Monday, March 24, 2008

Tuesday 27th September 1938

Drove up to Ealing Common with Lois. 1 hour 20 minutes. Anti-aircraft guns on the North Circular Road. Father away on business. Drove mother and Lois to Paddington. Marjorie and Mr Sugden packing up to leave for the north…

Called at the Office, saw Mr Percy Randall. The interview revealed the managing director to be definitely anti-Nazi… I admitted that there were no prospects of business. Very decently he told me to stay in London for the present; “until something happened”. The tense London faces!

Drove back to Ealing Common, collected Pepita from her office on the way. Anti-aircraft guns and trenches in Hyde Park.

“Britain Decides: Stand with Russia beside France” “Keep Calm and Dig” “Be of Good Cheer”: the King" “Anti-aircraft Territorials Called Up” “Dig Or Die!”

Heavy rain. Felt restless after dinner and having heard the Premier’s speech (How sadly he spoke! Little hope of peace now.) Impulsively, at 8:40p.m. I decided to go back to Eastwoodbury and fetch my kit, also to leave definite instructions in the event of a call-up from the Signals. Lois ran after me to the door and kissed me. “Don’t be long; I’ll be waiting up for you.” The rain soaked roads. Windscreen wiper clicked monotonously. Plenty of traffic but all moving. Only one car passed me (overtaking) between Ealing and Eastwood! Blue lightening flashes. Drenching rain. Click-click. Drove headlong into floods near Romford but eventually got the car started again – after having pushed the damn thing about a quarter mile to a garage.

Eastwoodbury 10:50p.m. Left again 11:20p.m. The rain had nearly stopped. Roads were drying. 45-50-55 – into the darkness. Reached the flat at 12:55. Lois, true to her promise was waiting. Unloaded the B and AV (I’d brought my uniform and equipment, beside ordinary kit.)

After I’d been to the garage I got back to find Lois in the kitchen with two cups of cocoa waiting. (She’s so sweet! Much more like a wife than a fiancée!) We sat in the flickering fire glow of the lounge, arms about each other. Gradually the fire Lessened and dulled. This was the only thing that showed how time flew. Her night things were in the room and – oh, so simply and naturally! – she took off her clothes and put on pyjamas. (It’s such a frumpish dress, isn’t it?” “Well, my pyjamas and dressing gown are here…” Good night kiss at twenty to four. Ended Sunset 1938.


My poor English is – was – inadequate to describe the glory and happiness at Sunset’s end. Her kiss before I went out. She might so easily have been indifferent!
And the long drive, knowing she was waiting for me. And the cosy lounge… “Well, my pyjamas and dressing gown are here.”

Small wonder I should want to make friends with her people afterwards, so that she’d be happy, too!

Monday 26th September 1938

The day:

Sad September day of drizzling rain, mud, and sultry warmth. The bloody car would not start-up. Sweating, splashed with mud, I pushed it laboriously out of the field, up the lane to the top of a slight rise. She fired eventually. Afterwards I had to have a wash and clean my clothes before starting work.

Collected two cheques today. No orders. The shadow of war has darkened again.

“Czechs say “NO” “Britain and France will not press Czechs any further”

(Czechoslovakia was given six days in which to agree to Hitler’s increased demands.

This is the second day – or is it the first?)

A letter from father this morning:-

“…I have no time to write about the National Crisis which I consider is now definitely over – Chamberlain having called Hitler’s bluff – but should like you to come over next weekend, or earlier if necessary, to talk things over…”

Rather significant that letter, signed, quaintly, “Your affect. Father, NC Dawson.

Queues of men, women and children outside the various Southend Elementary Schools. Waiting to be fitted for their gas masks … “Is it the war again?” they ask themselves. War? War? War?

The evening:

Company Meeting at the Signals Drill Hall. This had actually been called so that we could be informed of the future of the Company and it had nothing to do with recent grim events. But – I arrived late. There was a certain excitement in the air as I entered the drill hall, where the men sat at tables. Several people, chiefly NCO’s had their hands raised. “What is it?” I asked Corporal Dennison as I passed, “What are the hands up for?” “I’ve been mobilised!” he said, in that eccentric way of his.
I sat beside Fayers and Woolmer. Fayers explained rapidly that the names of twenty two men had just been read out and they were “proving” The twenty two men, all, apparently, B3 Operators, were to proceed to Stratford tomorrow morning. Stan Woolmer, Sergeant Russell, and Sergeant Smith were amongst them. A 20% mobilisation!
Lucky blighters! They will stay in the Signals!

Captain Bately spoke: “The men who are going tomorrow, we may not see any more, so this shall be a sort of farewell supper party.” Blokes hopped onto the stage and recounted smutty yarns. (Some were quite good and I made a mental note for further reference!) We sang: “For he’s a jolly good fellow!”, “I double dare you”, “Pack up your troubles”. Then there was an interval. We had still heard nothing of our future so I slipped out to the B and AV and scribbled a note, giving the news to Lois. I knew she would come. Back inside, we all listened intently to the translation of a fiery speech by Herr Hitler, which had just concluded: -

“My patience is now ended… I demand complete surrender now, immediately… I have built up the greatest fighting force that the world has ever known… but I am an ex-serviceman, I know what war is; I desire peace… I give you until October the First…”

Afterwards, we sat down whilst the Company Commander spoke. He told us, with regret, that recent events had upset matters, so that he could not after all, tell us what would happen to the Company. “I do not know, myself” he ended. For the present we are to remain a unit, attend in the usual way, and go at once if we are sent for.
Yes, Lois was in the B and AV! I went home with her and had a coffee.

I’d decided to go to the Office tomorrow, to learn the position, just in case…
(There will certainly be little business about whilst this suspense continues)
So I telephoned home, from Lois’. Mother said she was glad to hear the sound of my voice; said she was “in a bit of a panic”. They’d been to have gas masks fitted… ”What are you doing?” I told her nothing definite was known but we might be handed over to the searchlights. “Thank God for that!” she said. Eventually arranged to call at Hawthorn Court tomorrow, with Lois.

I left Oakdene punctually ay 11 o’clock, but Lois came out with me, and we sat, very close together, in the B and AV, whilst rain drummed on the roof.

They all sat talking in the sitting room at Roedean, when I entered. More news: There were mines laid in the Firth of Forth. Plans had been prepared for the evacuation of Paris. 193 Battery had already been mobilised, “as a precautionary measure”.

There may or may not be war. This, however, is certainly the nearest we have been to it, since 1918.

Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th September 1938

Sultry weather – nature in sympathy with the war-laden atmosphere of Europe. Led a ramble through Hockley Woods; had tea at “The Bull”.

Took Lois and her cousin out in the evening. Cider at a country pub. Dolcie had a pint, Lois and I two pints. After we’d all gone into Oakdene for a moment, Lois ran out again to me, as I hesitated by the car…

Sultry weather, still. Mad Willy came down to see me. We went to a pub; a café, on the Pier. We listened to the people: War? War? War?

Called for Lois in the evening. The three of us had a picnic tea she’d prepared, sitting in the car at Wakering Stairs. She played some records of opera, whilst Mad Willy sat entranced. Singing doesn’t appeal to me so much as other things. But it was silent around; I gazed seawards. The Broomway wound across the dim wet flats. The figures of two men trudging out in the distance seemed fantastic, mystical. A red light winked in, out, above the mist. All these things blended with a high clear note of song, into… something breathtaking.

Friday 23rd September 1938

Blazing hot day; this must be positively the last heat wave of the year. Collected the car from Rayleigh at 11:30 a.m. Repairs had cost 10/- The “front wheel wobble” is getting much worse now. It occurred, sickeningly, every time the car’s speed fell below 28 miles per hour. (Lois says there’s no cure except a new axle or a new car…)

Although I started late I made eight local calls and took three orders. (One order was from the elusive builder whom I couldn’t find yesterday) Today’s orders brought the week’s turnover (a short week too, only Tuesday to Friday) up to £54. A record! In spite of the dark international horizon!

“Premier Writes To Hitler; Don’t march on Czechs: Their frontier must not be changed during our talks” “Czech Nazis Invade Sudeten Frontier” “Russia Warns Poland” “Clamour in Warsaw for the immediate seizure of Teschen” “Hungary putting forward three-point demand”

Called for Angel this evening; her mother said she’d gone for a walk. Instinct made me drive to Nobles Green. I smoked a pipe, glanced at the paper in the glimmer from my dashboard light. Neither of us were surprised to meet the other in that silent, deserted spot. She said she had to walk, felt so upset. Trouble at home. (Oh! I didn’t want this to happen!) She cried in my arms, a little. If only I’d enough money, so that we could marry straight away!

Thursday 22nd September 1938

Fairly hectic day and a pleasant one. To a large extent business makes or mars my working days. And today was good on the road. (Zone 3 – The “short country journey” – with a £12 day brings the weeks turnover well above £40. Might easily be a record week.) Wasted much time at the start, searching for a Southend builder who’d promised an order for today. Didn’t find him. Service call in Hadleigh. Didn’t reach South Benfleet until midday. Very bad start. Small order from Alden; small order from Donner; first contact of a new prospect; a cheque from Hedges at Bowens Gifford. An unproductive call at Pitsea. Then, Wickford. Easton wasn’t in. Went to see Carter (JP) whose account was overdue. We talked about the political situation (they all do!) then discussed paint. Got a seven gallon order and a cheque in settlement of the April-June account! Saw Easton at last. An order. Quoted him for a forthcoming water paint job.

Past three by now and I felt damn empty inside. Did a little bit of office work then had sausages and mash and two cups of tea at a snug café. As I ate, I read a thrilling detective story by Phillip MacDonald. Contentment!

Back to South Benfleet. Something wrong with the dynamo of the B and AV. Bugger wouldn’t show a charge at all. Found Stevenson the builder and received a long and complicated order – discounts, references, patterns to be matched, shade card to be sent to Egham, inside and outside qualities… Past five by the time I was through.
Dashed to Thundersley (still no charge on the dial), and quoted our lowest and incredible prices to Wiggins, the estate developers. Took the car to a Rayleigh garage. Something electrical would have to be taken down. A three hour job, tomorrow morning.

So I hurried back to Eastwoodbury. Did my office work (all of it!) and had my tea inside twenty minutes! What ordinary clerk could do that? And could I, if I were a clerk? No damn fear!

Now I must – still in a rush – be off to the drill hall. Which reminds me of the political situation. During the last few days, the unfortunate Czech government has accepted (under pressure) the terms enforced by Germany – aided alas, by France and Britain. But tonight’s news headlines:- “New Tension” “Czech Government Falls!” “Military Dictatorship in Prague?” The crisis is back again.

Only one hour at Signals tonight; I first had to enrol for Dramatic Art (second year elocution, actually) at the School of Commerce. Night school recommences next week.
I joyfully received the sum of 10/5d from the Signals Quarter-master Sergeant. This was travelling expenses for taking car to and from camp… Wangle of course, It came in useful however!

An “extremely important” Company meeting is scheduled for next Monday. There’s been much speculation regarding what is to happen. The wildest rumours! We knew it was something to do with reorganisation… I sounded the Quarterbloke and he eventually informed me (“in confidence,” “of course it may not be true”) that we were to be closed down as a Signals unit and handed over en-bloc to the 1st Anti-Aircraft Division as a Searchlights Company. Searchlights! Home Service! Why, 193 Battery has more honour than that! They are Gunners! Haven’t the slightest interest in searchlights; and I was getting jolly interested in signalling. However, there may be an alternative.

