Season 2, Episode 9
Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Friday October 11, 1940
The war is getting worse and worse. On Wednesday night the Germans bombed forty districts of London. Last night they bombed thirty-six districts. Our fifth warning for today is just sounding. Last night we had an awful fright, soon after eight o’clock. The alarm had been sounded at seven twenty-five. Soon after eight we heard a bomb whistling, descending. We thought surely it was going to hit this house. Ted ducked and got under the table! There were two close following thirds, the house rocked, but we were not hit. Then two more followed, a little further off. Altogether Romford received nine. I sat and cried. I cannot pray anymore. I seem just paralyzed.
The firing went on the rest of the night, but no more hits came in this neighborhood. Today we learnt that the evening’s bombs hit in Victoria Road (for the fourth time!), Albert Road, Lodge Avenue, and Westmoreland Avenue. Craters made and houses demolished, including two pubs, but no casualties.
Our first alarm sounded this morning at seven thirty-five whilst Ted was at church. Mrs. Thomson came in at once, and stayed for breakfast. Ted left early for the office, but before Mrs. Thomson left the second warning sounded, at eight fifty a.m. The raid lasted for one hour. The third was at ten forty-five a.m. until twelve fifty p.m., during which time Mr. Kessey was here; the fourth at two thirty p.m. until three twenty p.m.
It is impossible to get anything done, and the wear and tear on our nerves is exhausting. If only I had some money, I would board The Clipper and fly to New York. I was only saying to Ted last night, just before the bombs fell, how awful these nights were, and I didn’t know how I was going to stand a whole winter of them. A dozen nights like these last two nights and I’m afraid I shall go raving mad. The men are still talking war, war, and war. The politicians infuriate me. Anyhow, they don’t fight. They only specify and egg wars on.
Saturday October 12, 1940
Today the Thomson’s called in at the office and gave a week’s notice. Mrs. Thomson is going to Devon, and he is going to share a house with a fellow worker at Plessis whose wife and children have gone to Bradford, and who lives in Ilford. So it is goodbye Mrs. Thomson. Both of them spent the evening in here, and it was as well they did, for in chatting and laughing together we were distracted from the outside noises.
Sunday October 13, 1940
After all, it is not goodbye Mrs. Thomson! She came in here about noon, all tears, to say she had changed her mind. She could see, she said, that John really didn’t want her to go, so she couldn’t leave him. He had gone down to the station, to see could he get his money back on the R-ticket, which he had bought yesterday. All morning they had been packing up, and now, the work was in vain, and everything to be unpacked again. So I invited them to dinner. I knew they had no supplies in their house. After dinner, when they returned next door to work whilst there was still daylight, I invited them to come back for tea, at blackout time. Of course they came, and in a very happy and united frame of mind together. After tea we played bridge for a couple of hours. During the evening the uproar picked up again outside, worse than ever.
The moon is now coming to the full, as there is plenty of light for the raiders. In the middle of the evening they were right overhead, and we heard bombs dropping very nearby. The explosions were terrific. One whistling bomb sounded as though it was going to drop at our very door. I felt we ought to duck under the table. We didn’t. We went right on playing bridge. The men didn’t budge, just winked at each other. This was just as well for us; they steadied us.
This is the anniversary of Arthur’s birthday. Arthur always thought luck was against him. Anyhow, he’s safely out of this bloody mess of a world. He would have been a man in his fifties now, with a son to be sucked into this damnable, horrible, crazy war.
Monday October 14, 1940
It is three fifty p.m., just back from the doctor’s in time to get under cover from the raiding. Raids have been going on all morning. An all clear did not sound until two twelve, so I’ve just had time to get my visit in.
At last I am on the mend. My leg is healing. I am to keep on with the white ointment for another week, and then when she sees the leg next week she will decide whether or not I can put it back into its usual plaster of viscopaste. During this week I have lost three and a quarter pounds, which is very encouraging, nearly a half-pound a day. Last week I didn’t lose an ounce. If I could get down to thirteen stone I would be satisfied. After all, I am a very tall woman.
