Season 3, Episode 8
Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Tuesday, April 15, 1941
I want to take issue with one of the statements made by Eric Gill. Speaking of his parents he says:
“There was of course the dark cloud of poverty… Eight children and five more to come and a regular salary or stipend of one hundred and fifty pounds a year was, even in the pre-war days, too great a disproportion but somehow they managed. Those were the days before children were regarded as disasters. I suppose the people of today are quite unable to imagine that frame of mind. In those days, boys and girls, young men and women regarded marriage and children as being inseparable things, the one inevitable consequence of the other. We were sad if our parents were sad. It was gloomy and miserable when father was unjustly angry with mother, as it seemed to us he sometimes was. It was gloomy and miserable when mother was fretful and snappy with father, but these things though not infrequent, seemed natural enough even if unnecessary, and they were only passing troubles.”
Now, Eric Gill was born in 1882, and I was born in 1884, so we were contemporaries, and our parents were contemporaries. He and I lived in the same world at the same time, and I say he doesn’t know what he is talking about. I say that in those days children were regarded as disasters, practically the greatest disasters that could befall a woman. I say that when fathers were unjustly angry with the mothers, and the mothers were fretful and snappy with the father, it was mainly and hugely because of the incessant child bearing and child supporting they were involved in, and had brought upon themselves. I say, most deliberately, that the knowledge of birth control has been the greatest boon to women (and to men) since time began.
It is true that when we were children large families were the rule, but it was because nobody knew how not to have large families. Nobody wanted them, I am quite sure of that. The average living number of children in a family seemed to be eight, but many families had nine or ten living children, even more. My mother brought ten children to birth, of which only six of us survived infancy. Ted’s mother gave birth to seventeen children, of whom only six grew to be adult, whilst of those six, three died before the age of forty, and one at forty-four. Of those seventeen children only two survive today, Bert and Ted. I do not know if Mrs. Thompson had any miscarriages, but I presume she did, as all the women I ever heard of had miscarriages. More often than not these were not miscarriages at all, but direct or induced abortions. They used to call them “misses,” and would speak openly of them. “Oh Yes! I’ve had another ’miss’ Thank God!” or “I’ve had nine, and five misses.” Or “How many children have you? Any misses?”
My mother loathed every pregnancy she had to endure, and she told me that Eric and I were the only children she didn’t try to do away with; I because I was her first child, and Eric because he was her last. She said she thought she was too old to have another child, so didn’t take any steps to do away with him until it was too late to try. All her children were sickly and ailing and delicate. Several of them were premature, and some of her labors nearly killed her, they were so hard. Sometimes she could “bring on a miss” but when she couldn’t, apparently all she could do was injure both the unborn child and herself.
She used to get into the most awful rages. She’d hate Dad of course. She had all the pain, all the work and worry, but never an extra shilling to alleviate at least one side of the business. It was the same with all the Aunts and neighbors. Women’s one aim in life was not to have another child, and they used to be ashamed of “being in the family-way” again and hide it from each other as long as they could, so as to evade the commiseration they bestowed upon each other, but which none of them wanted to receive. Large families were a curse, and openly regarded as such. I know.
I married in the total and blank ignorance of sex, customary at that time. Of course I knew that women carried children inside them but I didn’t know how they got there. I did not know that marriage meant anything more than sleeping in the same bed with a husband. I did not know there could be anything further between a man and a woman than kisses. All this in spite of the fact that I know women frequently had children, and practically always tried to destroy them, mainly by drinking poisons. In spite of their own revolts, mothers did not enlighten daughters about sex when I was a girl. Girls lived in a romantic fog as far as reality was concerned, and when they married, they did not regard children as inevitable, in spite of what Eric Gill says. They never thought about children at all!! They knew their mothers constantly had children, but it never occurred to them that they would have children themselves. Marriage to them meant getting a house and furniture, getting a home of their own, away from mother. Girls lived in one world, mother in another, and I never knew any girl of my time who regarded her mother simply as another woman, another girl! A mother wasn’t an individual like herself, another woman, but a parent, a boss, an old person, a nuisance, a crank to get away from. Yes that is exactly how it was.
When I went to America I was surprised at the small families. Two children seemed to be the average over there. Four children was a large family, in America. When the women told me, as a matter of course, that of course I didn’t want babies right away, and instructed me in the use of douches, pessaries, etc., well, I was dumbfounded. What a revelation! When I looked at the happy American women, the women who were happily married, the women who weren’t worn out by everlasting babies, who were young and pretty and found life good, who could laugh and have a dollar to spend, that was another revelation. So women could arrange their lives to suit themselves! Yes, it was a tremendous revelation.
