off, so the thoughtful authorities have provided him with a voucher entitling him to cheap fares - but not on any of the services that might convey him to Watford.
I had to gobble my lunch and go, as I had to be back
for a Bemax meeting, but Bunny was able to take her time, thanks to Betty Castle who hospitably had Nick to lunch again - and insisted on giving Bunny tea when she returned in the afternoon to collect him.
A psychological oddity worth recording. Nick has apparently quite upset the kindly Castle Household by complaining at lunch that he doesn't like this and can't bear that - this and that including such things as chicken and cauliflower which he dotes on at home. It occurred to both Bunny and me independently that this quite ridiculous behaviour may be explained as a sort of unconscious reprisal for David's objections to the food he is given when he comes to lunch with us.
Startling news from Penn at the office. On Friday next he becomes Pilot-Officer Penn, having wangled himself a Job in the Air Ministry at Whitehall. Apparently a friend of his who has been living with him is a Squadron Leader there and needed an assistant. The job is nominally Intelligence, and has some connection with Radio, for which Penn was able to qualify by some long-past association with cables, though he confesses that now he couldn't tell a dot from a dash.
Lisle having a date in town, I had to return by tube, heavily laden with my coat and one of Jame's food parcels.
I had designs on my bed,
but was frustrated by a warning which though later than usual was followed by more and nearer gun-fire than usual and continued until after we were asleep.
It was Cardiff last night - one of the biggest fire-raids of the war. I wonder how many evacuees from London are now being bombed in South Wales.
A bit frosty this morning, and turning into Finchley Road on my bike I came what is technically known as a purter. But as I somehow succeeded in sitting down upon my sit-upon I merely sustained contusions and complained of shock.
Before proceeding to the office called at Boots to return "
The Integration of the Personality
) which again defeated me. If only psychologists would confine themselves scientifically to the subject they are expounding. But just as I am beginning to get their drift and assimilate it, they produce a violent mental vomiting - in which everything I have swallowed gets rejected - by suddenly including something totally alien to the subject.
It is as if a popular explanation of Electricity and Magnetism were to remark, quite casually and without any attempt at justification, just as the reader was beginning to feel that he was understanding what Electricity was and how it worked "It is, of course, Electricity and Magnetism that provides the explanation for the Spanish Inquisition and Captain Cook's discovery of Australia." I boggle, and am baffled.
Carter Paterson had duly delivered during the day, and when I got home Nick was dashing in every direction upon his regained tricycle. The warning was earlier than usual, but even the BBC treated it with contempt, continuing at full strength for most of the evening. As nothing more alarming had followed the alarm, I went firmly upstairs to bed. And the All Clear went just as I got into it.
Burrett's Polish artist friends, Lewett and Him, who designed the quite charming "Locomotive" book that Burrett gave to Nick, are to be asked to do my Guinness colour page of mixed metaphors, heading "WHAT THE SITUATION DEMANDS..." above a slightly Surr
aliste picture of a congregation of heterogeneous objects, labelled below -
"WHEEL, for putting shoulder to - BRASS TACKS, for getting down to - BOLD FACE, for putting on it - SOCKS, for pulling up - BELT for tightening - TRUMP CARD, for playing - STONE, for not leaving unturned - GUINNESS for strength".
It will be interesting to see what they make of it.
[The ad was, in the end, completed by a different artist -see
Bunny and Nick had an afternoon outing with Elizabeth
, who took them with her to Bond Street (shouldn't it be Bombed Street?) where she was taking her young James to be photographed by Dorothy Wilding (£5.5.0. for sitting alone, photographs extra.)
Quite a well meant gesture, but owing to Jame's obstinate refusal to look pleasant, Elizabeth became increasingly peevish and disagreeable, and resumed her offensive habits of patronising Bunny and nagging Nick. Pity. She usen't to be that way.
Off-blitz night, so Bunny went to bed.
To Kingsway, by special request of Goodyear. Lisle, having been fire-watching in town the night before, was not available for transport, and it was too wet to bike to Golders Green in my Sunday-go-to-meetings, so I went round by bus.
Busy all day translating Luke-ubrations into English for
his Lordship's Company Meeting speech next week.
Most unpleasant day, dark with overhanging fog and dismal with rain
, so I was glad to snatch a moment and look in on Herridge whose efficient typist immediately produced a cup of tea for me. Otherwise at it all day
[Molly replaced all this with "
At Kingsway all day
until 6.15 and home about 7.0 with a headache.
Bunny also a little worn after a harassing day with David
and Nick in and out of the house - they appeared together at the back door on one occasion, announcing "We've both come to be excused" - but dinner and the fire soon restored us.
I am really quite happy in my bunk, so I sent Bunny upstairs to bed again, the only warning having been a few-minutes affair about dusk.
Another pig of a day, cold with a thin mean sleet. I debated with myself leaving the bike at Golders Green, but having got so far it seems silly to pay 8d. for the privilege of riding the other half of the way, so I continued to pedal.
"My name is Million" (An Englishwoman in Poland)
. In spite of its very competent writing I disliked it and cannot conceive what the reviewers were talking about
when they said that the terrible story (of the brief war in Poland) was all the more dreadful because of its calm, objective, unimpassioned telling. I found it grossly over-dramatized so far as the authoress herself was concerned, and slimy and dripping with self-pity. It was all so much worse for her, she implied, because she was so sensitive, such a rare and exquisite spirit to be so hurt and bruised.
In fact, she was so blind and stupid that she really thought that she and her silly, selfish, sentimental, sham-romantic set represented the real Poland and couldn't understand why at the end, the peasants should hate them so. I hated her too by that time. Still, to do her justice, I finished the book.
Still raining on the homeward journey.
Bunny warmed and cheered by a visit from Clare Van der Werff, the only nice hearty woman I know.
After dinner a brief and unexpected visit from Elizabeth
on her way to join Betty Castle, dine with her in town and solace her for Barry's departure. She was got up regardless, wearing everything but the kitchen-stove, and looked terrible.
Not a sign of a raid.
Up at 8.0 to hear the insignificant news while I made the tea. Bunny enjoying her bed so much that it would have been a shame to get her out of it, so left her there till breakfast was ready. Having got Nick's cot back, we decided to put it up in our bedroom so that on quiet nights we can all three sleep in our beds. This agreeable job I undertook after breakfast and then made the beds, our own upstairs and the reserve accommodation in the shelter. When I was shaved, I took the opportunity of clearing up the outside maids' lavatory so that David & Nick, playing in the garden, can "excuse" themselves. This involved stacking our accumulation of wood for firing, and other impediments. I finished just in time for
early lunch at 12.30. This enabled us to get up to the
Golders Green Hippodrome
by 1.30 where we were surprised to find only the beginnings of a queue for "New Faces". Having established our positions, Bunny went off to look at the shops, and Nick was considerably worried when the queue started to move in her absence. But we halted again half way up the stairs where Bunny rejoined us, and we succeeded in getting very good seats in the front row of the gallery. Nick had thoughtfully provided himself with a book which I read to him
while we waited for the curtain to go up. I have no
particular regard for
whom I remember at Cambridge as a foolish, feckless, fish-like youth
remembering what he was like at Cambridge. But I must say he has turned out a good show
, bright, witty, tuneful, gay and without a single really poor item
. The performers, too, were consistently competent, particularly the comic, one
, a young man with
's face and
's manner, and a bright young thing called
, full of zip and zingo.
Whom should we encounter in the Car Park but Clare and James Van der Werff, whose
luxurious looking car was parked close to our plebeian bikes. As we are seeing them tomorrow, we contented ourselves with a big Hullo, and passed on homewards to a cup of tea.
Having lowered this into the interior I went out to dig till sundown.
Walbrook passed by with a greeting, but whether he's home for good or just for a weekend I didn't find out.
The girls also passed in the direction of the house at 6.30 and at 7.30 when I returned, there they were. But they were about to go, and went almost at once. I went up to
say Goodnight to Nick, was in raptures over the comfort of his cot. But alas, at 8.15 the sirens sounded and the guns came almost immediately after, so Nick had to be yanked out and carried down to the shelter, where I put him in Bunny's bed until such time as an All Clear might let us all go up to our beds. But it wasn't long before we joined him in the shelter.
It was, in fact, a return to Ye Olde Blitz. The gunfire was a continuous roll, sometimes receding to a remote mutter, sometimes working itself up to a furious fortissimo. And even in September I don't remember hearing the planes so menacingly near and noisy. After several hasty retreats to the shelter and cautious emergings, we decided we might as well settle down there, and did so with cushions and books.
But I was unable to settle down for long and kept popping out to look and listen. There was certainly plenty to see. The familiar flashes on the horizon, of course, and the golden twinkle of bursting shells. And once as I stood and watched the moonlit sky, four bright new stars appeared and hung over the city, a sinister constellation of novae. A long way off I heard an irregular rattle that sounded like rifle fire, and orange sparks detached themselves from the
four unnatural stars, which now began to pale their ineffectual fires, and, drifting earth-wards, dwindled and went out.
Another time it was a long, vapour trail laid across the sky, a cotton-wool rope blowing across the moon. Once - but only once - I heard the whistle and thud of a bomb, but at a respectful distance. As usual, towards midnight the uproar abated. But it was obviously no night for sleeping upstairs, and we stayed in our bunks even though the All Clear went about 12.30. Just as well, as there were apparently more alarms later that we did not hear.
"Sharp" was the BBC's morning-after word for it and "casualties heavier than of late, most of them resulting from two incidents". One of these, we gathered from Elizabeth
, who had danced right through the raid at the Debs' Ball at
- was a bomb which landed smack in the middle of the dance-floor at the
Cafe de Paris
, killing, amongst others, Poulsen the manager and
Ken "Snake-hips" Johnson
the dance-band leader.
Hearing that we proposed to bike to Stanmore, Elizabeth offered us and our bikes a lift as far as Hendon, so having deposited Nick
with the Castles for his usual day with David, Bunny and I called at Kingsley Lodge, and I investigated the possibility of attaching the bikes to the car. But as it was going to be an obviously difficult and probably deleterious performance, we decided not to bother, and taking a grateful leave of Elizabeth, we pedalled forth.
