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Harold Austin War Diary - 1943

The war had now definitely turned in the Allies’ favour: the German 6th Army surrendered to the Russians at Stalingrad, the Afrika Korps was expelled from North Africa, the Japanese from New Guinea and as the year progressed the British and American armies were fighting their way up Italy. Germany itself was suffering heavy bombing by the Royal Air Force at night and the US Air Force by day.

Friday 15 January

The gap which has intervened since my last entry is entirely due to two things, viz neglect on my part and to the fact that nothing of particular interest has happened. There have been no spectacular happenings in the war, although the Russians continue to push steadily on in the Don Valley and the Caucasus. In North Africa there is a lull due to bad weather. We had the tallest soldier in the Canadian Army – an American from California – to spend a few hours with us and sleep for one night. He was so tall that he had to bend his head to get inside our doorways! Enemy air activity has been spasmodic lately and has consisted almost entirely of attacks on coastal towns by one or two planes diving from the clouds. The siren has now sounded over 2,000 times in this town and the local pips, inaugurated last autumn, between 70 and 80. The weather, on the whole, has been mild and on the night of Thursday the 13th, there was a half-gale of wind with torrents of rain, which caused our cellar to be flooded.

Saturday 16 January

Fire watching at Odeon, a more peaceable night than for some time past, as there were only 3 women on duty and I managed to get in three long bursts of sleep.

Sunday 17 January

Spent about 3 ½ hours in the garden, digging up and separating golden rod, Michaelmas daisies and an ancient, worn-out rose bush. We had a hectic evening and night, for German planes came over in larger numbers than for many weeks in retaliation for a heavy raid by the RAF over Berlin. The first of these raids was at 7:45pm. The planes were obviously making for London and the barrage was colossal, much the heaviest I have heard. The din around London must have been terrific and 12 people were killed by shrapnel. The raid lasted two hours and there was a second one, lasting nearly as long at 4 o’clock in the morning. We watched the bursting shells and flaming onions for a long while and twice we saw our night-fighters switch on their recognition lights when our searchlights found them. Eleven bombers in all were shot down, one of our night fighters getting a record bag of four. One German pilot who baled out seized a car at Ashford and got as far as Sittingbourne before being captured by two Leeds policemen[1].

Wednesday 20 January

There was a daylight raid by German fighter-bombers (about 25 to 30 of them) at noon. Taking advantage of heavy cloud cover, six of them reached London and dropped bombs. In our district a school was hit and 20 little children killed. A fighter escort of about 150 planes flew over the Channel. Altogether 11 enemy planes were shot down for certain and probably several more. Have heard that the Deptford and Millwall districts suffered. Our ID signal went before the siren was sounded, but we did not see any enemy planes.

Thursday 21 January

Saw Eagle Squadron, a film of the Americans who came over to Britain and were among the ‘first of the few’. Moderately good. Fire watching at Newton Road.

Saturday 23 January

Went to Sittingbourne in morning and had afternoon off. Our 8th Army entered Tripoli, the end of the Italian Empire. Russians announced capture of Armavir, key railway junction to Maikop oilfields. Whole of the German [army] in the Caucasus are now in danger of being cut off by the Russian armies advancing on Rostov from several different directions.

Sunday 24 January to Sunday 7 February

A fortnight during which my most vivid recollections are of rain, and still more rain. In the London area the January rainfall was 4.9 inches against an average of about 1.7. Yet the sunshine for the month was 35 hours against an average of 30. The weather has been very mild, although it changed during the first week in February, and was distinctly raw cold. The military news is good, especially from Russia where the Russian Army is pushing the Huns back from the Ukraine and is outflanking Rostov, as well as cutting off the Germans in Caucasia.

Monday 8 February

The Russians have stormed Kursk and are threatening Kharkov and Orel. Our 8th Army is steadily pressing back RommeI’s rearguards and is preparing for an assault on the Mareth Line[2] and our 1st Army is awaiting the coming of fine weather to advance against Tunis and Bizerta. The Americans and Australians have cleared the Japs out of Guadalcanal. Mr Winston Churchill has just returned from Casablanca, where he had a conference with President Roosevelt. Afterwards he flew to Turkey and then to Tripoli, landing in England on Sunday 7 February. Had a letter from Clare saying that Betty Reynolds[3] (now in the WAAF) had been posted to Coulsdon.

Tuesday 9 February

Our 6ft 9in American soldier arrived to spend 7 days’ leave. Had a visit from Mr Kenneth Brown, his first to Faversham since the outbreak of war. The position at the Printing Works is becoming more and more hopeless. Mr Burrows Senior died last Wednesday, so all hope of a return as foreman has gone. Miss Gulvin has left to join the WAAF and we have no errand boy. I am spending most of my time in getting out paper, cutting it on the guillotine and even delivering parcels!

Thursday 11 to Monday 15 February

Nothing much out of the usual dull routine. The Russians are sweeping the Germans out of the Donetz Basin and on Sunday announced the capture of Rostov and Voroshilograd. By comparison our military effort and that of the USA seems to be hanging fire.

This is one of the mildest winters we have had for a very long time. Roses in blossom are a fairly common sight, crocuses were out during the latter part of January and one day last week I saw two blossoms on one of my Ioganberry bushes. Our long American friend shows no traces of traditional Yankee hustle; in fact, we found him a rather dull dog. Apart from cycling to Canterbury one afternoon and a visit to the Odeon with us one evening, he didn’t leave the house. We were distinctly relieved when he announced his intention of going to London on Saturday afternoon and spending the remainder of his leave in Town.

I had a turn of gastric trouble (due to a cold) during the week-end which I spent indoors. On Sunday morning I had breakfast in bed for the first time for many years, and how I loathed it. Bed after 7am is torture to me, summer or winter.

Tuesday 16 to Sunday 21 February

The war drags wearily on. Our bombers are making heavy raids on Germany, with practically no response from the Luftwaffe. Rommel has broken into our forward positions in Tunisia, where the Americans have suffered a setback. The 8th Army is still mustering its forces before the Mareth Line and the German resistance in the Donetz basin has stiffened considerably.