We finished earlier than usual tonight (ominous, I thought) and I drove the B and AV to Rayleigh. Left her at the garage for repairs. Came by bus to Rochford Corner; walked from there, whistling, swinging my stick. End of a full day.

Tuesday 20th September 1938

Anniversary of my start with Paripan Ltd. – five years ago.

This morning’s mail included the copy of an order received from Beacon Store Co., Grays (i.e. Mr Billings!) which was worth about £25. Rayleigh, Billericay, Chelmsford. Sandon today. A few fairly promising calls on new “prospects”. Two orders – in Rayleigh – one quite small, the other – a new account – worth about £9-10-0. Curiously, the latter was a call I’d hardly troubled to make as, at my last (and only) visit, my card was returned with the message that “Mr Sanders” wouldn’t be “ wanting any paint” as he would not do any decorations “until the houses were sold and would then buy locally”.
For about the thousandth time I note the moral – never accept a negative; there’s always a chance of doing business!

Delightful place for lunch at Billericay. More like a club than a café. Everyone frightfully chummy, chatting across the tables. The proprietoress herself came and had a cup of tea with us. Most of the clientele were commercial travellers who called in every month or so at regular intervals. There was also a remarkable young lady from Billericay UDC offices, who said she’d seen me before. “Ah! Paripan paint!” she cried delightedly, when I admitted that one of our calendars hung in the office.

Monday 19th September 1938

The political situation is still tense but I’m so bloody well fed-up now that I’m not sure what the latest weary moves are.

Local day. The calls were generally more promising. Took a cheque, secured on U/coat Paste White contract which will bring in £9 gradually. Otherwise, the turnover was £3, which makes the week’s total (Monday to Friday) £12-16-0. Lowest since January.

Sunday 18th September 1938

A day with John. After lunch at Roedean, we walked across to Hockley. Left the B and AV at Nobles Green (but not in the same place!) We had tea and games of darts and then cider and then more darts and plenty of cigarettes, in The Bull, at Hockley.
Happy day again.

I saw John on the train at Southend 9:30p.m. We exchanged the old Blacksheep sign – clenched fist and open palm, crossed – as we parted. Found Lois with Joan, at an aid-Spain meeting. Drove them to their respective places of habitation. I am now so much in love that it hurts me to see her!

Rupert Brooke’s, “Clean, clear bitter-sweet”.

Saturday 17th September 1938

Was it my fevered imagination, or did the Firm’s letters seem bitter and disapproving? Small wonder if they did, with a total weeks’ turnover of just £8.
One bright spot in the morning’s mail however; a communication from Consumer Credit Corporation stating that my payments for the car had now terminated, hoping I should deal with them in the future, from time to time etc. I’ve a little over £2 left in the Bank. Only had £1-8-3 when Lois and I became engaged so I’ve never dropped back again to that zero.

Saw Lois at midday. Still feeling lonely and disconsolate. This time I told her why – that I was fed-up with myself, her parents, Hitler, business and Paripan. She responded – doesn’t she always? Even though they are her parents! Having talked to Milady made me feel happier – and there was no need to worry about business, at least, until Monday morning.

We rambled in the afternoon, with the Club. At nightfall, Lois and I were alone again.

“Where shall we go?”
“The place we love best” she said.
“Nobles Green!”

We went there. (Surely this is more than I deserve, this wonderful love? More than I’d hoped even. Comradeship was splendid and perfect enough. But that is not all!

“…And agony’s forgot and hushed the crying
Of credulous hearts, in heaven…”

There are two different things about this love – it doesn’t blaze like a torch suddenly and die away; it slowly, steadily increases. I cannot talk about it much to others; difficult even to express myself in this secret book. Only – when I lay across her lap, with her above me like a mother and, reaching up, pulled her head down, down! … And when her little tongue flickered against my lips, deep in her mouth! …

Memories! I hope I live to be a little bit old, with my memories.

Friday 16th September 1938

(“Premier’s historic flight” “Premier’s statement tonight” “Hitler’s demands”)

An order (worth 16/-) at 4:30p.m. today broke the long spell. I also collected £1 towards settlement of an overdue account. And received three complaints! Two, serious enough to be reported immediately, whilst the third must be investigated at my next visit.

Called for Lois tonight; whilst she got herself ready, I had to stand and talk to her parents. Their dull, old-fashioned “churchiness” and conventionality, strips Lois of all the things I love in her. They take away all colour and romance, too.
(Even in 1938 some people crave colour and romance!)
Small wonder that I do not care to linger in their company, although doubtless, they are “worthy” people.

We went to see “White Oaks” at the Palace Theatre. Got back to Oakdene just at 11 o’clock. No good-night kisses.

Thursday 15th September 1938

News headlines:

“Chamberlain to visit Hitler” “Prime Minister flying to Hitler”

Ten calls – Colchester, Chelmsford, Wickford, Southend. No orders for the second successive day and the third day this week. Lengthy interview with Nock Bros. regarding the recent distemper complaint. Collected a cheque (overdue) from a Chelmsford builder. Other interviews were purely negative.

The original front piece to “Sunset” was not the extract from Service’s “Carry On”. It was originally:

“Sundown – in a little green hollow,
Stills the call of the swallow
At close of day”

On reflection however, taking every bloody thing into consideration, it seemed that “Carry On” was most relevant. I certainly need a little inspiration at present!

Sunset 1938

“It’s easy to fight when you’re winning,
It’s easy to slave and starve and be brave,
When the dawn of success is beginning.
But the man who can meet despair and defeat
With a cheer, there’s the man of God’s choosing,
The man who can fight to Heavens own height
Is the man who can fight when he’s loosing”

Wednesday 14th September 1938

News headlines again:-

“Army Chief Lord Gort at no. 10” “Nazi Riots in Sudetenland” “War unless Britain is Strong” “Czech Troops Move” “Columns pour towards the German Frontier early this morning” “Hitler Will Not March – At Present”

Southend, Sandon, Chelmsford, Colchester, Thorpe le Soken. No orders for the second time this week.

Feeling fed-up, I went to the Pictures tonight, at Colchester. Seated in front balcony; saw the film “The Drum” which when Lois saw it a fortnight ago, was one of the things which influenced her forgetting about anti-patriotism, conscientious objection etc. I can appreciate it’s effect on her, for it thrilled me, too.
Came out into the damp street (rain was drizzling) at 10:45.

I’ll end Lengthening Shadows with the words of a news placard which I saw then:


Tuesday 13th September 1938

Rumours of war increasing… State of Emergency declared in Czechoslovakia, caused through outbreaks of fighting between Sudeten-Germans and Czech police. Nine killed.
Just the first nine?

Business is not too good, naturally. No orders yesterday but two – both new accounts! – today. One was from Johns Ltd, North Woolwich, to whom I’d been introduced by “Pa” Shervill.

Lois had a slight headache today, so I volunteered to fetch Mrs Rogers from the Bowling Club. Mr Rogers accompanied me. (He knew that I had something to discuss with them.) So I parked the B and AV in Kenilworth Gardens, gave them a cigarette each and brooked the subject of Lois’ “curfew” hour. They were implacable in their ignorance. Particularly Mr R. – Lois’ mother not so abnormal. I can still hear his distasteful, abrupt voice saying roughly, “It isn’t respectable for a girl to be out late at night and as long as she’s home she’ll keep decent hours, however old she is.” I also learnt that he disapproves of people going into places which carry “a full licence” apart from whether they drink or not.
That also is “not respectable”. An uncouth sort of feller. (The Lincolnshire word is “clunch”.)

Beginning to bubble up inside like a bottle of lemonade charged with carbon dioxide, I eventually just said I was sorry we couldn’t agree, and drove them home. (Mrs Rogers, in parting, whispered hurriedly that, he’d “always been troublesome”.) Took Lois for a short drive. She mentioned an incident that made me definitely dislike Mr Rogers – the sanctimonious old bounder!

Apparently it had rather frightened him when, knowing I wished to see his wife and himself on family business, he had discovered Lois to be unwell. He walked into the bedroom demanding to know what was wrong? What did I want to see them about? What was the matter with her? She admitted she was disgusted with her own father when she realised how he was linking things up inside his dirty-minded head. What have you been doing? Have you disgraced the family? Are you going to have a baby? What a contemptible lack of trust! What are children driven to? Deceit. In this case, such an attitude would probably lead to a broken engagement or a too-early marriage – as a form of escape.

Thank God my mother and father are not like that! Incidents like this make me realise how lucky I am.

Sunday 11th September 1938

Walked to Foulness Island. Tea at The Kings Head. Just Milady and I. We spread my motoring rug on the grass beside a hedge near Nobles Green. We lay in each others arms under the moon. (“Lady moon looks down” said Lois.)

Saturday 10th September 1938

This afternoon, Lois and I went to Hadleigh and left the B and AV in a garage there.(It’s hardly safe to leave it in the open now, with no window.) Walked through the woods, following the almost non-existent path through the bushes that Joan Yeaxlee showed us last month. We found it; wandered lazily to Rayleigh and had tea in a café there. (“Hitler Climbs Down” “British Fleet Movements” “Goering Sneers at Britain”) Telling each other stories, discussing marriage (“when” and “how”) we walked back to Hadleigh and B and AV.

Drove to Stanbridge, left the car in a field (bright moonlight) and went into a wood. Lois showed me a quaint hideout she’d discovered. A cosy bivouac in the woods, obviously the home of someone. A tramp, a solitary gypsy, a homeless farm worker? Hat, jacket, candle in a glass jar, knife and fork … feeling guilty we didn’t explore further.

Draught cider at a homely little pub – The Royal Oak. We had to leave hastily so as to get back to Oakdene before eleven o’clock. Perfectly ridiculous. Lois is 31, yet her parents insist on her being home not later than eleven o’clock each night. If she was only 17 and was out with some boy she’d met at the corner of he street, one could understand. However, as she is a fully grown woman and as they know we are engaged and have met my parents, it is utterly fatuous and narrow minded. They wonder “what the neighbours will think, a girl coming home late at night, with a young man” and besides, where have we been and what were we doing? How nauseating!

Yet – I love her. I do love her. More and more. It gradually deepens, instead of fading away. Unusual!

Friday 9th September 1938

Sent off a cheque to the car insurance company, renewing my policy. £12-3-9 – that will reduce my bank balance to about £5-6-11. Usual instalment (£4-9-7) next week and road tax renewal (31/-) at the end of the month.

Afternoon: had completed my list of local calls (having taken two orders) by 3:30p.m.
Although business is not too bad, it’s becoming more slack and the international crisis doesn’t help matters.

Crisis? Oh, yes, we have another one! Hitler threatens Czechoslovakia. If the dispute is not peacefully settled there will be a European war involving Germany, France, Czechoslovakia and Great Britain. However, we’ve been on the brink of war for several years now… Headlines:- “Cabinet Called for Monday” “Hitler knows where Britain Stands” “Warning Against Aggression” “French Reserves Called Up” “France Mans Maginot Line” “Hitler will never destroy Czech democracy until he destroys the Czechs!"

