Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Saturday May 4, 1940
I was awakened during the night by the airplanes, which were screaming about quite a lot. This is not a bit unusual nowadays. One day this week a German bomber crashed at Claxton, causing one hundred and fifty-six casualties and destroying two streets. This was not deliberate bombing but an accident. It had been mine laying, so carried much explosives. Well, even here, I heard what must have been the detonations. Ted doesn’t hear these night noises, but is able to sleep right through them. By the way, our forces have evacuated themselves from Norway during this week, a very disturbing setback for us. So far, it seems to me Hitler wins everywhere he strikes; and as for Mr. Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, public opinion begins to be that they are too complacent and then too late. This isn’t a war record.
Joan arrived this morning. She has come for the weekend. George returned to France April 16, and Joan is staying in Hammersmith with Mother for the present.
Sunday May 5, 1940
Joan remarked that she had been going up to Westminster Cathedral, intended to visit the Brompton Oratory soon, and asked, would I take her to church with me today? Well, I said I would, so we got ready and I took her to High Mass at St. Mary’s at Hornchurch.
When I was explaining the missal to her, I noticed that I had marked the collect for this day in the missal. It is: “Almighty, Everlasting God, grant that our will may be ever devoted to thee, and that we may serve thy majesty with a sincere heart. Through our Lord.”
All this is something strangely coincidental. For I have been thinking of late whether perhaps I might resume attending mass again. Noting all these various finales which seem to occur now, with the beginnings of the new periods, and the taking up of residence in a new house, and all the events occurring about now, the time especially associated with the Holy Ghost, that member of the Holy Trinity which is so especially appealing to my crank mind. I had thought that perhaps I would resume the practice of my religion right now at this Whitsuntide. Then along comes Joan, who asks me to take her to church today. So we went. It was good, easy, peaceful, consoling.
Although Joan had no idea how to follow the mass, yet she was pervious to the atmosphere of serenity and devotion. As for myself, I entered into peace; it was as though I had never missed mass at all.
Monday May 6, 1940
Joan returned to Hammersmith before dark. It has been a good visit. News from Cuthie, he is back at Driffield. He writes, “Scotland is a pain in the neck.”
Tuesday May 7, 1940
I am very sleepy. I think it is the Spring Day. Anyhow, I’m tired from so much talking with Joan. I only see her about once a year, so we talk like a house afire.
Ted is still very disagreeable, and I expect he will remain so, until he has paid his last bill. He was very sarcastic at lunch about me not writing to Dorothy. Last week he climbed up into the attic, to find out what was there, and found two large trunks; one of ours, one of Dorothy’s. He said if I ever wrote to Dorothy, I could tell her to have it fetched away. I replied, I never wrote to her, and I didn’t know her address anyhow. At lunch today, he asked me had I written to Dorothy. I replied, of course not. Why? I asked did he wish me to write to her? Then he was off! Ten unending minutes of biting sarcasm about my indifference, etc., ending with, “Well, will you write to Dorothy?” I reply as, “No.” It’s his affair as much as mine. If he wants her to take her trunk away at once, why can’t he write to her about it? Why am I a sinner because it hadn’t occurred to me to do so?
O, funny man! He does make me tired. Another thing that makes me tired are these midday meals. Three square meals a day, and Ted at every one of them. We see too much of each other. A woman needs her day to herself. Midday dinner is a nuisance. That is what we have had ever since we returned to England. It means we are never free of each other for more than four hours at a stretch, often only three hours. Contact is too unbroken. No wonder there’s so much friction between us. We need rest from each other, and space between meetings. I need rest and spacing from the household chores. Even if I could have only one long day a week to myself it would be a blessed relief. But no, domestic life hasn’t been arranged that way. Life in England is a treadmill.
Wednesday May 8, 1940
Men are fools. This fact has been noticed before, ten thousand times ten thousand; but I will note it again; men are fools. Why is the general war going on? It is because men will have it. Men are fools, collectively and individually. Men are fools. In the night, Ted loved me. Why couldn’t he have loved me before? Now for both of us our nerves are assuaged, the tension between us is lessened; and it is all so simple! Physical contact in affection. Lord! What fools we mortals are!