Mrs. Jude was in to see me this morning. As usual, she gave me the town news. She only just got into the house before the warning sounded, at about half past eleven, and all the time she was here, a battle was going on above us. Ten bombs were dropped in Romford last night. The most serious damage was in North Street, where Haysom’s was struck and completely demolished. Haysom’s is Romford’s largest furniture store, and occupied nearly a block. This morning there is nothing there but rubble and cinders. No lives lost. Sunday, of course, and not a soul was on the premises. Presumably the Jerry’s were trying for the Romford food storage plant, which is just behind Haysom’s. North Street and the Arterial Road frequently get hit. The Arterial Road, of course, is a military road, so a legitimate target. It has trenches all along it, with soldiers cap-a-pie, and big gun emplacements, and tank traps, and so on. The funny thing is, the soldier’s, or the trenches, never get hit, only the neighboring shops and houses.
Wednesday October 23, 1940
I have something marvelous to record. We had an almost quiet night last night. The alert sounded at six fifty-five p.m. and the all clear, after a noisy evening, sounded at eleven-thirty p.m. Then we only had one short period of danger in the night, from about twelve thirty a.m. to two a.m. All day we had no warnings until now, the first one sounding at six thirty-five p.m. This is probably for the night. The weather has been bad, that’s why we’ve had practically twenty-four hours peace. It’s too foggy for flying. There have been sporadic raiders today, but not in this neighborhood. Yesterday, Laval saw Hitler in Paris. The rumor now is that France is going to declare war on England. Well, maybe! Anything is possible in this crazy lunatic war.
Friday October 25, 1940
Two months today to Christmas, as Ted remarked at breakfast.
It is ten thirty a.m. and a raid on. After several days of cold mist and rain, today is a beautiful day; therefore the raids have begun early. The first warning went at eight fifty this morning, and there is no clearance. Twice already I’ve had to go into my corner and grab a cushion for my head at the threatening whistles very near and overhead. This makes me furious. I am so angry at this war. The stupidity of it, even more than the cruelty and fearfulness, fills me with rage. Men, blasted fool men, creating war. When I listen to all the poppycock that’s spoken on the air, I’m simply derisive. For here are men again, exhorting, bragging, and begging, diddling with facts, and trickling out sob-stuff about glory and about self-sacrifice. Damn lot of plausible Pharisees, that’s what most of the talking men are. Who are they? The old men.
It’s the young ones, the ignorant, innocent, inexperienced boys, who are sent out to die. Some smarmy parson on the war this morning was talking about the acceptance of pain and suffering; the same old lines, the same glibness and triteness. I say suffering does not ennoble. There aging is a man’s word: “noble.” I ask, why must suffering be accepted as the will of God? I should say that 90% of the suffering in the world is not the will of God, but the infliction by men upon mankind and it need not be.
Two fifty p.m. Mrs. Cavus came calling and stayed until dinnertime. She looked very pretty in a new winter outfit, brown in color, and chic. Of course we talked about the war, and agreed together that if the women could have any say in the matter, it would end tomorrow.
At one o’clock news we heard that Petain had seen Hitler, last night. Hitler also saw Franco yesterday. What are they cooking up for Europe now? Petain is eighty-four, and a pious Catholic. He was the man who surrendered France to Hitler. Now he talks about the salvation of France laying in her return to an agricultural economy, the cessation of the practice of birth control, the destruction of Masonry, and a return to the bosom of the Catholic Church. If only all men would return to the true faith, which, of course, is Roman Catholicism, then everything in the world would be lovely. Silly old fool! Old, that’s what’s the matter with him. What about the Pope? The Pope says nothing, and keeps on saying nothing. Mussolini makes the Italians behave disgracefully, but the Pope never utters even one little admonition. No. The Pope is an Italian, and a politician, and he plays for safety. The Italians marched into Albania on a Good Friday, and the Pope even said nothing to that.
There used to be a question when I was young: What would Jesus do? Anyhow, Jesus didn’t sit in a palace, with armed guards, and keep a shut mouth whilst his countrymen behaved like skunks. After all, when one stops to think about which are the Catholic countries, which the Catholic people, who would choose to be a Catholic? Ireland, the dirty Irish, the quarrelsome, murdering, lying Irish; Spain, with the Spaniards making murderous civil war; Belgium, with the Belgian coarseness and their Judas King; France, with Frenchmen so cynical or so soppy; Mexico with its illiterate and murderous Mexicans; and Italy, with its rape of Abyssinia, annexation of Albania, its stab in the back at falling France, the treacherous Italians. No, a white man has no sort of affiliation with any one of them. Oh, what moment of madness when I joined the church!
Sunday October 27, 1940
It is a rotten day. Ted very teasing, and air raids galore. Today is Grandma Side’s birthday.
