The Wartime Diary of a Country Lady 1944
6.1.1945 Alfred has got the rockery finished and it awaits planting. I am slowly getting this place tidy, in spite of shortages of the most elementary tools and supplies.
10.1.1945 Alfred turns out to be a fine hand at trapping and other nefarious country skills. Once we would have been horrified but now Rodney and Alfred go out and trap the warrens which have prospered around the Base. Sally is a dab at skinning and gutting rabbits and Katya makes a fine rabbit pie. So, again, more self-sufficiency and more sale and trade goods. The butcher will always take rabbits and I think does actually prefer legitimate ones. We sell the skins of the ones we consume and people use them to make bedroom slippers. The rabbits themselves cooperate like mad on the supply side. The odd hare, too, and even pheasant although it is years since the Cholmondleys reared them for shoots - so they are quite tame, which seems hardly fair, but Don’t You Know There’s A War On.
14.1.1944 The barn has now attracted my tidy mind. In its furthest recesses lurk all manner of Cholomondley leavings. Item, and a surprise, a rabbit hutch presumably brought from the Manor and item, a small, tatty but useful table. The one goes on the other and I have asked my poachers if they can nab any babies to be reared for the pot. They will be speedily replaced in the wild! Elsie has cleaned out the hutch and will add rabbits to her other activities. She is quite keen on this and they will also entertain little Abe. Also, item, a few turns of barbed wire to go round the table legs to deter Reynard. I know this all sounds rather ben trovato, like the Swiss family Robinson always finding what they need in a cask on the beach, but the barn does have some attributes of a rustic Aladdin’s cave. Rearing rabbits could be a useful additional income as well as an addition to the rations.
25.2.1944 Rodney had to go to London so I came with him and we lodged chez Eddie. Trains are a nightmare, late, and always crowded with troops with their kitbags and rifles and so forth and the sailors even lug their hammocks about with them. Getting a seat is entirely problematical and the corridors are packed tight with people perched on suitcases and so forth. Every London station is like a (khaki) ant heap that has been kicked over. It is as if we have recruited thousands of people who just travel round the country by train. All nationalities too. I feel like Beatrix Potter’s Country Mouse. At least the people don’t seem to be sleeping in the Tubes the way they used to. Just hope being bombed is behind us. Rodney says the Luftwaffe must be busy with the Russians, and trying to fend off our bombers who are really into their stride now.
Besides the Government posters and exhortations everywhere the Communists have been painting SECOND FRONT NOW all over the place (this has been going on for ages but of course not in rural Norfolk).
19.3.1944 The Yanks have a new fighter called the Mustang which can escort their bombers all the way to their target and back, which the little stubby Thunderbolts couldn’t. The Mustang has the world-beating Rolls Royce Merlin engine which the RAF nearly didn’t have until Lady Hudson paid for it to be developed before the war. The original Mustang had a feeble American engine that was no good. All this from our friends who drop by for a breather. We are always seeing new faces as after 25 trips the Yank pilots go home again (those that do).
15.5.1944 The Yank bombers are as busy as ever and don’t seem to be out so long so I think they are giving France a bit of attention instead of Germany. They mostly all seem to come back which is another indicator and also of course a Good Thing.
30.5.1944 I hadn’t heard from Phyllida for ages so I rang up the flat and got Eddie. He says P will be back soon but can’t say any more (there are always people listening on the phone even if it‘s only the obliging woman who says ‘What number would you like Mrs Cholmondley?’. Most mysterious. I think both Eddie and P are in some secret racket.
7.6.1944 Rodney thinks that now the blitz is over and we have the wonderful news that our troops have just landed in Normandy to push Fritz out of France might be the time to snap up a property in London, but one has to be sure the owner hands on any War Damage Claim paperwork (Rodney says the claim on the stables that the bomber ploughed into was well worth submitting). But one will have to move fast as people will be coming back to London soon and prices will start rising again. Not just central London, Croydon or Bromley might be worth a look. Whether we have any disposable capital left is quite another thing.
Our County boys, 1st Norfolks, led the way on D-Day itself. Now the telegrams begin.
10.6.1944 We have definitely won this war even though it will drag on in the East for ages. In Europe it might be over by Christmas but one has heard that before. Rodney and I had a long chat and decided to try for a baby. My only misgiving is that nothing happened in our carefree days before the war. Anyway, in Herbert Morrison’s phrase, we Go To It. But maybe that is not what Morrison had in mind.
15.6.1944 A strange sort of flying bomb is being used against us but (touch wood) it can’t reach Norfolk. It is called a doodle-bug. There is a worry that it might be used to deliver poison gas. We take our gas masks on trips to London again.
17.6.1944 Eddie’s flat was flattened (oh dear) by a doodle-bug. Fortunately there was no-one in but Phyllida has lost all her kit including stuff that was looted after the bang. She is coming here pro tem. She rang Eddie who is on some jolly somewhere. Eddie (matelot argot again) said it was a bit of a green rub.
The drill for doodle bugs is that if their engine is running you are OK but when it cuts out LIE FLAT in what ever cover offers. Or better still live in Norfolk.