It was a pleasant morning, and we found the journey surprisingly effortless and most enjoyable, not hurrying unduly and stopping for a coffee at Mill Hill. Even with this, it took us less than an hour, and our actual running time was just 45 minutes, quicker probably than the vastly tedious journey by bus-train-bus.
[Arriving at the Van der Werffs:]
James, in the throes of a cold, was recumbent on the sofa with a neat pile of handkerchiefs beside him, and drinks were dispensed on his behalf by a breezy, battle-dressed man who turned out to be a brother-in-law.
(James himself, incidentally, has been in and out of the Army. Is still officially in, indeed, but on indefinite leave. There was some muddle about his calling up which had proceeded to an irrevocable stage before his business could penetrate the thickets of red tape and rescue him. So he solemnly presented
himself, was issued with a number and full equipment, and departed, after a stay of three hours, to resume his job.)
The brother-in-law left before lunch, which we had in the drawing-room, Clare pointing out that if we had used the dining-room she would have had to sweep it. Half-way through lunch, the phone rang. It was Nadine Moeran, phoning from her mother's at Cookham, to say that Edward had been out on a binge with a blonde in town the previous night - very possibly at the Cafe de Paris - and could not be traced either at the cottage or at
[Stanmore Headquarters for Fighter Command]
where apparently they refused to say whether or not he had presented himself for duty, but did say definitely that he had neither breakfasted nor lunched in the mess. Not unnaturally Nadine was considerably worried, and could Clare please make enquiries about the killed and injured in the raid and let her know.
This information, and its bad-looking implications, cast a gloom over our party. Clare got on to a friend of theirs who is an authority of the Rescue Parties at Hendon and has access to official information. He promised to investigate and phone back, and we were left to speculate
endlessly and uneasily on possible but less and less likely alternatives to the more and more obvious conclusion.
Later Clare, hopefully exploring every avenue, phoned some woman who might be able to find out definitely whether Edward had or had not been on duty. Another period of waiting and then the phone rang. In a chilly silence Clare answered it. It was the Hendon man with what information he had been able to acquire. "St. George's Hospital" we heard Clare say. "Either there or the Charing Cross... Yes... Failing them, the Morgue... I see..."
But I saw too. Through the window I saw a figure in Air Force blue passing the house - no - not passing, coming in. And I went to the door and admitted Edward.
Explanations. All quite simple really. He'd never been to London at all, had left the cottage just before Nadine phoned and had phoned her just after she had phoned us. So that was that, and abandoning our "
De mortuis nil nisi bonum
" conversation, we fell to roundly abusing Edward for having given us all such a scare. I took the opportunity of getting some information from Edward about RAF Administrative Commissions, which he seemed to think I should have no difficulty in obtaining.
Edward had to return to duty before tea, and we left almost immediately after it, speeded on our way with a hunk of cheese and two onions from Clare. We tried the Edgware Road route, but it took precisely the same time and is a much less pleasant than the by-pass.
We parted at the foot of Holne Chase. Bunny, bound for David's house to collect Nick, having decided that Ingram Avenue would be a short cut and she would take it. What she actually did was to take a turning a few hundred yards along which much to her surprise brought her out not, as she had expected, by David's house but a few hundred yards up Holne Chase.
Meanwhile I was putting my bike away in the garage. Then walking round to the front door I felt for my keys - and they weren't there. I tried all my pockets - definitely no keys. We were locked out.
[altered by Molly to '
, we weren't! Just as we had been leaving the house, Bunny had spotted the downstairs cloak-room window open, and I had closed it from outside but couldn't, of course, fasten it. So by a most unusual fluke it was possible to burgle the house.
Back to the garage for the steps. Remove superfluous clothing, for the aperture is not so wide as a church door,
but 'tis enough, 'twill serve
[a line from
Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1
. Head first is obviously impossible, but somehow I manage to insert a leg and to persuade the rest of my person to follow it, and narrowly escaping an untimely end in a watery grave, I find myself inside and phoning Clare to see if my keys have fallen out of my pocket on to her sofa. She goes to look. I hold the line.
As I hold it, a monstrous question-mark shapes itself in my mind... How - HOW - if I had left my keys at Stanmore, did I open the garage to put my bike away and then to extract the steps? Clare comes back - she can't find them anywhere. No wonder. I dash outside - and there they are, hanging in the garage door.
When Bunny had returned with Nick and we had exchanged accounts of our idiocies, we settled down to wait for the second instalment of our raid. For it has become a sort of ritual now to devote two nights to raiding the same objective - Swansea had three - and sure enough, the raid followed according to precedent. Not so heavy this time, but heavy enough to make us retire fairly early to the shelter and go to bed there.
Lisle having gone to Taunton for the weekend to see
his daughter, his car was not available for transport, so I biked to Golders Green and tubed to town. Busy all day with his Luke-ship's Speech, and didn't even have time to think about Bemax, but as Herridge was away, indisposed, this did not arise anyway.
Penn still amongst those present at the office, his translation to the Air Ministry held up, as these matters generally are. Rapid action seems to be reserved for those cases in which no action at all is required - e.g. the Van der Werff affair.
Lloyd Jones has received information from a generally reliable source in Wales that after the 3 night raid in Swansea it was not merely difficult to identify the remains of buildings in the main streets - the trouble was to find where the streets had once been.
I got home about 6.15 and after supper I had a brief pre-news nap in preparation for my night on fire-watch. The warning went just as I fell asleep, but Bunny woke me at 9.0 with the welcome news that the All-Clear was sounding. This seemed too good to be true, but by 11.0 pm we were still
at peace, so we decided that the raid had gone elsewhere and that we would risk sleeping upstairs. Nick had been earlier put to bed in the shelter but it was quite a simple matter for me to carry his bedding to his cot in our room and for Bunny to carry him up and re-imbed him upstairs. Then, as if at the pre-arranged signal of my getting into bed, the sirens sounded again.
Dressed and downstairs again, I waited for my mates to join me, and as they seemed to be Tarrying, I went over to them to investigate. T
hey were just "having a bit of supper", which, in the best Drake manner, they proposed to finish first. When they did come over, we arranged that I should take the first watch until 1.0 am, and that they should stay at home, rousing me later if required during their watch. The night was serenely peaceful in the moonlight, and not a sound disturbed my solitary reading until the All Clear went at 12.30.
Up to bed again, and this time to sleep. But not for long. Swooping and snatching at the heavy veils of my sleep, the sirens had me out of bed again at 2.45 am. I felt awful,
clumsily dressing myself, but a cup of tea and a biscuit in the bright warm kitchen pilled me together. I was quite enjoying my after-tea cigarette when the All Clear went after 25 minutes of absolute peace.
For the third time in one night I went to bed. But I had woken myself up pretty successfully and I was wide awake when, about 20 minutes later, the fourth alarm sounded. Finding that Bunny was also awake, I explained to her that this time I didn't propose to get up as the All Clear was pretty certain to go soon. Nicholas from his cot suddenly joined in our sotto voce conversation. "Am I in the shelter?" he enquired. We explained that he was in bed upstairs because although there were a lot of alarms, there didn't seem to be any planes coming over. He considered this, and delivered his verdict. "The Germans are dopes" he said, and went to sleep again.
My dereliction of duty came off successfully and the expected All Clear came within about ten minutes and this time it stayed put.
I had been bothered the previous evening with a
threatened stye on my other eye. During the night it was purging thick amber and plum-tree gum to such an extent that I could hardly see out of it, and I decided to take the day off, and spend it in bed. Bunny and Nick willingly aided and abetted me, and I moved from my bed to Bunny's to be nearer the fire. There I most luxuriously consumed my breakfast, and thither I returned when I had bathed and shaved.
Most of the morning I was alone in the house, Nick having trotted off to school - he always runs the whole way, apparently - and Bunny having an appointment with her tailor at Kingsbury from which she returned very pleased with herself for having cycled the whole way and very pleased with her coat which is shaping just as she visualised it. In the meanwhile I had made a start - but no more than a start - on the work that I happened to have brought back from Kingsway
, chiefly the Ashanti & Biviani Company Meeting Reports
. Nick returned from school, the proud bearer of homework - "Real Homework!" - which he regarded - how long, oh Lord, how long? - as some sort of award for services rendered.
In spite of the fact that I was supposed to be an invalid, I ate so much of the excellent lunch that was brought
up to me that I thought while Nick was resting I would do likewise and close my eyes for ten minutes. Two hours later I woke to the agreeable rattle of tea-cups. Nick was out at his weekly "gym" class across the road, so Bunny and I had a peaceful tea together. Dripping toast - when did I last eat that, I wonder? When Nick came back he brought his table and chair in beside me and settled down to his homework. Much frowning and self-colloquy resulted in three addition sums brought to me to be audited and found correct and then - great moment - triumphantly ticked with a "special" red chalk.
Bunny came and sat with me after supper, and so quiet was it for a while after the warning that it looked as if we might be able to spend the night upstairs. But a steady crescendo of noises off gave us our cue for exit, and once again we joined Nick in the shelter. I suppose it's too much to hope for quiet nights during the full moon period.
Not having done the work I meant to do yesterday gave me a good excuse for not going to the office again today. For I should only be doing the same work at Rickmansworth,
so why trail all that way out to do what I could perfectly well do at home? Good or not, it was the only excuse I had, for my eye was considerably better though still unbeautifully puffed and pouched.
I let Bunny make the breakfast, but after that I attempted to compromise with my conscience by getting shaved and dressed. Then I seriously set to work by the fire, while Bunny busied herself round the house and shops. It was extremely pleasant to have a fine family lunch, and I suggested that Bunny should take advantage of my presence at home to nip into town and do some shopping. So Nick and I saw her off, and then Nick retired to his rest and I returned to my labours. When it was time for Nick to get up, I explained to him, man to man, that I had work to do and that he was going to be trusted to play in the nursery by himself and not to interrupt me. He took it all in very seriously and took himself off. And for two hours he really did amuse himself. I heard him talking to his toy animals and replying in their voices, but that was all I heard, and I really was able to get some work done. At 4.30 I summoned him to help me make the toast and we
had our own tea together in the kitchen where Bunny had left it all ready for us. Then, although he obviously thought it was high time I played with him, he went back dutifully to the Nursery and I managed to get my work done by about 6.0. By the time Bunny got back at 6.45, Nick was bathed and ready for bed, he was allowed a game with us before he finally retired. Bunny very pleased with her afternoon's purchase of a coat-length of camel-hair material - at pre-purchase tax price.