Monday October 28, 1940
The Italians have declared war on Greece. An ultimatum was handed to the Greeks at three a.m. this morning, to which a favorable answer was demanded by six a.m. The Greeks refused to accede to the Italian demands, so at six o’clock the Italians began their attack on Greece. At seven o’clock the first air raid warning was sounded over Athens. Last night Hitler and Mussolini met in Florence. I suppose this further aggression was what they then decided upon. The filthy little Italians! What is the Pope going to say to them now? Is he going to say the same old nothing?
Monday November 4, 1940
Eleven a.m. for the first time in fifty-six nights we had no “alert” last night. It is presumed that the heavy rain made the enemy’s bases on the other side of the channel unsuitable for safe landing. Our first alarm for today sounded at ten a.m., and no all clear has come yet.
I have just finished bathing and dressing for the day, and I have had a very agreeable surprise. I decided to wear the black dress Miss Canham made for me about a year ago, and which I have never yet worn. It is miles too big! I have lost so much girth in my middle, the skirt now drops right to the ground. As it is, the dress is not wearable. I will keep it on for today so that Dr. Keighley can see for herself how I have diminished under her regime. I shall probably sign off with her today. Last Monday she told me to try my leg in viscopaste again, so on Thursday I put on fresh plasters, and to my great satisfaction, the leg has been quite comfortable under the plaster all week. So it would seem extravagant to visit her once a week simply to get weighed. I can continue to observe the diet she gave me, and reduce weight, without needing to pay her to step on her weighing machine. I have lost about thirty pounds since the beginning of August. My average loss is about two pounds per week. If I could get myself down to twelve stone, or somewhere around one hundred and seventy pounds, I shall be content to stay at that. After all, I am a very tall woman, and I do not want to look gaunt.
Well, with a new book, here is a new resolution. Or, rather, an old resolution reaffirmed. I made it this morning, and this is why. These last two or three weeks Ted has begun to read through all the Scott we have in the house. He has also gone around talking in what, I suppose, he thinks is an imitation of the Scottish accent and dialect. I haven’t found it a bit amusing. It’s so silly. It’s typical of Ted, both the reading, and what he thinks is a joke, in his imitating. To me it is simply on par with the mind of a schoolboy of fourteen. Scott belongs to the schoolroom: and as for imitations, well they’re childish, too. Last night Ted finished The Heart of Midlothian, whose heroine is that horrible girl, Jeannie Deans. At breakfast this morning he remarked, “Now I’ve finished Jeanie Deans.”
“So you’ve lost an interest in life,” I commented.
“Oh no. There are plenty of more Scotts to read. Anyhow I don’t think this is one of his best, not enough story in it. Not enough action. He could have made a better story of it, I think.”
“I never find much story in Scott. Take The Bride of Lammermoor,for instance. It’s very dull. You plough on and you plough on and you plough on and nothing happens.”
“Your language! You don’t plough on. Why don’t you express yourself correctly? What you mean is that the story is very inadequate and you don’t like it. Isn’t that it? Why you can’t say what you mean, I don’t know! ‘Plough on and plough on’. Psh”
He kept on about “ploughing on”, etc. etc., for another five minutes. I said no more. I didn’t answer his questions as to why I spoke as I did, or speak as I do. I said nothing. Inside I took a vow. I vow that beyond the necessities of courteous speech required by etiquette in the routine of daily life, I will never speak to Ted Thompson, or in front of him, again. To speak spontaneously, or to express any private opinion in front of Ted, is to be corrected or derided, and squashed. Always squashed. Who the hell is he to correct everybody’s utterance? Only one day last week he came home mightily pleased with himself, and told me a tale about how he had corrected somebody in the shelter. I’ve forgotten the incident he related, but he wound up by saying, “I didn’t half make him look a fool, I can tell you. I put him in his place all right. He did look an ass when I’d finished with him!”
He was so pleased with himself; he’d been scoring over a stranger. Why? Isn’t it horrible? Yes, conversation with Ted is impossible. Well, I won’t talk to him, or to anyone else when he is present. I have taken this vow before, but today I take it finally and keep it finally. He can talk. In fact, nothing can stop him talking; but I won’t.
There is a possibility that Artie may come home on leave today. I sure hope he does. On Friday we got a letter through from Cuthie. It was written July Seventh, practically four months ago. He said he was well, and that he had talked with some other fellows from the R.A.F. and from what they told him he realized he was very lucky to have escaped unharmed as he did.
Last week I began to scribble again.
© 2012 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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