Monday 22 February

Evelyn came home with a friend from the WAAF for 9 days’ leave. This is the first we have seen of her since the beginning of December. She arrived at midnight.

Tuesday 23 February to Wednesday 3 March

This has been a comparatively bright period owing to Evelyn’s presence at home. She managed to get about quite a bit, visiting Herne Bay twice (where she got a few precious razor blades for me), Canterbury and London. Hilda and Mary went with her and Katy (her friend) to the latter place on Monday 1 March and after meeting Betty Reynolds they all went to a matinee of The Desert Song. There was a heavy raid by the RAF on Berlin on Monday night. The German attack in Tunisia has been beaten back and our troops are now advancing. The Germans claim to have reached the Donetz in their counter-offensive and also announce the evacuation of Rzhev. Evelyn and Katy returned to Abingdon at 4:30 today (3 March) and, as Hilda has gone to a Towns women’s Guild practice and Mary round to Joan Turner’s flat, I am left alone.

The weather turned cold today with a strong nor-easter. Siren and local pips sounded at 8:30 and the Germans made a retaliatory raid. We heard a few planes, saw innumerable searchlights and ack-ack shells and heard quite a bit of gunfire, although the latter was neither so heavy nor sustained as during the last attack on London.

Thursday 4 to Sunday 21 March

The effort to keep the diary going becomes more and more difficult. Life is so crowded in these days (and nights) that spare time shrinks constantly and when spare times does arrive the temptation to relax with a detective story, or just relax, is overpowering. The weather, as invariably happens during great wars is of a freak nature and, as during the last war, seems to be aiding and abetting the enemy. Just when our bombing raids on Germany were assuming huge proportions fog and mist put a stop to these operations for a week or more. Worse still, an early thaw in Russia halted the Russian armies when they were sweeping on towards the Dnieper and enabled the Germans to strike back and recapture Kharkov. Violent rains in Tunisia at the same time hampered our land operations there.

To turn nearer home, I have had a letter from Gowers offering me a job as manager of one of his cinemas at either Westgate or Birchington. Hilda is not very keen on going down there to live, but the thing is tempting. Mary went to Maidstone for her medical for the ATS, having resigned from the Women’s Land Army.

Monday 22 to 28 Sunday March

Twelve German planes made a hit-and-run raid on Wednesday morning on Ashford and did a lot of damage to the town. I heard unofficially that between 50 and 60 people were killed. Two planes were brought down, one of them being hit in mid-air by an ack-ack shell, exploding the bombs. On Saturday night a strong force of our bombers made a heavy and concentrated raid on Benin, officially stated to be the heaviest of the war on that city.

Monday 29 March to 9 Friday April

Good news came in from Tunisia. Montgomery outflanked the Mareth Line and after heavy fighting, Rommel was forced to withdraw. He made a stand at another wadi, but the 8th Army struck again, and again Rommel is on the run, having lost heavily in armoured vehicles and men. The 8th and American armies have joined hands and are pursuing the Germans northwards. In Central Tunisia the Americans are also advancing slowly and the 1st Army has gained 5 miles in the north. Saw two good films on 7 April (Desert Victory) and 9 (Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve). Hilda and I were left all alone on Friday when Mary went to Guildford to join the ATS. How I hated her going, but I’m proud of the fact that both my daughters are in the Services and both of them volunteers. God keep them both. On the 9th Kenneth Gowers phoned through and asked me to go and see him next week, so I arranged to go down on Thursday, 15 April. I don’t at all suppose anything will come of it, but there’s no harm in going to see him.

Saturday 10 April

Evelyn arrived at 2pm on 48 hours’ leave. She looks very well. Didn’t see much of her, as I went up to the allotment in the afternoon and she had an early tea and went to the flicks with Joan Turner in evening. Fire watching at Odeon 10pm to 6am.

Tuesday 13 April

Spent the day at Sheerness and told Mrs Barton that I had almost decided to resign my job. She told me that a barrage balloon burst at Sheerness the previous Wednesday and smashed a lot of windows, including eleven of WJ Coles! Arrived home at 5:30 and put in another evening on the allotment.

Wednesday 14 April

Spent the evening working on my accounts and having a bath.

Thursday 15 April

Went to Canterbury and saw my accountants at 11am. I also saw the city for the first time since last June and found it very desolate. Met Hilda at noon and had lunch and then we caught the 1:10 bus to Deal, where Gowers met us. He took us round part of the town and showed us the Kings and Regent cinemas and we discussed the business proposition. It was eventually left somewhat open, as the present manager of the Westgate and Birchington cinemas is still there. The greatest snag seems to me to be the possibility of the evacuation of the area. We arrived back at 8:30pm after a perfect ‘June’ day in mid-April.

Friday 16 April

Sunny and warm and the siren going 6 times up to 8:30pm. Wrote to Barton telling him I could not carry on at Court Street under present conditions and asking for an early release. It was stated today that this is the warmest April for 50 years.

Monday 19 April

Had a bit of a shock as Barton phoned in the morning from Sheerness, where he had arrived the previous night on 48 hours’ leave. Of course he had not received my note, so I managed to go over to Sheerness in the afternoon, when I broke the news to him.

Good Friday 23 April

The weather was cool and cloudy in the morning. Rain started just before noon and kept on until evening. I took Hilda’s breakfast up to her, a record!, as she had developed a very heavy cold. She stayed indoors all day and I spent all afternoon there too.

Saturday 24 April

Decided not to go to Sittingbourne, as buses were very crowded. Fire watching at Odeon at 10pm. It was the first night Hilda had been left at home alone, and of course the siren had to sound twice, 11:15pm and 1am. Fortunately, both alerts were very short and no ID.