The evening's raid was an affair of long silences, punctuated by violent but mostly distant bursts of gunfire. The effect was almost exactly that of a thunderstorm circling round the horizon, the salvos of gun-fire merging into long-drawn-out rumbles reverberating in the empty sky.
The heaviest raid of this year, it was, mostly on Merseyside, so presumably we were only getting birds of passage. Nine of the birds were brought down, the highest bag of any night in the war.
By appointment to Kingsway
, but not by car, Lisle being in bed with a cold. The usual eve-of-the-
-meeting frenzy and I spent most of the day in Barter's room, ankle-deep in snippets of paper, cutting, pasting, editing, re-arranging, checking and getting in one another's way. Sandwiches and half a dozen Guinness were provided by Goodyear, himself snipping and snooping as busily as any of us
During a brief lull,
learnt from Penn that Barnes was injured in a recent raid - ? the Cafe de Paris - and has lost a leg, so he will not play football for England again. Filthy luck.
The frenzy abated about 6.0 and nothing more could be done before the next day. But as there would then be plenty of oddments to be tidied up, I arranged to come in again,
thus escaping Rickmansworth for a whole week.
The family very proud of itself when I returned. Bunny had somehow found time amongst other things to make a complete pair of trousers in green corduroy (for herself), and Nick had come back from school almost speechless with excitement, bearing his first prize – five red stars = 1 gold
star, 5 gold stars = one prize – a box of Plasticine which had already distributed itself lavishly all over the house.
The warning was later and the raid didn't amount to much, proceeding on the same lines - and presumably in the same direction - as the night before. We have regretfully abandoned the idea of sleeping upstairs, at any rate during these moonlit nights. "But oh, methinks, how slow this old moon wanes!"
A Midsummer Nights Dream, Act I, Scene 1
Since the beginning of the war there have been stern warnings at regular intervals that unless newspapers were ordered from an agent they would not be obtainable - and still the bookstalls seem to dispense them freely to the casual purchaser. However this week's warning may mean business since it accompanies the announcement that papers are again to be reduced in size - only 2 pages twice a week. So before biking to Golders Green I went round to the paper shop and gave the prescribed order on condition that they could deliver before 8.0 am which they seemed to think would be quite possible.
at the bus-stop, and doubling back through
the Suburb on my bike while she went round in the bus, joined up with her again at the station.
For want of anything better to do,
she is going to Cambridge for a weekend
, so I gave her messages for
Arrived at Kingsway in time to supervise the moving of my desk and papers from my own room to what is still generally referred to as "
's room". (Mr. Bevan himself, I gather, has been awarded the OBE, no mean achievement in 6 months
, but for the lofty Mr. Bevan so common an award seems almost an insult
) My room and the others at that end of the corridor are being taken over by the Tea people. A nuisance, but I can hardly expect to retain a whole room for one day's use a week.
are quite agreeable room-mates. The latter
showed me a letter, from
who says he is starting a new book about "London in the Berlitz" to be called "Ten Days that Shook the Basement".
A final two-hour bout of frenzy, and we got Goodyear off to the Bovril meeting with all the appurtenances thereof. After that I was able to get on with some of my other work
until the afternoon return of Goodyear with a few remnants and cut lengths to be disposed of.
A great moment when I got home, the putting on and showing off of Bunny's new coat which she and Nick had collected in the afternoon, making an expedition to Kingsbury by bus. The coat a triumph for all concerned.
The night raid again seemed to be aimed not at us but at some objective beyond us. We did but hear it passing by.
Apparently it was taking the high road to Scotland, and for the first time Clydeside was mentioned in the morning communiqué as having received a fairly severe raid. This was about the only item of news, the expected German attack on Greece not having materialised, though today had been spoken of as zero hour.
Got out to the allotment by 11.0 and sowed the first lot of seed. Still a bit early for this, really, so started with a sort of reconnaissance flight, sowing a couple of yards each of two kinds of lettuce and some radishes, or "Reddishes" as Nick
insisted on calling them after seeing the highly coloured picture on the packet.
Nick had a date with Audrey in the afternoon to see "
The Thief of Baghdad
As the cloud of the morning had given place to sunshine, I felt an urge to go on gardening, so Bunny decided to join the picture-goers, and I worked steadily from 2.0 until 7.0. I transplanted the rather stick-in-the-mud onions that went in last autumn and, to keep them company, planted a row of adolescent spinach, one of cabbages, and one of God-knows-what that was sown last autumn and looked like some member of the turnip family. This clearance enabled me to prepare a good stretch at the bottom, digging in some spreading green weed that had covered that end with a fitted carpet from edge to edge.
Finally decided that as neither of us was particularly keen, we wouldn't go out to the party to which we had been invited. In any case, though the Lisles had offered to look after Nick, neither of us would have felt quite happy leaving him, particularly as the raid, though later, was rather more of an affair than of late.
Yes, we did well to stay at home, for London was once more the main objective. Not one of the more sensational attacks, but enough to be going on with. Dancing - more democratic dancing this time - was again visited with a judgment, a suburban dance hall in full Swing getting a direct hit.
Having nothing particular to do in the morning, we very intelligently did nothing in the most luxurious way, retiring to bed with hot-water-bottles and papers and not getting dressed until lunch-time. This gave the morning fog time to disperse and after lunch it was lovely. It was, in fact, unequivocally Spring and we felt in duty bound to dress up for it in our new clothes. So Bunny wore her new coat and I wore mine, and Nick very manfully kept his end up by pointing out the exceptional smartness of his anything-but-new brown coat.
And off we went for a well-bred walk. The panorama of Hampstead Heath unrolled itself in a series of pleasant and peaceful pictures. The coloured shirts of football teams recruited from the local military. Nick watching, and listening enthralled while I delivered a short lecture on the rudiments of football.
A group of soldiers in battle-dress basking like outsize dun lizards in the sunshine on the steps of what used to be
's elegant home and now with an air of polite protest houses the rude and licentious soldiery. The neatly tidied ruins of the Bull and Bush, revealing a row of little houses behind that we had never noticed before. The promenade round the pond, empty now of water but still retaining its holiday sea-front gaiety. Bunny and I watching the world go by from a sunny seat, sandwiched between a motherly old body nursing a Pekingese in a tartan waistcost and a cultivated gentleman with a distinguished and diplomatic beard. Nick trotting off happily down the grassy slope and crawling back Red Indian-wise on his tummy, armed to the teeth with sticks, to let off a series of bloodcurdling bangs behind our backs. The girls promenading in self-conscious pairs, following with admiring eyes the handsome young RAF sergeant with his arm in a romantic sling, and ignoring with elaborately assumed disdain the crude witticisms of common privates. Tea - and a very good tea, too - in Ye Olde Tea-Shoppe, complete with warming-pan and poker-work mottoes. The ups and downs
of a stroll round Hampstead, the dignified serenity of its mellow old houses scarcely ruffled by the brawling of the blitz. Nick's exploring instinct voicing itself in insistent requests that we should go "everywhere that's narrow", and finding satisfaction in a daring march across the dried-up bed of the pond. And so home, after as Peaceful a Sunday Afternoon as I can remember.
Bunny and I both felt quite inclined for a Lotery film, but a phone enquiry revealed that no film was a-showing. So I made the supper and we settled down very contentedly by the fire with the papers.
We expected another London raid, but all we got was a short and uneventful warning. So we were able to bring Nick up from the nether regions and all to sleep in our beds again.
They went to Bristol, and the morning news spoke of "severe damage" and "a number of casualties" so it must have been pretty bad. Later news, in fact, described it as Bristol's worst raid - and Bristol has a fairly high standard by now.
Not liking to phone Lisle again, I walked up to his house about the usual time of departure and found Bryant, my fellow-passenger, improving the shining hour by sowing
onion seed in Lisle's front garden. Waiting with him for Lisle to appear, I was touched and gratified by an unusually demonstrative farewell from the family, whose waving and you-hooing from the house I enthusiastically returned. Half way to town in the car, I realised that what I had taken to be a flattering show of affection was really an endeavour to call my attention to the fact that I had forgotten to take the paper, duly delivered for the first time at about 7.45.
Bad news of Barnes, whose condition is said to be critical. He is likely to lose his other leg, and there are internal injuries as well. He is in
, not as safe a place as one would choose to recover from air-raid injuries.
Went down to my Farringdon Road garden-shop, where I succeeded in getting an assortment of veg. seeds but failed to get any seed potatoes. I was too late to get Earlies, and it is still too early for Lates. Took advantage of the lift home to convey the second instalment of the stores we bought from James which includes a priceless jar of marmalade, now rationed with jam to 1 lb. a month for both.
Not even a warning disturbed the evening, and so to bed.
The prodigal's return to Rickmansworth.
Fatted calf being presumably rationed, I had to make do with a 2d. bar of chocolate, one of a consignment recently received by Miss Scott as a present from Canada.
The old place hadn't changed much - unfortunately - except for a re-arrangement of the tables in our room, which had the effect of making it look even smaller and pokier than I remembered. Extracted some childish amusement from talking to the rustics in a condescendingly urban manner, expressing gratified surprise over their electric light and indoor sanitation.
Pleased, on my return home, to find that Bunny had taken advantage of Nick's weekly "gym" engagement to slip off and enjoy ninepenneth of
. The air of "defiance" with which she produced a cold supper after her gallivantings was rather deflated by the fact that the supposedly makeshift meal happened to be particularly good.
It wasn't until 10.30 pm when I was beginning to think that as a fire-watcher I was going to be let off without even a caution, that the wireless choked, recovered itself,
and dropped to a cautious whisper. A doubtful was followed by a definite rumble of distant guns, confirmed some minutes later by the sirens, faint but pursuing. Bunny was in two minds about sleeping upstairs, but I made them up for her and tucked her up in my bunk (Nick being already installed in hers) as things began to warm up considerably. One of my mates came over for a tin hat and we agreed to see how things went before allotting watches.
