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Harold Austin Wary Diary - 1944

At the start of the year Soviet forces had pushed the Germans back to the pre-war eastern Polish frontier and the siege of Leningrad had been lifted. On June 4th Allied troops entered Rome and on the 6th Operation Overlord (D Day), the long awaited cross-Channel invasion began.

Monday 3 January

The war situation steadily improves. The Russians are making good headway in the Kiev salient and are threatening the Germans in the Dnieper bend. Our bombers are hammering Germany and Northern France and the American heavy bombers are doing the same. The sound of planes passing overhead is almost incessant. Explosions go on around us all day long, presumably troops practising for the long-awaited invasion.

Tuesday 4 January

Heard from Mr Stuteley that he was unable to raise the money to buy the business. Was not altogether sorry, as I doubt whether he could have done much with it, owing to lack of experience.

Saturday 8 January

Sittingbourne in morning, Faversham shop in afternoon, fire watching at night. Joan Turner failed to put in an appearance, but the night was quite peaceful, as indeed every night is now.

Sunday 9 January

Did some digging in the Newton Road garden in the morning. The weather was very mild and the ground ideal for working. It came on to rain in the afternoon and, as Hilda was due at the canteen and the poor old dog seemed very lifeless.

I remained indoors, sleeping, reading and pottering around.

Friday 21 January

Mary came home on leave for a few hours. And then things happened. Just before 9pm the siren and pips sounded and Jerry began to arrive in larger numbers than for a long while past. The gunfire all around was terrific and we could hear planes diving and zooming all over the place. By 10:15, however, quiet was temporarily restored, and at 10:45 we retired to bed.

Saturday 22 January

At 4:25am the siren and pips went on again. We heard a plane almost immediately, grabbed our clothes, and descended to the ground floor to don them. Again, the uproar was tremendous, and in addition to the terrific barrages all around us, it sounded as if planes were having a pitched battle right over our heads. The sky was overcast and the reflections of the searchlights, the flares and what seemed to be a number of fires, made the night seem very light. At one time there was the glow of four fires in the direction of Whitstable, and Canterbury, between the latter and Ashford and in the Estuary, respectively.

Later in the day news began to come in. We heard a plane had fallen in Chancery Lane, between MaItby's Garage and the old Hospital. In the opposite direction, a farm was burnt out at Teynham, and a house at Sittingbourne hit. We in Faversham were very lucky to escape without damage of any description. As my throat was still groggy, I gave fire watching a miss, having called on Dr. Cannon the previous evening and got some medicine and liquid wherewith to spray said throat.

Things continue to go fairly well at 45 Court Street, where we have, in 3 weeks, taken rather more than we had in the whole of January 1943. Thus, for the third month in succession we show an increase, good going under present conditions. The 5th Army in Italy made a surprise landing behind the German lines, barely 30 miles from Rome and good progress has been reported. Our bombers were out again last night, Magdeburg being the principal target and receiving 2,000 tons of bombs in 30 minutes. 5 of our bombers were lost. The previous night the RAF gave Berlin its eleventh raid - the heaviest of the war to date, over 2,300 tons of bombs being dropped in less than 45 minutes.

Monday 24 and Tuesday 25 January

Am still feeling unwell, throat irritates and general feeling of tiredness and inability to concentrate.

Wednesday 26 January

Went to doctor‘s again in evening, collected more tonic and then attended meeting of fireguards. We were told that, in future, under the new Fire Guard Plan, we were to do duty at the Co-operative Society's premises one night in eight from 6pm to 6am, an absurd regulation considering the approach of lighter evenings. The whole plan is farcical, indeed it may well become tragedy, for it must inevitably lead to considerable delay in tackling fires at the outset, and everyone knows how vital are the first few minutes.

Thursday 27 January

Sittingbourne in afternoon. We had poor old Joe put to sleep, he seemed so miserable and pathetic.