Sunday 25 April

Hilda’s cold still bad and she did not stir all day outdoors. I spent 2 hours in afternoon on allotment. The church bells were rung today and are now to be rung every Sunday.

Easter Monday 26 April

Weather very rough, but it kept fine for the Sports on the Recreation Ground. These were organised by the local Civil Defence people and were witnessed by a crowd of about 5,000, but NOT by me. I spent some hours on the allotment.

Saturday 1 May

Mary arrived home on 48 hours’ leave at 2:15pm, looking very well. She doesn’t seem nearly as tired as when she was in the Land Army.

Monday 3 May

Mary returned to Guildford by the 8:40am and I felt rather down at her going. I don’t suppose I shall see her again for another 8 weeks. Felt very fed up with work at 23 and left at 4:30pm There is (temporarily, at any rate) a stalemate in Tunisia both Allies and Germans having fought themselves to a standstill. Are we going to throw them out this month? Wonder if we shall try a landing behind their lines.

Thursday 6 May

First Army and Americans launch great offensive in Tunisia. We gave them a real ‘blitzkrieg’, massing hundreds of guns on a narrow front, while the Air Force, having swept the Luftwaffe out of the skies, bombed them heavily and incessantly.

Friday 7 May

Cheers! Our troops have made a breakthrough and are closing in on Tunis while the Americans are nearing Bizerta. At midnight it was announced that both places had been entered by our Forces. Contrary to expectations there was no protracted defence of Bizerta. The Germans seemed to have been overwhelmed by the scale of our blitzkrieg, just a foretaste of what’s coming to them in Europe. The invasion must come this summer, I should think it will commence within the few weeks[4]. Had a letter from Mary to say that she has volunteered for searchlight duties and will undergo a month’s training at Rhyl in Wales.

Saturday 8 May

A 60-70mph southerly gale raged during the day and did a lot of damage. The big pear tree in our garden (at least 60 years old) was blown down and a fine Ioganberry bush, loaded with blossom which was just turning into fruit, was badly broken, as were also the tops of several of my potato plants.

Monday 10 May

The gale blew all day with great fury. Never mind, if the weather is foul, the North African news is great. Our mechanised forces have cut right across the Cape Bon peninsula.

Wednesday 12 May

All Axis resistance in North Africa has now ceased. The prisoners number at least 150,000 and more are coming in. The booty will take weeks to count and check. General Alexander completely outwitted the Germans. Mr Churchill has gone to Washington (this time by sea) and Von Arnim and his staff have surrendered.

Went to Sheerness to meet Mr Brown, who suggested that I might remain with the firm for the duration if they paid me more money. Likewise, I might not!

Friday 14 May

Evelyn arrived at tea-time for 7 days’ leave, looking very fit and well.

Sunday 16 May

Pottered about in garden. What a night! Siren and lD sounded five times between 11:45pm and 4am and stray Huns were floating about the sky nearly all night. Heard no bombs but a lot of ack-ack. One shell fell in through the roof of a house in Roman Road and burst in the front bedroom, completely wrecking the furniture. Fortunately, no one was sleeping there. Of course, we overslept the next morning, I was first down at 8:55am.

Monday 17 May

The RAF on Sunday night wrecked the two largest dams in Germany[5] and hundreds of millions of gallons of water are now submerging the countryside and causing widespread devastation. Two more alerts this night, but not lasting so long, nor was there much gunfire.

Tuesday 18 May

Went to Odeon in evening with Hilda and Evelyn and saw Ralph Richardson, Google Withers and Esmond Knight in The Silver Fleet and Bing Crosby and Joan Blondell in East Side of Heaven. One short alert while we were there. Weather still brilliantly fine but cool east wind. Full moon tomorrow night, so what? Another somewhat disturbed night, with Huns floating about the sky for long periods.

Wednesday 19 May

Winston Churchill addressed the American House of Congress. It was announced that Axis prisoners captured in the final campaign in North Africa totalled over 220,000. A brilliant fine day with cool wind. I forgot to mention that I had a visit from the police at 11:15 last night, about 10 minutes after I had got to bed. A light had been left burning at the News Office and I had to dress and go down and extinguish it. Just as I was walking back up Court Street the first alert of the evening sounded. Later it proved to have been left burning by Mr H Dane who received a visit from a policeman this morning. Will he be fined, or let off with a caution?

Thursday 20 May

We had meant to have a day in London and to see a show, but gave it a miss, as we were rather late down and also as the weather was very warm. Instead I put in 2 hours on the allotment in the morning and we went by bus to Tankerton in the afternoon. Sat on top of the slopes and had a sun bath, followed by tea at ‘The Good Companions’. Cakes very good for wartime, but I think the bread and butter must have been sliced off with a razor. I think they were the thinnest slices I have ever encountered and would have pleased Lord Woolton[6] had he been there.

Friday 21 May

Evelyn returned to Abingdon and it seemed very flat this evening without her. Slight disturbance by the F .V’s, siren going twice, but we didn’t miss much sleep.

Saturday 22 May

Sittingbourne in morning, home to lunch and pottered around in afternoon. Started trimming the evergreen hedge in the front garden, which was becoming very overgrown. Firewatching at Odeon at 10pm, and for the first night for a week there was no alert.

Sunday 23 May

Wrote long letter to Mary. Put stakes for tomato plants in garden, planted lettuce seed, wrote some cheques and read papers. After lunch slept until 3:15, then made out some orders, counted 500 clothing coupons etc. After tea Hilda and I went for walk round Bensted House but the dog refused to come. It is a job to get him to [go] for a walk at all nowadays.

Monday 24 to Saturday 29 May

Night raids have ceased for the present, presumably until the moonlight nights return. This does not apply to Germany and Italy, both of which countries are being strafed day and night by the RAF and American Air Force. Our own boys unload anything from 1,500 to 2,000 tons of bombs in one raid. The Germans are retaliating by sending small forces of F W109s[7] in low-flying attacks on our coast towns, Bournemouth, Hastings and Brighton all catching a packet during this week. On Saturday evening Hilda and I went to the Grammar School and saw a play Distinguished Gathering by the Allandale Dramatic Company. It was a moderately exciting ‘thriller’, but the artistes rather spoilt it by failing to speak out sufficiently.

