The Wartime Diary of a Country Lady 1945
1.1.1945 Time I awarded my Rodney a Mention in Dispatches for his gardening and particularly vegetable growing. He has had to use Albert Day (successor to Alfred who was called up in his turn) to do the heavy digging but has not only kept us in veg. but produced a regular surplus for sale, cunningly organised so that ours comes on just a touch before there is a glut in the village (they all dig like rabbits), and as trade goods when we go to London, onions being like gold sovereigns. The leavings of Molly, and Nuggett the milk horse also make a contribution.
2.1.1945 Another New Year dance at the Base, with their own band, which is very good but hanging over them is the loss of Glenn Miller from whom they took their musical inspiration. Didn’t hinder the enthusiastic fraternisation though.
5.1.1945 I talked to Elsie about little Abe’s father but there is no point in her naming him as he would just be spirited immediately back to the States. I fear there must be rather a lot of these tokens of Anglo-American friendship by now.
10.1.1945 Montgomery’s press conference a few days ago has led to much ill-feeling between him and the Americans, since Monty‘s words were read as suggesting that he had pulled the Americans‘ chestnuts out of the fire. A hiccough both lots of soldiers could have done without.
8.2.1945 I think I must really be ‘going native’ here now, I nearly addressed someone as ‘bor’.
8.3.1945 The Americans are across the Rhine into der Vaterland. Rodney says one of the important things is the Montgomery in the North getting right across the neck of Schleswig-Holstein before the Russians get there and capture Denmark.
19.3.1945. Fritz isn’t finished yet. The Yanks were attacked by jet fighters which have the legs of the bombers’ escorts by hundreds of miles per hour. Our chums across the stream have had a nasty shock.
25.3.1945 We are both worried about what is to become of Rupert when the war is over. Rodney became his guardian when their parents died on holiday in Egypt of some ghastly bug - possibly the one that carried off Lord Carnarvon - shortly after Rodney came of age. Rodney inherited the farm, and also Rupert, who was still at school. The question of a career didn’t come up then as Rupert came up for his Higher Cert in 1939 and went straight to join the Fleet Air Arm as he and we could see what was coming, and that sounded to Rupert the most attractive thing to go for. So here he is, 24, and has spent the years when he would have been preparing for a career fighting a war, and a very exciting one. He has no sort of qualifications at all for civilian life, the farm is dead even if that could have helped him, we have no money at all to speak of to start him off, and it is difficult to imagine anyone taking life behind a desk seriously after the sort of war and danger that Rupert has been through. In this of course he will be competing with thousands of others who have known no other life but the Services and are similarly off to a cold start. Whether his development as a leader - first of his own aircrew, then of his flight and now - largely through dead men’s flying boots - of a squadron including motivating and managing all its ratings will help I have absolutely no idea. Of course he knows lots about aeroplanes and how they work, but so what? I worry partly because I have in a way had to take over as Rupert’s mother.
28.3.1945 The V2s continue with some massive deaths from some incidents where they land on crowds. One hit a Woolworths and another hit Smithfield market and now one has hit a block of flats full of people. A lot of them were Jews, perhaps fled here for safety. There is so little of Germany left, it is a puzzle where the V2s come from.
5.4.1945 I worry too for the Stannard, Everett, Day, Coe and so forth boys when they come home. Our farm is out of action whatever happens to it - can’t plough concrete, and indeed besides the runways there are concrete bunkers for fuel and bombs and so forth, and all the farm kit has gone - and the other farms have moved on from horses to tractors and generally gone all arable, so there is much less farm work in the village .. and in the winter pretty well none at all except a bit of hedging and ditching. Set against this their service may have opened the eyes a bit of boys who had before (nor most of their families) ever been anywhere but rural Norfolk. So they may want to move on anyway.
Middle class leavers returning to their ‘old’ company face a different problem. They may find that those who for medical reasons were rejected for service, or those who stuck to their ‘reserved occupation’ when others obstinately volunteered, have got ahead of them and are entrenched in promotions that would otherwise have gone to a man who, instead, went out and made the world safe for those who stayed at home. At least one has been rewarded with the bland statement, after six years in uniform doing what he thought was right, that he had “missed six years’ experience”.
9.4.1945 It is clear from the Times that ‘planes from British carriers’, which presumably includes Rupert’s squadron (the news report mentioned Avengers), have been flying against Japanese airfields in the Ryukus off Formosa for a couple of weeks now. Rodney says this is to stop Jap aeroplanes from Formosa staging through to interfere with the American landings on Okinawa. It is difficult to imagine my schoolboy Rupert leading his squadron into battle. My parfit gentle knight.