However, this wanders from the point! I finished my calls at 3:30. Rang Lois. Yes, she could come out! Called for her about 4 o’clock and drove to Nobles Green. Parked the car in a bridle track and walked across to Hockley. Part of the way Lois led, part of the way I showed her my new route. It was ripping to be out together, in the fresh air, when we both should have been at work! We lay in a field awhile, her head pillowed on my arm and talked idly about Czecho-Slovakia. Otherwise we did not worry unduly about Herr Hitler!

When we reached the car again – 5:30p.m. – we found the offside window smashed. About sixty cigarettes missing. Luckily my hat, gloves, mackintosh and business papers had not been touched. Blasted thief! I was sorry about the death tubes (hope they choke him) but the window damage is covered by the insurance. Reported the occurrence to the police.

Tuesday 6th September 1938

Eventually took a trial order from Soulsby for PHG, ceiling distemper and some quaint miscellaneous items – amounting altogether to about £14. It’s been a long trail, as I remarked to his secretary before being ushered in. “You’ve been more persistent than the others!” she smiled.

Lois and I walked along The Broomway with a rising tide. A moon nearly at the full… Where the path disappeared into the sea we suddenly realised sinister, silent water rushing in on either side. The tide rises fast on the flat coast.

Monday 5th September 1938

Signals: First night of paid classes for “Group E”. (Once “Group E is reached, one is, at least, a trained man, no longer a recruit.) Hitherto the training has been somewhat haphazard. For the next two months it will be systematic – and intensive.

Lovely surprise. Lois sat in the car when I came out of the drill hall. And I’d just been feeling lonely and wanted her!

Sunday 4th September 1938

Planned the ramble which I’m to lead later this month. Nobles Green to Hockley. Woody paths, to and fro. Alone. Back in the evening, just to make sure of the many winding cross-tracks, with Nancy for companion.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Friday 2nd September 1938

Local work again today – and things seemed much brighter. Four orders. (One was from the Jew, Greenbaum, who gave me such a nasty first interview yet is now very pleasant – and a regular customer.) Ever since April (29th, actually) I’ve been trying to get some business from Soulsby, a fairly “big” contractor, who sent enquiries to Paripan Ltd and all the leading firms about that time. Have not reached his private sanctum since then – couldn’t get past his secretary. Today, however, I had another long interview with him and I think we are “in”! Anyhow, he’s written to the estates for a stock list, and wants to see me again early next week…

After lunch – I’d made several useful calls and taken three orders – I gave myself a pleasant surprise in the form of a 3d seat at the News Theatre, near Victoria Circus. Spent about an hour there before going to work again. An orchestra was playing (on the screen, of course) as I sat down in the dark theatre. “Night and Day…”

Thursday 1st September 1938

Local calls – Southend, Leigh, Westcliff, Thorpe Bay. 16 calls – 1 order. Most of the calls were satisfactory; sound interviews. Only two of the sixteen were “unproductives” (i.e. buyer not seen). Pretty grim: one order out of 14 interviews. Not much work in the Southend district. Many of today’s prospects were very conscious of a slump in building and decorating.

Sequel to the Hadleigh Builders Supply trouble (August 22nd). Saw Townsend, the builder involved. I’d intended to just casually mention our Hadleigh stockist but Mr Townsend had since seen Mr Page and knew all about the affair. He told me he felt he’d “rather put his foot in it”; that he thought it “rather unfair” of Mr Page to raise trouble over a “casual remark”. He hoped I would not “get into hot water” with my firm? I assured him I should not but, on the other hand would probably lose the Hadleigh business. Added that, dammit, I’d have told him about Page’s shop only I didn’t think he’d be likely to dash over to Hadleigh for orders! “Well,” said Mr Townsend, “I’ve bought several tins of your stuff from him since then and eventually he’ll have to order more!” Townsend remarked that Page had referred to the incident as though it were only humorous – “a leg-pull”.

(Psychologically, I suppose really, Mr Page lost his temper at the time and has since relented.) Townsend continued – “He said, Dawson’s a nice young feller, and he coloured up and went out of the shop looking as awkward as anything!” That’s just what I felt like when I lost my temper! However, I’ll be like Brer Rabbit now, and await events.

Tuesday 30th August 1938

Met Lois tonight. Had intended to go to the Pictures but when already in the car park we changed our minds. Attendant, approaching with tickets ready, looked furious!
I, somewhat dubiously, introduced Lois to the All-In Wrestling matches. It was rather more “rough” than usual. She enjoyed it! Leaning forward intently in her seat! Jolly good.

Monday 29th August 1938

Wet-looking this morning at nine o’clock, when I set out for Colchester. “Where’s my other mackintosh?” I asked Mrs Butler. Looking nervous she explained that – “Miss Rogers came and fetched it away to take it to the cleaners and she told me not to say anything!” “I’ll be damned!” I exclaimed, startled, but pleased, “I might as well be married already!”

Company Meeting at the Sigs. Drill Hall. Sat at a table with Faylis and Woolmer. Among other amusements a comic film (of a ragtime American Army) was shown. Peculiarly pleasant to be sitting beside two friends in the darkness. As we watched the film we munched biscuits, cheese and pickles. In reserve there were glasses of beer and our cigarettes. Oh, very luxurious!

Sunday 28th August 1938

Lunch with John at Staines. Afterwards – merely as a custom! – we drove to Windsor and called for Dick Young. To our astonishment, he was in! Must be a hell of a while since the three of us were together. Quite a lot of news to swop, between us! Went to Chobham and had tea at the Sundial. Exchanged a few good stories, before going our ways. A pleasant reunion!

Left John in Staines 6:45 p.m. Dashed to Ealing Common. Already sick and tired of driving; the weekend hadn’t been very restful. So I relaxed for just a few minutes.
About eight o’clock when I left for Southend. Drove through Town. Found the way alright. Rain slowed me down – the bloody windscreen wiper is defective, like most of the parts of the blasted car. Stopped for a snack at Noakes Café near Dagenham. Afterwards, rain, oncoming traffic, and an obscured windscreen, again delayed me.

Home about five to eleven. Mrs Butler said Miss Rogers had left a message: if I returned before eleven o’clock would I go to Oakdene? There was an important letter…
Oakdene was in darkness. But when I knocked, Lois threw up her bedroom window and leaned out. “Here it is!” she said harshly, throwing a letter. “Don’t read it now, please. Take it away. It’s important.” The drizzling rain fell sadly. I opened the envelope; putting the box in my teeth I struck a match and began to read…
“Good night!” said Lois abruptly and slammed down the window. Maybe because I was curious, or because her voice was so unsoothing I stayed in the silent garden, striking matches until I’d finished reading:-

“This is not a chatty letter so please read it somewhere quietly where you will be able to concentrate undisturbed. It will give you cause to think…”

“In my bedroom 11:25 p.m. 27:8:38. Stephen can you ever find it in your heart to forgive me for the ridiculous misconstuction I voiced with regard to Wars, the Territorial Army, the people who make wars… This entire change of front must amaze you (it did!) but it has been clearly shown to me tonight (clearer than even you could put it to me) that I, and I alone was wrong. I’m cursing myself for the injury I have done my Country, my King… I take back everything I said and while doing so, thank God devoutly that you were the only one I ever spoke to so strongly… Oh, the blessed relief I’ve come to my senses. Already my fog is blowing about… Lois.”

What can have induced her to change her mind? How utterly different, the way she writes things to the way she says them! One so hard and unyielding, the other just the opposite.

Saturday 27th August 1938

I did not have to go to Colchester this morning. Visit postponed until 10:30 Monday.
How peaceful, luxurious and comfortable it seemed at the flat, Hawthorn Court. Wish I could live there! (But it would be a long way from Oakdene, Eastwood.)

Met Gwyneth Elaine Rowlands at Sutton, Surrey 6 p.m. When we last met, 18 months ago, we agreed to meet sometimes, so that we’d keep in touch, know the sequel to the time when for awhile, our lives ran close together. Gwyn, now BA Hons. is looking for a secondary school post in some remote corner of Britain. She’s just the same; an introvert; same little pleasant gestures; same inflection of voice.

We took a skiff on the Thames and sculled up to Runnymede. Returned to Nicholl’s boathouse at dusk. Walked in the garden of The Venture (Gwyn’s old digs), now empty and very deserted. We talked about Egham School, The Causeway, “Kapai”, Mr Walton, Mrs Stephens, the day of the King’s funeral, when we heard the guns… Walked through the woods near Virginia Water. “We were lucky to be near all this,” reflected Gwyn, who’d been talking of “those awful days”.

Went along the path where, on an all-night ramble with two friends, I saw moonshine glinting through leaves. Gwyn and I passed the spot where I first tried to kiss her. Leaned over a fence beneath a tree, above a noisy brook. Two years ago, here, we’d made a solemn pact to remain friends until separated by death or love. We are parted now, by love, but maybe we’ll still be friends. We stood on the banks of Virginia Water. Everything was as it was. We might have been in 1936, only we were not touching each other, now.

We drove through the darkness, back to Sutton. Stopped once, for two cups of tea, by a stall near Epsom – midnight. Told Gwyn of my engagement. She was incredulous, curious, intrigued. In that order! Unlike Anne, she didn’t think it need make any difference to our reunions.

Found my way back to Ealing quite successfully – not like that baffling drive in the Ford Ten, last time I was with Gwyn.

Friday 26th August 1938

Lois came with me on the road – short country journey. Eleven calls – four orders, one cheque. We did not get our lunch until 4p.m; sandwiches, and tea, ex thermos.

Reached Eastwoodbury 6:30p.m. A telegram from the Office had been waiting since midday:-

“Mr Fisher Wrights Colchester wishes you telephone him at once. Paripan.” I telephoned from Lois’. Mr Fisher had gone home but I spoke to one of the Wrights. A complaint regarding Duripan Distemper. Supplied last week or early this week to Nock Bros. I’ve been trying to get “in” with them for months with Duripan Distemper…
Am to telephone again tomorrow. Hope this won’t mean a journey to Colchester in the morning. Damn it all! Don’t mind work, but I’d plans for the weekend. And there’s the expense!

Concluding business and turning to more emotional subjects…

Lois and I have not been au fait since our wide clash of opinions regarding Peace and how to keep it. She broached the subject as we sat in the car outside Roedean. (before going in and finding that blasted telegram), saying we’d been in a fog ever since the fatal evening. True enough, and I admitted that the great basis which made everything so different – comradeship – was gone. She’d become just an ordinary, attractive girl. Horrible but true. She put her hand on mine suddenly, said, “Don’t you want to go on?” (How awful!) “Oh yes,” I said without any hesitation…

Afer nightfall we found ourselves in the B and AV on a lonely road near Paglesham. We continued our gloomy conversation, seeking, as Lois put it, “a way out”. She was very decent and modified her views considerably even volunteering, once or twice, to change them. “Will you educate me in militarism?” I didn’t respond much to this as, if her opinions are set, it would be somewhat stupid to try and change them, probably only on the surface.