They went from bad to worse - or, at any rate, from mezzoforte to fortissimo. The gun-fire was more furious than I have ever heard it. It was a case of prestissimo as well as fortissimo. The whole tempo of the almost continuous tattoo was quickened. It used to sound like someone moving about in the room overhead, desultorily shifting furniture with occasional bumps and thumps. Now it sounded like two people having a running fight, crashing over the furniture, hurling it across the room, and hammering each other's heads against the walls and floor.
At 1.0 am it seemed to be settling down to make a night of it, so I went out for a word with my
mates, whom I found standing outside their house. We arranged that of the remaining six hours, divided into three 2-hour watches, they would do the first two and I would do the last. With a last injunction to be sure and knock me up at 5.0 am in case I was asleep, I went back to the warmth of the house - it was perishing cold outside. With my dressing gown over my clothes, and my tin hat, torch and whistle handy, I made myself very comfortable on the sofa by the replenished fire.
Technically I suppose I slept, but it was fitfully and with many starts into semi-consciousness as some particularly noisy salvo crashed and tore through my sleep. Once I woke to find Bunny, also wakeful, standing by my couch. I have a hazy impression that she did some kind service for me before going back to her bunk, but I was so heavy with half-sleep that I can't remember what it was.
I woke, more or less completely, at 5.0 am without being knocked up. In fact my generous mates never bothered to call me at all. Three cups of tea assisted me from the less to the more completely waking state. I even got as far as trying the short-wave wireless for America, but for some
reason which has gone from me - so I can't have been as clear-headed as I thought - I gave up after I found the painstaking BBC doggedly addressing the waking Antipodes over our slumbering bodies, on "The Spirit of Lancashire".
I took a turn outside to get some air - the still burning fire was warming but stuffy-making - and at once the sirens yelled "All Clear" at me and sent me back for two hours more sleep. So imperceptibly, and without any decent division between day and day, or even between night and day, March 18th became
and I was learning from the 8.0 am news that for all the sound and fury of the raid, it was only the "whiff and wind of its fell sword"
Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2
that we had felt, the sword itself having fallen on a "North East coast town".
"The raid" I heard "was heavy". I knew that.
A cold and foggy morning which further delayed my wilfully late-starting journey, so that I arrived about 10.30, none saying me nay.
The chief concern of the day was the behaviour of the central heating "because of the noise of the water-pipes".
The recently cleaned boiler heated the water to a positively alarming degree, so that it finally became necessary, as a precautionary measure, to "draw fires". This, as I pointed out, was obviously a Studio job, and it was carried out by George Siney with commendable calm and courage.
I after my harassing night and Bunny after a harassing day with a party of Nick's buddies which ended - just to make things easier - with Susie getting herself locked in the upstairs lavatory - both of us being a trifle worn and looking forward to a quiet, early-to-bed night, were not at all pleased when the warning went particularly early, at 8.15.
We were reading quietly, bothering nobody, when about 8.40 both our heads came up with a jerk.
Plopple-opple-plopple-opple-popple. A jolly little Guy-Fawkes-day sort of noise. "They sound like heavy rain coming down" James had said.
"Incendiaries" we said together, and were out into the hall. Obviously we hadn't got one on the house, but they sounded as if they were definitely down our street. I fumbled in the dark and got the front door open.
The houses on the other side of the road were silhouetted against a livid white glare. Already the fire-watchers whistles were shrilling the alarm. We felt rather helpless, but obviously our job was to stay put and be ready in case something happened on our own doorstep. This lot was clearly a couple of streets away.
Back in the shelter we collected clothes and things and prepared for a night of it. Nick slept peacefully, undisturbed. There seemed to be High Explosive coming down now, too, and the guns were roaring their heads off.
We made little dashes to the front door whenever there was a lull. Now the white suffused glow was split with red flashes, each followed instantly by a bang. The incendiaries were the explosive kind, then. And above the distant shouts of the fire-parties, the sound of crackling and the smell of smoke drifted across to us.
Between whiles we sat in the shelter and talked. Bunny went on with her interrupted knitting. I emerged to listen warily with one ear to the muted News, and to make some tea and the usual preparations for this rather unusual night.
A final look out. The white glow had faded to a dim and localised red. The tumult and the shouting died. A pulsing drone and the swish of falling water indicated the AFS
[Auxiliary Fire Service]
on the job. Soon, there was little to be seen or heard, and nothing to be done except to go to bed.
One thing we realised. Instinctively both of us had made for the outside of the house, and if the fires had been in our street we should both have been out dealing with them. And if, as was quite possible, HE
had come down on us or on the house, Nick would have been alone. This obviously will not do, and we shall have to organise our duties accordingly.
Once in my bunk I was soon asleep and sleeping like a log. Bunny was not so fortunate, slept only fitfully until she heard the All Clear - and then couldn't sleep at all for ages.
Before last night's excitements started, there had been a phone-call from Miss Scott at Rickmansworth to say that Stevens had left at Kingsway the bag destined for Rickmansworth - containing, incidentally, all our cheques - so would I go in in the morning and collect it. I was able to get a lift from
Lisle, and before leaving for London we cast around for signs of last night's damage in Winnington Road but found none. Proceeding on our way, we discovered that the "famous inn" mentioned in the paper as having been damaged was not, as for some reason I had imagined, the Spaniards Inn but Jack Straw's Castle.
View Larger Map
Collating here various bits of information picked up later, the raid can be described generally as the heaviest this year. The Germans claimed 20,000 incendiaries dropped, mostly on the docks, where the damage was certainly worst. Our local bunch fell in Bishop's Avenue, at the bottom, where some half-dozen houses had their top floors burnt out. One resident, apparently, hearing the incendiaries fall on his house, and disapproving of the whole business, walked out and left his house to burn. Casualties here were not heavy, though there were, as usual, some miraculous escapes. They were heavier at Jack Straw's where one bomb, possibly two, fell smack on the little lane just behind. We walked down this only last Sunday, mildly coveting the pleasant houses there, now reduced to a most unenviable desert of rubble.
We were diverted from our usual route down the East side of Regent's Park, but encountered no other evidence of damage in Central London. I stayed only long enough to collect the bag, and got out to Rickmansworth in time for a belated cup of coffee.
After lunch there came another summons to attend at Kingsway the next day, so had a busier than usual afternoon clearing off one or two urgent oddments.
The evening raid didn't amount to much - to our relief - but enough to indicate a night in the shelter. It turned out surprisingly quiet.
Like Drake, they went West, and like Drake, they left their mark on Plymouth. If they must go anywhere, Londoners would certainly have them go in that direction, since it relieves us even of the overheads.
An uneventful day at Kingsway, dealing with this and that. Invested in 7 lbs of seed potatoes at Carters, Earlies being practically unobtainable locally, and the time for planting them drawing on apace.
An uneventful night too without even a warning, so feeling very daring, we crept upstairs and sneaked into our beds.
My gardening intentions, which got me up betimes, were frustrated by a cold and driving rain. However I occupied myself well enough with "protected jobs", chopping a quantity of fire-wood, and sweeping and garnishing the garage. It was quite a pretty problem to dispose the various impedimenta there assembled in such a way that they are all get-at-able, without becoming impediments to a hypothetical retreat through the emergency exit of the shelter.
After an early lunch and a brief shopping raid into Golders Green, we repaired to the Ionic where we saw
Cross Country Romance
" an inconsiderable piece of programme padding, and our main objective
Night Train to Munich
", a nicely adjusted blend of comedy and thrills in the Hitchcock manner, "
The Lady Vanishes
" turning up again, in fact.
On the way home Bunny dashed off to the Market Place where it was rumoured that an egg might be on sale. But this, it appeared, was Careless Talk, and her only reward was a small cube of cheese, sufficient for baiting one medium-size mouse-trap.
A night of complete quiet and undisturbed sleep in bed.
Again I was up and dressed bright and early for gardening, only to find a depressing drizzle determined to keep me indoors. I was making preparations for giving Bunny a day in bed and had fortunately lighted the fire for us downstairs when Clare phoned to ask about our blitz and accepted an invitation to look in on us before lunch. She and James appeared about 12.0, arriving on the doorstep at the same moment as Marian providentially called with David to take Nick for a walk. They were dancing at the Spider's Web on Wednesday night and hardly knew there was a raid on. But then neither did the dancers in the Café
They departed to a lunch date, leaving behind them - as Clare generally does - a sizable portion of cheese and two onions.
It looked brighter after lunch
but I thought I would give it a little longer to clear up and meanwhile close my eyes for 10 minutes, I woke an hour and a quarter later to the ringing of the phone which was Elizabeth to say that there would be a film showing at 8.0pm. At Bunny's suggestion we then had an early tea so that we could get a walk in afterwards, and we were not deterred by the arrival of the girls just as we were finishing tea.
Bunny regaled them with remnants while I had a bath and changed from the gardening clothes that I had been fraudulently wearing all day.
We took a turn round by Bishop's Avenue where we inspected the bombage, and deviated into Ken Wood where the disgusting Nazis have fouled the gracious and stately prospect from the terrace, and the green slopes of turf are messed with their beastly droppings.
Nick was put to bed in the shelter while we debated whether we would or would not yank him out again to go with us to Kingsley Lodge and sleep there while we saw the film. Our minds were made up by another phone-call from Elizabeth
to say that the film was starting at 7.30 which it then was. As Nick was still awake it didn't seem so monstrous to disturb him, so he was swathed in a rug and I carried him round and Bunny settled him in
The first film, a minor Hitchcock called "
Young and Innocent
" was quite good fun, though as usual the sound was so bad that much of the dialogue was unintelligible. We were persuaded to stay on for a comedy film, which I assumed would be a short, but turned out to be an interminable and completely unfunny
. And in spite of Elizabeth's suggestion that one reel might have been omitted - which no-one, probably, would have noticed - Geoffrey insisted on grinding away relentlessly to the bitter end. There was a cup of tea and some rather obviously left-over cakes in the dining-room afterwards, much needed by an audience almost exhausted by their efforts to convince the exhibitor - and themselves - that the films had been simply lovely.
Nick as usual woke without a murmur, and re-inserted in his rug cocoon, was thrilled to be taken out into the night and to see the stars and some inexplicable searchlights which, as there had been no warning, were apparently just having a bit of fun.
Nick snuggled into his his cot and went straight off to sleep again, and after supplementing our supper with a snack in the kitchen, we followed him to bed, having taken a solemn oath not to be again seduced into attending these quite remarkably boring affairs.