11.4.1945 Rodney met an officer who had been invalided from Burma after serving in an even more forgotten Division of the Forgotten Army which was under Vinegar Joe Stilwell. None of its officers (although many had done gallant service) got any awards at all. The Division was broken up shortly after coming under Slim and as they were not part of XIV Army the officers were completely left off the annual list and will return to England with only the Burma Star.
13.4.1945. Roosevelt has died. Many of the Americans on the Base are distraught. Rodney says FDR should have chucked ages ago, he has given away Poland and the whole of Eastern Europe to Stalin. Rodney says FDR’s war aims apart from the defeat of Germany included removing the UK from its position of world leadership (by making sure we ended the war bankrupt after using all our assets to buy arms from the US - a massive transfer of resources, which helped kick America out of the Depression), and dismembering the British Empire, which for many of the native peoples will end in tears. Rodney says at least we’ll now be shot of his disastrous, stupid, Communist wife. The only joke, says Rodney, is that America will now have to pick up the bill for being the world’s policeman. Rodney said the Democrats only get in because Lincoln was a Republican and the South has not forgiven him for freeing the slaves. Rodney has written a letter of condolence to the Colonel.
16.4.1945 The Japanese are launching suicide air attacks on the British Pacific Fleet. I worry even more for Rupert. The news reports are clearly heavily slanted to make it look as if we are laughing through everything but I simply don’t believe this. Rupert’s lot have been pounding away in the same area for nearly a month now so it is difficult to imagine the Japs are not ready for them when they come. I know Rodney worries but he won’t let on. I wish I could help him through this even if I can’t help Rupert.
18.4.1945 On the 11th the Americans liberated a German concentration camp at Buchenwald near Wiemar. They have forced the local citizenry to witness the hideous horrors perpetrated in the name of the Vaterland they were so proud of. The numbers deliberately murdered are unbelievable. Rodney says it is as if murder for Germans is an industrial process, like making bicycles.
19.4.1945 The most GHASTLY pictures in the Times today of the Germans’ Belsen concentration camp with piles of absolutely skeletal dead bodies and absolutely skeletal survivors. The horror is beyond belief. It must have taken thousands of ‘ordinary’ Germans to drive the trains and shut up the cattle trucks and so forth, to make this happen. It is absolutely impossible that the people round about were ignorant of the atrocities being carried out in their name and word must have got out and about. Vile atrocities against the people in Auschwitz have been common knowledge since 1941. The entire German people are stained with this to the end of time.
24.4.1945 Rodney hears that sometimes the Americans, on entering a town, send for the Town Council and as they obviously have to be good Nazis to have the job, string them up.
28.4.1945 More ghastly horrors reported from Buchenwald where the Germans have interned thousands and pursued an absolutely deliberate policy of starvation and brutal murder. It must take a large number of ’ordinary’ Germans to achieve all this.
29.4.1945 Italian Partisans have strung up Mussolini, and his mistress Carla Petracci, upside down in a square in Milan. Rodney says the Partisans are Communists, who will try and take over Italy the first chance they get. So besides having their country chewed to bits by the war they have more strife to come. Mussolini entered the war in Europe in style in 1940, his valiant army nipped over the border to Menton, threw the statue of Queen Victoria into the sea, and nipped smartly home again.
30.4.1945 The Americans and the Russians have met on the Elbe which was agreed as a dividing line. Ike could have pushed straight across deeper into Germany but would have had to pull back and the American public would not have taken kindly to casualties incurred for that.
1.5.1945 No more blackout! It was tempting to have a huge bonfire of the blackout curtains but who knows, they may come in handy for something. These wartime habits of frugality are I think with us for life. Even the gas mask haversack may have a use! The gas mask itself, which hardly anybody bothered to carry about after the first few weeks, is just a grisly souvenir. Also, the Government has stopped issuing gas masks.
2.5.1945 Hitler is dead. How and where etc have yet to be revealed. Doenitz has taken over what small slice of Germany is still left.
3.5.1945 ANOTHER ghastly German death camp has been found a Dachau. The Americans are marching the locals in and making them stop and look at cattle trucks there stuffed with corpses of people who have been deliberately starved to death. We have known of these camps - for instance Dachau and Buchenwald - since before the war but the full horror of them was not understood, since no sane person would have believed that a 20th century Christian people could behave in such an appalling way.
8.5.1945 ‘VE Day’! Here in Britain after five and a half years of purgatory we are at last safe from the violence of the enemy. We are also bust, and our people weary and worn out. But this is the best we have ever been, or ever shall be. The village had a huge bonfire on the green with a Guy of Adolf on top.