Looking back, all this emotional stress seems trivial. It is not so, because far more than a mere matter of politics and opinions, my views are a whole big lump of me in the matter of patriotism; and TA training and the TA attitude is all part of my character now. I began to fear that all this talk of pending battle, might create a very false picture of me as a bloodthirsty hero waving a sword, so pointed out that I did not want to fight and would be as eager to run away from slaughter as anyone else – this being very true! Eventually, there being no way out, I suggested that we evade the matter (loathsome solution!) and never discuss things military, warlike, imperialistic, pacific or patriotic. The TA above all, never to be mentioned. Lois agreed to this in the end, although we both know that such a state of affairs is hopeless and cannot last. We were both miles apart still but gradually we moved nearer, physically at least and were in each others arms.

Thank heavens there is physical attraction, just as before, but – exit Comradeship, the one different thing. Not twin brother and sister any more! And the goddess off her pinnacle! “You’ve got nice square shoulders” she said. Dammit, if I’d not been in khaki or navy blue they’d be narrow and round – as they used to be. Hell!

Thursday 25th August 1938

Only one local day this week – Monday. I’ve been trying to develop the distant areas. (Upminster and Grays today.) Therefore there’s been a lot of driving, heavy petrol expenditure, smaller turnover. Some new accounts and new contacts, however.

Have decided to change my district grouping. Hitherto my territory has been divided into three areas – “A,” “B,” and “Q”. Area “A” was the original district which I took over when I came on the road. Not a very satisfactory plan really and Area “Q” is remarkably straggling – Chelmsford, Halstead, Saffron Waldon and Romford! Spent an hour tonight regrouping my clients into Zones – a zone being a group of places which could be travelled in one day.

The groups are as follows:-

Zone 1 (Southend district) Hadleigh, Leigh, Southend, Westcliff.
Zone 2 (Near-Southend district) Eastwoodbury, Rayleigh, Rochford, Shoeburyness.
Zone 3 (Short country journey) Billericay, Canvey Island, Laindon. Pitsea, South Benfleet, Wickford.
Zone 4 (Crouch-Blackwater) Burnham on Crouch etc.
Zone 5 (Mid-Essex) Chelmsford, Great Baddow.
Zone 6 (Wright’s Ltd district) Colchester, Tiptree etc.
Zone 7 (North-eastern corner) Dovercourt, Frinton on Sea.
Zone 8 (North-western corner) Halstead, Saffron Waldon.
Zone 9 (London district) Grays, Hornchurch, Romford, Upminster.

Thursday 25th August 1938

Only one local day this week – Monday. I’ve been trying to develop the distant areas. (Upminster and Grays today.) Therefore there’s been a lot of driving, heavy petrol expenditure, smaller turnover. Some new accounts and new contacts, however.

Have decided to change my district grouping. Hitherto my territory has been divided into three areas – “A,” “B,” and “Q”. Area “A” was the original district which I took over when I came on the road. Not a very satisfactory plan really and Area “Q” is remarkably straggling – Chelmsford, Halstead, Saffron Waldon and Romford! Spent an hour tonight regrouping my clients into Zones – a zone being a group of places which could be travelled in one day.

The groups are as follows:-

Zone 1 (Southend district) Hadleigh, Leigh, Southend, Westcliff.
Zone 2 (Near-Southend district) Eastwoodbury, Rayleigh, Rochford, Shoeburyness.
Zone 3 (Short country journey) Billericay, Canvey Island, Laindon. Pitsea, South Benfleet, Wickford.
Zone 4 (Crouch-Blackwater) Burnham on Crouch etc.
Zone 5 (Mid-Essex) Chelmsford, Great Baddow.
Zone 6 (Wright’s Ltd district) Colchester, Tiptree etc.
Zone 7 (North-eastern corner) Dovercourt, Frinton on Sea.
Zone 8 (North-western corner) Halstead, Saffron Waldon.
Zone 9 (London district) Grays, Hornchurch, Romford, Upminster.

Wednesday 24th August 1938

Chappel, The Colnes, Halstead, Saffron Walden, Great Dunmow. Two orders to Wrights Ltd and one (new account, Saffron Waldon stockist) to Paripan.

Tuesday 23rd August 1938

Chelmsford, Frinton, Thorpe le Soken. One order, new account.

Stayed with the Lee’s at Butt Road, Colchester, tonight. Nice to get there, after such a long absence and find my bits of things still in the old bedroom. Slippers, envelopes, colour cards, handkerchiefs… Felt like home!

Monday 22nd August 1938

Locals. No unproductive calls. Two orders. Many sound but fruitless contact calls.
An upsetting interview at Hadleigh Building Supply. Mr Page had accidentally heard that I’d sent in an order for PHG – direct – which had been taken from a builder (Townsend) who occasionally dealt at his shop. And, discussing merchants, I’d mentioned WT Taylor’s, Leigh, instead of Hadleigh Builders Supply! Of course Townsend is a Westcliff man – four miles from Hadleigh – and it would have been unusual to have passed his order on to a merchant who was not known to have a delivery service. I explained all this but Mr Page, denouncing our methods, says he will give no more orders. Rather a row. This sort of thing is bound to happen eventually as I incline towards a Company-to-Builder policy, thus being able to sell a cheaper range of materials and maintain personal contact with the user. But I’d be very, very sorry to lose the custom of Mr Page, if only for sentimental reasons. My first customer!

Evening – Signal. How familiar all the once-vague faces have become! In the Recruits room, trouble between the weak Sergt. Russell and the awkward Cooley. Poor Sergeant tried feebly to maintain order. Eventually I suppose, something snapped. He went round to the cool-seeming culprit; told him to get out of the room. Cooley refused. Again and again Russell, standing over him, repeated his order. He lost his temper altogether. Seized Cooley by the collar. Wasn’t strong enough to throw him outside. They struggled. Struck each other. (Oh, how devilishly sorry I felt for the Sergeant! Most of the others, sitting fascinated, felt the same, I reckon.) God knows how it would have ended. (If the Sergeant had been beaten, either morally or physically!)

Lieut. Layton suddenly entered the room. He acted very properly, indeed. Made no comments on the scrimmage but delivered a short speech on playing the game, backing up our instructors, who do lots of extra work etc. Both of them, separately, had to go and see him after Parade. Don’t know the sequel. Sergt. Russell gave a second lecture – on procedure and prefix forms – to a, for once, attentive and slightly shocked class.

Left at 10:30p.m. Drove home slowly and cautiously through FOG. Fog in August! Damn it all, what?

Sunday 21st August 1938

Sunny morning! Lois. Boat to Sheerness. Through the dingy town and along the coast until we’d gone far enough to be beyond the trippers. Half-way down the cliffs we sat and lunched. Put Lois’ yellow jumper on my walking stick as a flag. “Quarantine. Not to be approached.” (My knowledge of ships’ signals was already rusty. I’ve since found this means:- “Q. My vessel is healthy and I request free pratique!”)

We sat on a high, aloof pinnacle and saw our shadows poised, on the beach below. We remembered the time. Walked rapidly back. Fifteen minutes late at the Pier. Rain fell. We had tea and in the appropriate apartments – a jolly good wash.

Train to Chatham. Train to Gravesend. Train to Southend. We ate surplus sandwiches. “Have another,” I suggested. “No” said Lois, “I’m FUFTB” “What’s that?”

The B and AV; and again we forgot the time. An irate Victorian parent waited at the gate – 11:45. Wasted money through missing that blasted boat. I do so want to save – now.

Saturday 20th August 1938

Anne, at Hatfield Broad Oak. Picnic tea in a cornfield. Talking of anything but my engagement. A pleasant voice talking quietly of unexciting things. Aimless drive. Picked some wheat from a field by the roadside and had a feed. Parked the car somewhere near a place called Stanstead something and strolled as twilight drew near.
Leaned on a gate and lazily watched rabbits at play. Bobbing white tails. Turning our backs to the rabbits, we looked up and westward, and saw clouds moving slowly across the darkening blue sky. We made fantastic pictures. In the clouds we saw an old lady, a merman, a pursuing monster, an island with trees and a lovely lagoon, a ship on the sea, a reef. We could even imagine the reflections of trees at the water’s edge… The clouds became darker as we idly talked until they were – night clouds. (“And night ends all things”)

Journey back. The serene voice began to talk, still quietly – “We must not meet any more… Even this was a mistake… It cannot do any good… I shall only be hurt, eventually… Under the circumstances, it would be awful if I became fond of you…” We went into a pub at Hatfield Broad Oak. “Let’s drink to our different roads” I said.
It was sweet to be in the parlour of a village pub and – being with a village girl – feeling “at home” not like a passing traveller or a stranger. “Cheerio!” said Anne, raising her glass, eyes agleam…

Back near her cottage, we delayed the irrevocable moment of parting. Sat in the car talking about each other, and old times. Eventually, however, we got out, walked up to the silent house. A faint smile in the darkness across the gate.

“Well, goodbye”
“Goodbye, Anne”

Steps down the quiet road, back towards the car. “Maybe I’ll walk with and maybe – I’ll talk with – the girl in – the Alice blue gown…” A silly, irrelevant tune to whistle.

Friday 19th August 1938

Romford, Upminster and Grays. Three orders (two new accounts, the third being the second – and repeat – order from a new client).

Thursday 18th August 1938

Today was to be another “local” day, with Lois to see early in the evening. The morning’s mail however, made it evident that I must go to distant Dovercourt.
Called at Oakdene before starting; saw Lois, explained I might be late back.
“If so, am I forgiven?” “Yes!” she laughed. I cunningly put out my hands in a vague sort of way. She took them in hers. I suddenly jerked her towards me and into my arms; and kissed her laughing lips. Turned and ran out to the car. “Stupid…” she said, “…but nice!”

Colchester, one hour seven minutes from Southend. Two calls in Dovercourt. Wasn’t able to obtain the order, in the buyers’ absence but it will probably be sent on when he returns. Left Dovercourt 4:15p.m. One call, at Wix, on the way back.

Southend, one hour five minutes from Colchester. Home 6:15p.m. Called for Lois at 7:30 and we went to the pictures. (How nice, the walk back to the garage, her arm in mine, or better still, our arms inside each others, with the fingers entwined.) One of the most understanding things she’s ever done – Lois gave me a copy of Rupert Brookes’ “Complete Poems”. I did not accept the entire ownership however. After all, those things will be shared… Therefore we inscribed it:- “1938. Lengthening Shadows. Stephen. Lois.”

Lengthening Shadows Sunset 1938

SJ Dawson, Roedean, Eastwoodbury, Eastwood, Southend on Sea.

“Mere living wears the most of life away…
And from no careless heart the skylark sings…
Those cheap utilities of rain and sun
Describe the foolish circle of our years…
Though song be hollow and no dreams come true,
Still songs and dreams are better than the truth:
But there’s so much to get, so much to do…”

Wednesday 17th August 1938

Southend, Leigh, Westcliff and Rochford, today. 10 o’clock to 4:45p.m. Two orders, one cheque. Turnover - £8-10-0. Last months turnover was a record one - £198! The Schools contract helped. What a peak though! I’ve had to make out a new turnover graph for myself. The old one did not go above £150.

Called for Lois 6:45; the house was deserted. There was a Club ramble, timed to start from Benfleet Station at 7:15p.m… I drove down the Esplanade (raging) and as anticipated found Lois waiting for her people at the Bowling Club. “When the hell are you coming?” I demanded rudely. Lois tooted the buzzer and out they came. We rushed back to Oakdene, Lois car just behind. On this occasion there was a lot of traffic on the road and I got into Bellhouse Road first.