Friday May 10, 1940
Germany has invaded Holland and Belgium, and completely over-runs Luxembourg. The news came through soon after six this morning. They have landed troops at the ports, and men from the air by parachute. The attack from the air has been terrific also. Both Holland and Belgium have appealed to us for help, and we are going to their assistance instantly. Half an hour ago our government, through the BBC, broadcast to all our Civil Defense Forces to stand-by and to be ready for any emergency; and to civilians to resume continuous carrying of gas masks, the putting of all home defense precautions in order, and for everybody to immediately acquaint themselves with their nearest air-raid shelter. Attack on England is imminent. The Germans may begin bombing us now, at any moment.
Perhaps the Germans have been encouraged to this move by the Rebate in Parliament this week on the Norwegian operations, the Division in the House, the criticisms of Mr. Chamberlain, and the Cabinet crisis. Who knows? Anyhow, here’s the war, in hellish earnest. Ten p.m. Mr. Chamberlain has resigned, and the King has appointed Winston Churchill as Prime Minister. So, another cabinet shuffles.
Saturday May 11, 1940
A special order has been passed to eliminate the Whitsuntide holiday. Monday will be a business day. All special Whitsun sport events have been cancelled, all rail and road excursion traffic, and all factories, banks, stock exchange, government offices, etc. will carry on as usual.
Sunday May 12, 1940 Whit Sunday
It is a gloriously beautiful day. Its blueness and sunshine is like the September weather when the war started.
Reports from the Netherlands are most serious. The Germans are landing parachutists by the hundreds. These Germans are disguised. Some even wear Dutch uniforms. Some are disguised as priests and even nuns. They are very young men, and many are dressed as women. When caught, they are “wiped out” the report says. As usual the Germans are bombing everything in sight, and especially the refugees along the roads. For pure wanton destructiveness they are even machine gunning the cattle in the fields. I went again to St. Mary’s for High Mass this morning and was able to pray.
Monday May 13, 1940
Princess Juliana and her two babies, and Prince Bernhard, arrived in London this morning; and late this afternoon Queen Wilhelmina arrived also. She had been brought here on a British warship. Both the King and Queen met her at Liverpool St., as well as her own children, and she has accepted the hospitality of the King at Buckingham Palace. She had to flee for her life. The Germans meant to abduct her. In Norway, too, they tried especially hard to capture King Haakon. The fighting in Holland and Belgium is simply terrific.
Wednesday May 15, 1940
At seven a.m. we heard that the Dutch have laid down their arms. After the Germans re-captured Rotterdam yesterday, the Netherlands Commander-in Chief issued an order to his troops concerned to cease fighting. To continue resistance was hopeless.
Now the struggle for Belgium proceeds. Already the battlefront extends over one hundred miles, from the Albert Canal to Llugwy, where the Germans are expected to try to break through the Maginot Line. There is furious fighting at Sedan, and a very great battle is expected in front of Brussels.
May 19, 1940 Trinity Sunday
I made an effort, and it was an effort, both physically, and of the will, and went to St. Edward’s for High Mass at eleven. Now I have resumed, I will continue. Coming out of church, joined by Mrs. Jude and Mary Bernadette, and Mrs. James. When we got to the Laurie, I was very pleased to see Ted waiting for me at the entrance to Ives Gardens. Here a Mr. Simpson, who appropriated Ted and walked ahead with him, joined us!
However, I was deeply pleased Ted had come to meet me, all the same; and I pray to God there is a new beginning for we two together, to be added to my other beginnings.
Tuesday May 21, 1940
We received three letters from Cuthie this morning. Two for me and one for Ted all posted from Driffield. So he is safe, so far, thank God. The battle now raging in France and Belgium is the greatest of all time. It goes on without ceasing, day and night.
General Petain, now eighty-four years old, has been recalled from Madrid, where he had been sent as Ambassador at the end of the Spanish Civil War, and made Deputy Prime Minister of France. General Weygand, now seventy-three, has been recalled from Syria and appointed Chief of Staff of National Defense (in place of General Gamelan). It was these two great soldiers, under Foch, who finally brought victory to the Allies in the Great War, twenty years ago.
Every day for a week Dutch and Belgian refugees have been pouring into our southern ports, and, as in nineteen-fourteen, we are going to take care of them for the duration of the war. They have nothing left them but their lives. Many of them are wounded and are brought ashore in stretchers. Some infants have been born whilst their mothers were in the boats. The Germans deliberately machine-gun the refugees as they walk along the roads. War! German War!