Saturday 29 January

Another hectic evening commencing just before 8:30pm. Gunfire as heavy as, if not heavier, than the previous week and some H. E. bombs nearer than for many months past. For over an hour the buildings quivered, doors and windows rattled and on two or three occasions, it seemed as if our house had been hit. The all-clear went about 9:45pm and when I went on fireguard duty at 10pm I saw the reflection of a fire in the direction of Sittingbourne. Fortunately, the remainder of the night was quiet.

Sunday 30 January

A warm, sunny day, with the weather more like Easter. We went for a walk in the afternoon and saw snowdrops and crocuses in full bloom. We also saw Tom Davis and he told us that the Wesleyan Church and Salvation Army Citadel[1] at Sittingbourne had been burnt out the previous night. Once again fortune smiled on Faversham!

I picked up a strip of black paper with silver streaks in the back garden, a memento of the previous night's raid. The Germans drop these strips to interfere with our radio location.

Monday 31 January

Went to Sittingbourne in afternoon to see the Collector of Taxes. His department had mixed up my Income Tax affairs, but in the end I had to agree that I owed another £13/5/- on last year and paid up with as good a grace as possible. Found that scores of incendiary bombs had been dropped in the Park Road to Chalkwell area of Sittingbourne, with a surprisingly small amount of damage. Many of the incendiaries were duds and failed to ignite and in other cases fire guards and soldiers had quickly smothered the flames before they could get a hold. The Salvation Army Hall apparently was undamaged, but the Masonic Hall was hit, as well as a dance hall and a number of shops and private houses.

Friday 4 February

A bad start, the siren sounding about 4:20am and the pips just before 5. Much gunfire and a few heavier explosions sounding like bombs. All clear just before 6, but we did not return to bed, as it was my early morning at the office.

Sunday 6 February

A small air raid about 5:45am. I did not return to bed but had a bath about 7:30am. I am getting used to short nights of sleep but can always make up for it without any trouble during day and evening. Expected Evelyn home for 9 days leave; although she got away from Abingdon about 10:30am, she did not arrive home until 9:20pm! Why do the authorities commence leave on a Sunday when travelling is far worse than on a weekday, and that is bad enough in all conscience.

Monday 7 to Sunday 20 February

A long break with no entries in my diary, but I have had so much to do that I have been able to spare little time for writing during this period. Evelyn has been home on 9 days’ leave; General Montgomery has visited troops in the district; and our air raids on Germany are taking place night and day whenever the weather permits, on an ever-increasing scale. Berlin has had more heavy raids by night and must look a sorry mess by this time. Leipzig caught a packet of 2,300 tons of bombs on the night of the 19th-20th - and we lost 79 planes (a record number). Our troops on the Anzio beachhead are having a hectic time, the Germans having massed 9 divisions against them. At Cassino we make little progress, it seems like hammering at a brick wall. The Russians have mopped up 10 German divisions in the central Ukraine. We have had one or two more night raids, and on the night of 18-19 February, more planes than usual got through to London and did quite a bit of damage. We are having another busy month at the Faversham shop and this last week our takings were the best since December 1940. Weather has changed this week from springlike conditions to those of mid-winter. A bitter wind has been blowing from NW to NE with occasional snow showers. I now have to do fire guard duty at the Co-op premises in Preston Street one night in eight and have been made street leader on that night.

Monday 21 February to 10 March

During the whole of this period the wind has varied between East and Northwest and the weather has been bitterly cold. Air raids at night and in the early morning continued until the moon came to put a stop to the activities of the Luftwaffe. Meanwhile the Allied air forces are pounding Germany and German occupied countries day and night with ever growing force. The Americans have bombed Berlin twice by day and the Germans lost over 300 fighters in trying to intercept them. Berlin must be in a terrible state. Some of our heavy bombers are now dropping bombs weighing over 5 tons. Mary has been home on 7 days’ leave. Coal strikes are getting worse, every fresh concession to the miners being followed by an outbreak of fresh stoppages. By 10 March over 90,000 miners were out in the South Wales coalfields. The Russians are still pushing the Germans back, but there are still no visible signs of the commencement of our invasion of the Continent being imminent.

Here, without explanation, the diary ends

[1] An example of incorrect information of which there was always plenty after a raid, see entry for 31 January.

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