Season 2, Episode 1
Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Tuesday June 11, 1940 — Seventy-Eight Western Road, Romford
This is my first writing in the new home, and it is a writing of doom. Not my doom, but Europe’s. Yesterday, at six p.m. Mussolini announced from Rome that Italy was at war with Great Britain and France. This is a stab in the back, and was stigmatized as such last night by President Roosevelt, broadcasting from Virginia. The terrific battle of Somme-Aisne has been going on ceaselessly for seven days and nights; the Germans smash in and the Allies keep retreating, and it is at this moment, when France is staggering under the Germans, that Mussolini, without reason or provocation, decides to enter the war, fighting for Hitler. King Leopold played the Judas two weeks ago, now it is Mussolini’s turn to act the part. What will be the next tragedy?
What I specifically want to note today is the weather. We have enjoyed one of the most beautiful springs and early summers that England has ever known. There is light, color, sunshine and warmth everywhere. The flowers and the foliage have been perfect, more beautiful than ever before. Last Saturday and Sunday we were very hot, but the blueness and goldennessremained unabated.
Yesterday, Monday the tenth, something extraordinary happened to the weather. I rose early to go to mass with Ted (the mass this Monday and Tuesday was offered for Cuthie). It was a dull morning yesterday, when we left the house at seven a.m., but when we came out of church at eight a.m. an awful blackness filled the sky. It looked as though a frightful storm was imminent. Nothing happened; no rain, no wind, no thunder or lightning, only a spreading blackness and an awful oppressiveness of the atmosphere. This state continued all day. It was dark like a black winter’s day, and we had to switch the lights on to work by. It was an uncanny day. Then at six o’clock came the news that Mussolini was at that moment announcing to the world the entry of Italy into war against the Allies. I thought of the narrative of the crucifixion: “and darkness covered the earth.” The very heavens protested against Mussolini’s callousness and treachery.
In myself, I am at peace; a peace I have not known for years. I am full of grief, too, grief for Cuthie, grief for the world. I am full of apprehension, too. Where is Artie? We have not heard from him since June third. The probabilities are he is in France.
Yesterday Churchill announced that further troops had been safely landed in France, and that more were ready to cross over. The crucial battle of France is being fought now, and England will send quickly all the help she probably can. So if Artie isn’t in France already, I expect he soon will be. God keep him. Deliver us from evil. Amen.
I pray all the time.For Cuth, for Artie, and for all the young men who are fighting to defend our freedom and civilization. That is why I am at peace. Deep and deep as is my grief, deeper yet is my peace, because at long last I have made my peace with God. This is the true peace, and there is nothing else in all of life like it. Whatever happens to us, to our lives, to our children, I pray God to keep me, and all of us, in His Grace, now, and forever more. Amen.
Friday June 14, 1940
Today the Germans have entered Paris. Hitler swore to take it on June 15. So he is one day ahead of schedule.
Last night, Thursday, M. Reynaud broadcast an appeal to Roosevelt and America, begging for speedy help. Roosevelt has cabled back that the American government would redouble their efforts to send airplanes and munitions, as long as the allied governments continue to resist.
Sunday June 16, 1940
At eleven thirty p.m. the French wireless announced that the Reynaud Cabinet had resigned. Marshal Petain had been asked to form a new cabinet, in which General Weygand would be Vice President of the Council. The cabinet had met three times today while M. Reynaud was on his way to the last meeting, at ten p.m. A heavy German bomber bombed a small village square where his staff was waiting, killing thirty-eight people, including eight soldiers, and wounding sixty. What shall we hear tomorrow?
Monday June 17, 1940
One p.m. there is news, not yet confirmed, that Marshall Petain, has sent a message to Hitler, asking for an armistice, and the discussion of terms of peace. There was an agreement between England and France that neither should seek peace separable, so now what?
The war is awful beyond words. Germany is winning all the way. No country can stand up to her. Her men and munitions are unending. France is beaten. The Germans have yet beaten her once again.