10.5.1945 Apparently Goebbels murdered his wife and five children before killing himself. Ah well, his children prove that the soldiers were mistaken about him in that song.
12.5.1945 The Avengers are still raiding the airfields between Formosa and Okinawa, as the latter is not yet taken. No news from Rupert for a while but we write regularly and cross our fingers that he gets to read our letters.
13.5.1945 There is to be a small petrol ration for civilians, equivalent to two hundred miles a month. Just enough for the odd trip to Norwich but not for any major jaunts. I’d love to take a few days by the seaside but the beaches are still a tangle of barbed wire and so forth. Goodness knows how long it will take to make them usable again.
25.5.1945 Really TERRIBLE news. Rodney had a telegram to say Rupert (Lt Cdr R H J de M Cholmondley DSC and bar, RNVR(A)) is missing.
27.5.1940 This is the fifth anniversary of the German massacre of 97 surrendered officers and men of the Norfolks in France. It is so keenly felt here although mercifully no village men wer included; but many of the lost were related.
28.5.1945 The Pacific battle continues. I just hope whatever child has had to take over as Rupert’s successor, survives. Tokyo has been laid waste by the Superfortresses which is richly deserved.
3.6.1945 There is talk of bananas reappearing but only for children, the youngest of whom have never seen one. I YEARN for a banana!
5.6.1945 Katya has signed up with the Red Cross to help with Polish Displaced Persons (Dps). She is adamant that she will not go back to Poland while the Russians have it (as she knows this would cost her her neck). But there are thousands of Poles in the British and American areas, ill, lost, starving, and she will try and do what she can for them. A bit mean to miss my cook when so many have nothing to cook in the first place. In contrast to Phyllida, Katya has been neutered by the war because she clings to the hope that her husband will some day reappear. Rodney and I both agree that this is not going to happen, but the British Government will not come clean about Katyn.
Sally has been promoted to cook (but is still also scullery maid and several other things as well). The cook part is really part-time as their mother doesn’t want Sally and Elsie to live in, as she would lose the two ration books. Before the war she would have been only too appreciative!
15.6.1945 The sun is out and I really ought to stop feeling sorry for myself. I have got through five and a half years of war without a scratch, have never experienced an air raid and my home has come through undamaged (indeed improved), and I have never had a day without food or a night without rest, nor been much separated from my husband. So many millions of others have lost so much. By comparison my war has been a piece of cake.
21.6.1945 The Times says Hitler poisoned himself and his mistress after testing the poison on his dog. Their corpses were then incinerated to stop them becoming trophies. A lesson learned from Musso presumably. The Reich and the Fuhrer are finished but now we have to deal with the Volk.
26.6.1945 Hugh Dalton says there will be more clothes available soon, but the head of Gamages says not a hope. Dalton was quite forward in lying to us about this before the election. Rodney says Socialism necessarily rests on lies. It is based on the fatuous idea that politicians know better how to run things than the people who actually manage them, and all this huge fabric of rules and snoopers does is to prevent useful activity and make everything, bad already, immeasurably worse.
Rodney says that the first snowdrop of relief from Socialism will be when he sees a trouser turnup again.
30.6.1945 The Socialist snooping gathers pace, with the Govt trying to gather information on whether women are married or not, as if this was any of its business. Rodney forecast this but one had no idea he would be proved right so soon.
19.7.1945 Demobilisation of our five million servicemen has started even though we are still deeply at war in Asia, so to replace those demobbed we have to continue with conscription, and indeed need it to maintain an army of occupation in Germany.
Each man ‘demobbed’ receives a three-piece suit, and all the bits that go with it, which means he can be smartly dressed when he goes for a job interview. Spivs hang about the demob centres trying to buy the demob kit to sell on the black market.
Thanks to Goering there is plenty of building work for fit young men, and many will have learned new and useful skills during their service. I suppose the women who have kept the home fires burning and the buses running and have had their own money to spend, will be sacked to make room for the men.
Many a released soldier will have to deal with children who hardly know him and a wife who has been running the show for years, to say nothing of those whose marriages have collapsed due to the war (and in some cases the Americans). There must be a lot of women right across the areas we have conquered or passed through who are desperate for a protector. I suspect that a lot of entanglements with Italian women are going to come to light and, in the future, even Germans. I should give thanks that my Rodney has, through no fault of his own, been spared these temptations.
