Season 4, Episode 4
Compiled by Victoria Washuk,
as written in the diary of her great-grandmother, Ruby Alice Side Thompson
Read by Amanda Meuwissen
Sunday, July 6, 1941
Ted is off to his Home Guarding. My emerald earrings are missing; also a turquoise, amethyst, and pearl brooch I had. I have looked in every possible and every impossible place and cannot find them. I may have mislaid them, but where? I had been wearing them frequently of late, with my green flowered frock. But now where are they? The last I remember them they were on this dining room mantelpiece, where I used to lay them at night when I undressed. Now I have been sleeping upstairs since Tuesday.
Mrs. Prior did not show up this Thursday. Why not? She sent no excuse. I hate to think it of Mrs. Prior, but she does lay under suspicion. I have a habit of laying my watch, my rings, my earrings, any trinket, on the mantelpiece. I think my emerald earrings and my brooch were on the mantelpiece Thursday a week ago, the last day she was here. They might not have been, but I think they were. Well, where are they now? Apart from this annoyance I hate to lose anything, and my mind fidgets until I can account for it.
I’m feeling fine. It is the good sleeping, I think. I had deep sleep last night, not waking until I heard Ted running his bath water this morning. I think for both of us our nerves are assuaged. There is something so physically right in sleeping through the night, side by side in the same bed. We get up to the day saner sweeter beings. It may be animal magnetism, electrical vibrations, or God knows what, but the fact is that sleeping together in the same bed all night does iron out our nerves and restore our mental equilibrium. Both of us are saner than we were a week ago. Of course Ted gets up and goes out to early mass every morning just the same. That’s an unbreakable habit now, and only death or paralysis will ever stop him. I don’t care. Let him. In fact, the more of a habit it is, mere hypnotic habit, the less important.
This is a glorious day, clean and fresh, good. I should love to go riding. We have no car, and even if we had a car, there’s no petrol. So I shall sit at home, just the same as ever. I could sew today. I’m in the right mood for it; but with Ted at home, and the possible Sunday callers, it is no good beginning sewing, so au-revoir to that. Unluckily I have nothing good to read or I don’t know what I do want to read. Something American, I think, something about Taos and Santa Fe. I wish I had D.H. Lawrence’s letters on hand, but I haven’t. I think I’ll take down a Mary Austin. Yes, Mary Austin. Au-Revoir.
Saturday, July 12, 1941
I boasted too soon. I have been ill all week with lumbago. Last Monday morning after my bath I was attacked suddenly by the most excruciating pain in my lower back. I could not move, and every slightest attempt to move caused such agony I sweated and screamed. I screamed so much I frightened the neighbors. Mrs. Thomson came rushing in, and then rushed out for the doctor. The doctor called the district nurse, who came in and poulticed me. She came until yesterday, twice a day Tuesday and Wednesday. Dr. Keighley had to give me drugs to alleviate the pain, and to give me sleep. I’m all right again now, thank heaven, but what a week I’ve had! It appears lumbago is a hot weather complaint, and aggravated by the dryness. Many people suffer with it in the summer time. This whole week has been very hot and dry; exceptionally hot for England.
Sunday, July 13, 1941
Mother here for the day. Rita Pullan in for tea. There was a severe thunderstorm last night, which has broken the back of the heat wave. At two p.m. there was a special announcement from the government. It was that the British and the Soviet governments have signed an agreement to give each other all assistance and support during the war against Hitlerism Germany, and to conclude no armistice or treaty of peace except by mutual agreement. This was a signal last night in Moscow by our ambassador, Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. Molotov. So now we are definitely allied with Russia once again. It is three weeks today that Germany attacked Russia. The fighting is awful beyond words.
There is a rumor, coming via Stockholm, that Hitler and Goring have quarreled and Goring has been sent to a concentration camp. The story is that Goring declined to be responsible for his air force, and did not want to start the fight against Russia. He said that because of their losses in the West, and over Greece and Crete, he would not be responsible for their fighting now. So Hitler flew into frenzy and said he would command the Luftwaffe himself. Then Himmler, who was present, suggested that Goring be thrown into a concentration camp, and the presumption is that he was, particularly that Goring’s name has ceased to appear in the German papers for these last three weeks. Well, maybe. Anyhow we positively know that Rudolph Hess is here in England, so if it true about Goring that is two of the rogues who can be counted out.