Later of course, after Ted’s conversion, I came up against the talk against birth control. I let it wash over me. It was man’s talk. I have yet to hear a woman talk against birth control. Moreover, most of the talk originated with celibate men, the priests. Is any woman, that is, any married woman, going to pay the slightest attention to that? Of course she isn’t. Moreover, the Catholic married woman doesn’t pay much attention to it, either, over there or over here, as is easy to be seen. It is only the very poor and the very ignorant Catholics who still have big families. They are those who can’t help themselves. The Catholic family is no bigger than the Protestant family nowadays. Not only are children luxuries which can’t be repeatedly afforded, women have decided that children are strictly their own affair, and they will bear a child only when they want to, and never when they don’t want to.
Priests and husbands may fulminate against birth control; nevertheless, the women practice it and will continue to do so. That is how it should be. A woman should bear a child because she loves her husband and wants the child, never because, like a beast, she can’t help herself.
Once I got into terrible trouble with Ted about this. It was when Marjorie Mailman was in the thick of her troubles. Mailman was keeping his discarded common-law wife in one New York tenement, and Marjorie in another! Or rather paying the rents, for they all three were half starving, since the older woman followed him around to his work and made rows there, so he kept losing job after job. Well, Marjorie was staying with us on Avenue A, and she confided to me that her courses had stopped and she was afraid she was pregnant, and asked, could I tell her what to do. I made her take a hot mustard bath, and mustard douche, and put her to bed with a strong dose of quinine and whiskey. Unluckily Ted found out, and did he raise Hell! Not with Marjorie, Oh dear no! She was his guest! With me aiding and abetting her to commit mortal sin, he said. He brought me to tears (for I was much younger then) but he couldn’t make me say that I was in the wrong. I had done what I could for the girl at the moment, and if I could have done more I would have done so. Ted was all male righteousness, as per usual. That is what infuriates women in all the blether. Men won’t practice self-control. They insist on satisfying their concupiscence whenever they have the desire to do so, and then demand that women should suffer the consequences. Oh, no thank you dear sirs, we know better today.
Wednesday, April 16, 1941
Last night we were talking about General Simovitch’s Declaration, which appeared in Monday’s Times. In it he said, “Without waiting for the final decision of our new government, and without warning, the German’s bombed Belgrade, an undefended town. The enemy gave orders to his air force to leave nothing standing and nobody alive. This had a profound effect on his airmen, according to the declaration of two German airmen.”
All day long I have been thinking of this last sentence, and wondering what exactly it meant. Did it mean that German airmen felt themselves exhilarated into extra wildnesses of savagery and mass murder? Or did it mean that their spirits were shocked and their minds revolted?
Anyhow, they destroyed Belgrade completely, and nearly all its inhabitants. Even supposing they were revolted, they carried out the order. Ted still thinks there are good Germans, and that many Germans inside Germany are against Hitler and his Nazi regime. I say that the Germans are responsible for their leaders and must suffer in the general condemnation. If the Germans refused to carry out Hitler’s orders, what good would the orders be? I am convinced that the Germans approve of Hitler and his methods simply because they make no attempt to overthrow him, but continue to obey him exactly.
Did the German airmen refuse to bomb Belgrade? Not one of them. What puzzles me is how the German people can persuade themselves they are in the right about all their aggressions. I could understand they could believe that France, their hereditary enemy, was against them; or that Great Britain was their enemy; but how can they persuade themselves that all the other countries of Europe were their enemies? How those little countries—Norway, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, and the rest—are their enemies? How can they believe their little peoples were going to rush in to attack the mighty Germans? Surely if there are any sane people left in Germany they must know their leaders are liars.
If the air force is shocked at their orders, which they receive, why do they carry them out? Why obey the devil when you come to recognize him for what he is?
All this led to a very curious statement by Ted. He said that in these days the question and the jurisdiction of conscience became a very complicated matter. He said that soldiers under arms must obey orders, and that it would be a sin not to obey orders, even though, like Hitler’s orders, they involved treachery, cruelty, and horrible murder. How can allegiance to your command be as allegiance to God, and come before all private considerations? Practically, in war, the private conscience doesn’t exist. You must obey your superiors undeviatingly, and you will be absolved from all guilt. Therefore, the German airmen are not to be held to account for their actions, and they are not sinners. I was flabbergasted. Here was Ted agreeing with Hitler that whoever has the might has the right; that the Government is supreme and must be obeyed unquestioningly; that the top dog is the powerful one and that the underdog doesn’t count. Therefore whatever power prevails that is righteousness. I was speechless.