23.7.1945 Some of the Russian soldiers must be really primitive. A British soldier in Berlin took a picture of one who expected to be able to see the result immediately! Another Russki stole a tap from somewhere, smashed the end into the plaster wall of his billet, and couldn’t understand why no water came out. The currency in Berlin is apparently cigarettes, with which ANYTHING can be purchased.
26.7.1945 Labour have got in at the election. Rodney says that apart from no more physical danger, everything that was bad about the war will now get immeasurably worse, with armies of Government snoopers on the public payroll, and shortages and rationing worse than ever. He says the Forces were inundated with propaganda and Lefties drafted in as ‘Education Officers’ to lie to the soldiers about Labour. The most pernicious lie is that Labour will build five million houses which is what are needed but which is physically impossible. But the proles who voted Labour aren’t intelligent enough to work that out.
30.7.1945 The Americans finally departed a few days ago leaving an ENORMOUS amount of stuff behind on which the locals descended with metaphorical whoops of joy. The Colonel had decently had us and a few others over for a drink in the Manor (Bourbon but any port on a storm) to say goodbye. Since then some squatters have turned up but are having difficulty as Gaffer had his men ripped out most of the plumbing fittings which are top quality even if somewhat clumsily installed. Right now one can pick up almost anything pretty cheap in the village as the game is to turn the loot into money as quick as possible. There’s an element of pass-the-parcel in this so as not to be caught in possession if questions are asked. Cooking utensils, although often rather large, are prized after the 1940 saucepan salvage which was of course a complete fraud; also furniture as nobody already housed has been allowed to buy any new items for nearly three years. Beatrix Potter’s illustration of Mr & Mrs Samuel Whiskers decamping from her barn about sums up the scene.
No Independence Day tamasha this year as the planes had gone and the groundlings were busy packing up.
2.8.1945 Of course the Americans have vacated the Manor as well. Our interest is purely emotional but we do hope it won’t end up looted and wrecked while it is in limbo as the property of the Govt. We have heard that Thunderbox has died so I imagine his executors will want to sell out their interest and in the end it will go to some greasy over-weight civilian who has done well profiteering out of this war just as the family feared in 1919. As it is, I hear squatters have moved in. The squatting thing puzzles me as there is little work around here.
4.8.1945 Gaffer from his new hoard has sold us a bath and lavatory and other bits with which he promises to make us a bathroom on the attic floor. Gaffer also produced a roll of lino, the colour is not perfect but don’t you know there is still a war on. It seemed prudent to take delivery of the ingredients while we could, in case this version of Christmas is suddenly cancelled. The north-facing bedroom opposite the ‘new’ rooms P & K made will do well for it as it is easy for the drains. Of course we only have a cesspit at the end of it all, there will never be main drainage out in the country where we are. Thank goodness electricity and the telephone got here before the war - we are on the main route to the coast which helped.
‘Our’ Americans are off to the Pacific to join the bombing of Japan. They will do this in greater comfort in Superfortresses, which they tell me are twice the size and with over twice the bomb load of the Liberators, and can fly nearly eight miles high where the Jap fighters have trouble catching them. The Liberators will probably go to the RAF who are training in Canada to join in. Rodney wonders if there is anything left to bomb.
7.8.1945 A new bomb has been dropped, on Hiroshima. This one bomb destroyed the whole city. The development of this has been a huge effort by America and Britain and cost literally thousands of millions of dollars.
10.8.1945 A second atom bomb has been dropped on Nagasaki. Let’s hope the penny will drop too, that the game is up for Hirohito. Rupert’s heirs are now attacking Japan itself.
15.8.1945 Chastened at last by Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese have suddenly surrendered. I hoped the new bomb would put the Russians off starting any more ghastliness, as it is all very secret, but Rodney says they will know all about it anyway through all their spies who have been recruited into all our most secret areas, and some of the scientists who were refugees from Germany are Communists and primarily loyal to Stalin, not to us who gave them shelter. Many people in the Labour party, including some quite high up, are secret Communists which means that the top can protect those lower down.
18.8.1945 Gaffer sent two of his bods round and they have laid the lino and plumbed in the new bathroom. The hot water comes from miles away so a really hot bath may be tricky but at least any guests will be less in our hair with this setup. I am beginning to wonder if, when people have some petrol to get out and about, we might advertise for paying guests.
20.8.1945 Various witless loons writing to the Times and so forth, holding up their hands in horror about the atom bombs and saying how awful, etc. Can these dim fools not realise what years of horror so many millions have been spared? Would they have liked to leave their armchair and invade an utterly hostile Japan?
29.8.1945 As long as rationing continues I can just about make Albert (garden) and Elsie (cow, rabbits and chickens) pay for themselves. The orchard comes on soon, leading with the Worcesters, which don’t keep so I shall try and sell a lot of them (but give some to Albert and Elsie/Sally for their families).