Wednesday 2 to Monday 7 June

Nothing but air raids so far as the war is concerned. The RAF seem to be trying to sink the island of Pantalleria in the Mediterranean, judging by the number of times they have bombed it and the Navy has also lent a hand by bombarding in on 3 or 4 occasions. Had a blow on Friday, when I received orders to do fire watching at the Odeon every Saturday night instead of one a fortnight (as I have done for nearly 2 ½ years past) Spent 1 ½ hours on my allotment on Monday evening and on Friday did nearly 2 hours sugar beet thinning on Major Berry’s farm, for which I received 2s 6d. Was so stiff the following day that I could scarcely bend.

Our local Wings for Victory Week started on Saturday, Air Marshal Gossage coming to open it. There was a record church parade on Sunday morning at the Parish Church, many members of the public failing to gain admission. Our target is £100,000 to pay for two Sunderland Flying Boats.

Tuesday 2 and Wednesday 9 June

Mr Barton arrived home on 8 weeks’ compassionate leave. He has the reputation of being an archwangler and I think he is living up to it. Either he or Mr Brown (probably the latter) must have a pull with someone at the War Office.

Thursday 10 June

Sneaked away from work at 4pm and cycled up to Belmont with Joy and Ward. We played 10 holes and I had a shaky start, but a good finish, doing the last 3 holes in 3, 5 and 5.

Friday 11 June

Mr Barton phoned today (or rather I phoned him) and he suggested l should take a week’s holiday while he was home, which I very readily agreed to. Joe, our terrier, who is now nearly 13 years old, has been having slight fits of hysteria lately, a thing he hasn’t had since he was a pup. He is very shaky these days, and it looks very much as if he is developing paralysis of the muscles. I am afraid, poor old boy, it’s the beginning of the end, and I shall have to see the vet about him tomorrow.

Saturday 12 June

Fire watching at Odeon. Two l.D.’s during night. Just after the second, a plane went over and an ack-ack gun fired a shell which burst overhead with a big bang. Shrapnel picked up in West Street.

Whit Monday 14 June

Watched cricket match on Recreation Ground in afternoon. (Major’s XI v Manchester Regt., which the latter won easily). About 4 o’clock there was a tremendous thunder shower which we had seen approaching and so just reached home in time. Had a cup of tea and then went to the Odeon and saw Once upon a Honeymoon (Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant). Not bad, but there was a gem of a Donald Duck, The Invisible Private I think it was called.

Wednesday 16 June

Fixed up my week’s holiday to commence 2 July and hope to go with Hilda to Worcester.

Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 June

Too busy at office to go to Sittingbourne in morning and too lazy to go in afternoon. Fire watching at Odeon 10pm and of course the siren had to go at 12:45am. It was a beautiful still, moonlight night. About 1:30 a plane passed overhead and the neighbouring guns opened out. When the plane had got well past the two ID warnings sounded. The ID all-clear did not go until 2:30am and the general all-clear about 3am. I was very sleepy when I got home at 6am so after a cup of tea I curled up on the sofa and slept for about 2 hours. Had another good sleep in afternoon and felt quite fresh. Went for a 3-mile walk with Hilda round Ham after tea.

Monday 21 to Thursday 24 June

Mrs Wise on holiday as her husband (who had just returned from Palestine) is expected home. Hilda is looking after the shop (with slight assistance [?] from me). Thursday brought the first wholly peaceful night for some time. Went up to Sittingbourne shop on Thursday afternoon as I was not able to go earlier in the week.

Friday 25 June

Mary & Evelyn both arrived home for 48 hours’ leave, the former about 10pm and the latter at 11:40pm Both look very fit and it is very nice having both of them home together, even if it is only for a few hours.

Saturday 26 June

Spent a good part of the day in the Court Street shop and saw very little of M & E except for mealtimes and an hour or two in the evening. Had to go on fire watch duty at the Odeon at 10pm and for the first Saturday night since 5 June there were no alerts.

Sunday 27 June

A goddam miserable day, with Mary returning to duty at 10:30am and Evelyn at 3pm.

Monday 28 June to Friday 2 July

The only news at present is of Allied air raids. The Prime Minister has promised hard fighting in the Mediterranean and elsewhere ere the autumn leaves fall. I guess this means nothing will happen before August, or possibly early September. We have had a fairly busy week at the shop considering the conditions.

Saturday 3 July

Sittingbourne in morning, 45 Court Street in afternoon, fire watching at Odeon at night. Had to leave Hilda alone in the house, as Joan was away for week-end. There were some heavy bangs at regular intervals about 1am which made the doors of the cinema swing open each time. Between 3 and 3:30 I heard many of our planes returning from a raid on two towns adjoining Cologne. Had a poor night and didn’t get much sleep, so felt rather washed out at 6am.

Sunday 4 July

Americans have landed at fresh places in the Pacific and have pushed the Japs back a bit further from Australia. Hilda went by the 10:10am train to Parkstone to stay until Saturday. After seeing her off I returned home and Iazed about all day until 8pm when I took the dog for a short walk. The weather has turned very close and heavy, but although there have been some rather wild-looking storm clouds, there is still no rain.

Monday 5 July

Am really ‘pigging it’, rather scratch meals and a general wash-up once a day. Still, I’m not going hungry. After tea had my daily wash-up and then a real hot bath. This made me perspire so much that I decided to go to bed and cool off gradually. Joe wanted to go for a walk, but I was afraid to turn out, I was so hot. Remained in bed reading and writing until 9pm then went downstairs to hear the news and get a glass of milk and a biscuit for supper. Reported today that General Sikorski, the Polish Premier[8] and C-in-C has been killed at Gibraltar in an air crash and with him Captain Victor Cazalet MP.