Monday, July 14, 1941 – Bastille Day
In unoccupied France Marshal Petain has ordered it to be observed as a day of meditation and devotion, i.e. mourning. In Syria the armistice has been signed, the Vichy French have laid down their arms, and the free French are celebrating the day, as Frenchmen should.
Tuesday, July 15, 1941 – St. Swithin’s Day
In this little house the laundry baskets have to stand at the head of the stairs, and on laundry days they have to be brought down and I sort out and make up the laundry at the foot of the stairs in this tiny hallway. The stairs are narrow and have a turning-platform halfway, so taking the big baskets up and down is an awkward job. Sometimes I do it myself, and sometimes I ask Ted to do it. I asked him to do it this morning because I am leery of my back.
So, when he finished up his coffee I said, “Will you hand me down the laundry baskets please?” I stood at the foot of the stairs, ready to receive them. He came first with the tall full one; as he dropped it into my grasp it wrenched my wrist, so when he came again with the big square one, I said, “Just drop it.”
He expostulated, “I thought you said, ‘Hand me the baskets’. Why don’t you say what you mean?”
I didn’t answer him. I just took the basket, otherwise he would have stood there holding it until I did, and stood it upended. What a wave of repugnance for this man went through me! His literalness, of which this is an exact specimen, how it bores me! His petty criticisms, how weary I am of them! I want to live alone! Well now I have to attend to the laundry, so au-revoir.
Thursday, July 17, 1941
It is Ted’s birthday. Born in 1879 he must be sixty-two today. I went out this morning to buy a pair of pajamas to send to Cuthie, so I bought Ted a tie.
This week we have to register anew for rations. This morning I went over to Carlton Parade and registered with Wenden for meat, and Mrs. Dennis for groceries, butter, eggs, etc. Sainsbury’s will have a shock when I do not re-register with them, but their wartime service is very unsatisfactory. Anyhow, I prefer to patronize the little one-man business. I am especially interested in Mrs. Dennis. She is a war widow from the last war. She has one son who is conscripted for this war. So that she should not have to carry on the business alone the son married when he was called up, and his young wife works with the mother in the shop. They are two lone women. I think they should be helped. A wealthy corporation like Sainsbury’s can look after itself.
Mrs. Prior should have come today but didn’t.
Saturday, July 19, 1941
Waiting for deliveries. I had a minor shock last night, which sent me to bed full of bad feeling, but happily I am recovered this morning. When Ted came in last night he brought his commanding officer, a Mr. Cardon, in with him. The night had turned stormy, and Cardon had driven Ted home in his car. We had whiskey and cigarettes, and much talk of the last war, in which Cardon was flying as one of the first observers, over Egypt, Palestine, and elsewhere in the near East.
Cardon of course was asking about Cuthie. He told us of another Romford boy, named Tisford, who is a prisoner in Germany, but who, with two other English prisoners, is domiciled with a German farmer. This boy writes home that the German farmer is very good to them, that they like the life and they like the whole family.
“It isn’t the people who want war,” said Cardon. Exactly. Governments make wars. If the politicians in power could be taken out and shot there would be no more wars.
Enquiring of Ted how far East he had been, Ted brought out his map and showed the line of his travels in Italy in 1939. Then he produced his passport from his pocket to show its stampings! With the passport there fell on the table a foreign letter, addressed to the office, in the handwriting, I think, of his American-German lady friend, which he immediately covered, and then apparently unobtrusively (but I saw) picked up and slipped into his pocket. I pretended not to notice, but I was filled with a feeling of sick disgust. My hero! My saint! Men were deceivers ever, all right. Jealousy, I suppose; but more emphatically than jealousy, distaste and disdain for the hypocrite, the slyness, and the secrecy. This is the Catholic. I say that the Catholic mind tends naturally to secrecy, prevarication, deception, and downright lying. It is the Jesuitical mind, to which Ted has a natural affinity. Why doesn’t Ted tell me of his correspondent? Why does he conjure his letter out of sight? Why doesn’t he tell me who knits gloves for him? Or enquire for them when they are missing?
