Season 2, Episode 3
Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Wednesday August 7, 1940
The sound of bombs and guns all morning, and an air raid warning at eleven o’clock. No damage in Romford.
Started with a new charlady today, a much younger woman than Mrs. Bull. Mrs. Rose Whitan, who is Mrs. Fardell’s daughter. The house certainly looks better for her ministrations.
Provoked at lunch by Ted’s criticisms. In the pantry there was the remains of Sunday’s leg of lamb, of which we were tired, and a gammon rasher of ham, some leftover stewed plums, of which Ted hasn’t eaten any. So, I served lunch as follows: the gammon rasher baked with some Heinz beans; a dish of pilaf, with plenty of onions and tomatoes; some canned pears, and coffee. Ted said the rasher was tough, and I could have it. The pears he remarked, “Why tinned fruit? Don’t you know you should serve fresh fruit these days? You certainly are a bum housekeeper!”
Now it would have been no good offering him the cold lamb. He refused that the last time it came to table. He also refuses stewed plums; moreover, I didn’t want red plums after red tomatoes; and as for the cold rice pudding, naturally I wouldn’t serve that after pilaf, which is basically rice. So I served nice white tinned pears. Actually tinned fruit is cheaper than fresh, provided you could get any fresh! Cherries, strawberries, currants, and raspberries are finished. Melons, blackberries, and apples are not in yet. Bananas haven’t been seen for weeks. Oranges are three pence apiece. Lemons are offered at ten pence—ten pence!—apiece, and eating apples, if you can find them, are a shilling a pound. So what?
Even in today’s paper correspondents are writing in to complain of the high price of fruit, and asking can’t something be done about it; and one woman actually stated it was cheaper to buy tinned fruit than fresh. At least the tinned fruit is sweet. The sugar ration is eight ounces per week per person. Therefore in this house one pound of sugar per week is all I can get. There is no fruit. There is no sugar to stew it with, even if we could get fruit. At this time, there are no imports, which accounts for the lack of bananas and citrus fruits, but the dealers are profiteering on all homegrown produce. In spite of government control, the cost of living has increased by at least fifty percent since the beginning of the war. Ted says I’m a bum housekeeper! Well maybe I am, but I do get damn tired of his comments. I didn’t answer him. What was the good?
Thursday August 15, 1940 – The Feast of the Assumption
I don’t care a damn about what feast it is. I am full of the most awful anger. All night I was awake with the airplanes passing and passing overhead. No alarm was sounded, but I expected one every minute. Ted lay peacefully sleeping. I lay cursing. I cursed Hitler, I cursed the war, I cursed all the old politicians, and all the blah-blahing jingoists; I cursed all men for what they have brought the world to; and I cursed my man for what he has brought me to, and brought to the twins also. God damn men, I say, and he is doing so; but in their damnation we women are damned too, and double damned; we are all not only cursed by nature, but we are cursed by the world the men impose upon us, and then bring about our ears. What do I care for the fairy tales of Theology? I care nothing, not a farthing. I hate men and all their romances.
Friday August 16, 1940
I am steadier today, but with a ruthless mind. I was full of visitors yesterday. Mrs. Jude came in on her way from the late mass (which Ted had been playing— “playing” in more senses than one, I think), and stayed to lunch. Then before she left, early in the afternoon, Irene White arrived with the baby Bernadette; and before she left Mrs. Ryle called, and also stayed to tea. We talked about eternal life ideas of my own.
Then at half past seven in the evening, the air raid warning was given. It’s very terrifying. Ted was painting the bathroom, but came down and said he supposed he ought to go down to his shelter. I exclaimed, “Oh don’t go, don’t leave me!” and then I got a harangue. He didn’t go, saying that since it was only open until eight o’clock, and since it was Thursday and so there wouldn’t be many people about on South Street, and it would be eight o’clock before he could get there—still, he began to scold me. He scolded until the all clear. He said I was a very selfish woman, and that there were other people to be saved besides me. He said I was a fool if I couldn’t be left alone, and he said to be frightened was silly. One ought to control one’s fear.
I gave up. I give up. I feel I hate him, more and more. He does not see his own selfishness; but if ever any person pursued undeviatingly his or her own desire, that person is Edward Thompson.