Thursday 8 July

Had a scratch lunch today consisting of two small meat pies and a so-called jam tart, the jam being coloured gelatine and the tart? for answer see next week’s puzzle corner.

Friday 9 July

Better lunch today consisting of egg (new-laid) and bacon, followed by the last of a blackcurrant pudding Hilda made me before she went away. At teatime there were low clouds and drizzle and enemy planes came over and dropped bombs. The pips went and I heard some of the planes and there was heavy gunfire all round. One plane was brought down near Sittingbourne.

Saturday 10 July

Had a postcard from Hilda in the morning to say she was returning that evening, to my great joy. Met her at the station and as there was a note at home from Joan today she would not be coming round to sleep, and as I was feeling none too well, decided to give fire watching a miss, the first time for several months. Great news, we have invaded Italy.

Monday 12 July

Mr Barton came over from Sheerness and I brought him home to tea. After he left, Hilda and I went to the allotment to get some carrots and beet, did some much-needed weeding. Wind still somewhat strong, but the clouds cleared and the evening was the brightest we have had for over a week. Invasion[9] is going well, initial losses light and two bridgeheads firmly established. Ten towns (including Syracuse and six other ports captured) and over 2,000 prisoners already taken. General Eisenhower in command with General Alexander his deputy and General Montgomery commanding British forces. Admiral Cunningham commands Allied navies and Air Marshal Tedder the Air Forces, the same winning combination that wiped the floor with the Axis in Tunisia.

Tuesday 13 July

Enemy activity at night-time is very slight, and although the siren and ID pips usually go once or twice each night, the planes come over only a few at a time and appear to wander around rather aimlessly, dropping occasional bombs at scattered points. It is some considerable time since their heavy bombers made a concerted night raid and this, together with the great measure of immunity enjoyed by our troops when landing in Sicily seems to point to growing weakness on the part of the Luftwaffe.

Went and saw James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy. The star was good, but the film was rather too Goddam Yankee for my taste.

Friday 7 July

A beautiful day, the best for months. Calm, sunny and warm. Hilda and I went to the gas chamber to have our gas masks tested, and afterwards went for a walk round Davington.

Saturday 17 to Thursday 22 July

Warm weather didn’t last long. Wind from nor’east blew up clouds before evening and this was the prelude to a cold gloomy week in which we scarcely saw the sun. Despite the heavy clouds, however, there was no rain until Wednesday and then it poured all day. It improved a little on Thursday and we caught a brief glimpse of the sun in the late afternoon. Before evening, however, the clouds had drifted up again and the wind remains in the north. Mr & Mrs Barton came to tea on Wednesday and on Tuesday evening Hilda and I saw Journey for Margaret, a film which makes one realise that war is truly bloody.

Friday 23 July

Final arrangements for our short holiday at Hallow (Worcester) to which we are looking forward with mixed feelings, owing to the state of the weather. Trade is perfectly foul owing to clothing coupons. I have made enquiries about a stationery and fancy business at Shanklin (IOW) and am waiting for further details.

Saturday 24 July

Off to Hallow by 8:09am train. Found a huge crowd at Paddington, where we caught a fast train to Oxford at 11:17. Had to stand in corridor as far as Reading. After over an hour’s wait at Oxford caught a slow train to Worcester, where we arrived at 4:45pm reaching Hallow About 6:15.

The weather turned warmer, with some sunshine.

Tuesday 27 July

A quiet day. Went to Worcester after tea and met 3 trains expecting Evelyn to come for a few hours, but there was no sign of her.

Wednesday 28 July

Went to Malvern and walked over the hills, enjoying the glorious views. Weather very warm. My niece (Betty) arrived for 7 days’ leave. She is in the WAAF, at present stationed at Eastbourne.

Thursday 29 July

Having heard more about the Shanklin business, have written to Murrell at Ventnor asking him to have a preliminary view. Mary arrived at Hallow on leave from Rhyl. I went into Worcester to meet her and by great good luck she saw me going to the station as she was in a bus coming from Birmingham. We are quite a merry party.

Friday 30 and Saturday 31 July

The heat has become terrific, and we spent nearly all the time in deckchairs in the garden. I went into Worcester on Saturday morning to send a suitcase off. The city was thronged and l decided to walk back to Hallow which l did in sweltering heat.

Tuesday 3 August

Return to slavery! What a journey, too. A crowded train, another slow journey from Worcester to Oxford and a 35-minute late arrival at Paddington. We arrived at Victoria at 5 o’clock, caught the 5:20pm and reached home at 7, with nothing to eat but one or two tiny sandwiches between breakfast and supper-tea.

Thursday 5 to Saturday 7 August

The old routine, went to Sittingbourne in morning and Mary returned to Rhyl at 10am.

Monday 9 August

Very busy at works with only 2 men and 1 woman this week. Had to help unload the reams of newsprint this morning and shall have to run one of the platens tomorrow. Spent evening on allotment and sowed winter lettuce seed.

Tuesday 10 to Saturday 14 August

Allies are making slow progress in Sicily against determined German opposition. Mrs Wise is suffering from impetigo and Hilda is having to run the shop. Fire watching on Saturday night.

Monday 16 August

Campaign in Sicily is finished, the Allies having entered Messina. Our casualties about 25,000, those of the Axis 135,000. It looks as if the invasion of Europe by the Allies is drawing near. Our bombers are pounding Axis airfields and industrial and transport centres, Forts[10] by day and British bombers by night. A ban has been placed on visitors in all south and south-east coast towns.

Tuesday 17 August

Saw 150 Forts flying in formation towards France, a grand sight.

Thursday 19 August

Hilda and I caught the 8:09am train to London where we bought a quantity of wool, yarn etc. Home by the 3:35 from Victoria. The Welch Regiment, stationed at Faversham since August last year, left and the town, seems very quiet with practically no soldiers about.

