Uncle's Diary 1944 Jan Feb Mar
Posted by Mac Cummings on June 10, 2018, 1:05 pm
January 1st I should have reported back yesterday but take French leave. I am up before my betters, after arriving in London. I receive 7 days “Royal Warrant” – loss of pay, but it was worth it. |
January 2nd I catch the 08-05 London express and travel down to London on my way to Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, to the holding unit, as I have not yet rejoined the regiment. I arrive there at midnight, having passed through bomb scarred London.
January 3rd-10th Leigh-on-Sea is not very far from Southend and Canvey Island. We only spent a few days here, and at night we heard the old familiar drone, as the Luftwaffe “scalded cats” made their abortive raids in the London area. At the end of the week, about the 7th, a party of us about Six strong made our way back to the regiment, which was stationed at Dedham, near Colchester in Essex, and we found “R” troop stationed in an old house in the village, and I rejoined them after an absence of nearly 10 months.
January 10th-31st After a few days in “R” troop, I was posted to HQ survey troop who were stationed with RHQ at Hill House Farm, some two miles outside the village. I was loathe to leave the boys, but what could I do. I also had another leave at this time. Three of us were posted (Russel Lowes, Fred Nutter, and myself.) Dedham is a charming old world village, and the village pubs were most popular, especially the Marlborough where the attraction was a vivacious and provocative blond named Betty (unfortunately married.) Second in the running came the Sun also equipped with a perfect specimen of the “sweater type” younger and less sophisticated then Betty, but single and friendly, and her name was June. The third pub offered no such attraction but it proved useful when the other two were shut, owing to the dreadful shortage of beer at the time. It was a crisis of the first water. I spent many evenings at the Marlborough drinking and eating with my lecherous friend Frank Gardener and so passed away the Winter month of January.
Feb 44 We continued our sojourn in Dedham, getting ready for the Second front. They had not brought us home for the benefit of our health, and as yet we had no transport. We spent the days in revising our survey and guards and fatigues and the rest. There had been great changes in England since we left in1940. The whole country was one vast floating fortress, awaiting the Second front. Vast legions of Yanks and Canuks swarmed over this our fair isle, made hideous in some places, usually the beauty spots, by large dumps of War material, vast camps, air fields, and battle practice areas. This was a great pity, but alas, very necessary. Every morning the skies above our peaceful village of Dedham were filled with the roaring motors of flying forts, their feathered tails looking like the snowy wakes of so many ships at sea. Overhead they gathered from all over the flat country of Essex and Lincoln, Cambridge and the Fens, bound for Nazi Germany. The air blitz was on. We had a fighter drome not far away from the camp, and it received several social calls from the Luftwaffe, and even Dedham had its bomb. During this month I made Two trips to London to see some friends of mine at Croydon, and I had my first chance to see the havoc created during the great fire blitz of late 1940, when I was sitting in the NAAFI at Beni Yusef in far off Egypt. Every weekend we had off duty, we paid a visit to the local town of Colchester some Eight miles away. Colchester is a rather pretty market town, but you couldn’t get moved for Yanks, and we hadn’t taken to these Yanks as yet. We visited the Norman Castle and the old Roman Wall, and did all the usual things, eat, drink, and the cinema. So passed February.
I was now quite at home with HQ troop and I liked it even better than “R” troop. Frank and I became inseparable companions and sometimes we got rather drunk, but not very often though. The regiment became very popular in Dedham, just as the 4th has always had a good name for its social behaviour at High Wycombe; Urchfont, Larkhill and Puck Shipton in Wiltshire, and now Dedham. Every Friday night we had a local hop in the village hall. It was very popular and the girls were friendly. At this time I made friends with a young married couple in Dedham, who hailed from Halifax in Yorkshire. They lived in a charming old world cottage, built in 1570 by the Flemish Weavers, but since modernised without loosing its old world charm, its smoke blackened rafters and its low roofs and plaster panelling. The only modern intrusion besides the electric light, was a very bright and useful bathroom done in Green Vitolite.
His name was Stanley Boothe and he was a research plastic chemist working at the BX works at Manningtree. His wife Lily was a very pleasant young girl. They made me very welcome, and at nights I used to listen to their library of classical records, whilst the wind howled outside in the inky Blackness of a winters night plus the Blackout. Later I introduced Frank and his charming wife, who came to stay for a while.
Towards the end of March we collected the first of our transport from the Midlands and also vast stores of equipment. This Second front was going to be something big, and they were leaving nothing to chance. Spring brought the first Green and the first flowers. We were camped in wooden huts in the pastures of Hill House farm, and the huts were more comfortable than they looked. We kept the fires well stoked. The enemy was at this time launching the fire or Baedaker raids in our area and London. We lay at night listening to the AA barking and the thumps of the bombs. This was a very familiar sound.
Addendum to original diary
Many years later in 1975 I went back to Dedham with my wife Avril, and cousins John and Doris I sought out and found Stanley Boothe in the same cottage. He had purchased all the other cottages forming this former Flemish weaving factory. Lots of monies had been spent. He was pleased to see us, however Lily was in London. We enjoyed tea and a visit to Castle House in the village which houses the paintings of Munnings. Stanley is a patron. It was great to see him again after so many years.