Rather shamed to find that Lisle, in spite of the weather
had put in a strenuous weekend digging, and - with Bryant's assistance - sowing a variety of seeds. But he has quite a lot of leeway to make up before he overtakes me.
The morning passed in the usual Kings-way, but after lunch there was an unexpected phone-call from
, to say that he had
with him and could I meet them later in the afternoon for tea. This was arranged and I made haste to complete what work I had.
This involved a visit to Bishop, who drifted away in the middle of our discussion to talk to Goodyear. After an interval I went out to track him down. Just outside his door
, I collided with - of all people - Bovey
[a pre-war copy-writer who in 1939 had left to farm in Sussex]
, who had dashed for the day from Sussex to visit Barnes. He had not thought to find any of the Old Gang in residence, so I took him up to our room to share him with Lloyd-Jones and Bryson.
The first thing we wanted to know was how Barnes was. "Simply amazing" was Bovey's report - sitting up and wise-cracking in every direction. His first greeting to Bovey was "Haven't got a leg to stand on!" Not a good crack by Barnes's usual standards, but pretty good a fortnight after losing it.
One leg off at the hip, one arm broken but repairable, and bomb splinters in his side - this is the catalogue of the damage, unless there are internal injuries which they are keeping from him. Bovey didn't think this likely. (He was much impressed with Westminster Hospital - "like a hospital in an M.G.M. film". He thinks the brightness and comfort of his surroundings – not to mention the prettiness of the nurses - has a lot to do with the speed of Barnes's recovery.)
Barnes apparently ducked into the Café de Paris for shelter, having already had to throw himself flat on his face in the street two or three times. He had a girl with him who was slightly injured, but Barnes can't enquire after her because he doesn't know her name! He remembers everything until he was anaesthetised at the Westminster - the indescribable panic, hardly injured women trampling all over him as he lay on the floor with his leg practically torn off by bomb fragments, being carried on a stretcher to the Rialto Cinema above, thence to Charing Cross Hospital, already overflowing with Caf
de Paris casualties, and thence to final haven in the Westminster. He had a bad period when he came to after the amputation, wondering
why in Hell he hadn't chosen some other shelter, but soon realized the futility of such a line of thought and snapped out of it. The only thing he complains of now is not having enough to do, and talks confidently of his artificial leg - "I shall soon get the hang of it". Bovey is hoping to get him down to
[his cottage at]
Scrag Oak to convalesce. And this is the man of whom it was said that it was so much worse for him because of his life and vitality. A theory with which I never did agree, being sure that just because of his vitality he would come out on top of a disaster that would crush a dimmer, duller personality.
Bovey as cheerful and contented as ever about his own affairs, precarious though they remain. He has 15 acres ploughed and 5 under potatoes. His own predilection would be for stock farming but of course you can't feed animals nowadays - except the rabbits, which will doubtless thrive and flourish on his crops. He owes a lot to his wealthy neighbour who is quite prepared to do the spade-work of clearing Bovey's land and let him reap the benefit. Bovey is a member of the local Home Guard - "a fine body of men, very fine. Twenty-four of us, heavily armed - with ten rifles". But the real Army sometimes lets
them have a Lewis gun to play with. Interesting to hear that since being isolated in the country he has moved, of his own volition but presumably assisted by the momentum of events, very definitely towards the Left.
We had only 10 minutes or so to enjoy him before he had to dash and catch a train back to Sussex. But there are no longer any restrictions - Defence works being now completed - on visiting his part of the world, so he hopes to receive visitors when possible.
In spite of this most welcome interruption, I managed to get finished by 4.30 and joined
in the Westminster
Over a surpassingly dull tea
we discussed family affairs and plans. Doug's First Aid Post had a direct hit the other night, but miraculously few casualties. He wasn't on duty himself. Mother's most interesting item of news was that Boris Ord has rejoined the RAF.
Surprising, and does him credit. She had to catch the 5.49 back to Cambridge, so I put her on the bus and took one myself in the opposite direction to my rendezvous with Lisle.
The evening's entertainment was brightened by the return of "Monday Night at 8.0".
The night was without warning and we slept in bed.
Reluctantly abandoned my attempt to master "
The Philosophy of Physical Science
). For about 3/4 of its length, I was still able to detect a glimmer of his meaning - and his expository style is admirably lucid and often witty. Having struggled through such obstacles as "Epistemology and Quantum Theory" I finally became inextricably entangled in the "Concept of Structure" and whichever way I turned I was confronted with "Rotation in six dimensions", "
Kummer's Quartic Theory
", and "
". Four dimensions I can cope with at a pinch, but not six. And so far as I am concerned, Theta simply doesn't begin to function.
I was the first to arrive home, Bunny having gone to the pictures and Nick to his "gym". Spent the evening reading to Bunny from "
I found myself instinctively thinking of the title as "Europe in the Spring" which seems to me to have an irony and point that "European Spring" completely lacks. So I was interested to learn from a New Yorker reference that "Europe in the Spring"
the title in America. Now why do you suppose they changed the title for the English edition?
[This paragraph is circled with a pencil note in the original that reads "insert on April 3rd", and that is where this passage is to be found in Molly's transcript. It looks like
The Express this morning informed us that last night's absence of raids established a record for London's longest lull since the blitz began - 5 days and 5 nights without a warning. It also had the full miserable story of the Jugo-Slav government's ignominious capitulation to German demands. The Jugo-Slav people, however, are not amused and the Government may yet have to capitulate to their own citizens. Serve them jolly well right if they do.
Bunny took Nick up to the Health Centre for his second dose of anti-diphtheria inoculation - appropriately on the very day that the British diphtheria figures were officially described as "an absolute disgrace".
Continued "European Spring" in the evening, and
once more slept in our beds.
A great day.
Munro, looking - for him - quite animated, came back from lunch with the news of a
Revolution in Jugo-Slavia
, a pro-Ally government set up under the
- his own majority not quite reached but with the majority of his people behind him.
The Slav's now on Hitler, in fact. Nice work.
And in the evening the BBC announced that we had taken both
, thus opening the gates to the capitals of both Eritrea and Abyssinia. Hip, hip, Harar!
For the first time this week, the sun was shining when I got home. So I improved the shining hour by nipping out and sowing a row of Broad Beans in the allotment, where my recent transplantations seem to be doing nicely.
I read aloud again to Bunny after supper while she miraculously finished knitting a glove from memory, having mislaid the instructions. The only gloomy notes in the general rejoicings were the news that the meat ration is to be cut to 1/- a week, and the cheese ration will be ONE OUNCE a week. If it weren't written in capitals, it would hardly be visible to the naked eye.
Beginning to take bed for granted, but it can hardly last much longer. For one thing, Friday night is my fire-watch night.
Today chiefly remarkable for the strange disappearance of Munro. He drifted in and our of our room early on in his usual disconsolate manner, but when he was looked for at the
hour of coffee, he had softly and silently vanished away. It appeared that having nothing whatever to do, he decided in desperation that he would be better employed doing nothing in London, and took himself off accordingly.
in the preparation of an illuminated address to be presented to Barnes by those at Bensons who knew him. Gilroy dashed off a gaily sketched bouquet of flowers, each flower to carry a signature, and I wrote a verse for the label.
My first version ran:
"In our thoughts, here expressed in true Benson tradition,
You occupy always a Solus Position.
They've messed up your copy - which makes us feel solemn,
But thank goodness they've left you a Whole Single Column!"
Gilroy was however a little nervous - and rightly, I agreed on second thoughts - about the last two lines. So leaving the wise-cracking about his Injuries to be done by him, I substituted:
"We'll have a big job - and to say so's not soppy -
get Laid Out, to live up to your Copy."
and this was duly inscribed, and the Rickmansworth signatures were appended.
Not having received the fire-watchers' tin hats, I went and collected them, and leaving one with my mates, arranged that we should take our watches in our own houses, assembling outside if any emergency arose. Nothing whatever arose, however, and after an evening's reading aloud we went once more to bed.
Only an inflexible sense of duty impelled me into the allotment. It was raked by a bitter north-east wind and also by me, preparing the ground for seed. I had to keep Nick on the move to prevent him from freezing up, and being unable to manipulate seeds with my gloves on, my tiny hand was frozen, though I didn't feel at all like singing about it
[a reference to “Che gelida manina (Your tiny hand is frozen)”, an aria from the first act of the opera “
However, I sowed several rows - a combined salad row, two kinds of lettuce and radishes, a row of onions, an adjacent row of carrots - the juxtaposition being alleged to protect each from their particular pests - and a row of peas.
It was then time for lunch, early to enable Bunny to get off to the pictures which she was able to do the more comfortably since
had phoned an offer to have Nick to tea. There had also been a call from Nadine & Edward
, proposing themselves for the
evening. So Bunny departed, leaving Nick furbished and resting till called for.
Seeking some warmer occupation for the afternoon, I got out the mower, recently reground and repaired - it had developed, last autumn, an infuriating habit of slipping unasked into neutral, the rollers coasting over the grass without turning the blades.
I began in a painstaking way by raking over the front lawn to remove bits of shrapnel and other foreign bodies that that would damage the mower. But as I succeeded in collecting nothing but grass, and leaving the turf so smarmed down that the mower could hardly pick up anything to cut, I decided it wasn't worth it.
There were intermittent inquiries from Nick in the bedroom to know "how much longer?", and when he finally appeared, hanging half out of the window, and asking if he could get up, I accepted the fait accompli and allowed him to join me. I was much put out to find that the mower, though improved, was by no means cured of its bad habits and it took me a long time to get just the front done, as I had to go over the same ground ad nauseam.
duly appeared and took delivery of Nick
[Molly altered this erroneously to "
Dora looked in and took Bunny off to tea with her
, and I continued my hit-and-miss attempts to mow
, taking time off for to consume the tea left prepared for me by Bunny
. Having at any rate
gone through the motions of mowing the front grass - which seemed singularly unaffected by the experience - I gave it up as a bad job - which it certainly was - and pruned the roses
, eradicating the two defunct standards and re-arranging the survivors in decent symmetry. Bunny and Nick severally returned from their jaunts and
at 6.0 I downed tools and went in for a bath in which I was still immersed when Nadine & Edward appeared in their resuscitated car. Nick departed like snail unwillingly to bed, and Bunny ushered in a trolley-load of sandwiches and coffee to satisfy the most exacting appetite (mine).