Sunday 22 October

The day being fine we decided to take lunch and go off on our cycles. We first went up to Otterden Park, where we had to turn off right, the main road being closed to civilian traffic. We had lunch in a lonely field and dozed until 2pm. Then we wandered on by unknown country lanes, occasionally striking some remembered landmark or other. Thus we recognised St Margaret’s Manner,  but completely lost ourselves again after this, eventually coming to Wormshill, some 2 or 3 miles from Harrietsham. Thence to Sittingbourne and home via the London Road, thirsty, weary and saddle-sore.

Monday 23 August

Felt very tired after our long ride (we must have covered over 30 miles) the previous day.

Tuesday 24 to Thursday 26 August.

Had a heavy blow on Tuesday morning when I received an Income Tax Assessment on my salary. I have to pay 2 years’ tax, commencing in November next. Went to Sittingbourne on Thursday am and heard that the Royal Engineers were constructing roads at Conyer and camouflaging them with young trees. In place of the Welch Regiment, we now have the Somerset Light Infantry.

Friday 27 August.

Mary is now moved to Rickmansworth and thinks it likely that she will be posted from there to Ruislip. Our planes have been very active this evening, when is that darned invasion coming off. Sold the car today for £150, I’m glad to have the money, but sad to part with the car.

Saturday 28 August to Saturday 11 September

Much has happened during this period. The Italians surrendered unconditionally, and our troops have landed in Calabria and at Salemo (south of Naples). Here the Germans are putting up desperate resistance and our men are having to fight hard to retain their hold. The 8th Army is pushing up from the South and another force is moving up the Adriatic coast. The bulk of the Italian Fleet has given itself up at Malta. On Monday 6 September Muriel Lee-Smith and her two children came to stay with us for a week. The kids are full of beans and kept the house alive while they were here. They were both especially interested in my shaving operation in the morning and Richard (aged 5) wanted to know ‘where the whiteness came from’ when I lathered my face.

Monday 13 September

The Lee-Smiths returned to Parkstone and left a very quiet house behind them. Hilda and I both felt unable to settle down, so we went to the pictures. Our poor old dog, nearly 13 years of age, had had a scratch in the corner of his eye and has contracted blood poisoning. The left eye has been completely closed at times and he had had a nasty swelling on his left forepaw. I have been putting hot fomentations on and obtained some stuff from the vet, but progress is very slow.

Tuesday 14 September

Letter from Eve saying she was in sick quarters with a bad throat and high temperature. Hope she gets a spot of sick leave. Mussolini, who had been imprisoned on the fall of the Fascist government, was rescued by the Germans, who aim to put him at the head of a puppet government.

Wednesday 15 to Saturday 18 September

Have had an irritable throat for some days past. Usual quiet night fire watching on Saturday. What a farce this seems in Faversham. I am dragged three minutes’ walk from my home every Saturday night to do fire watching with eight other poor suckers under the business premises scheme. I have been doing this since February 1941 and during the whole of that time not a single bomb has fallen on the town. In any case, the business premises scheme is totally unnecessary for a small town like this where shops and houses are all together in a small area. As usual the Government in London plans for London and the big cities and applies the same plans to all the little towns and villages throughout the land.

Sunday 19 September

Hilda and I cycled to Tankerton in the morning, took our lunch and basked in the warm sunshine on the cliffs. It was a gorgeous day. We watched a large convoy come down the Thames and sail into the North Sea. About 3pm we started for home via Chestfield. Looked in at Whitstable cemetery and saw the grave of Mr and Mrs Barratt and also the unusual one of Aloysius Smith (otherwise known as Trader Horn).

Monday 20 September

Not feeling too good, and did not go to the office in the afternoon. About 4:30pm in walked Mary, who had obtained 24 hours’ leave, followed by Evelyn (6 days’ sick leave) at 7pm. Eh! What a to do!

Sunday 26 September

Only had about 4 hours’ sleep during last night. I can never get a good night’s rest on those awful camp beds at the Odeon. Felt very tired in the morning, but could not turn in when I got home, as Evelyn was returning by the 9:20am train. Planted out 60 wallflower plants in the back garden. Went to bed all afternoon and had some sleep. Hilda and I both felt very flat in evening, as we always do now when left alone.

Sunday 3 October

Caught the 9:20am train to Beckenham (which we did not reach until midday) to visit the Wellbeluffs.  Had a pleasant time chatting over old times, but was sorry to hear that Jim Tebbutt had passed away suddenly. He was organist at Wren Road Congregational Church in Mr Carson’s time. It was he who took me to Wellbeluffs house on the first Sunday I went to Wren Road. That led to my fixing up diggings there and, incidentally, to the happiest period of my sojourn in London. We arrived back home soon after 9pm.

Monday 4 October

Hilda started full time at the shop, Mrs Wise having now finished with us. I hope it isn’t going to be too much for her with the house to look after as well.

Thursday 7 October

The heaviest night raid for some months, about 60 planes coming over in waves. One of them dropped a rocket bomb near here. We saw the orange flash as it exploded and learnt next morning that it had landed on a searchlight site at Homestall, killing 2 ack-ack boys and injuring others. Later a third died in the local hospital.

Saturday 9 October

Fairly busy at Court Street, although Paton’s ration has not yet arrived.

Sunday 10 October

Went for cycle ride in afternoon with Hilda. We passed the searchlight site bombed on Thursday and found that a new searchlight and generator had already been set up. Had a lovely ride round Boughton & Selling, but weather came up very foggy as we neared home.

Monday 11 to Thursday 14 October

Weather very calm and misty, sometimes an overhead mist, sometimes purely a ground one. Moderately busy week at shop owing to arrival of Paton’s and other rations, but not a patch on corresponding week of last year. The shortage of clothing coupons is putting a tremendous brake on trade, many people having spent practically the whole of current issue during this, the first month of the new issue. As the next lot does not come into force until February next, the outlook is not very promising for us.

Friday 15 October

Night raids resumed. A dozen sent over, little damage caused, 3 brought down (including one near Reculver) We heard him diving, apparently to escape the heavy gunfire.