Then what about us? Will the English continue to fight? If in France, Germany can beat the combined armies of France and Britain, what could England do against her alone? The dead; they have died in vain.
Saturday June 22, 1940
Hitler received the French delegation yesterday and informed them of his terms for an armistice. He chose as the scene of the ceremony the railway carriage in the forest of Compiegne, where Marshal Foch granted the Germans an armistice on November 11, 1918. The terms offered have not yet been published, but their objects are described as:
1. To prevent a resumption of hostilities
2. To provide all necessary safeguards to Germany for the continuation of the war against Britain
3. To create the necessary conditions for a new peace based on “reparation of the injustice committed by force against the Reich.”
So what? The French Cabinet has been sitting most of today, and no armistice has been signed up ‘til now, eight fifteen p.m. Winston Churchill broadcast on Tuesday night, saying we would fight on “till the curse of Hitler is lifted from the brows of men.”
Tuesday night the Germans raided us, sending over at least one hundred bombers. A row of houses was demolished in a Cambridge town, causing a loss of fourteen lives. Other damage was done, in Suffolk and Essex. They were very near to us here, and we had a very noisy night indeed. Just the same we stayed in bed. Much damage was done at Southend, and at WestCliff the new technical school was demolished.
Wednesday night again they raided us; they sent more machines but did less damage. Now we can expect bombing nightly until the end. It is very frightening, but after a while one feels it’s ignoble to show fear, and then ceases to worry. What will be, will be? One simply takes the reasonable precautions, and prays.
Ted has taken the week off from Wednesday. We have been fixing the blackouts, laying linoleum, etc. Today Stone’s carpet man was here, cutting and binding our carpets to fit those smaller rooms. The carpenter started his odd job yesterday, so gradually we are progressing towards comfort.
It is now a month since Cuthie was lost. His name is in the Roll of Honor in today’s “Times.”
George Godfrey too is missing. Joan wrote me on Tuesday that she had received a letter from the war office, notifying her George was posted as “missing”, date unknown. Poor Joan.
Tuesday June 25, 1940
The German war against France finished at twelve thirty a.m. this morning. At one a.m. the Germans started raiding us in earnest. The warning was given at one a.m., and here in Romford the all clear was not sounded until four a.m. The warning was given practically all over England. The German machines were coming over in wave after wave. Ted and I went downstairs, and stayed there till the all clear was given. We sat in the dark in the dining room, listening for the guns and saying our prayers.
Saturday July 6, 1940
Eight p.m. Ted at Arden Cottage and I am sitting here in the window of my new bedroom. I am well, but have a bad leg. I have an open wound on my left ankle nearly as large as the palm of my hand, and very painful. I suppose this has been brought about by the work of the moving and the heat. Anyhow, I haven’t had an open leg for years. It won’t get better, of course, until I go to bed and stay there until it heals. At present this is out of the question, for there are still all sorts of workmen to wait about for electricians, gas fitters, the carpenter, and the painter.
The finishing of this house goes very slowly. Men come and do a bit and then stay away for days. The carpenter never came at all this week, though I was looking for him daily. So with the others, but if I do go out somebody is sure to come. I missed the electrician by going out, and also the carpet fitter. However, someday the last workman will say goodbye and then I can take to my bed until cured.
I have been having vacuum cleaner salesman around too. After trying out three different machines, I decided on a “Hot-Point” and then had to persuade Ted to buy it for me. I am happy to say he did buy it, and I am really very glad of that. In this house we are living more on carpets than linoleum. And a vacuum cleaner is really essential for comfortable clean housekeeping.
Also I have been writing letters. The Germans are raiding us daily and nightly now, and most of the casualties are civilians. We have not had a warning in Romford, though the area is flown over every night by solitary bombers since the one of June 24, 25, but I made up my mind on that night to write a good letter to every one of the boys whilst I knew I was still in the land of the living. I finished my last letter to Johnnie on the 4th.