Wednesday May 22, 1940
Last night at seven p.m. we received a telegram from the air ministry to say that our son, Sergeant 581052, squadron seventy-seven, was reported missing. A letter would follow. The nine o’clock broadcast news reported that during the night a large force of R.A.F. bombers attacked troop concentrations in Cambrai Le Cateau St. Quentin area and that from these operations five of our aircraft failed to return. So we suppose Cuth were in one of these five.
The battle is frightful. The Germans have taken Amas and Amiens, and have reached as far as Abbeville in their drive to the coast. God help us all!
When Ted went out last night to church for benediction, for the May devotions, he showed the telegram to Father Bishop. About nine o’clock Father Bishop telephoned us that he would offer this morning’s mass for Cuthie and for our intentions. This was kind. I could not go out to Mass but I pray just the same. Today work has gone on as usual; Mrs. Bull here cleaning, Miss Coppen calling. Poor Cuthie, poor Cuthie!
Thursday May 23, 1940
The letter from the Air Ministry arrived by the first post this morning. They tell us that Cuthie was with the squadron that was sent out bombing in the vicinity of Amieus, in the morning of May 21, but that his machine failed to return to its base, so he must be counted missing. They add that this does not necessarily mean that he is either killed or wounded, and that if and when they receive extra knowledge of him, they will report to us at once. Yes, there is a hope he may still be alive. Sometimes crews escape from destroyed machines. He may be a prisoner behind the lines. He may be lying in a German hospital, or he may be with God in heaven. Wherever he is, we will pray for him without ceasing. The terror is surely upon England now. On Sunday ten thousand more children were evacuated from Kent and Essex; they were sent to Wales.
On Tuesday night we had raids over this neighborhood. The guns began about one-thirty. Neither Ted nor I were asleep. We had gone to bed grieving for Cuthie, and were wakeful. At two ten a.m. there was a most terrific explosion, which we supposed was a bomb. We did not get up, because no warning was sounded, so we inferred the action was not immediately over Romford. The firing went on for some time, thud-thud, and airplanes seemed to be screaming about everywhere. Then everything died down. Soon after four o’clock the racket began again, though there was no great explosion as at two. Last night was quiet, or else we were so tired that we slept through everything.
The weather is beautiful. This morning’s times say the British have counter-attacked between Anas and Donai, but the results are not known and the French morning communiqué reports the re-taking of Arras.
Saturday May 25, 1940
Agnes Brauncy brought her fiancé here this afternoon to look at our Jacobean dining room suite, and they bought it outright. I had intended to go to confession today, but these visitors prevented me. This evening, utterly exhausted, I cannot possibly go out.
Sunday May 26, 1940
A day of public prayer, asked for by the King, and observed by every sect and denomination. I went out to early mass with Ted, at St. Edwards, but could not go up for communion. The church was packed and practically everybody going up to the rail, as at Christmas or Easter. When we returned home, Ted told me that he had asked Father Bishop to say tomorrow’s mass for Cuthie. So I asked Ted to telephone Father Bishop for me, and ask him would he hear my confession today. He set the time for four forty-five p.m. It had been my intention to ask him tomorrow to hear me, so that I might take communion on Tuesday for Cuth. Father Bishop is very kind and very understanding.
Tuesday May 28, 1940
I went again to communion this morning with Ted. It is a week today since Cuth was lost. At eleven o’clock this morning came news that King Leopold of the Belgians had ordered the army under his command to cease fighting. This is most shocking news. M. Reynaud, the French Premier, gave the news in a broadcast. He told Paris, and the world, that the Belgium Army, on the order of King Leopold, who acted against the advice of his responsible ministers, has surrendered. Since four o’clock this morning the French and the British armies have been fighting alone in the north against the enemy. They still hold Calais, but the B.S.F. have had to evacuate from Boulogne.
However, at noon today, Mr. Pierlot, the Belgian Premier, broadcast from Paris, repudiating King Leopold, calling him a traitor, and accusing him of breaking the Belgian Constitution and saying that the Belgian Government intend to form a new army and to fight on. The battling is terrific. God help the world!
Thursday May 30, 1940
This is my last writing in this house. We move into number seventy-eight Western Road tomorrow. I am now about to bury this volume in my hatbox, so au-revoir. God help us and keep us all. Amen.
© 2012 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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