Sunday 17 October

Hilda and I cycled round Belmont and Sheldwich. It is sad to see the condition into which the fairways and greens at Belmont have fallen, it will take a long time to get them back into their former lovely state. Another night raid.

Monday 18 October

Mary turned up unexpectedly at 3pm. Night raid again and we all hung about downstairs for a time.

Tuesday 19 October

Mary had to return at 10:45am. Night raiders over again.

Wednesday 20 October

And yet another raid after dusk. These raids are becoming nightly affairs, taking place sometimes at 10 or 11 and sometimes at 2 or 3am. Strongly object to this latter time and am thinking of send a strongly-worded note to Adolf, telling him that my patience is nearly exhausted.

Saturday 23 October

As Joan was away for weekend I did not do my fire watching turn at Odeon, not liking to leave Hilda alone in the house. Sure enough, the siren sounded soon after we had gone to bed (8th night In succession) and we came down. Miss Cornfoot knocked at our front door, as she thought Hilda was alone. I had made my rheumatism an excuse for missing fire watching although it wasn’t really all that bad. I did have a fairly sharp turn on Friday (probably due to the rough weather we have been having). I must fix up another visit to Mr Reay before it gets a real hold.

Sunday 24 October

We slept later than usual and had breakfast about 9:30am, followed by a bath. Bicycle ride along Charing Road, returning via Throwley Forstal. Weather & country perfect, a most enjoyable trip. How can anyone prefer living in large cities to the beauty of our glorious countryside?

Thursday 28 October

Odeon cinema to see Barbara Stanwyck in Striptease Lady, what a waste of time and money! Fog still keeping the German planes away.

Friday 29 October

Busy day in shop as I had managed to get some angora and rug wool from a new firm and Hilda had made up some traced needlework goods from some linen and transfers.

Monday 1 November

Arrived home after shutting shop to find that Eve had arrived unexpectedly on 7 days’ leave.

Tuesday 2 to Wednesday 3 November

We are having a busy time at the shop, and it is quite nice to have something to sell.

Thursday 4 November

We all went to London for the day. We bought some silks and Christmas gifts at Pearsalls; were met by some very off-handed assistants at Faudels; and found a welcome contrast at Foster Porters, where the man in the wool department was, as usual, most anxious to be helpful. As a result, we bought quite a lot of wool from this firm.

Saturday 6 November

Not quite so busy in shop but takings for the week a decided improvement. Had an exciting time fire watching. When I arrived at the Odeon, I found a man there smoking a foul pipe and declaring that he had come to see what time we arrived on duty! Seager talked to him quietly but effectively, telling the man it was not his business and soon getting rid of him. Had just turned in, about 10:45pm when the siren went. Followed by gunfire and the pips. The gunfire was very heavy and the searchlights picked up a plane over the town. Later, the guns in the Estuary were blazing away at a plane when he dropped a flare and the firing ceased. All clear sounded and we had just retired to bed when the siren went again and there was another attack. While I was outside wandering round a soldier came up and asked where were the Oxford and Bucks stores. I showed him the place, but he could find no one about, so I then showed him the back way. Two policemen then came up and I told them what the soldier wanted, so they also went down the alley to the back of the premises to investigate. All clear about 12:30 and I managed to get some 3 hours’ sleep before 6am.

Monday 8 November

Jerry has now come over every night for a week, the perfect little pest.

Tuesday 9 November

Eve returned to Abingdon and the night raids ceased! Must write and tell her that, she will be tickled. Business picking up at Faversham.

Wednesday 10 to 13 Saturday November

A much better week in our Faversham shop. Takings over £60 for the first time since 17 October 1942. A good job too as I have bought very heavily and our shelves present a better appearance than at any time during, I should think, the last two years at least.

Monday 15 November

Had to go to Sheerness to complete a return for the Paper Controller. Caught the 9:30am bus, got through my job by 12:30 and caught the 1:10pm bus back from Sheerness. It was cold there, with a bleak nor-easter. Arrived home at 2:30 and had a bread, cheese and pickle lunch. Then went to the allotment and dug up some old raspberry canes, picked some sprouts and lifted some beet.

Tuesday 16 November

Still busy at the shop, where I spent some time unpacking and pricing some of the goods. Expect Mary home on 9 days’ leave this evening.

Wednesday 17 to 20 Saturday November

Another very good week at the shop, otherwise little of note. Fire watching as usual Saturday night, but there were no alerts, in fact the Germans are for some unknown reason leaving us very severely alone at the present time. Not that we object, we never did like pigs near the house.

Monday 22 November

Had some more Christmas goods in from Abel Morrall, but oh dear, the price! It wouldn’t be too bad in the ordinary way, but the purchase tax on nearly all fancy goods is 100%, just doubling the cost price. I am afraid the public will not buy at these prices and that we shall have a lot of stuff left on our hands.

Tuesday 23 November

Business not so brisk this week, but we are already above the total takings of last November. Hilda ordered a lot more wool from British Wool Company traveller.

Wednesday 24 November

Reports show that the RAF carried out two devastating raids on Berlin on Monday and Tuesday evenings, causing tremendous damage at a total cost of 46 bombers. We had a big fire at Mr Barrie’s farm at Brogdale which lit up the whole town at 9:30 on Tuesday night and which continued to burn until well into Wednesday morning. Damage was estimated to be about 28,000. Two valuable horses, as well as 19 heifer and other stock were destroyed as well as farm implements, machinery and buildings. The latter included a fine old barn, one of the largest in Kent. The fire commenced in an oast house and was apparently caused by the military who were resting there for the night whilst on manoeuvres.

Thursday 25 November

Mary returned to Hatfield this afternoon, so once more we are reduced to two. Siren went about 6:30pm and pips just before 7. We heard a few planes and then the gunfire was intense for a short time. We retired to the cellar on two occasions but did not spent much time there. Hope Mary wasn’t caught in London.

