Season 2, Episode 4
Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Saturday August 17,1940
A quiet day: no warnings. I read an article in the Times today about the “indifference” of the French. This does not surprise me. I’m sure the French never really wanted to go into this war. They hadn’t been attacked. They were tired of war, not fully recovered from the Great War of fourteen yet. Why should they fight for the Poles? So too I think it was with our men in France. Why fight for the French, or the Belgians? Now that they have come home, they will fight for home. Any man can see why he should defend his own land, but it is not so easy to see why he should fight to defend the land of the foreigner.
Sunday August 18, 1940
A warning at one o’clock today, which lasted an hour and another at six o’clock, which lasted forty minutes. Report is that the Germans have destroyed Croyden.
Monday August 19, 1940
Yesterday’s was the worst raid of the war yet. Croyden is practically wiped out. No major raids today. Very tired. The strain of the raids is exhausting.
Tuesday August 20, 1940
Artie came home last night. We were just going up to bed, about ten thirty p.m. when he knocked at the door. He has three days leave.
Thursday August 22, 1940
It is ten forty-five p.m. and I am alone in the house and rather nervous. Artie left at six thirty p.m. to return to camp. Ted left at two thirty p.m. to take a walking holiday with George Butcher. We have had no raids or warnings in this district today, but yesterday the Germans bombed Brentwood, which is very close. Last Monday they bombed North Weald, which perhaps is even closer. Last week they hit in Herald Wood. Anyhow, here I am alone in the house, and have got to get through the nights somehow. The nine o’clock news was very alarming. We were told that today the Germans bombed our convoy in the channel from the coast of France; they have long-range guns along the coast from Boulogne to Calais, and they bombed our ships all along the way to Dover. Dover was shaken! They also bombed the convoy from the air. What next? They have now reached London several times. Last week they got Wimbledon, as well as Croydon.
Anyhow, I’ve got to go to bed. I got Artie to change my furniture around again before he went out this morning. I had him place my bed behind the door, and with its head against the inner wall. That position seems a trifle safer to me than the position it was in before. Though actually, of course, no spot is safe if a bomb actually hits you. Whole houses fall down six at a time, so what does it signify where the bed is? Of course I know I am in no more danger without Ted than with him. Nevertheless I am frightened to be left alone in this house. I’ve got to endure the loneliness and the fright. I might overcome the situation with a strong whiskey, but I don’t dare do that, because if I slept too soundly I shouldn’t hear a warning if it sounded. So all I can do is act valiant and pray. So goodnight. I keep telling myself I’ve got to go to bed, so I really had better go there. So goodnight, goodnight! God keep me!
Friday August 23, 1940
It is eleven p.m. Ted telephoned from Oxford about a half hour ago. He said he was having a good time. He also gave me Butcher’s number and asked me to ring Mrs. Butcher and tell her where they were and that Georgie was well and having a good time. Of course I had to say I would, but somehow or other this request made me flash with anger. Why the devil, I thought, couldn’t Georgie telephone his mother for himself! After all, he’s considerably over thirty years old! Maybe he wanted to save the price of a phone call. Anyhow, I think it’s cheek.
I was very near to anger all day anyhow. The sirens sounded at three thirty a.m. this morning and I had to come down in the dark and sit alone in the house till the raid passed, which was four ten a.m., much noise of guns and machines. We heard later today that the bombs fell in Edmonton, wrecking a cinema and a church, as well as several houses. Again tonight we had a raid. The siren sounded at nine thirty but the all clear came at ten p.m. When I told Ted of the day’s two attacks, he only asked, “Any damage done?”
Saturday August 24, 1940
We have had two raids in this locality already today. The first came at eight thirty this morning, and lasted till nine twenty. The second came at eleven twenty and lasted till eleven forty-five. Mr. Shea was here during the second one, fixing the radio for me. I’ve had it shifted from the parlor to the dining room. In this house we have no second loud speaker, so that to hear the radio whilst in the dining room it was necessary to leave both the parlor and the dining room doors open. This is not so bad in summertime, but as the weather cools it is not pleasant, especially as the little hall and the front door intervene, providing plenty of draught.
Young Shea saw the raiders last night. He said they looked to him to be over Abridge. Wherever they were the explosions shook this town. When Ted phoned me at ten thirtylast night my heart was still galloping from the fright they gave me an hour before. Yesterday, too, Dover and Folkstone were gunned from the French coast. Over one hundred shells were delivered from Corp Gres Key. War. Man’s game.