Our talk, at first general, and always stimulating, split later into two, Nadine and Bunny discussing clothes and such, and Edward and I politics and such. Of all our friends they are probably the most congenial,
agreeing with us even on the dearth of really congenial friends,
so it was a blow to hear that they depart in mid-April for Nottingham, where Edward has a job to do and Nadine is determined to find one.
There was a brief and unfamiliar warning during our talk but All was Clear when they left soon after 10.0 pm to give Edward time for cat-nap before going on duty at 1.0 am.
Having no duty to go to, we went merely to bed.
Having given the family breakfast in bed and instructions to remain there with suitable literature, I went out into a rather less Arctic garden and made another attempt at mowing.
[Altered by Molly to "
In a rather less Arctic garden I made another attempt at mowing, and
For some obscure reason this was more successful
, the machine pulled itself together and kept itself in gear, and I was able to get the whole of the back done by lunch time
. I took a chance and cut out preliminary reconnaissance with the rake, but kept a sharp look-out ahead, rather surprisingly, finding nothing capable of inflicting injury. What goes up must come down elsewhere. Nick was very busy scraping up the sandy deposit left outside the front gate by the builders and conveying it in his trolley to replenish his sand-pit, much depleted by a series of raids on it whenever I needed sand.
There was some talk at lunch of a walk in the afternoon, but there was no marked enthusiasm in any quarter, so Bunny made plans for me to have a bath and rest, which I thought would be nice, after I had spent 20 minutes finishing pruning the roses. Nick for some unknown reason elected to put on his pyjamas and get into bed for his rest, with the result that
he fell fast asleep and had to be woken up at teatime. Out in the garden, I found that one thing led to another, and my rest receded further and further. So I let it go, and went on working till tea-time, getting all the edges clipped and tidied - harder work than it sounds, the first time in the season. After tea we took our after-lunch,
[Altered by Molly to "
After tea we took a leisurely walk,
strolling round the Suburb and calling on the way home to collect from the Wardens' Post my own individual Fire-Watcher tin hat, one of the new civilian models, comfortable but looks a bit sissy.
In spite of our last Sunday's resolution we succumbed to another invitation to a Lotery film - but we did know what we were going to see this time, and really quite enjoyed it - "
First a Girl
in one of her peculiar Epicene roles. Nick was put into Elizabeth's bed to sleep during the film, but when we went to collect him - only one film this time, sensibly - we were greeted by tinkling music and found Nick still wide awake entertaining himself with one of Antoinette's animals whose "stomach was a nest of singing birds". So home to a snack and then the Sunday papers in bed.
George Siney, who for some reason brought up the bag from Rickmansworth, handed over to me the Barnes testimonial with the remaining signatures of the country members, and during the morning I collected as many more as I could at Kingsway.
After lunch I rang up the Westminster Hospital for permission to visit. A lady in the Almoner’s Office spoke to me. Visiting days were Wednesdays and Sundays. I was only in town on Mondays? She would speak to the Ward and ask them. When would I be coming? About 4.30? Could I make it earlier or later, as they were busy in the wards from 4.0 to 6.0? No? Just a minute please....All right, then. If I would come as soon after 4.0 as possible. Really most accommodating.
So having paid my ritual visit to Herridge and received my ritual cup of tea, I left the office about 3.45. I walked down Kingsway to the Air Ministry's
, where I asked an affable gentleman for an Application Form for an Administrative Commission in the RAF. No harm
in asking, I thought. The form was produced - and slipped into my hand as though it were a Secret Treaty. Would I please be very careful that it was not seen
by any unauthorised person?
I went out again into Kingsway, and looking nervously over my shoulder to make sure I wasn't being followed, I boarded a 77 bus which took me to Horseferry Road.
Having been previously to the hospital with Goodyear to interview the Secretary, I knew the way in. Otherwise I might have overlooked the curiously unobtrusive entrance, giving access to the long tunnel that runs right under the building, lined on one side with Decontamination Booths. Inquiring again at the Outpatients Entrance in the tunnel, I was directed "upstairs and along the corridor".
There didn't seem to be many people about. In the corridor the only person I saw was a man in a dressing-gown, very casual and informal. The corridor was certainly impressive in the Hollywood manner; I passed by door after door, neatly labelled "KITCHEN 12", "SURGEON", "KITCHEN 11", "CLINICAL LABORATORY" and so on. The orderly spaciousness of it was unfamiliar. But the smell was the smell of all hospitals.
? I'm never quite sure what it is.
At the end of the corridor there was a desk with mauve tulips on it under a big window, but still no-one to inquire from. As I stood hesitating, a nurse
appeared at my elbow, bright, smiling scrubbed till she shone, and as Bovey had commented, positively pretty. Taking the words out of my mouth, "Visitor for Mr. Barnes?" she asked. "We were expecting you." She led the way into a ward nearby. "There he is - nearly falling out of bed." She bustled away.
I advanced towards the bed where, behind the high arch of the bed-clothes lifted by the "cradle" above his leg, Barnes lay uncomfortably slipping off his piled pillows. With murmurs of pleased surprise he waved me round to the other side of the bed where I could shake his uninjured left hand and draw up a stool to sit on. He looked pretty ill, a waxy yellow colour, but claimed that he was getting on fine, having got over a bit of trouble with his blood which didn't take kindly to the gallons of alien blood that had been pumped into him.
I handed over the illuminated address. He was obviously pleased, and said it was the nicest thing he had received since he came in. He said - and clearly meant it - that there was nothing in the way of "comforts" that he required, and confirmed Bovey's excellent report of the way he was looked after.
We talked for about ¾ of an hour. I asked few questions
but he seemed to want to talk about the affair.
Some scraps of information that came out in our conversation. He remembers everything, being unconscious, if at all, only for an instant. The bomb splinter that tore off his leg must have passed already through about 10 bodies. A dead officer lay across his feet. He waited for debris to fall and bury him, but none did. There was a full-scale panic. One woman, only slightly injured, sat repeating over and over again "Take me to a hospital! Take me to a hospital!" She went on for half an hour. As he lay in his own "special pool of blood, which I want to go back and look for" he was trampled all over.
In the Operating Theatre he came to for a moment while his leg was being amputated. "My God, I'm having a baby!" he said, and passed out again. There followed a week which had completely gone from his memory, though he was conscious all the time and saw a number of friends.
Apparently he swore continuously, using the most lurid language to everyone who came near him.
In his broken right arm there is also a gaping hole. If it had been higher up, the arm would probably have had to
come off too. Most air-raid wounds involve amputation because so much dust and muck is driven into the wound that gangrene generally follows.
It is perfectly true that sensation continues in a limb after it has been amputated. "I can tell you exactly how my leg is now. The knee's drawn up and the foot flat on the bed. I get awful pains in my toes, and cramp in my calf. I want to scratch my knee. They say this will last for six weeks or so." He can't sleep at night for the pain, and has to have "knock-out drops" every night.
He doesn't know how long he'll be there, but a lad two beds away who had a leg off has been there six months. Six Months! I asked him if they were taken to any shelter at night. The other beds are wheeled out into the corridor. He is wheeled back to a partitioned corner of the ward away from the windows. Until the last few days he was there all the time, and is glad to be out in the ward now. He finds the legless Cockney a grand fellow who makes them all laugh a lot. Already, I think, the Cockney would say the same of Barnes.
Although I had been told that they were busy in the wards
from 4.0 onwards, not a soul came near us and not a thing happened till nearly 5.0 when a nurse came to wheel him back to his night cubicle. I offered to help wheel, but the bed ran so easily on its castors that the nurse managed it with one hand.
This seemed to be my cue for exit. Apologising for shaking hands like the Prince of Wales, Barnes gave me his left hand again and I said Goodbye.
In the corridor a white-coated doctor was talking earnestly to a nurse. I envied him. It must be good these days to have a job that really matters to people.
Today's papers whooping exultantly with full details - for the speedy issue of which the Admiralty is being highly commended - of our shattering naval victory over the Italians in the Mediterranean. This gives new point to the New Yorker's crack that Mussolini must be regretting that "the old Mare Nostrum, she ain't what she used to be".
Nick kept to his bed all day, while the busy B. spring-cleaned. They didn't miss much out-of-doors, the weather being disgusting.
If it weren't for the fact that it may be contributing to our freedom from air-raids, the weather would be a downright scandal. "That it should come to this!" – that we should positively welcome rain and cold wind in April when we should be revelling in the approach of Spring!
Talking of air-raids, the figures for the two-night Clydeside blitz are now stated to be 1,100 killed and 1,000 seriously injured. Getting on for twice as many as the total raid casualties for the whole of February.
Arrived home first, Bunny and Nick having been to tea with Mrs. Hopkins, Audrey's mother. The remains of the bombed house next door to them are at last being demolished. Hope they don't take it into their heads to demolish also the garage where our car is now tucked away.
Last night finished our joint reading of, and this morning returned "
. Sadly disappointed, having really looked forward to it and finding it a cheap and nasty book. Cheap, because her outlook is both superficial
and sentimental. Nasty, because almost the only thing she could see was the friction, the jealousies and intrigues of Allied politicians and the Allies themselves. Not that this is surprising since in spite of her bravely announced determination to talk to the man in the street, in the tram, in the pub and air-raid shelter, there is no single record of any conversation except with Embassy staffs, aristocrats, plutocrats and bureaucrats. "I don't understand the English!" she laments plaintively at one point. That being self-evident, it's a pity she goes to such lengths enlarging on their shortcomings - obvious enough, God knows.
Reading aloud to Bunny in the evening seems now to have become our established and very agreeable routine, and we continued this evening with
Lady in the Fur Coat
". We were just preparing to go to bed when the long banished banshee came wailing through the night again. It was so late that we assumed it must be only a stray, and continued reading until the All Clear should make bed possible, which it did about 11.30. There was gun-fire later, however, and another warning, but I was already too far
gone in sleep to be capable of movement, and we decided to take a chance on staying put. Nothing seriously alarming followed, but Bunny was unable to sleep for some time.