Monday 29 and Tuesday 30. November

We are toying with the idea of going away for Xmas, preferably to Parkstone, but scarcely like to do so in view of Government appeal not to travel.

Wednesday 1 December.

Short visit in morning from Mr Barton.

Friday 3 December

Found that the girl at the office had also given up owing to flu, so l had a hectic time and couldn’t spend much time at the shop, an hour from 12 to 1 to be precise.

Saturday 4 December

My inner region felt distinctly groggy, so l had a day indoors and missed fire watching at night. There is a lot of flu about. The weather had been very trying during the past few days, cold winds, heavy white frost followed by rain and a big rise in temperature for a few hours, to be succeeded in turn by a cutting north-east wind.

Sunday 5 December

Another brilliantly fine cold day which l spent indoors. Have just finished reading a book called Things Ancient and Modern by Dean Alington, ex-Headmaster of Eton. His views on education, particularly with reference to public schools, are both interesting and enlightening, and his sense of humour is great. I must quote one piece:

‘It is from England, not from America, that there comes the limerick which sets records once and for all in their proper place:

There was a young fellow called Hover
Who bowled twenty-three wides in one over
Which had never been done
By a clergyman’s son
On a Thursday, in August, at Dover’

Great, isn’t it?

Monday 6 December

Struggled to the office, as I guessed the girl would be still absent, and she was. Have nearly lost my voice, but my ‘works’ are rather better.

Wednesday 8 December

Evelyn arrived home on 48 hours’ leave, together with Katie (a WAAF friend).

Friday 10 December

Eve and Katie returned to duty by 2:15 train, it seemed as if they had scarcely been here 5 minutes.

Saturday 11 December

Fire watching (?) at Odeon. Another undisturbed night. What a farce this fire watching business is and what a wickedly unnecessary expense.

Tuesday 14 to Friday 17 December

Busy time at Court Street shop, where we are managing to sell quite a bit of Christmas gift stuff. Anything without coupons seems to go, the only things hanging fire being some expensive tea cosies and work bags.

Saturday 18 December

Another good day at shop. We turned out glass vases, ornaments and various odds and ends and sold quite a bit of stuff. Fire watching at Odeon with the prospect of having to take part in a fire-fighter’s exercise at 9 o’clock tomorrow morning.

Sunday 19 December

I acted as messenger to the fire watching party at the Odeon as they were short-handed. The exercise seemed a terrible farce, with much writing of messages and little actual fire fighting. Returned home at 10:30am and found water rushing into the cellar, so I spent an hour or so scooping it up with a fire hearth shovel into a pail, obtaining four pails full.

Monday 20 December

Jerry suddenly came to life, and staged air raids at 1:45am 5:40am and 6:45pm. There was very heavy gunfire during the first one, rather less during the second and silence during the third. The alert went on the first two occasions, so we rose hastily, donned some garments, descending for a short period to the cellar. I went to Canterbury in the afternoon to see Bells about making an account book. I cannot yet get used to finding only about half of Canterbury’s shops standing – it is a tragedy which tears my heartstrings every time I see it. So much that was old and beautiful, so many buildings erected when building was an art and builders were craftsmen, has been destroyed and left only ugly gaping cellars and scarred gaps in the ground to remind passers of the lengths to which man’s stupidity can extend.

Wednesday 22 December

One more birthday for myself and my wife – mine my 55th, hers three years less. Health keeps very good and I am putting on a little much needed flesh, now weighing about 10 stone.

Thursday 23 to Friday 24 December

In normal times these would be days of bustle and excitement, but in this, the fifth year of the war, there is little outward show of the approach of Christmas.

Saturday 25 December

The quietest Christmas since I have been married. We went to church in the morning and for a walk in the afternoon.

Tuesday 28 December

It was quite a relief to get back to work. We had decided to close our shop until the following Friday, as we anticipated that there would be few people about. There was, however, plenty to do at the office. Mary put in a surprise visit at 5pm returning next morning.

Friday 31 December

Re-opened shop and found ourselves busier than expected. We intended to sit up and see the New Year in, but of course the Relay[11] had to break down and as we could thus get no programmes through on the wireless we went to bed at 11pm.


[1] There is no explanation as to what two Leeds policemen were doing in Sittingbourne!

[2] In Southern Tunisia – the main enemy defence line.

[3] Younger daughter of Nellie, youngest daughter of Frederick Austin.

[4] The invasion across the Channel was still thirteen months away, but the Allies were preparing for the invasion of Italy, ‘the soft underbelly of the Axis’ in ChurchilI’s words.

[5] Lancasters of 617 Squadron using Barnes Wallis’s ‘bouncing bombs’ burst the Mohne and Eder Dams. The episode was immortalised in the film The Dambusters

[6] Minister for Food in the coalition government gave his name to such wartime recipes devised by his ministry as Woolton Pie.

[7] Actually Focke Wulf 190 single-engined fighter-bomber.

[8] Of the Polish Government in exile.

[9] The invasion of Sicily by Allied troops had begun on 9 July.

[10] Boeing B17 ‘Flying Fortress’.

[11] Radio Relay carried the BBC Home and Light programmes by wire to a loudspeaker in the home.

Opening Times

VISITOR INFORMATION CENTRE
12 Market Place
ME13 7AE
10am to 4pm - Monday to Saturday
10am to 1pm - Sunday (opening hours may vary)

FLEUR MUSEUM - FREE ENTRY
12-13 Preston Street
ME13 8NS
Open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 11am to 3pm
Also open on the first Sunday of each month

SECOND-HAND BOOKSHOP
11 Preston Street
ME13 8NS

10am to 3.30pm - Monday to Saturday

CHART MILLS
Off Stonebridge Way
ME13 7SE

Open on Saturdays only 2pm to 5pm

Registered Charity  Number 1135262 - Company No 07112241
The Faversham Society - Registered Address: 10-13 Preston Street, Faversham, Kent ME13 8NS
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