3.9.1945 After what for us has been six whole years of the most terrible war in human history, our last enemy, Japan, has finally formally signed its surrender document. Rodney thinks the Japanese need some tangible reminder that they are utterly beaten; perhaps Hirohito being led naked through the streets of Tokyo with a rope round his neck would be a suitable humiliation.
5.9.1945 We had a long letter the Captain of Rupert’s aircraft carrier. Rupert was leading his Avenger squadron in an attack on a Jap airfield in a string of islands called the Sakashima Gunto when his aircraft was hit by flak and hurtled across the island in flames and drove straight into the sea. His No.2 circled around (under fire) but nobody got out.
This has wrecked Rodney. Thanks to this BLOODY war he has lost his only Cholmondley relation (and a very loved brother), his back and any ability to do man’s work with it, and his farm and all in all his place in the world; he is now definitively the Last of the Cholmondleys; I think he feels he has lost his manhood. I try to persuade him otherwise in the only way a girl can. We are mostly living off the Trust my father set up for me before he died soon after we married, that and Rodney’s miniscule War pension that he gets for the accident that in retrospect knocked not just him but everything else flying.
10.9.1945 The Admiralty have written formally to state that Rupert must be assessed as ‘missing believed killed in action’. Rodney now has to grit his teeth and go and do all the next-of-kin business, registration, probate and so forth. One thing I can take off him, although it tears me apart, is to clear Rupert’s room and various possessions around the house. Sally is helping me and we are packing all his wearable clothes for the Red Cross. Young as she is, she is a brick and quietly gets on with folding and packing. Letters and papers with no business connotation I burn. There is no end of other stuff going right back to his childhood as Rupert’s idea of tidying up was to stuff things into cupboards or the roof space. Thousands of people all over the country have to go through this. Millions all over the world.
15.9.1945 Looking back on the war I am horrified at how it has corrupted me. Shortages and rationing have left me feral, atavistically grasping at any dodge to make life a bit easier. Now we are at peace I have less (or in fact under Labour NO) conscience about it. I salve myself by reflecting that I don’t THINK I ever did anything that prejudiced the War Effort, or our fighting men. Indeed Molly at least has added to the food supply. But all these crafty shortcuts would have been quite beneath me in 1939. But in that long and far-off yesterday I could afford to have that attitude. Now, Cripps is going to give us Austerity. And I am going to fight my corner.
Cripps was a Wykehamist, the worst sort of Class Traitor. I expect he was bullied at school. What a nest of vipers Winchester has proved to be.
29.9.1945 Dolly Coe had a long letter from her grandson Henry in the Pacific. He was part of a naval draft in a troopship full of soldiers and RAF. As far as the Navy were concerned, when they arrived at Gibraltar they were all fallen in, tallest on the right etc. Three sailors from the right were told right turn, get your kit, muster by the gangway. At Malta the same. By this time Henry, a relatively short lad, had despaired of having a peaceful war. Again at Port Said, and again at Colombo, and on to Sydney where what was left was landed. Henry was then sent to a battleship as an Oerlikon gunner, to replace a man whose head had been taken off by a Kamikaze. At about that time the Bomb dropped. Dolly is hugely relieved as this is the first she has heard of him since Malta.
10.10.1945 In London we put up with Phyllida, a much more sober P. than we knew before. No trace of her mother has come to light at all. However Eddie is still in touch. He still seems to have fingers in some secret pies. He says the Vatican is helping Nazis to escape and they will finish up in Spain, and in the Argentine and Chile where there have long been colonies of Germans.
London’s street corners now provide pitches for wide boys and spivs, selling all manner of black market goods. They have a curious club style; wide ties, overcoats, and fedora hats pulled down over one eye. They prosper on the basis that a people who for years have had nothing, will in some mad way buy anything. Rodney says that for most people Peace, like the Battle of Waterloo, will be damned hard pounding.
21.10.1945 Our pied a terre in London has gone as the bilingual Phyllida has landed a civilian job in SHAEF, Ike’s HQ in Paris. I wish her well, as also inher continuing quest to find out what happened to her mother, who must have been betrayed by a French person..
11.11.1945 A big case arrived with all Rupert’s kit and possessions in it. The whole of a life in just one box. Rodney said he couldn’t stand it and burnt the lot just as it was. Rupert’s pyre he said, to take him to Valhalla. That’s the end of this. I can’t write any more.
23.12.1945 But - the WO sent Rodney a Defence Medal. He threw it out.