Then he went on to elaborate the theme, talking about Christian war (Christian war! Christ save us!) and trying to take away all guilt from men in uniform, even the enemy. I consider this absolutely Jesuitical, and disgusting. There is nothing Christian about it. It’s horrible. It’s man’s talk again. My God! What fools men are!
The one o’clock news was definitely bad. Last night Northern Ireland was attacked from the air, practically over the whole area, the announcer said. Hundreds of high explosives were dropped, and in many residential quarters, and the casualties are feared to be very heavy. Well, when the B.B.C. admits casualties are very heavy, you may be damn well sure they are. I had a letter from Gladys yesterday, in which she says that in the center of Plymouth only one building is left standing.
We had two alerts here last night, one soon after eleven, and another at one forty a.m. but nothing was dropped in this district.
The other item concerned Yugoslavia; news from there “cannot be regarded as optimistic,” said the announcer. It is reported that all united action in Yugoslavia has ceased, though it is thought likely that guerilla warfare will continue, carried on by isolated groups in the mountains. It is estimated that over twelve thousand civilians were killed in Belgrade on Sunday. In Libya the Germans are advancing, taking back the ground, which we took from the Italians in December. Already they are into Egypt, over the border into Sollum, where fighting is now in progress. To balance this, the Duke of Aosta is expected to surrender; when he does this will finish the campaign in Abyssinia. For how long will this last? Presumably as soon as the Germans decide to enter Abyssinia, the fight will be all to do again. Probably they will concentrate on Egypt first, their intention being to take Suez.
My God! Where is this war going to end?
Thursday, April 17, 1941
Ted has just gone out to his home guarding. Last night was one of the worst we have ever lived through. Airplanes began going over at about eight thirty p.m. and soon the alert was given and the guns began to bark. Planes went over in droves, by the hundreds. The main attack of the night was on London and the Thames Estuary. It was the heaviest and most sustained raid on London since the war began. It kept us up until five this morning. No bombs were dropped in this immediate neighborhood, though many times the house shook with the explosions.
They tried for Hornchurch Airdrome, but missed it, all the bombs falling in nearby fields. Mercy of God. They got the single-track railway line to Emerson Park, and the station there. I have not so far heard of any damage nearer to us, though of course there may have been some. We have not been told officially what they destroyed in London, but news dribbles in that it was the Tottenham Court Road, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Kensington High Street. They say Maples is totally demolished, and at five tonight Selfridge’s was still burning. We are told casualties are very heavy, so they must be when it is admitted.
Now probably they will come again tonight, since it seems to be German tactics to bomb the same city two nights running. To offset this, we are told that we have defeated the Germans at Tobruk, killing about two thousand Germans, and have sunk a convoy of eight vessels off Tripoli. Those are soldiers. It is this bombing of civilians which is so frightfully devilish.
One of the items given us at six p.m. was that Lord Stamp and Lady Stamp were two of last night’s victims, the house they were in falling on top of them; their bodies were taken out this morning from the debris. I prayed all night. I thought that from moment to moment our hour had come, but no! In spite of the hellish row of guns and bombs, nothing touched this center or Romford. So, since we endured what we did, what must have it been like in town! My spark of faith rediscovered for me by Eric Gill blazed up, and I was able to pray from the bottom of my heart and soul as I have never prayed before. Lord I believe: Help thou mine unbelief. I did believe. I do believe. Oh God, never let me lose the faith again.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I have arranged to go to early mass, and Father Bishop will hear my confession before it begins. Eric Gill says that just as physical love is the center of our life as men and women, so the Holy Mass is the center of our life as Christians. Yes, I think so too.
Mother sent a card on Monday to say she would come and see me on the eighteenth, but whether she can come or not now remains to be seen. I have not heard of them being hit in Angel Road, so presume they are all right. I have not seen Mother since last August. She is a braver woman than I am if she travels through town tomorrow, as she has proposed to do. Perhaps she won’t come now. However, tomorrow will show.
Friday, April 18, 1941
I am fifty-seven today. I have had many flowers and many visitors, but not Mother. About two o’clock today Ella Side (Offard’s wife) telephoned to say Mother could not come, but she was all right and I was not to worry about her. All her ceilings are down, and the side of the house cracked from top to bottom. It was not directly hit, but received a blast from a land mine in King Street. The premises are considered “repairable” so Mother does not have to evacuate. I wish she would. Ella said there were four land mines in King Street, and it is a shambles.
Joan is very bad with her leg. It is nerves, of course. Early this morning I went out with Ted, and made my Easter duty. In consequence, I feel very happy and serene, and this in spite of all the general disaster.
© 2011 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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