April 4th (Friday)
A reasonably decent morning, and Burrett and I were inspired to relieve the tedium of our journey with song. The piece de resistance was a spirited rendering of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen", of which, in response to our vociferous applause, we kindly consented to give an encore.
The day at Rickmansworth was as dreary and depressing as usual. Lewitt and Him have completely fallen down on my "Mixed Metaphors" page for Guinness
. They turned out a wildly Surréaliste composition of vanishing perspectives and fantastic proportions, the pair of socks standing upright without visible means of support on the distant horizon, being in proportion about 2
miles high. It has now returned to Gilroy whom I found at work on it entrenched behind a parapet of flints, models for the stone (for not leaving unturned).
Gilroy's completed Guinness advert.
It is increasingly a relief to get home to my family and fireside and domestic busyness and restfulness.
An uninviting morning found me in the allotment by 10.0, at last getting the first potatoes in.
Mr. Middleton having gone to the trouble of instructing me in the morning's express, I went at it very professionally, digging my trenches 6 inches deep and 2 feet apart and spacing the spuds - right the way up, I hope, but I'm a bit dubious about some of them - a foot apart.
This occupied the morning, and
just under half the space I have destined for potatoes, so another 7 lbs of main-crop, which apparently need a little more lebensraum, will just about fill the bill. Nick spent most of the morning Sister-Anne-wise, looking out for his old friend Frank, now back from boarding-school; he turned up about 12.0, misguidedly clad in his Sunday best and accordingly restricted in his activities. However they kept each other company and out of my way till lunch time.
As soon as we had washed up, Bunny dashed off on her bike to the matinée at the Hippodrome, where she arrived panting at 2.0 pm, anxiously enquiring if it had started and finding that the doors had only just opened to admit half a front rowful of audience; the show not being due to start till 2.30.
Nick dutifully went off to his rest and
[Molly replaced all this with "
I went out again and wrestled with the mower. It was behaving in its most capricious and infuriating manner,
condescending to cut only when it felt like it, and my arms and wrists got very weary checking its ineffective skids and dragging it back for a fresh start. However
I did eventually get the whole lawn mowed, rather grateful - for I was getting exceedingly cross with the maddening machine - that Nick elected to stay up in the nursery, where, flat on his tummy, he devoted himself to preparing a letter for the arrival of
This arrival, expected about 5.0, was unaccountably late, and
Bunny was the first to arrive so we had tea forthwith and did not wait for
appeared to contact Mother who finally drove up in her taxi about 5.45
, her train from Winchester having been that much late. She had prudently taken tea at Euston so we were able to proceed at once to the ceremonious presentation of the jersey she had knitted for Nick. This was extremely well received, being his "favourite colour", a brilliant pillar-box red. He, in turn, presented his letter, which was duly admired, and went contentedly to bed.
We had our supper in the kitchen, conversed
until the 9.0 o'clock news, listened to the same, business with bottles, milk, early morning tea tray,
and all the other paraphernalia of getting
to bed, and at last got to bed ourselves. Maintaining a double set of beds, one upstairs and one ready for emergencies in the shelter, makes considerable demands on our supply of blankets, and Nick's bed in our room had to be denuded to provide the wherewithal to cover Mother. So Bunny decided to sleep in the shelter with him, and I slept in solitary state in my bed. It would have been a bit awkward if there had been a shelter-worthy raid, but there wasn't even a warning.
Mother brought us tea at 8.0 am, and
we were all up and in the kitchen to hear the 9.0 am News. I would have been prepared to bet £1 that I knew what it was - no particular reason, just a sort of presentiment, unusual with me. But in this particular instance, correct.
With a depressing "this-is-where-we-came-in" feeling we heard of Germany's invasion of Greece and Jugo-Slavia,
the sickening stupidities of the Nazi's attempts at justification, and the familiar patriotic platitudes of the Balkan states - platitudes to us, that is, who have sat through the performance so many times, but all too full of meaning for them, poor souls, in spite of the familiar formulae and worn-out weary words.
[This is where Molly's transcript ends, but the diaries continue.]
The Sunday papers had the pathetic passé air of chronicles already outdated by the rapidity of events. Gordon in the Sunday Express was even still trying manfully to persuade himself and his readers that the Balkan adventure was too much of a gamble for Hitler. May it prove so, now that "rien ne va plus"
["no further bets"]
More important to Mother was her punctual departure to rendezvous with Dora and the Almighty at 11 o'clock Matins. Off she went with prayer-book and offertory money, leaving us to our pagan devices. My particular device, the wind outside being unpleasantly rude and cold, was to chop fire-wood in the shelter of the back passage. Thus warmed up I felt able to brave the elements and went out and dug for an hour in the allotment, returning to bath and dress before lunch, to which Mother returned full of righteousness.
She settled down afterwards to "her letters" and Bunny and I discussed a family walk. I rather hankered after a nap and was too lazy to get up and join Bunny and Nick when they went off. Mother also departed to tea with Dora, and I woke in guilty solitude at 4.0. By way of amends I made the tea, but Bunny, considerably put out by my unsociableness, was not mollified until suppertime. Nick and I constructed an elaborate "chute" for marbles out of his bricks which occupied us until Mother's return and Nick's departure to bed. I managed to find a few things to say to Mother while Bunny was preparing the supper, but it was hard work, and I was glad that the News afterwards made further conversation unnecessary. Not that there was much news, only the usual fog of rumours that always descends immediately after a Nazi invasion. Hitherto it has generally cleared away only to reveal the Germans firmly established in control, but this time there were at any rate British troops on the spot to meet, and we hope, to hold them. The one bright fact was our
just before the rains.
My fire-watch night again passed without a warning.
Failed to secure the Lisle car to convey Mother to Euston, the man Lisle being already in town after a night of office fire-watching. So I escorted her by bus and tube and handed her over to a porter at Euston, who impressed by my new overcoat respectfully enquired if it was First Class.
Found Herridge really cut up about the death of an ex-Spottiswoode lad who went into the
Fleet Air Arm
. In his kindly way, the good fellow feels it as a personal loss.
Finding my own way home I arrived rather later than usual to a house shining with the busy B's spring cleaning. Put in ¼ of an hour adjusting the bathroom blackout wich had been gaping so blatantly that we did not dare turn the light on. Decided to risk putting Nick to bed upstairs to avoid the midnight flitting which can't be doing his cold any good.
"Monday night at 8.0" died on us about 8.30, both Home and Forces wavelengths packing up completely, but we got it after a fashion on the Short Wave. This also enabled us to hear the News, mostly devoted to an explanation of the Budget, though this was simple enough. Just a 1/6 increase
in Income Tax, that's all. Well, not quite all. There is also a modified version of Keynes' Compulsory Savings Plan, the money taken from us by reduced allowances being put to a post-war credit to us in the Post Office Savings Bank. The Tax-deducted-at-source arrangement makes this blow a little easier to take, though God knows what sort of salary I shall have in November from which to pay Income Tax on a year of full Benson salary.
We joined Nick upstairs about 10.30 and about 10.45 the sirens sounded. Nothing further happened. Bunny went to sleep, I went on reading. At 11.20 the All Clear. At 11.35 a burst of firing jerked poor Bunny upright, blinking. I reassured her in a meaningless sort of way. We lay and waited. A few more guns, and a plane droning unpleasantly near. To move or not to move, that was the question. The solution came from an unexpected quarter - Nick's cot, where we thought he was fast asleep. But he asked quietly but firmly "I want to be taken downstairs". So he was. We clambered regretfully into our own bunks. I was soon asleep, but poor Bunny, as usual if her sleep is broken, took a long time to go off.
Anybody would think that there was a war on, or something. When I arrived at Rickmansworth, the cross-roads by the station was occupied by a soldier, complete with full equipment, steel helmet and fixed bayonet, directing an endless procession of Army lorries,
Bren gun carriers
, light tanks and uniformed motor-cyclists. They came from the Watford direction and went trundling up the hill.
Walking in the same direction office-wards I was joined by Hunter. The procession had now come to a halt, and all the way up the hill, at 50 yard intervals, we passed mechanised Army transport of every kind. In the lorries recumbent soldiers, knobbly and bulging with equipment, dozed uneasily. In what I presume was a field-kitchen, a couple of stew-stirrer-uppers were already - it was only 9.30 - preparing a forum of carrot-studded dinner. Near some stationary lorries, soldiers were strolling in the road, stretching cramped legs and yawning prodigiously. A Northcountryman gave us a friendly "Good morning." "Been on the move long?" I enquired guardedly. "Most of
t'neet" he answered ruefully, and volunteered the information that they were beginning a two-day exercise. The column was still stuck when we turned in to Sunnyside, but the rattle and rumble of its movement soon started again and went on most of the morning, with the
of passing planes swelling and dying away again above the ground-bass
from the road.
A visit at lunch-time from Philip Stobo, graduated from his gunnery course at Chatham and awaiting a ship. He was well contented with life, so different from our continuing office existence that he felt as if he had been away for years and was continually surprised to see the papers still presenting advertisements that in his previous incarnation he had seen being prepared, or prepared himself.
The indefatigable Bunny was still at work spring-cleaning the kitchen, this time - when I got home, but we got settled down in time to listen to a "McFlannel" broadcast, one of the really admirable little sketches of a Glasgow working-class family, now promoted from the Scottish Half-hour to be a feature in their own right.
After this we resumed our reading aloud, with a new book. "
The Lady in the Fur Coat
, we had finished separately but both enjoyed. A plain but honest young farmer and a pretty but dishonest "chorus-girl" are marooned together for 2 days and nights by a blizzard at a remote railway "halt". As their bodies gradually freeze, the ice gradually melts between them. Their artificially engendered romance very properly perishes when they are rescued.
We are taking no more chances, these moonlit nights, and put Nick to bed in the shelter, where we joined him after a late warning, speeded on our way by a slow crescendo of confused noises without.
To London with Lisle, not to stay but only to visit the print shop near the office. I have a black-and-white Guinness page in preparation, based on an old print showing an imaginary view of Napoleon's threatened invasion, with the verse:
Invasion scares of long ago
Were brought by Nelson to a FINIS.
History repeats itself, you know -
, there's nothing like a GUINNESS.