It is five p.m. The third raid of the day has just finished. The siren blew at three thirty and before I could close the windows and pull down the shades the bombs began falling. This has been the worst raid we have had so far. I expected this house to be struck at any minute. There were two terrific blasts, which sounded as though they had got the station, or the hospital. What a day for it to happen! A Saturday afternoon with the town crowded with all the Saturday shoppers!
It is now six p.m. Edna Renacre has just been in to see if I was alright. She said there were eight German machines over Romford. Our spitfires went up to attack and the duels could be watched from South Street. She said she saw two machines brought down towards Rainham and three large open ambulances full of bodies on stretchers going towards the hospital. The last bomb fell at Upminster, on the railroad, and when she went into Romford Station a few minutes ago to buy her season ticket, a board was being put up, stating that all services to Upminister and Elm Park were suspended. South Street, Eastern Road, this Western Road, and Carlton Road are full of scattered shrapnel.
It is ten thirty p.m. Getting sleepy but afraid to go up to bed. The nine o’clock news said that a continuous air-battle has been going on all over England all day. Guns from the French coast have also been shelling over South coast intermittently, destroying property and causing casualties. Ramsgate has been severely damaged. Here the gas works were set afire. The machines over Romford were apparently part of a group of fifty, which were making for London.
Elizabeth Coppen phoned me this evening that Clem and her husband were at South Weald this afternoon and ran into a terrific battle overhead. They had to get out of their car and lay in the ditch. They had a six-month-old baby with them!
The news said we brought down thirty-four machines and lost ten, but one of our pilots was safe. One! This is God damned ghastly awful. I am furious. I grow angrier and angrier.
No news from Ted today. Just as I wrote this the phone rang. It was Ted, phoning from Reading. He says he will be home some time tomorrow afternoon. No raids where he was. He sounded half drunk to me but perhaps it was only the transmission. “Take care of yourself,” he said. Yes, by God, I have to!
Sunday August 25, 1940
I have just been listening to the morning’s news. It stated that eight hundred German bombers, escorted by an equal number of fighters, attacked us in the afternoon yesterday. Three hundred, with their escorts, attacked the London area, five hundred, with their fighters, the Portsmouth area. Our group overhead right here consisted of thirty bombers with about thirty escorting fighters. Except saying that forty-nine of the bombers were brought down, no other estimates of losses, either the German’s or ours, was given. This is rather ominous, I think.
Then, again, late last night we had another raid. It lasted from eleven thirty p.m. to one thirty a.m. this morning. This was directed to London. An incendiary started a large fire there in a commercial building. It was brought under control. Nonetheless the announcer added that, very promptly, for a quarter of a mile in every direction, the streets were crowded with our firemen and machines and fire-fighting apparatus, and the whole neighborhood closed to the public. What is one to think? This was no little fire, confined to one commercial building, was it?
When the late siren went last night the Thomson’s from next door came in here to sit with me. They stayed until two o’clock in the morning. I think this was very kind. When I saw Mrs. Thomson yesterday morning she was very surprised to learn I had been alone the previous night, and later in the afternoon she came to tell me, “Jack says if there is a raid tonight he is coming in to sit with you. He was awfully shocked to hear you were alone last night. So remember, don’t get frightened. If there’s a warning tonight, we’re coming in to sit with you. That’s sure. John says you shan’t be alone if he can help it.” So they came, very promptly, too. They laid the child on the sofa, and we sat together round the fire, chatting.
I was glad, for I was sick with nervousness. John Thomson persisted in talking, and every time the explosions shook the windows he just sat calmly ignoring the battle, and talking, talking, telling stories, reminiscing. He was very helpful. So different from my man, who, if he had been here, would have been tish-tashing about, snappy with impatience, and cursing the Germans for disturbing his sleep. Yes, that’s how it would have been.
Now I want to go upstairs and dress. Edna said she would come in to lunch with me today, “so that I shouldn’t be alone.” That is kind of the girl. I have to do my leg too. It is very bad again this morning, with inflammation and swelling spread up the leg again from where it had receded, and open and throbbing with pain at the ankle. Nerves, I suppose.
I shall not write in here again today. Edna will be here at noon, and Ted will probably arrive around teatime.
Last Sunday the Germans got Croydon. I wonder what they will get today! Sunday is their favorite day for destruction. So Au-revoir.
© 2012 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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