That day we received the news of the destruction of the French Fleet at Oram and the taking over of the French warships at Alexandria, and all in the British ports. This is another tragedy of the war, but it was absolutely essential that the French vessels should not fall into German or Italian hands to be used against us. The Petain government has already become the abject tool of the Nazi’s and speaks only as Hitler allows it to speak.
The collapse of France is complete. This week has been alluded to as Invasion week, because Hitler promised to invade us this week, and overthrow us. However, he hasn’t arrived yet! Possibly his plans have been disarranged by troubles in the Balkans. Romania is breaking up now. Russia put in an ultimatum to Romania last week, demanding the cession to her of Bessarabia and Boulhovina and before the answer could be given just walked in. Romania appealed to Germany and foreswore her Anglo-French treaty, but Hitler did nothing for her anyhow. Italy is getting a pasting. She doesn’t have to fight in France, because of the armistice, but she’s got to fight Britain, and now she is getting the worst of it in Africa. Marshal Balbao is dead, killed in a plane crash. Well, Italy is not fighting black Abyssinians now.
Sunday July 7, 1940
It is a very muggy day, with very heavy rain and hail. After the storm the sky cleared to cloudless blue, and then the guns began. They were not in this immediate vicinity. Probably they were at Dagenham, or over the river. Anyhow, from about half past two till after five o’clock we heard the A-A guns continuously. This made us restless. To settle us Ted went down to the garden and picked a lot of raspberries and currants, and I set to and made a batch of pastries. So we ate hot raspberry pie for tea. The evening was quiet.
Monday July 8, 1940
I am feeling considerably exasperated. Lord Woolton, the Minister for Food, has just been broadcasting. He has suddenly clamped on us further rationing. This concerns margarine and cooking fats, restaurant meals, and tea. Until now tea has not been rationed, but now, without any warning, we are informed that starting from tomorrow the allowance of tea will be set at two ounces per week per person. Considering what very heavy tea drinkers the English are, this is a very drastic ruling. However, it isn’t that, that makes me feel so cross; it is the whole speech of the man, and the very tone of his voice. There was something so cajoling and so condescending in his phrasing, and something so unctuous and oily in his tone, I suddenly felt I hated him, and everything he stands for. Here again is a rich man instructing the poor how to be happy in their poverty, content under restrictions. Does anyone suppose his pantry isn’t full of chests of tea? Does anyone think he is going to restrict his consumption of tea to two ounces per week? Of course not!
Yes, I feel cross. Cross with the war, and the stupidity of men who wage war. War is the greatest folly of mankind. There is a constant stream of propaganda, which pours over us from the radio. Speeches, speeches, speeches; heroics and heroics, and for what? They want us to make war, to fight war, to endure it and to pay for it. It makes me sick listening to the orators. I feel I’m not going to deny myself voluntarily for the war. I’ll endure what I have to because I can’t help myself, but I’m not going to penalize myself where the authorities can’t compel me to. I’ve lost a son already in the damned war. The smarmy talk of oratorio’s about self-sacrifice leaves me cold. Let the politicians do some self-sacrificing. Then I might listen to them with agreement more readily. The damn fool politicians, men, old men, make a war to suit themselves; they make the young men fight it and they invite the women to pay for it. Well, they will solicit me in vain. I say, damn the war. Let the war makers get on with it. I’ll not help them.
Wednesday July 10, 1940
Eleven a.m. and I am still alive. I thought the end was upon us last night. Just after the nine o’clock news began, whilst the announcer was telling us of the putting out of action of the French battleship Richelieu, air-battle began, practically immediately over-head. The noise was incessant. But the machines were so high we couldn’t see them. We have heard them tearing about all right! We closed the windows and pulled the curtains, and sat still, expecting any minute to be bombed or set on fire. However, nothing hit us, and after about an hour everything quieted down again.
Ted opened a bottle of his precious port, and we each had a drink at bedtime. I was afraid to go to bed; afraid the raiding would begin again. It didn’t. So here we are in the morning, still intact. I feel sick. I feel as though my insides have been torn out. What will happen to us as the moon comes to the full, God knows?
© 2012 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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