It was gone the hour appointed when we set out for the rendezvous but B and AV droned along, ignoring all 30 mile limits and reached Benfleet in time. Only Joan Yeaxlee, Hammond and Stonebanks. Left the car on top of a hill above the town. Joan led a delightful walk to Rayleigh – through woods and bushes where no path seemed to exist. A ripping supper at a quiet café in High Street.

Of course, B and AV had to be fetched. After phoning her people, Lois came with me. (If she hadn’t! If she’d gone dully home!) (But she did come with me!) We strode across the fields under the stars; and gradually a half-moon came above the horizon.
We found the Devil’s Steps and came down a steep hillside. From walking apart, we’d walked hand in hand, and then we had our arms about each other. We found the B and AV safely, soon after midnight. Haze about the moon and stars.

And Shimmering Haze, which began with our engagement ended with us still close together.

Tuesday 16th August 1938

First day on the road again. Chelmsford and Colchester. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. with a few breaks in between. No orders. Car ran well.

Monday 15th August 1938

Lois was again, frightfully helpful. She drove me around, doing the shopping etc. Then we called for B and AV and – with another battery – got the engine roaring. I ordered a new battery forthwith. The old one has been giving trouble for months. Did not make any calls today. Just sat in the garden writing letters, filing, planning the week’s work.

Oh, what a horrid disillusionment tonight! I’d always understood that Lois believed in the prevention of war by defence and that she was proud of me for being a Territorial. On the contrary! I discovered tonight that she prefers “conchies” (those unspeakable people) and thinks that military training is a lot of rot.

Of course we must all have our own opinions; but that we should have different views about a thing of that sort!

Sunday 14th August 1938

Up 5:30. Full marching order. Left camp – all tents struck, all lorries loaded, about 10:30. Came home with Lieut. Jarvis. He drove all the way. We all reassembled at the drill hall and dismissed in the usual Jarvis style. I then went to his house, put blazer and flannels over my uniform and had lunch – a late one – at The Popular Roadhouse.

We then went to the garage where th B and AV was still lodged. I rapidly realised the holiday was over. B and AV’s battery was utterly inert! However, I telephoned Lois and she arrived at Lieut. Jarvis’ house within a few minutes, in the Vauxhall.

Oakdene for tea. Lois came to Roedean later and helped me unpack, re-arrange things and attend to the large bundle of business letters which awaited me.

Evening: We strolled in the fields near Hockley Woods; we were very close together.

Saturday 13th August 1938

A fairly easy day. No “school”. Various odd jobs – striking tents – and long “stand-easy” periods. Given nearly two hours for dinner and told to parade again at 2p.m.

Soon after the hour had struck, Sergt. Major Cooley wandered down our lines. As he paused near tent no.4, Woolmer asked him if the parade had been postponed? “Parade?” said the SM vacantly, deliciously, “Oh, I’ve forgotten about it!” So we did no more work that day!

Two pontoon games, one at dinner time, one in the evening. Won on both.

Thursday 11th August 1938

Up 5:45a.m. damp… mist. Our bread ration did not arrive so I dashed to Div. HQ for it. Found a main road route and did the journey in less than 10 minutes (Ringmer).
The Ford rushed into the mist at 50 – not flat out either. At Div. HQ they gave me 15 loaves, 6 tins pilchards and 10 tins bully beef. Was back at Isfield before the tea had cooled in the dixies around the fire. So, a tin of tea, a cold sausage and a piece of bread and butter, before we left – Smith and I – having been told to report for duty at Div.HQ. From 8 o’clock to noon, we were actually Yama, the directing station. Messages poured in and went out. Frightfully interesting. Relieved Smith for a while, during a slack period.

Presently – “Hullo Yama, hullo Yama, Beji calling Yama. Can you hear me, Yama? Have you anything for me? Over”. Thrilled, I made my first transmission:-

“Hullo Beji. This is Yama answering Beji. I have nothing for you, - have you anything for me? I can hear you, strength R-9-R Over”

At noon we were ordered to retire to South Malling, to the yard of a roadside pub where we stopped yesterday. Only a listening station now, and little work to do. Hot! I emptied some of the contents of my water bottle over my head. Discarded tunic, wore my bandolier and respirator over my shirt. Hasty lunch of beer and bully beef and bread.

Received “GB” at 2 o’clock, which in this case meant “Exercise completed”.
Was in Lieut. Jarvis’ section now. His car, mine, and a lorry turned homewards. We came onto the parade ground, lined up three abreast, perfectly. Tunics on, tightly buttoned, all correct we all alighted and fell in. Fayers sat nearby with the “school” We exchanged significant, vulgar gestures. “Section, Shun! Dis-miss!”

The Scheme was over and I’d had a jolly good time. Dammit I don’t intend to be a recruit much longer!

Wednesday 10th August 1938

Utter chaos and “panic” when the Signals Scheme commenced this morning. Eventually, however, I found myself, with Smith (operator) attached to No.1 Company and in Div. HQ Reserve group. This seemed like being bloody dull but it wasn’t, because reserve men especially, are liable to be sent anywhere. Lorries, cars, Don R’s rushed away whilst Divisional HQ Reserve stayed, parked on a white line, like buggers.

I sneaked away to No.3 Coy. Tents and found a most gorgeous Old Daventrian Blazer had just arrived. Very vicious design – blue, chocolate, blue and yellow. Next I went to the canteen, had a glass of cider, and cooled down a bit. I had just returned to the car when a Sergeant ran up waving his hands. Off! Engines revved, Don R’s sped away, the convoy began to move. The only other man we know in this crowd was Jimmie Small, driving an Austin seven van with a ground set. At Falmer we halted beneath some trees and a long wait ensued. No transmitting was done. “The lost battalion!” said Smith bitterly.

Orders came at last and we moved on to Lewes – where a “gas attack” caused us to don respirators. At South Malling we pulled into a yard, where Rear Div. HQ was established. A grotesque, masked face peered into my car. “Is that you, Steevie boy?” Martin! A few minutes later his convoy left us. One or two other No.3 Coy. People were about, doing odd jobs so we felt less lonely.

Orders were altered after an hour or so (meanwhile we’d had a scrap lunch at an adjoining pub) and my car and a lorry were sent on to Ringmer. This was Directing Divisional HQ (“YAMA”) and we had bugger all to do. Just sat in the car and listened to piercingly loud messages being transmitted by a set only 25 yards away.
Woolmer drove up but was ordered to go on to Brigade HQ – 163 Brigade (“NOVA”) No move was being made by “YAMA”, that was obvious. So we sat there gloomily, resigned to a night among aliens. Every now and then we would close our eyes and doze – delicious and terrible – for a few seconds. I sipped from my water bottle, ate chocolate, smoked. Joyfully, we at last received orders to report, independently, to (“BOPA”) 162 Brigade, at Isfield or thereabouts.

We found them 20 minutes later, established in a farm yard. No.3 Company men! Kirby, Martin, Nobby, Lieut. Layton, Capt. Gentry, Serg.Smith, Serg.Marshall… We were given a map reference and told to go to that point, operating on the way, as TIGE. The car sped along the road whilst Smith’s expressionless voice intoned:- “Tige calling Bopa. Tige calling Bopa. Can you hear me Bopa? Over” Reception was strength nine – ok.

Arrived at our rendezvous simultaneously with a Dan R who handed me a message for Tige. Just for a moment I was the Officers, NCOs, and Ors of an infantry battalion!
Ordered to close down Tige and return to Bopa, soon afterwards. Back at the farmyard I had a gorgeous wash under a tap. We had hot tea, cooked over a wood fire. A van and a lorry were standing beside the farmyard on the edge of a copse into which a rough track disappeared. Romance in the Army at last I thought, seeing the group of men drinking tea; in dirty uniforms, around a wood fire. Active service rehearsal.

Mother and Father, with Robin, drove up to the billets. They had been directed from place to place until they found me. Speaks well for our communications as well as their tenacity! Had a drink with Father at Uckfield, then returned to the farmyard, where they left me. Martin and I marched along to the village pub. It was full of our men.

Back at the billets. The fire blazed merrily in the darkness. I joined a Brag “school” in the lorry and after half an hour’s playing finished in about the same position as I started. Supper, then. Ripping hot stew which we ate around the fire. Our lads had previously been arranged in the barn. On deep straw… Luxurious…

Tuesday 9th August 1938

Although a very backward member of “B” Recruits Class, I was put in “J” Section today as Acting Driver IC. My old job! Driving a Ford Eight. Snappy car. Went out after breakfast and onto the windy Downs. Swansborough was my Operator and I learnt a lot by watching him work the set. I enjoyed the unemotional voices of the operators.

“…Answer, SASI. Come through, SASI. Over” A few exchanges were not of a strictly military nature. “AAA Operators handicapped by lack of refreshment AR” we informed SASI by speech, of a nearby farm where milk could be obtained. We were less fortunate ourselves. Presently SASI communicated to the effect that operators had obtained milk and cake at the farmhouse and were just having a feast. Jealously, Swandborough tapped that a Don.R (despatch rider) had bought us four bottles of Brown Ale, which we were now drinking. Morse began to crackle. I watched Swansborough’s moving pencil:- “AAA You are a lying bugger. AR”

Moved to another site, following a Don R along winding tracks across hillsides until we came to Balsdean Farm, and re-established contact with SASI, some two miles further away. Lovely country.

Had a swim with Martin this evening and later, tea at Rottingdean in a decent café, just for the sake of contrast. Manoeuvres start tomorrow and I shall be away 48 hours. Ironical that tomorrow night happens to be the evening of all evenings when Mother and Father will call to see me. Telephone Hawthorn Court tonight, explaining what had happened and suggesting (without much hope) that they should trace my movements from Roedean.

Martin (just promoted to “A” Class, Recruits Section) is a tall very ungainly youth whose mouth seems to sag in bewilderment. Clever though. And somewhat amusing with words. Today in the Mess he groaned suddenly. “What’s the matter?” asked his neighbour. “Nothing” said Martin vaguely, “Just a little spasmodic belching”.

Monday 8th August 1938

Manoeuvres this week. Shortage of trained men. The whole “A” class in the recruits school will go out as checks, counter clerks etc. with the Sections. Camper and Kirby have already been taken as linesmen. Very jubilant in our tent as, through skilful arrangement of our kits, none of the incoming second-week men have been put with us. Hence we have plenty of room – for an army tent.

The Post came up to me today, reminding that I was not absolutely cut off from life here. A letter from Gwyn (now BSc Hons.) regarding our reunion. When we parted last year we agreed to meet again for auld lang syne.

Went on the Pier tonight and lounged in a deck chair. Presently I arose and strolled along. “Stephen” said a feminine voice. I turned; it was Anne! We went on the dodgems and joyfully bumped Kirby. She has been here three days and returns tomorrow. “Small is the earth and narrow the corner wherein we dwell”(“Short therefore is man’s life and narrow the corner of the earth wherein he dwells”).

We had lager in a courtyard which opened into a green square, with brilliant lights in its trees and beneath the waters of a fountain. We later found a snug corner on a balcony and could look down onto the gay crowd in the courtyard. Normally we would not have met again. We shall, however. Now we both feel happier and there is nothing misunderstood between us.