Well, a guilty conscience needs no accuser. This damnable secrecy; this holding me off outside of all confidence; this deliberate planned deception. Yes, it is all hateful to me, hateful beyond all words, and I hate the secretive and the deceptive one. This is the Catholic Christian: the man who goes regularly to confession and to mass every day. He is a Pharisee, always ready with censure for the other fellow, and he is a hypocrite and a liar. Not the simple liar, who merely utters a direct falsehood; he is the accomplished liar who deceives deliberately by indirection and by systematic silence.
There is no real friendliness in Ted for me. I have felt this lack of friendliness for years; occasional lust, yes, but honest true affection, no. He lives his own life, regardless. He does what he wants, always; he is essentially as selfish and as ruthless as his brother Herbert, but he is glossed and camouflaged with his fancy religion, his damnable Catholicism, which is the most selfish and the most materialistic religion in the world. Oh well! Here’s the grocer, so au-revoir.
Sunday, July 20, 1941
It is a lovely morning. Ted off to his Home Guarding and I have a dinner to cook. When Captain Cardon was here the other evening he told us of a new detachment of our boys now training in Scotland and known as the Spear-Head Boys. We are systematically training our troops for invasion of the continent. Constantly our boys are practiced in the loading and unloading of ferry-barges and shock tactics. The Spearhead Boys are the soldiers who will go forward in the very front, and they are trained to throw themselves on to the barbed wire, and to lay on it and hold it down whilst the following fellows clamber right over them, actually running over their backs. My God! How many broken backs shall we have? All for what? My God! My God! This crazy war!
Here’s a funny tale to note. It is about Herbert. One day last week Ted saw Bert at the gate of the Masonic Hall “one foot only over the line” making inquiries about some R.A.F. boys who have been billeted on him. It appeared they arrived without their ration cards (of course) and moreover, Bert wanted to go away for a weekend, so what was he to do with the boys?
We laughed about this, because Bert hates having anyone billeted on him, and has successfully dodged all billetees up until now, and we thought, Jolly good for Bert! Let him do something for his country! I got a report on the situation via the R.A.F. boy next door, which makes it even funnier. It seems the boys sent to Arden Cottage very much dislike being there, and are actually embarrassed by “the family.”
“They don’t mind the old boy so much,” reports Eric, “but they can’t stand his woman. They think she’s crazy. For instance, in the middle of dinner, apropos of nothing at all, she will get up and go to the organ and sing hymns.”
Hymns mark you. Very likely she is drunk, but she is such a steady old sock, the youngsters probably can’t detect her drunkenness. But hymns! All this is further evidence of how cracked old Bert is, to tie himself up with this kind of female. She is a tippling whore, religious in her cups; of course, she came from the slums originally, and is a completely ignorant tough. I suppose that is why Bert is her meat: birds of a feather. Bert has simply reverted to the society he came from, the common and the low. What a fool! Here is a man who had achieved much, but cannot stay with his achievements. His brain has softened and his character gone mushy; the whole man has deteriorated. Why? There is a crack in his brain somewhere. What is wrong with the Thompson brain? I suppose a trained neurologist could name the exact flaw at once but I can’t.
Monday, July 21, 1941
I have been reading Virginia Woolf’s last book, Between the Acts. I’ve liked it, and not liked it. I like its evocation of a summer day and a company of country people. I like its sense of life and continuity, but I dislike its emotion, which is a continuous sense of desolation. Implicit in the whole book, it seems to me, is the confession of Virginia Woolf, herself. I think her character Isa, is herself. I think she is exposed in this last book her own obsessions: obsessions with words, with moods, with regrets, with her relationships with brother and with husband, and her thoughts of suicide.
Virginia Woolf committed suicide this early spring, by drowning herself in a country stream. She was supposed never to have recovered from the death of her brother Hugo. I think all this, her grief and her intention, is apparent in this last book. I also appreciate her awareness and her statement of the latent hatred that lies below sexual love, the duel of the sexes, and the everlasting tragedy of marriage.
Now I shall take the book down to Boots and change it. I don’t want Ted to dip into it. Why? Because it’s too true; and because, like the Isa of the story, I’m afraid of the man who is my husband. The last thing I want him to find out is my real thought, my real feeling. This is a terrible book, really.