19.6.1944 P and Katya have started a renovation project in the attic to liberate two more decent bedrooms now the billetting risk must have gone away. Gaffer let us have paint and brushes etc pretty cheap but I imagine the Americans have already paid for them once if not twice. P is pretty thin and drawn and tired but says she finds the decorating therapeutic. We are slowly (have to eke it out) enjoying a Camembert that P brought but HOW??? Don’t ask, says P.
25.6.1944 P and K have moved into their new quarters and very smart the rooms are now. It occurred to Rodney that they are now about as far away from us as can be, I wonder if we were keeping them awake?
26.6.1944 Went into the bathroom to find Phyllida and Katya with their tops off having a hair wash session. They were entirely insouciant about their deshabille, but they are elegantly proportioned girls - not too little, not too much but just right as it says in the Erasmic shaving stick advertisements. Not something to share with Rodney! Two smart Victory Roll hairstyles emerged.
It dawns on me that when P does lock the bathroom door it is less for modesty than that she doesn’t want it known that her bath water is above the four inch depth so clearly marked (a sin Buckingham Palace we are told).
30.6.1944 Stuck for a birthday present for Elsie’s little boy. I shall try
but tools and materials are a problem and the toys in it seem to be for older children.
6.7.1944 We were all asked to the Independence Day clambake again. The Yanks’ tails are up as Ike barges across France.
7.8.1944 There have been no doodle-bugs for a while now as our armies have over-run the launch sites. Herbert Morrison says the battle of London is over. Damage and casualties have been high though and Londoners are fed up with having another dose of bombing so late in the war. A problem for them has been that the doodle-bugs, unlike aeroplanes, don’t come in concentrated raids so the business of Air Raid Warnings doesn’t work.
1.9.1944 The clothes ration is down again and 24 coupons must last seven months. This always seems to happen just before winter and of course things from pre-war, useless formal things apart, are as a minimum coming to the end of their life.
10.9.1944 There is a new funny programme on the wireless about an (I hope) fictitious RAF station called RAF Much Binding on the Marsh, with Richard Murdoch and Kenneth Horne.
12.9.1944 Phyllida says there are mysterious explosions happening in London. The Government said the first one (in Chiswick) was a gas main exploding but the gas mains can’t be that bad considering how many of these explosions have followed. P is still looking rather tired and twitchy. Well done Morrison. Rupert says that during the doodle-bugs there was a suggestion that the Govt should fake the reports by only allowing ones recording hits in North London, so that the Hun would reduce the range and then the doodle-bugs would fall in Kent and Sussex and with luck do much less damage. But Morrison, with that muddled thinking that is absolutely necessary to be of the Left, refused that idea. So many more people had to die or be injured because of him.
7.10.1944 There was a pause in the V2 attacks as Montgomery advanced into Holland but they have started up again.
28.10.1944 The striking dockers who have been holding up the war effort have gone back to work. Rodney says they should be conscripted and sent off to Burma since they must be fit men and their behaviour is that of traitors.
13.11.1944 P has, very speculatively, bought a flat in Putney as prices are down in London due to V1 and V2. P thinks the further west the safer however. She says she needs to get a grip and put her life together again for the long haul post-war.
15.11.1944 FINALLY we have conclusively sunk the Tirpitz, Germany’s largest battleship, which has survived many attacks by midget submarines, the Fleet Air Arm and earlier RAF raids. This time enormous five-ton bombs have done the trick and she is now the wrong way up so there is no possibility of her being repaired.
27.11.1944 The Yanks celebrated Thanksgiving (some of them don’t understand why we don’t!) by, this was much appreciated, having the village children in for a feast. As it is, when the Yanks are out and about, the children leap after them for sweets calling ‘Got any gum, chum?’
1.12.1944 The scale of this war is astonishing. We have four and a half million men and half a million women in uniform, backed by over eighteen million men from the Empire, and have taken half a million casualties. The country and its people are shabby and battered but at least the end is in sight.
13.12.1944 Captain Jack Randle of the Norfolks has been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for silencing a Jap bunker even though he was already mortally wounded, at Kohima in the desperate battle there last May. It is important, while we naturally focus on the war on our doorstep, that we remember our Norfolk lads who are sweating it out in Burma against an incredibly cruel enemy. Three battalions were taken prisoner in Singapore and have now endured - what is left of them - three years of ghastly suffering.
20.12.1944 To the immense surprise of everybody, the Germans launched a massive counter-attack against Ike in the Ardennes. Rodney says it only succeeded because the weather was foul so we couldn’t use our air against them. When the weather clears things will improve but it shows Fritz isn’t finished yet.
22.12.1944 The Home Guard has been formally stood down. No more soldiering for Rodney. For this the Yeomanry practised charging knee to knee. Rodney’s Home Guard never had to turn out for anything except, before his time, when a man with soaking wet trousers bought a ticket at a coastal railway station. Luckily the man in the guichet spotted that so let him get on the train, called the police, and the man was taken off at the next station, I imagine later to be shot. The Home Guard, which had anticipated as jolly a man hunt as any hare and hounds, was sent home again. And that was about it, in five years of war. Except for the grenade incident of course. Because he is a native and not some imported bank manager type the Guard has loyally supported Rodney and saved him anything that could wreck his back some more.