Sunday 7th August 1938

Several one-week-only men, went home today, among them, Ginger Hurst and Bob Upton.
“Lucky sods!” we growled but, discussing it later, were not quite sure. As the crude, good-hearted Camper remarked, “We’ve been a bloody decent tent-full and mixed-in well together”.

Church Parade this morning. Review order, of course. Sweat trickled steadily down my face, whilst RA’s and RCS’s formed hollow square. The Signals look jolly smart on parade though, with their bandoliers and spurs.

Put on “civvies” and went into Brighton alone. Lunch at a café, read the paper, went to the pictures. The film was not fast moving, and I kept dozing off. Eventually – luxury after so much roughness! – coffee on a tray, with hot milk and sugar was brought to my balcony seat. So I had two cups, then lit a cigarette and remained awake.

Odd jobs about the camp this evening. Keeping one’s kit tidy takes a lot of time. I’m now lying on my bed writing this by the light of a candle stuck on a tent peg.
Woolmer, Fayers, Lawrence and Camper are all out at present. Guess I’ll turn in now. Must be eleven o’clock at least.

Saturday 6th August 1938

World news item: Japan and Russia are on the verge of war. That is, there are already several hundred dead on either side. One might say war had commenced but it hasn’t – officially.

Two men fought in no. 2 Company’s lines. Like dogs they rolled on the ground, clutching each other. Struggling madly they plunged right through to no. 4 Company’s lines. In passing they crashed against the guy-lines of our tent. Instantly, Fayers and Camper appeared, looking hopefully for trouble, the latter flourishing a tent mallet as he sprang out.

“School” with the training section until lunchtime. “Di-di-di-dah-di di-dah-di-dah-di”

Afternoon, Company sports. I only entered for the tug-of-war and was not chosen for that. We are the “cock” Company at sports and one has to be a thorough athlete to get in most of the events. Nevertheless, I should have entered for one or two of the open events, just for sportiness. Windy, I suppose. Camper was the only bloke in my tent who competed – in the obstacle race and tug-of-war. The military mile was damn exciting. Entrants had to march a mile in caps, tunics, slacks, boots, carrying bandolier, haversack, respirator, water bottle (full) and rifle. We took second and third places. Pretty gruelling, especially as it was a hot day. Corporal Dennison (second) was an absolute stylist but Beeton (third) was simply strong.

Result of Sports: We won the shield with a margin of over twenty points. All over em!
Queer chap, Beeton. He’s a recruit. Middle twenties, mask-like brown face, dark hair, lithe walk. I’d sum him up as cruel, courageous and strong.

Evening: Ginger Hurst and I went into Brighton. (Ginger, a hefty unintelligent fellow, might be described as all right below the shoulders!) Carnival night in Brighton. We wandered along the Pier. Everyone looking gay. Paper hats, streamers, people singing, “The Lambeth Walk”. Ginger looked solemnly around and contributed to the gaiety every now and then by shouting –“Wakee, wakee! Come on then my lads! Rise and shine! Sun’s a scorching yer eyes out!”

We stood by the “Dogems” some time without getting a vacant car. Then I saw a very attractive, vivacious girl bumping around, alone. So, when the cars stopped, I dashed across, said, “May I be your passenger?” got in beside her and paid the man. Ginger grinned sheepishly when we hurtled past him, my arm around the girl. We had three trips altogether (she, independently, paid the second time) and then I went back to Ginger who thought I was a fool. Was very tempted to pursue the matter further but I had not forgotten my Lois.

Afterwards we sauntered along the Front, meeting Bonner, Kirby, Cooley and some others. Their methods of enjoyment – especially Ginger’s – savoured somewhat of hooliganism and I felt rather a wet blanket. Cooley and I had supper whilst the others hung about outside. Later we all came back to camp by taxi. Bed 1:30.

Thursday 4th August 1938

Rain this evening. First time the weather has broken since we came here. Had half-an-hour's Pontoon with Sgt. Smith and Fayers whilst lightening flashed and rain drummed on the tent. “Blimey!” said I, “If the tent is struck, we’ll all die in the midst of sin!” “There’s many a true word spoken in jest,” said Upton solemnly. “You bloody, miserable bleeder” growled Woolmer.

I won 7 1/2d and the tent has not, so far, been struck. They call me “a bloody boy” and comment upon my bleeding raucous laugh and “..the precise way in which” I utter the phrase “fucking”.

Wednesday 3rd August 1938

With “B” class in the recruits squad again, striving to keep up with the speed. Upton is also in this class but Fayers and Camper are in “C”. Hurst is a trained man – linesman, whilst Woolmer is an operator B3.

Bloody warm in the recruits tent (but damn cold in the early mornings, especially at the wash-place, 6 a.m.) Of the 35 recruits, only 9 were not fallen in as latecomers at the afternoon parade. Among those nine, were Fayers, Upton, Camper, Lawrence and myself, to our great joy. And we only paraded five seconds before the first of the latecomers!

A swim on the beach with Fayers this afternoon. In the evening went again to The Smuggler’s House, Rottingdean, for supper – with Upton. When I got back to camp I found an almost-hot tap in the shower’s hut and had a damn good shave. The first unpainful shave since I came to camp. Might not have to shave tomorrow, then; 6 a.m. at the washing place is hell and there’s a strong, bitter wind. It’s dark now and we’re all in the wind-shaken tent except for Fayers and Hurst. Five candles provide illumination as we lie on our respective beds.

Two promotions today. Woolmer – after five years service – becomes Lance-Corporal. And – surprise! – little Corporal Russell has got his third stripe. And oh! I forgot! Corporal Smith, who slept in this tent the first night, has been promoted to Sergeant, also.

Interesting point. One frosty morning last winter I was driving from my Carlton Avenue digs to Southend station (rendezvous for a CHA rambling party). At the end of Southbourne Grove stood a “Terrier” Corporal, waiting for a bus. I gave him a lift. Seeing he was a Signals NCO, I mentioned I was in 193 Battery, adding that I wished I was in his unit. That was Corporal Smith, now Sergeant. When we meet at the drill hall recently, we recalled the incident.

Tuesday 2nd August 1938

Normal duty today, with “the school”, i.e. the recruits squad. I joined the 4 words a minute (“B”) class which was rather ambitious for me. “C” would have been more suitable, with Fayers. We went by lorry to a hill near Rottingdean and received visual instruction from a hard-working, amusing Sergeant. “Christ Almighty!” said he when some men right wheeled instead of left. “Are you in this army, or Fred Karno’s?” he asked a somnolent recruit. And when our Corporal Russell, at the far end of the field, misinterpreted one of his rapid signals re. procedure, the Sergeant threw his cap on the ground. “For God’s sake go and tell him to send in cipher”, he growled, to the nearest recruit. The recruit dashed off. “Tell him to send his stripes back too!” yelled the Sergeant.

Afternoon: gas mask drill and a “school” lecture. I nearly fell asleep. We dismissed at 3 o’clock.

Now – 8p.m and I’m in a decent café at Rottingdean, on the cliffs. Have just had a swim in the pool below. Did a width underwater, although my “wind” is not so good as it used to be. I’ve ordered a buck rarebit and coffee. Here it is!

Monday 1st August 1938

Rather an unsettled day but enjoyable, so far as my duties were concerned. Reveille 6 o’clock – wash and shave in cold water – dress of the day, boots, slacks, tunics and bandolier. Whilst preparing hastily for first parade – 7 a.m. – the CSM appeared and stated I was to be Acting Driver IC during camp, with a wireless car. So while les autres fell in for gas respirator drill, I tinkered about with a Ford Eight and Standard Nine, getting them filled with petrol etc. (The Standard had amazing gears.)

When we paraded for CO’s parade I fell in with “K” Section, not with the recruits. Soon afterwards, as we were getting out wireless sets, Lieut. Jarvis sent for me and I had to leave my new comrades. My day out with the Lieut. has, I fear, finished my chance of being Driver IC. In my absence someone else got the job. However my day was interesting enough to be worth it.

Lieut. Jarvis drove across the Downs to Falmer, to the 132nd Infantry Brigade HQ. I turned the car round and remained in the driving seat. Presently my officer returned, with a Colonel and a Brigadier General – regular army men. They came aboard, holding bundles of maps. I drove – God knows where – as instructed. (“Right” said the Brigadier, sitting beside me. “Left. Right; - sharp corner, this.”) Eventually, high on the hills, we found a dozen officers of various ranks, waiting by the roadside. The Brigadier proceeded to detail some scheme of mimic warfare. Apparently there will be manoeuvres shortly. They wandered to and fro talking excitedly, waving their arms, peering about and referring to maps. I sat in the car. The sun blazed; I closed my eyes – “just for a second.”

Opened them with a start: silence! They’d all gone! To add to my contentment, an ice cream man miraculously appeared. I lounged in the shade of a tree until a Brigadier-Major returned and told me to drive him to another rendezvous. We jolted along rutted cart-tracks, across fields. (“Better close this gate, Corporal” said the BM, which flattered me.) We found the others in a deep valley, still busy with maps and plans. Afterwards we went over more fields to the top of a hill. Standing on the brink of what seemed to be a Sussex Dew Pond, the Brigadier went into final details regarding “Concentrated fire; reserve companies, machine gun ranges, strategical points, men and platoons and battalions.” Damned interesting. And Lieut. Jarvis apologised for keeping me away so long!

We returned to Falmer at lunchtime. The lieutenant went to the mess whilst “the driver” was fixed up with a meal by the East Surrey’s.
PBI men! “Look, es got a bandolier! What is 'e?” I heard a puzzled voice enquire.
The cooks gave me a bloody good meal and were most hospitable.

Back to Roedean about 3:30 The Signals had just finished work for the day, - much better hours than at Watchet. Had a ripping swim, with another fellow, before tea. Diving off a groyn below the cliffs. We all slept soundly tonight!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sunday 31st July 1938

Up 6 o’clock. Breakfast; eventually got my infernal uniform adjusted to my satisfaction. Called for Lieut. Jarvis at 8 o’clock, garaged my car. His wife drove us to the drill hall and showed me how to manipulate the car (an impressive jade-green coupe).

Fell-in for inspection (full marching order – haversack, water bottle, bandolier and spurs) after which the Company “en-bussed” - quaint phrase. We left at about 10:30 a.m. Ripping to be at the wheel. When we passed through Leigh on Sea, Lieut. Jarvis had already said, “We can drop the formality until we reach camp” and we were then able to talk conversationally, without any “Sir” business. Old Southend Road; across the Thames at Woolwich; Bromley and then Kentish country. We went over Biggin Hill, a long road I tramped once with Margaret and John on the coldest day of that year. Today there was no snow! It was terrible hot outside, but cool in the car; we were both clad in shirt sleeves.

Stopped for lunch at a pleasant café near Maresfield. Somehow we’d missed the traffic; roads nearly deserted. The Lieut. let me retain my independence and pay my share of the bill. We were in “Sussex-by-the-Sea” (“All England is a garden.”) and at last came through Lewes and Falmer, into the military zone. Lieut. Jarvis drove the last five miles (“L” plates up) whilst I crouched tensely beside him. Roedean Camp. Right on the main road, above the cliffs, between Brighton and Rottingdean.