All the while I have been writing and guns have been going off. I think a German plane or two is overhead nearby. It is a very cloudy morning, with poor visibility; just the kind of sky the raiders like. No alert has been sounded, so I shall go out anyhow. By the way, I ordered two more books yesterday. One is the new Oxford University Press’s The Bible For Today. I have been on the look-out for this for some time; it was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement on Saturday, just out. The other is Marjorie Greenbie’s American Saga. I’m a most desperately home sick for America. America, my America!
Wednesday, July 23, 1941
Gladys has been to see me today. Her account of the blitzes in Plymouth is awful. She says there is practically no Plymouth left at all. It has literally been razed to the ground. On the last blitz there were nine hundred identified as dead, counting civilians only. The naval and military casualties were not counted in with the civilians. The unidentified were uncountable; two shelters, each holding about two hundred people were simply limed and sealed up and the wounded number about three thousand. This is war.
Gladys looks better than I would have expected her to look, but she has aged more than a year ought to age her. She has a perished look. It makes me want to weep. She left early after tea. She’s staying in Hammersmith until next Tuesday, and then returning to Devon and going to Cheriton for a week, with the Ways. Elizabeth Coppen came in this afternoon to see Gladys. Two old maids together; kind of sad, I think.
Thursday, July 24, 1941
Ted is Home Guarding. This has been one of my unaccountable bad days. Why? I was in such a misery all morning I even felt physically bad. I had that feeling of fright and guilt, which is dreadful. Again the charwoman did not show up, so I set to work and did a little house cleaning, but not very much, because I felt I could not cope with the house. I am dreadfully tired of housekeeping anyhow. I don’t want to dust another room, nor cook another meal, ever. I don’t want a house. I don’t want belongings. I just want to wander away—wander and wander. Of course that’s impossible. I’ve just to keep on being Mrs. Edward Thompson, a working wife and housekeeper. Oh damnation. I can’t settle to anything. I can’t sew. I can’t read. I can’t write. I can’t play. I can’t even think. Everything is weariness, and I cannot hold my attention to anything.
Possibly what I really need is a good meal. I think my system is in steady need of a steady diet of fresh meat. One shilling’s worth of meat per week does not feed me. This war diet is a very poor one. We are filled, but we are not fed. Half a pound of good steak a day for the next month would be the very best tonic I could have. There is no meat. Yesterday I was able to get a chicken for Gladys. It was only a stewing foul, and it was one of the toughest old cocks I have ever had. We had to eat it, because there was nothing else to eat. Today Ted wouldn’t even try to eat the remnants. I chewed my way through them, but Ted only ate vegetables with toast and some of the broth. Chicken broth! What sort of dinner is that for two healthy adults, and not even any rice or barley in it!
Monday, July 28, 1941
Waiting for Elizabeth Coppen. I’m awfully fond of her, but I do wish she wouldn’t visit me every Monday. It is my fault, of course. There isn’t anybody I want to see regularly once a week the whole year round. Once a week is too often and when it is always the same day too! I find such visits a tax, a tie, and a burden. It is just the same, even when I like the visitor. I am being antisocial, as usual. I like surprise visits. I really dislike these regular day of the week programmed visits. To be fitted into somebody’s schedule! Gosh I do hate that. This is trivial. So I am trivial. I’m dead tired.
Last night Gerry renewed his air attacks on this London area. We were wakened by the alert at a quarter to two. Of course we came downstairs.
Now waiting another visitor: Miss Owlett, who asked over the garden fence could she come in tonight.
Ted just left for Home Guards. Our last night’s raid was a fairly bad one. One whistling bomb which we heard descending caused Ted to roll off his sofa and get under the table! Victoria Road was hit again; this time five bombs and also Catharine Road, Hamilton Road, Heath-Park Road; our immediate vicinity. Many houses demolished, casualties not yet known. The Heath Park School has a D.A. so school officially “broke up” today, instead of waiting until next Thursday. The London damage has not yet been told us but large fires were started there, and we could see them still burning this morning. Oil bombs. Our fighters went up and everything seemed be going on immediately overhead. Three Gerry’s were brought down in this neighborhood. I was very frightened, and trembled. The all clear was given at four fifteen a.m.
All day planes have been up much more than usual; some are roaring over right now. I am afraid we shall have another bad night. Five weeks now since the attack on Russia, and Russia is still holding. Nine million men are arrayed against each other on the Russo-German frontiers. The carnage is frightful. Oh, God save the world!
© 2011 Copyright Victoria Washuk
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