These past weeks I have really been very ill. He hasn’t realized it at all. I have suffered intense pain, and great loneliness. To be left alone ill in bed, day after day, was unbearable. He didn’t even get a nurse to look after me. I couldn’t bear it, up there all alone. I longed for my children. I do long for my children. I should be in the midst of them, where they could come to look after me in my need, and where I could take occasional pleasure in their presence, ill or well. No, Ted has arranged things differently. When I look at the baby Bernadette running around the house, I feel that my little granddaughters should also be able to come in and run around; and when I think of Cuthie and Artie caught up in this devilish war, I think that too is Ted’s fault and I hate him for all the deprivation and sorrow he has brought upon me, so he thinks it is his duty to go and stand guard over the passing strangers who may enter a shelter; and my duty to sit alone while he does so. My terror, which I cannot help, is of no account. So I think, where are my children? Where are my children! I am alone, sickly alone.
All this week the air raids have been intensifying. Yesterday’s raids were the heaviest yet. Over a thousand German planes attacked us, in nine different attacks. Report says we brought down one hundred and forty-four of them. Oh hell! Hell for all of us and for all the boys in the air too, British or German. All this is the work of men’s minds and men’s hands. I say curse such works of men, and all men’s crazy ideas. War! What sense is there in war?
Would women make war? No. Women are realists. Women know the cost of life. They preserve it, save it, and heal it. It is women who know what love is, and it is women who love; not men, they can only hate and destroy. Yet they see themselves as heroes. My God!
At twelve thirty p.m. the siren sounded. I closed and darkened the windows, lowered the gas in the oven, and sat in Auntie Daisy’s rocker in the corner of the dining room to wait for the all clear. This did not sound till one twenty p.m. Soon after half past, Ted came in smiling and very pleased with himself. He told me about the wonderful good conduct of all the people in his air-raid shelter. He said there were about one hundred and seventy-five men, women, and children, all “very good.” He added, “You see, you’re alright. Nothing has happened to you.” Yes, I’m all right, but something has happened to me.
I do not expect Ted to come home to me during daytime raids. I know he has pledged himself to take charge of a shelter between the hours of eight am and eight p.m. I do expect him to be here with me at night. Last night the warning startled me, and involuntarily I asked him not to leave me. This, in his eyes, was a crime. He did not stay with me because I asked him to, but because by the time he could have changed his clothes and got to the shelter, the time would have been after eight p.m. To be alone in danger at night is particularly frightening, and the fact that the mere bodily presence of another human being can give comfort and courage is something he cannot understand and doesn’t want to understand, he says. I say he is cold-blooded, and not human. He is proud of his insensibility; he thinks that shows his superior intelligence. “Use your mind, Lady! Use your mind!”
Does he suppose I want to be frightened? I do use my mind, otherwise I should lose it. What I suffer is pure animal fright. It is the old primitive woman in me who knows she has reason to be scared, and she acts without waiting for directions from my head. She acts scared, in the very pit of my stomach, and I can’t control her, either; she knows danger better than I do, and she pays no attention whatsoever to my educated reason. She didn’t panic quite so much today because it was mid-day perhaps, with bright sun shining. How queer it was afterwards to pull back the curtains and see the serene and shining day!
Nor did I pray so much today, not in the same way as in the dark nights. I called more simply on God. God be with me! God be with me! I tried to pray to Mary, Queen of Heaven, and on the instant knew that such an invocation had become empty for me. On the instant I saw that my Catholicism had dropped from me, like the dead skin, which curls and drops from my leg each day. I’m back where I was forty years ago, in a pure Theism. That is what happened to me. My God is an impersonal principle: the Light, Life, Love, and Goodness that Jesus used to talk about. God is a spirit, and my spirit was calling to spirit, and that is all it can call to. To me all the historical fact, true or fancied of religion, is only a great hindrance. Persons confuse me and weary me. I do not even think of God as Father. The fathers I have known have not been very effective men. I certainly do not think of Mary, Mother of God. For I am a mother myself, and I know the limitations of mothers. Such ideas of religion are not adult enough for me. To what person that I know, or know of, could I appeal? Not one. For there is not one person in this world that I could ever feel to be, let alone acknowledge being, my superior. I can only look to myself, the God within, my principle.