Before I’d stowed my kit or even found a tent, I was seized for a fatigue. Erecting a marquee – clad in puttees, boots and breeches! Nobody found it very amusing!
We were glad when the bloody job was done and we were in comfortable clothes and having tea. My tent companions were:- Ginger Hurst, Spider Lawrence, Fayers, Woolmer, Corporal Smith, Upton and Camper. We wondered how the hell we’d find room for ourselves and our kit in the tent? And should we have to wear blasted breeches and puttees next day? (“Put your bloody feet orf my bed!”, yelled Camper.) It seemed we might all be asleep by midnight. But Camper snored and eventually Upton revealed that he also was awake by making one single blunt ejaculation – “Bollocks!”

We talked until the early hours of the morning, most of us.

Saturday 30th July 1938

I’m out of the poverty zone! This morning’s mail brought a commission cheque - £15-0-4 and three weeks salary. So I’ve put £20-5-7 in the Bank, £5 in my cash box (an old tobacco tin) for reserve and there’s £5 in my pocket for holiday pocket money.

Nothing urgent in the mail – several copies of orders, including two I’d not expected and which increased my turnover accordingly. Have just driven around town with Iris, delivering a few chickens and eggs. Now – 11:30 – I’m going to pack and clean my equipment. The holiday has started!

Oh, Hell! Just as I wrote the line above, a post card arrived. From Lieut. Jarvis. He could not get away on Saturday, therefore we must travel down on Sunday with the other – in uniform. Damn!

Friday 29th July 1938

Collected two cheques, took two small orders. A day of preparation and clearing-up, too. Did some rapid shopping. Bought a new shirt, gym shoes, soap, brushes, “Bluebell” and dusters in the space of ten minutes at lunchtime. Had a haircut, dashed off one or two letters and bought a new toothbrush in the evening.
Then – just time for second house at the “Astoria!”

Thursday 28th July 1938

After parade at the drill hall tonight came the order:-

“Drivers JC, fall in!” Naturally I’m not a Driver being still a recruit; nevertheless I hopefully joined a crowd of men around Lient. Jarvis. He wanted a man to drive his car down to Camp, not being very experienced himself. Everyone else seemed ineligible somehow, and I eventually got the job. A Morris Ten. We go down in “civvies” – no formality – on Saturday afternoon instead of on Sunday morning, when the rest of the Company is travelling. That means – no frantic rush to get away on Sunday, no scrambling into new and unfamiliar uniform in the early hours of the morning. I shall travel in comfort instead of in a packed bus!

My usual luck – or is it luck? Two ways of looking at it! As in the case of my transfer to the gun park at Watchet!

Wednesday 27th July 1938

Rather dull week. Business getting pretty lousy. Evenings somewhat lousy too, without Lois.

In short – the pre-holiday doldrums.

Sunday 24th July 1938

Slept until 11:30 Marvellous! After lunch – another hot day – Lois and I drove out to Creeksea and wandered on the saltings. Back at Canewdon we found the Club having tea and joined them. Joan Yeaxlee, fed up with rambling, drove B and AV and three tired passengers into Rochford. Lois and I were able to have a walk!

Found the B and AV waiting for us in the Market Square when we eventually reached Rochford. Said “Auf Wiedershen” to the rest and went to Lois’. She goes on holiday tomorrow with her people and there seemed to be a lot to do. So I left at 9 o’clock, advising them to “have a good time”. We shall not meet again for three weeks. And a casual parting like that! Oh Hell!

Saturday 23rd July 1938

Yes, it’s been a good week - £34. Today, hot sunshine.

Left Eastwood 8:45 a.m. with Lois. Reached Egham 11:30 a.m. Lois left Ma at the Works and drove the B and AV into the village for petrol and any necessary repairs.
From my general reception by Mr Lever, I gather that the Firm is satisfied with my work so far. I talked to Bolton, Daly, Branford, Pollard, Dodger Jones… There have been changes, but many familiar faces remain. After the others had gone, Mad Willy and I remained chatting in the silent lab. and I lit a cigarette. “Quite like old times” Maddison voiced my silent thoughts.

Lois returned at 12:15; backed B and AV down the yard to the stores for a load of paint (an urgent order). We lunched at the Bells of Ouzeley. I used to cycle there for bread, cheese and beer but there was a very different atmosphere today in the lounge – and very pleasant, too, with a solicitous waiter hastening to and fro.
Drove to Staines and – back! – it was Regatta Day. Punted upstream, beneath the Bridge, crossing near the Lemmas; around the backwater of Witchery Island, under Gwyn’s Bridge; up the Colne to the Mill Pool. Then we drifted gently down, whilst I smoked. It seemed strange to see Lois in these places.

Later, we cautiously paddled down the course of the Regatta. Every now and then an Eight or a Four or a Single Sculler would shoot by, followed by frantic shouts from those on the tow-path. “Go through, Kingston!” “Een –out!” We moored near the finishing line and lounged there for some time. Afterwards I punted up the course again and to the boathouse. Called at Ealing Common. No-one at home. Lois did not feel too well so I made her a cup of tea and had a bit to eat myself. Afterwards washed up our crocks and the lunch things and smoked. Meanwhile Lois was curled up on a sofa in the lounge, feeling, I imagine, like potted death. Rotten headache; too much sunshine perhaps. However, it eventually passed and we took the road again – 9:15.
Richard arrived just as we were leaving the flat, looking very fit, wearing Sea Scout uniform; very exuberant.

Good journey. B and AV ran well, although noisy. About 15 miles from Southend we overtook a girl, walking with a suitcase. At my suggestion, Lois hailed her and she came aboard. Rather interesting, and not so tough as one might have expected. “Just a rolling stone” as she put it.

We delivered my urgent paint at 11:30, in Westcliff. Soon afterwards we dropped Marie Coduri outside her apartments in Southchurch. Then, nothing more to do, Lois and I said “goodnight”.

Thursday 21st July 1938

The days are hot, there is sunshine; I feel well. Business improves - £11 today.
Managed to pay the usual instalment on the car. No more now until after camp, when I’ll have some cash reserve again. Hope my bank balance will be better then, too.

Wednesday 20th July 1938

Lois was with me “on the road” – a blazing hot day. After two orders at Chelmsford I fiddled about all the afternoon, calling on UDC’s etc. Hate following up DML letters. They do not “smooth the way” and I’d prefer to map out my own policy. Nice day though – cos Lois was with me. Really she’s helpful, and would make an excellent secretary! One particularly delicious moment:-

We reached Oakdene at 10 o’clock. I’d decided to leave Milady there and go onto Southend for a last call. I knew she wanted to come but felt obstinate because her old-fashioned parents like her to in by 11 o’clock. (“Damn 'em” I thought, “She can be in by 10 o’clock, for all I care and while it suits me.”) Lois seemed a bit sad and we wandered across the lawn in the summer twilight. “Oh, how can I make you happy again?” I said. “I know,” she said, head bent. “How?” I asked eagerly. Suddenly alive, she turned in my arms, all a-sparkle, “Take me to Southend, with you!” “All right!” I laughed, and then sneered, “Jolly good! So that is how you’ll make me do what you want. Very clever!” “Oh, now I feel horrible” she whispered, head down, face hidden. “Go! Go!” she said fiercely. “Not without you, My Lady!”

So she did come, and sat in the car in Southchurch Avenue whilst I clinched today’s third order. Afterwards she put my reports in the envelope, took my wallet from my pocket, got a stamp, stuck it on; and jumped out at the GPO to post the envelope.
“Next time” she said, “Say what you really feel, and kiss me when you want to, not when you think I expect it.” We were in the garden path at Oakdene. Just eleven o’clock! I kissed her and said what I felt. “Without any frills or impressive words – I just love you.”

“I love you – too.”

Sunday 17th July 1938

Recruits of nos. 1,2 and 3 Companies carried out their musketry exercise at Rainham Ranges. (And it was summery!) Grouping and application at 100 and 200 yards. (This is the limit for Signals.) Didn’t take note of my scores all the time but think the aggregate was about 73 to 76 out of a possible hundred. Not brilliant – but what an improvement on the old RNVR days! And just because of a simple word of advice from a thorough going Sergt. Major! (“Keep your foresight level with the shoulders of the U of the backsight”)

And no one had told me that before!

Friday 15th July 1938

Met Lois at Oakdene, 7:15p.m. At 8:30p.m. after listening to some lovely gramophone records, we hurried into Southend to bring her people back from the Pictures.
Afterwards we dashed again into Southend as I had to be at the drill hall for miniature range firing. Lois waited in the car until I returned – 45 minutes. We could not be together then, for long, because her people object to their daughter being out later than 11 o’clock. Lois quoted sadly; - “Maybe next time we live, we’ll have time for each other…”

My firing was a qualification for the open range this weekend. Signalmen have to fire on the open range as part of their recruits’ training. I’ve always been a rotten shot, but under the tutoring of the Sergt. Major I did quite well – 58 marks out of 80, which just qualifies me as a first-class shot!

Sunday 10th July 1938

My people came down and met their future relations at Oakdene. (“Have a drink?” said Lois’ father. “Yes!” said my father, thirstily as the water splashed into the whisky, - “Not too much water!” he added hastily.) All went well, although it was a meeting of ancient and modern, settled and unsettled.

At last Lois and I were again alone. We sat in the car near Hockley and discussed the financial side of marriage. Lois reckons she could run a home for two – and pay the rent – on £3-0-0 a week. But the furniture would have to be brought first… We called at the Mayphil, Battlesbridge. Lois had an “egg-flip” cocktail (to the contempt of the barman. “That’s right, a straight drink”, he grinned when I asked for a “White Horse”.)

Afterwards we put the car in a bridle track where I have sometimes come to be alone, lately. Yes, serenity has returned, so that I can be alone and contented, reading or thinking. Milady said she did not want to be taken to a roadhouse where there were lots of people and synthetic conversation. She wanted somewhere quiet like this. (On a bush nearby, invisible in the darkness, I knew that wild roses were blooming.) Lois snuggled into my arms. I sat very still. Her breathing changed, as though she were asleep. I sat very still. Lois raised her head, said in such a surprised voice, “Oh! Are we still at Battlesbridge?” Where had she thought we were? Like a flash, clear vision came to me. I knew that this was something, a mood or a moment, that would return and that sometime, somewhere in the future, Lois would again awake in my arms and be surprised because she’d dreamed we were somewhere else.

Saturday 9th July 1938

Worked until 5 o’clock. No orders; a complaint and some money to be collected.
Eventually however I’d finished and at last Lois and I were alone, walking fast across the fields from Eastwoodbury and through Hockley Woods. Horribly, we’ve seemed far apart lately but this evening drew us close together again – the country always does. And the rain which threatened, drifted away; the air became warmer; it seemed more like a summer evening!

We had cider in the parlour of “The Bull”, Hockley. Jove! We were thirsty and the cider was sweet! I was also hungry and so had a huge hunk of bread and cheese. Then back, through the magic of the woods. There was a little spinney (with a haystack) and the path ran through it to the fields on either side. On the way out, when we were far apart, we walked through this spinney separately. On the way back, on that pathway, I held Lois’ hands tightly behind her back until she said “All right! I give in!” (A moment later I’d have released her anyhow, cos I was afraid to hurt her.) Then Lois, mischievous, solemnly said she’d thought deeply about us and wondered, was she on the right road? She could hardly look at me and I became uneasy and wondered what would come next? She glanced swiftly at me, “I’m in deadly earnest, you know!” “Oh yes” said I vaguely. Then she suddenly laughed, “Oh, I can’t keep it up!” Thank heavens, she was only pulling my leg.