I remembered seeing the print reproduced in an old copy of "Life" and after considerable pursuit, we succeeded in obtaining a copy from which to reproduce. But this lack its original title, so I decided to fake one, and went to the print shop to look through their Napoleonic prints and absorb the style of their titles. On the way back to Rickmansworth, I synthesised from several titles I had noted, the following, which sounds convincing: "THE FRENCH INVASION PROGNOSTICATED - or BUONAPARTE really COMING!!"
The 9 o'clock News mostly devoted to Churchill's survey of "
the suddenly darkening scene
". Darkening for the moment it certainly is, with the German-Italian forces back nearly to Tobruk, Salonika occupied, and the Nazi's reported to have penetrated right across Jugo-Slavia to the Albanian border. Not so good. British troops in Greece, however, have not yet gone into action.
Bunny amazingly bright after another day of unaided Spring Cleaning, complicated by the messy activities of the sweep. No warning before bedtime, but slept in the shelter all the same.
Paid a pre-office visit to the Library to return "
The Youngest Profession
" (Lillian Day)
[made into a
. Said profession that of the film-fan-autograph hound, expounded in the diary of a 15 year old American "sub-deb". As funny a book as I've read for a long time. Also had my hair cut. Must be smart for Easter.
A general "end-of-term" atmosphere prevailed at the office, nobody having very much to do and everybody sitting about waiting for the word "Go". As a matter of fact, no-one bothered to say the word "Go" officially, so we just took it for granted that 4.0 pm was the hour appointed and went without being told.
Home about 5.15 to a most satisfying combined tea-supper meal to which Nick was allowed to sit up. Bunny had reached the final stages of spring-cleaning and I was able to assist by hanging up the fresh clean curtains in the drawing room. Then we had a nice long evening with nothing to do but look forward for the holiday. And so the winter and this volume of my diary drew peacefully to their close.
[Volume 2 is not currently in my possession, but the diary continues with Volume 3...]
It is not vanity or ostentation that is responsible for the more expensive looking get-up of this volume of my diary. Like many another commodity, the kind of notebook in which it has previously appeared is now apparently in short supply - official English for can't be got.
DBHB: TRANSCRIPTION ON-GOING.
The diary ends about one-third of the way through the notebook. The rest is blank, except for what look like Bridge scores written upside down in the last several pages.
The following note on super-thin paper is also attached by paperclip to the endsheet at the end of this volume. It reads:
From Group-Captain Stephen Paynter & his Mother*
"Yes, I knew that Ronald Barton had been mentioned in despatches. He deserved far more & I recommend him very strongly. He did a first-class job of work & is quite an outstanding man. I am not surprised his Firm have raised his salary."
*Cousin Nellie Paynter at Cambridge who gave the original to Aunt Jess
[This 'Cousin Nellie' was born Helen Isabel Cane (b.1871), youngest child of
Rev. John Brettle Cane (1828-1896)
Alicia Elliott (1832-1912)
. She married Rev. Francis (Frank) S. Paynter.]
Ronald Barton to Freddy Colquhoun, July 1946
[Freddy Colquhoun worked with Ronald at High Wycombe Bomber Command (where both worked under
) and is remembered by Ronald's son
as a wonderful kindly old Scot, who later became Deputy Town Clerk of Glasgow. Nicholas describes Freddy's recollection of relaying the orders - from Bomber HQ to the flight groups - to
; an act which he described as like 'a bull in a china shop'.]
1 Rowan Walk
London - N.2.
My dear Freddy,
It's damned hot. Nearly as hot as it was this day (of the week, not of the month) a year ago when I lay on to Titania's bunk in the central mess, and listened to you and Finch and the others making music, and waited – nothing more to do but hope – for the Pageant.
So I thought I would write to you today. It's high time I did anyway. I have a theory that you were – and are – the only person who really understood what the Pageant meant. What it meant to me, anyway. It was a queer affair. Looking back on it now, with a detached interest, I can see all its ridiculous imperfections. Its pathetic amateurishness, its rawness, its gaucherie, it's probably embarrassing naivety.
And yet... and yet... all I know is that I meant, and still mean, what I said afterwards about never producing another amateur performance, not because I thought the Pageant wasn't good enough for me, but because it was, to me, so completely good. And why that should be so, I think you probably understand even better than I do.
Ronald Barton (as Richard the Lionheart?) in the Pageant which he produced, directed and acted in at High Wycombe Bomber Command, to celebrate the end of the war. Ronald's son Nicholas attended, as did
But that was all a year ago, and God forbid that we should wax wistful and nostalgic about the Pageant or anything else. By a curious coincidence, I find myself today in the same sort of approaching-zero-hour ferment and flatness, thinking of all the things I could have done a better way and dismissing such thoughts with an "Oh, well!…"
This is because I have just completed three – no, four – weeks very hard and exciting work on a Radio adaptation, which Peter Watts asked me to do, of Chesterton's "Man who was Thursday." I dotted the final i this morning, and took the script along to him. He is coming up to Rowan Walk on Sunday afternoon – when he has had time to digest it – to go over it with me.
I haven't done any Radio – oh yes, one Sunday evening poetry-reading, did you hear it? – since "Wings of the Morning" when you three were with us (Queer, how you keep coming into these things.) I tried my hand at one adaptation before – was that when you were in these parts? – But found I had been anticipated by another. So I was very glad to be on site is to do another. It's destined for the C ("Highbrow") Programme, by the way, and that doesn't start till Oct. 1st, so don't start looking for it yet awhile. But they are really planning ahead for this new Programme, and I had to put in a lot of late-night sessions to get it done by the time Watts wanted it.
I couldn't have asked for a more congenial subject. How old I was when I first read the book, I can't remember. Maybe 16/17. But both the matter and the manner of it made such an impression on me then that I found, when I started to adapt it, large chunks of it embedded verbatim in my mind. And it is fascinating material for radio adaptation, a stimulating mixture of verbal fireworks which might easily have been written for Radio in the first place, and episodes of movement and action which taxed my utmost ingenuity to get them to stand still in front of the microphone for a moment. Somehow or other, I managed to get round all the corners to my own satisfaction. Whether Watts, as producer, will be equally satisfied with the liberties I have taken both with the subject and the medium, I shall find out on Sunday.
I find Radio adaptation very much my cup of tea. Shall I let you into a secret which probably you and everyone else have known all along? I am not really creative at all. If I had to describe myself, from this angle, in categorical terms, I should put myself down as “Interpreter/Arranger.” A sort of low cunning, or sleight-of-hand, is what I might claim to possess.
At any rate, I get a great deal of pleasure out of exercising my wits in putting together apparently irreconcilable bits and pieces, of tinkering with thus until it dovetails into that, and of hunting out a fragment which with a little sandpapering – “you’d hardly notice it, would you?” – precisely fits into the pattern.
So if I have any success with this – or even if I don’t – I shall have a shot at some more Radio adaptations. Any suggestions? And I’m toying with the idea (Top Secret, this) of trying to adapt “Thursday” for a film, for which in some ways I think it would be even better than for Radio.
This is a disgustingly egotistical letter, to be sure. Your fault, really, for being A.) so tolerant of my enthusiasms in the past, and B.) so bloody far away now that I have to write all this nonsense instead of talking it.
I hope you three are all in the sun-bronzed pink as this leaves us at present. We are all very well and very happy. (American wise – crack you may not have heard – “An optimist is one who, in this age, regards the future as uncertain.”) Nick and I go forth to our labours in the morning, and come home in the evening to find that Bunny has been working all day at something to make our lives even pleasanter than before. Her latest effort – in this heat! – pounds and pounds and pounds “of such sweet jams, meticulously jarred, As God’s own angels eat in Paradise.” At the moment, if she has followed my parting instructions this morning, she should be lying in the hammock imprisoned, fly-like, in “Forever Amber” of which she reports with her usual sound sense that she can’t see what all the fuss is about.
Owing – perhaps – to some belated fatherly interest in his work, Nick is doing better at school this term than he did last, and justifying the almost unanimous verdict of his various teachers in his last report that he “could do better.” And I have to report, with personal gratification, that it’s all nonsense about his not being able to sing. His music-teacher recently entered him for one of these Music Examinations which, in my own opinion, are got up for the benefit of the teachers, not of the pupils. And Nick discovered, to his alarm, that he would be expected not only to play the piano, which he does quite nicely thank you, but to undergo something called an Aural Test which involved – horrors! – singing. So he and I were to be found most evenings at the piano, me playing traditional tunes with one finger and many mistakes, and Nick picking them up with increasing confidence and accuracy. Another of these tests involved his beating time (2 beats or 3) – a tune played over to him. He had a bit of difficulty at first in making up his mind whether a tune was 2 beats or 3, until we hit on the trick of mentally trying out the tune to “Nich-o-las, Nich-o-las” (3 beats) or “Mis-ter Bar-ton, Mis-ter Bar-ton” (4 beats, or for his purposes, 2). Complete success.
After long and friendly debate, we are splitting up for our holidays this year. Bunny goes to a cousin at Bournemouth (nasty dangerous place, it seems) for the sea that she loves and Nick and I are luke-warm about; Nick and I to Yorkshire for the moors and hills, and probably the rain, that leave Bunny cold. I wish we were all coming up to Scotland. But that will have to wait, we decided, until we get the new car, ordered in May, promised for December, and expected God knows when.
You couldn’t invent some important legal business (all expenses paid for self and family) in London, I suppose? We want to see you all again, very much. How long, O Lord, how long?
Meanwhile, Adieu, Adieu, Adieu. Remember us!
, bless him, has found a house at Northwood, and is installed. Hope to go out & see him soon. Will report.
P.P.S. Watts has just phoned to say I have done “a superb job.” Collapse of stout party.
[This concluding phrase 'collapse of stout party' - meaning basically 'the fat/stoic gentleman faints' - is an interesting one. According to Michael Quinion at
, the phrase is commonly supposed to have been a common Victorian punchline in Punch magazine cartoons, except that nobody has been able to find it there, although there was a recurring character called 'Stout Party'. Still, Ronald's son
does remember his father using the phrase and remembers Ronald attributing it to Punch. Still, the earliest that Quinion can trace the complete phrase to is a 1953 publication, but Ronald was here using it seven years earlier.
, Ronald's adaptation of Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday" was broadcast on 4 May 1953 and again on 17 November 1975, both presumably repeats of the first airing which must surely have been in 1946 or 1947?]
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