As for Catholicism, I do not feel impelled to disown or disavow it. The practice of the Catholic religion is a performance, which I can perform, and will perform, as far as I am able, for as long as Ted and I have to continue to live together. I can go through the motions. Inside: inside nothing can make me believe, nothing can give me that faith. I am a natural born heretic, and nothing, not even love, policy, or war, can convince me against my own convictions. I can conform, can bow down in the house of Rimmion, but my inner secret self is free, and will be free, no matter how persuasively I try to put her into shackles.
Sitting there in the dark, waiting for the chance of death, which might descend on me at any moment, I saw all this. Sitting there waiting, wondering if I should ever see my children again, it was a wait at the bar of death, and I saw myself, without any pretences, as the woman I am. It is the woman I have always been, a woman with a practical mind, a free spirit, and a rational soul; essentially individual, and asserting my own terms, my own woman’s terms against my world and my life, as I have to live it. Men’s terms, men’s reason, men’s rulings, men’s arguments, are not for me. I see what men’s works are, and know that I could do better. No man, ancient or modern, dead or living, is going to dictate to me; not to my free mind, my free soul. A husband, the man’s made world I cannot shake loose from, may constrain my person and my movements, but myself, inviolably myself, and men’s religions hold no validity for me.
I have just been attending to the dustman. He tells me they are all collecting “dust.” He was enthusiastic about our air force, and spoke of the raid over Croydon last night. He thought this mid-day’s raid must have been at Croydon as the guns sounded that far away. He also told me, “One of our chaps lost his wife last night because of the siren. When that sounded she just dropped down dead. Just dropped down dead.” That’s what fright can do to a woman.
Ted jeers, and asks, “What is there to be afraid of?” Pain and fire, anxiety for those who belong to us and are exposed directly to danger, mutilation, suffocation, and sudden death; that’s what is to be afraid of.
It is now seven forty-five p.m. Ted has just left for church. He says he will be late returning because he has a meeting in the presbytery afterwards.
The King has made an announcement that he desires Sunday, September eighth, to be observed by all as a day of prayer. President Roosevelt, likewise, for the same Sunday. Why pray?
Nations go to war because they will war. God does not inflict war upon the world so why ask him to stop it? As war is waged by the collective will, it is the longest enduring will that will win it. Having once started a war, men must fight till they beat or are beaten. To petition Jehovah to bless the battle is to return to the mentality of the Bronze Age. When men no longer desire war they will cease to wage it. Why ask God to save us? We must cease being stupid and save ourselves.
At five fifteen p.m. we had another warning, and the all clear did not sound until an hour afterwards. There was more noise and more planes overhead than at mid-day. This time I did not pray at all. Instead I felt myself suffused with anger that men can be such fools. What good does a war do? Men destroying each other, and reporting it like a sport too! It makes me wild. It is the greatest senseless folly men ever commit. God, how I hate all fool men! War is the worst terror and destruction in the world. I hate it, beyond everything.
Yet there are some fools who declare it is the punishment of God for the sins of the nations. To me this is sheer blasphemy. God does not ordain war; man ordains it. Men will have it so, and when they will not have it so, then and only then, will it cease to occur.
Yesterday when I was clearing out an old basket of rubbish for the garbage man I found an old New York publication, which was most illuminating for today. The Literary Digest put it out in nineteen twenty-two. It is “an Atlas of the New Europe and the Far East, showing the new countries and new boundaries resulting from the Great War and from the Treaties of Peace with Explanatory Historical, Political, and Economic articles prepared from the most recent and authoritative sources in Europe and America.”
Studying these maps, it is easy to see why Germany finally began on her campaign of aggression and why Russia, Hungary, Italy, follow suit. The settlement of Europe after the Great War was hugely vindictive, and naturally unreasonable. That settlement should have been unsettled long ago. But no! Nothing sensible! They have kept tight hold on the loot. Everything Hitler had been asking for could have adjusted by good will, brains, and justice. I believe that when he said he wanted peace, he meant it. He was fobbed off and fobbed off. So he took what he wanted in the end, and he has taken it by force, cunning and violence. The old statesmen of Europe are to blame for this war primarily, damn them. My God, will men ever really live by reason and justice!
© 2012 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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