Milady made me promise – how wisely – that if we ever quarrelled or something was misunderstood, we must not part, at night, unhappily. (How very sincerely I hope we never shall part in anger or unhappiness.)

It was late when we reached Oakdene but Lois invited me in for a coffee. (She makes coffee pretty efficiently.) We sat there in the kitchen, late at night, our spirits very close again.

Wednesday 6th July 1938

Summing up the last few days – a “black” period. Not much business. I didn’t feel too well. Weather was cold and windy or raining – nor at all summery. Worried about money. The car, as I had feared, is just one damn thing after another. Repairs, repairs. Repairs.

Finally, today, toothache! Oh, hell!

Saturday 2nd July 1938

Hard lines, having to work on Saturday but I enjoyed it! Reaping the benefit of yesterday’s efforts. Met Garforth at 9:30 and was with him about an hour-and-a-half getting shades chosen by the clerk of works, examining old surfaces at the first job – Jones Memorial Ground. The first order was for 1 cwt of H2O paint and 25 gallons of Parax Paint. I proudly wrote out the order:- “Borough of Southend Education Committee.”

Afternoon. Lois and I parked Zephyr by the roadside near Downham, (“Where there’s a nice view”) and strolled across the fields. Through woods, until we reached a railway. And as we stood on the railway – Swish – rain, heavy rain, coming nearer! Lois laughed, “Two practical people caught out! No macs! How the Gods are laughing!” It was thundery weather so we slunk in the bushes but that soon became damp so we crossed the line and sat beneath an old, thick foliaged tree. My jacket just covered both our shoulders; Lois’ hair was dark with rainwater and smelt beautiful – hair and fresh rain together!

We changed our wet things and then I called at Oakdene for Milady. She stood on the stairs; “Jump!” I said. This was simply a ruse to get her in my arms… We stood close, close, and knew that we were terribly, wonderfully, sure of each other. And then we heard her people coming through the garden – returning from the Pictures!
We drove to Eastwoodbury, taking the gramophone and some books of poetry. A car was parked in the lane against Fred Butler’s gate; two lovers. However, I brutally moved them (noisily opening the gate, lighting a cigarette, before I approached the car…) and then drove into the field.

We played gramophone records and read poetry by the light of my flash lamp.

Friday 1st July 1938

"Yes,” said the clerk, “Mr Smith will see you but he’s engaged now. Do you mind waiting?” (Blimey! I’d waited a year for this interview!) Mr Smith, the Education Committee Architect, was a tall grey-haired man, whom I liked the look of.

Extract from my official report:- “Naturally reluctant to have them approved in connection with the above contract. Eventually agreed to approve our Parax Paint finishes and Randall’s H20 Paint…” The word “eventually” covers about half an hour of salesmanship.

Went to Great Baddow. Saw Garforth and Wellham. Quoted 25% of Randall’s and 33 1/3% of Parax list prices. Heavy discounts. Worth it to get my foot in. Colours being chosen tomorrow morning.

Evening. Lois and I went to the Pictures together, for the first time. Coming out of the Ritz, walking across the car-park, I held her arm. Her fair head above my shoulder we strode together, in step. “I’d still love you, if you were an ugly piece of work but I’m jolly glad you’re not, so I can be proud of you, and show off!” She tilted her head and laughed. “An ugly piece of work!”

And the car started without any turning of the handle!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Thursday 30th June 1938

Garforth saw the Education Committee Architect this morning. The blighter does not approve our materials. Said he knew nothing about them! Only last Monday I tried to get an interview. I’ll try again, tomorrow. The name “Paripan” will now be more familiar to the Municipal Buildings inhabitants.

Wednesday 29th June 1938

Garforth and Wellham are booming! Let us hope they do not crash and drag the Paripan (Essex) representative with them! They order steadily now for the Great Baddow estate. Today I received a 1 cwt and 6 galls opening order for a new estate, at Burgess Hill, Sussex. They’ve also tendered for decorations at three schools (Borough Of Southend Education Committee) and have been accepted. Want to use Paripan products. The Borough has never given me a decent chance yet…

Sunday 26th June 1938

The family has a cottage at Aldeburgh. Today I took My Lady to meet them there.
It’s been quite a hectic week for both of us; congratulations and good wishes in the post, or delivered in person. Now that she has met the family – as my fiancée – we can settle down to be a normal engaged couple. How staid and pompous that sounds! But how thrilling it really is, now that the novelty has died!

Father and Mother met us with the car about ten miles out of Aldeburgh. So Lois was spared the horrors of a formal meeting. The heat-wave was nearly over, but it was still warm enough for a swim to be enjoyed. Lois and Richard and I, went in. The beach shelved steeply and waves buffeted us, only a few yards from the verge of the furthest little ripple. (“Oh Steve!” said Richard, “Fancy you getting engaged!”) Lois and Robin in one canoe, Richard and I in another, paddled about the broad at Thorpeness.

We left Aldeburgh in the evening. The Vauxhall escorted us some distance along the road. Lois liked them; they liked Lois. All’s well! Ipswich, Colchester, Maldon, Battlesbridge. Night. We were late in reaching Eastwood but nevertheless drove into “the back lane” before parting. Kisses of happiness. How sweet this is – not bitter-sweet! I’ve never felt so emotionally secure before. A strange feeling. I just know that she is mine and I am hers.

Those five Others – those ghosts? They all know, now. One knew before I told her; and when I did speak of it, I just said that she had saved me from making an awful mistake – just far-sighted things she had said. One – this was happiest of all – was ever so pleased, because she, also, was becoming engaged, and had wondered how I should be told! One had been tempting me to sleep wither, when I told her – apropos of nothing – my news. Her face hardened a little. She was very subtle and quickly and casually impressed that the invitation had not been what it was. One, who heard it from her Mother, seemed vivacious (a rare thing in her) when we next met. (“Hasn’t she got lovely hair? You will bring her to see us, won’t you? When shall you get married? Of course, you are in love, aren’t you?) Only the fifth was hurt. I know too well that she was hurt. Oh hell! That last, lovely letter of hers! And she, of them all, I imagined would not care. I did not reply to the letter; she did not want it. She is the only one of the five whom, probably, I’ll never see again.
Five ghosts. But Milady is vital, alive, mine!

Thursday 23rd June 1938

This morning, Lois and I stood at the end of the orchard, behind Oakdene. I took the ring from my pocket. Green and red and gold. Slowly I slipped it on the third finger of her left hand. Slowly I bent and kissed that finger. Lois moved suddenly into my arms, her hands behind my head, her face sideways on my shoulder. “Oh Stephen, I’m so happy!”

Ecstatic moments! So ecstatic that I will not write of anything else that happened today!

Sunday 19th June 1938

We strode down the hills to “The Robin Hood” at Halling. The men had a glorious wash in the yard; I put a pair of slippers on, afterwards. Bacon and eggs, marmalade and many cups of tea. Real country breakfast. (Many of the members by this time knew of the romance in their midst. Pa Shervill had been confidentially whispering in the night!)

The next memory? Oh, there were 13 of us left now. We lay on a grassy hilltop, half asleep, under the sun. Lois and I, side by side, our hands secretly touching. We got separated somehow, in the afternoon. First I was alone, then I found Lois, Joan Yeaxlee, another girl and Pa Shervill. Lying behind a haystack. We had lunch there.
I dozed. “Come on, lazy bones” said Joan, “Lois has gone. Let’s find her.” She was nearby, though. We found her lying face downwards in the long grass, dreaming.

Later, much later, we met the others – saw them waving from beyond the valley. They crossed towards us, two-by-two, Ella Dorken tramping ahead like an officer with his soldiers. John had gone home. Tea at The Leather Bottle preceded by glorious cider and a glorious wash. What a day of sunlight it had been, after a night of moonlight!
So twelve of us crossed at Gravesend, then went our ways.

Nine o’clock. I’d just gone to my bedroom when a visitor was announced by Mrs Butler.
It was Hazell, the decorator whose first order was taken after my final argument with Pat and her Mother – the night of the black-out. We discussed business. He gave an order for five gallons Egham Paint and had written out an agreement to take fifty gallons at contract terms. Sound account, too! So I did all the incidental office work, dashed out to the post.

Bed by 10 o’clock. Surely I’d be too excited to sleep. But no! I slept like a corpse as soon as head touched pillow.

Saturday 18th June 1938

The first member of the family to congratulate me was Pepita. I met her, with Robin and Father, at The Oasis, Chelmsford. Pepita had been informed by letter, but not Father. He took me into a pub, having heard I had some news for him. I sipped my beer then said, “How old were you when you were engaged Father?” “Oh, I d’know. About sixteen, perhaps.” He added casually, “Why, are you engaged?” “Yes. Lois and I.” “What do you want me to do about it?” “Oh, I thought you’d like to know.” “Well, it’s not a bad idea. How old are you – twenty-five? Well, you’ve reached years of discretion; ought to know your own mind I suppose.” “Will you have another drink?” I inquired. “No thanks, I must be getting along.”

“I didn’t think you’d take it so calmly.” said I, as we got back into his car, (I feeling vastly relieved.) “H’m. I take most things calmly.” he said, grinning boyishly. How typical of NCD, all that!

Received a greetings telegram this afternoon, handed in at Aldeburgh, 3:30. “Congratulations and love to you both. Mother and Father.”

CHA Club All-Night Ramble. We met at Tilbury, 10:30. Crossed by the ferry. Lois was leading. John met us at Gravesend. I had soon told him the exciting news. “Who is she?” he demanded, naturally enough. I told him she was in tonight’s party, also that she was wearing my old silver ring. We tramped through the town, out into the dark country beyond. Sometimes John and I walked behind Lois; and as her right arm swung I saw the gleam of my ring on her right hand…

What a glorious night! The moon rode in an almost cloudless sky. When we paused for a rest, one Dorothy Duffield came to sit beside John and myself. John stared at her silently for a long time, furtively watching her hands! I’m writing more than a week afterwards; can’t recapture in words the magic of the night. Just a few incidents and pictures. The path through the hops; John and I drinking neat whisky and coughing fearsomely. The path through wet corn. “Swings the way still by hollow and hill?”

Supper in a valley between the woods. Dorothy and John and myself played “Snap” and “Donkey” whilst the rest lay still. Our light was – flashlight and the moon.
Lines of Omar Khayyam came to me as I saw pale rose creep into the eastern sky:-
“Dreaming when dawn’s left hand was in the sky…”

At last John’s all night search ended. Lois spread a map on the ground. John switched on his torch to help her, throwing a brilliant light onto the map, her hands and the ring. Soon afterwards he said casually, “How did you propose to Lois, then?” We had been in woods in the eerie half-light.

When we reached the further edge I remembered Omar Khayyam again:- “Awake! For Morning in the Bowl of Night has flung the stone that puts the Stars to flight…”
However John and I did not wait for sunrise. With Joan Yeaxlee and three others we went back to the woods and lit a fire on the broad pathway. When the main party came they found a blazing fire, of ash and fir. Twenty-four of us squatted there, singing songs, whilst the sun rose higher. A distant rifle shot made us realise it was day, and we were trespassing.

And that it was: