Richard Rycroft, MO – His diary
Diary of Flight Lieutenant Richard Noël Rycroft, 2 June – 6 July 1944, kept at the time in pencil, in the top half of an RAF Form 834 notebook, transcribed by his eldest child, Dr Richard John Graham Rycroft.
Friday [2 June]
Very confident about evening meeting. (Worrying about Sunday morning bus!) Goodbye to Paddy [newlywed wife] up lane. Tent mate passed on cycle.
12.30 after busy morning at Holmsley South G[roup] C[aptain] gives marching orders. Appeared to be death sentence. Sudden parting was probably better, however. No chance of communicating. No time to pack. Silent journey through Bournemouth. ?Last look at England. Did civilians know what was happening? Sudden arrival at convoy. War very near. Hours [and] hours of delay in reaching quay. Daren’t think about the previous evening in Salisbury (cricket on close, bath. Love). Where was Paddy? Had she got my message [she had not]. Very uncomfortable night in cabin of lorry after drinking with Skipper. Surprised to be in harbour next morning. Perhaps it was a bluff after all. Constantly thinking of contrast between S[alisbur]y and present debacle. Very likely to end in disaster.
Saturday [3 June]
Waiting all day. Very poor living conditions. Probably better than future however. Would it be my last wash for days? Would I be seasick. Move during night but came back. Gradually getting used to idea of unit. No clothes however to keep me warm. Scarf [and] pullover from [Flight Lieutenant] Duggie [Highfield]. Much better. Signs of life on shore. Love to escape. Saturday afternoon as it used to be.
Visited next boat in evening. Padre [Squadron Leader Geoffrey C. Harding] met for first time. Not a good prognosis. Felt we were being driven to disaster. Singsong between ships in cold. Reminder of last war. Depressing ++. Slept in back of lorry on netting. Luxury!
Sunday [4 June]
Much the same. Wandering round. Waiting for meals – very poor when they came. Some had lunch in cabin. Later went to cabin with young S[ub] L[ieutenan]t who read “Nicholas Nickleby”. Not able to read much. Dirty weather. Would it be postponed? Hoped so! Keenness wearing off. Party from 7.00 onwards. Technical towards end – smoke in eyes. Heard W[ing] C[ommander] And[erson] say “He’s only just married too”. My fate seemed to be sealed. What would it be like?
Monday [5 June]
Fairly rough all day. Lay on netting most of time. Didn’t risk food. Nothing seemed to matter. No point in washing or shaving. Felt too weak anyway. Still hoping Mary was right. Miles [and] miles of lumpy sea. Dead end. Slept well however at night.
Tuesday [6 June]
Awake 7.30. Up and about 8.00. French coast in sight. Seemed about 10 miles away. Tidied packs etc. Would it be as rough as I expected? Nearly landed at 11.30. Not a sign on the beach. Suspected a trap. Wandering around during rest of morning and early afternoon. No food provided. Anxious looking people. Reading [“]Kings Row” in lorry cabin just before we set course. Keeping well down in cabin “in case”. Still no trouble. Ship [LCT 649] next to us touches down too far out. Jeeps fail to make it. Abandoned. Another LCT [Landing Craft, Tank] crashes into back. Occasional shell on beach. All I expected. We do good landing. Blocked very soon. Lie on sand near LCT trap. Abandoned rifle nearby. No casualties seen. Bombardment commences after ten minutes. Not taken seriously at first. Odd gun probably not spotted. Hole in shingle would be “safe as houses”. Quickly disillusioned. American wounded too. Dashing about everywhere with panniers. “Only a matter of time”. No plan. No exit. Duggie killed next to me under lorry. Miraculous escape. Shell hole wounded. Very hard to get help. Tide coming up. ?Village [Les Moulins] safe. Sure to be shelled during night. Bomb near water – dirt everywhere. Felt it to be last night on earth. Dreaded morning. Working all night at first aid. (N.B. Timed from 10.00 onwards by Pop at Newbold Terrace! Must tell him that.)
Wednesday [7 June]
Up road from village in search of water. American orderlies in slit trench – civilians and fluttering fowl. 7 o’clock. Not anxious to leave after a few minutes. Snipers everywhere. Wounded round wall. Whiskey. Unable to leave because of snipers – just about to take my chance when they were rounded up (27 of them). May be a chance of living now. No food. Water for wounded only. No sign of evacuation facilities. Would they ever get away? Five o’clock last wounded away. Americans had turned up at last and had clearing station. Plasma [with] NCO. Away up road (my first visit) in Jeep with medical supplies. Transit area at last. Seemed dangerous. Few dead Germans on roadside. No sign of serious battle. “Minen” [Mines] signs. Some civilians. DUST. Dug in for night. Shared hole [with] [Flight Officer] Elias – very cramped. Good to be alive however. What next? No great amount of vehicles to be seen. Shells overhead → beach. Extent of Invasion unknown ?Spain ?Norway ?S[outh] of France.
Thursday [8 June]
Cramp everywhere. Shaved in Op[eration]s Wagon. Hard work. My camp kit only one saved (Blood ++ however). Jeep towed from beach. Another field for lunch. Slept afterwards. Washing in yard with dead American, discovered wound in back (got with Duggie). Later to C[asualty] C[learing] S[tation]. Talk of evacuating me? Searching for water cans on beach – exhausted. Very noisy night but slept afterwards. Supplies rolling in.
Friday [9 June]
Saw American S[ick] Q[uarters]. Some chance of liaison. So much better set up. Typewriter etc. Landing strip. Our food very dirty. No real organisation. Prisoners. Wounded US Correspondent John C[hancellor].
Saturday [10 June]
Not able to clear much up. Muddle ++. Pilots in odd Spitfires give us a touch of home. Try to pass letters. Paddy must be worrying after all this time. News in evening at American M[edical] O[fficer] [Captain Ballou]. Colonel. My gin drunk (from Duggie). Another noisy night. Dust real menace. No attempt to get clean – not worth it.
Sunday [11 June]
Miserable feeling in morning. Damp [and] cheerless. Awful breakfast. Service at 10.15 – very moving. Wandering for rest of morning. Small lunch. Washing clothes for first time (? worth it yet). Dust everywhere to make it foul again. Trip [with] Padre to “82”. Wrong direction so saw much of countryside. [Sentence too rubbed to read] Quite a number of shops. Masses of troops marching. Fog of dust. Front much nearer than expected (10-12 miles). No sound however. Another service in “82”. Quiet English field – Stoke Canon might have been. Real butter for tea. Everyone cheerful. I seem to have nothing to do now but time goes quickly. Very hard to keep kit together – disadvantage of having too much. Things still disappearing. Quiet evening (dull weather). Chat with Padre about marriages he had done. Bed 11.00. Bath in evening! First since Salisbury. Not as dirty as I had expected. Dust must act as cleaner.
Monday [12 June]
Weak through small meals. B[reak]fast [with] Americans. Quiet everywhere. Dust everywhere. Very surprised to see small part of coast in Invasion – nothing past Deauville. Had expected whole of N[orthern] France and S[outhern] France. Will there be a strong counterattack. We should leave here as soon as possible. (Med[ical] Note. Bowels obstinately regular in spite of small meals. Very public lavatory!) Not feeling very energetic – almost too much trouble to walk along line to latrine. Food noticeably better but still very primitive.
Cemetery service. Thousands of graves. Smell. Black troops guarding. 14 graves. Back by beach (Tidied now). Tea with Americans – still very good. Gives strength. Dust terrible all day. Main worry now.
Trip [with] Cap[tain] [Ballou]. Isigny. Worried about driving into German lines. (Still very ignorant of general position.) Patches of really heavy warfare [and] then calm countryside. Find café at last. White wine 200 F bottle. Chat with beret-ed proprietor. (Taxi driver from Paris.) See fiancée in kitchen for burns [and] otosclerosis. Thoroughly enjoyed this pioneer evening (only RAF in district). The nearest I shall get to the front. Life will soon be stereotyped I think. I don’t look forward to arrival of [S]ector H[ead]q[uarters]. They will be so much better equipped [and] cleaner. In terrible condition after our expedition but it was worth it. Best memory here so far.
Tuesday [13 June]
Still finding it very hard to keep even reasonably clean. Wearing same shirt as on Thursday. Shaving every other day. Sunday newspaper seen – pictures very like our show here (Curious sensation). Americans keeping me sane [and] balanced. War still seems on small scale – small front and not very deep [and] yet it cannot be heard. Washing session in morning has cleared air.
Excellent meal (tea) with Americans. Trip to Bayeux in Jeep. Isolated signs of battle only – burnt out cars (one with “J” registration). Villages all blitzed. Avenues completely peaceful (Exeter → Stoke Canon road!). Bayeux untouched. Typical French town. Drunken American soldier in alley. Champagne (300 F). Goodish. English seen for first time. Shops quite full. Onions. Scent wanted. News sheets. Ladies hats (Smartish). Perfect evening out. Completely another war. Dust bowl was not pleasant to return to. Our camp one further step down the grade. Getting organised – very contented really.
Wednesday [14 June]
War seems distant [and] less vital. Stale sights everywhere. Diarrhoea in morning made me wretched. Sudden news of move – disappointed because we [Padre, George Samter, Laurie Slade, “Chappie” Chapman and RNR] were just beginning to enjoy life. Shall miss American M[edical] O[fficer]s too. Last meal with them very good. Letter to Paddy via Northolt pilot – should get it Friday.
Expected some fuss over us at new site [82s] but were greeted coolly. General disillusionment. Terrible feeding conditions made situation worse. Tent with people from old site – keeping with Padre I’m glad to say. No one else to equal him. Frank discussion after meal. To have Theological background. Very noisy night to my surprise [and] dismay. Seemed to be target on several occasions. Terrifying. Too tired [and] warm to get out of bed. Appeared to be awake most of night.
Thursday [15 June]
We seem to be back in England in our backwater. No sign of any war. Time mainly spent in keeping clean. (No dust now luckily.) Arranging food with Padre during morning. Met A[ir] O[fficer] C[ommanding] – very charming. Congratulated us coyly I thought. He knows now what happened. C[ommanding] O[fficer]’s meeting at 4.00. Nothing very much decided. Breaking up into units. Complications in sanitation expected. No materials (applies to cooking also). Things will gradually settle if only we can get basic utensils etc.
Visit to US Hospital on motorcycle. As usual very nearly as good as civil hospital. Radio, electric light, nurses etc etc. How I wish I could be attached to one instead of doing nothing. No sign of ambulance, of course. Complete waste of time medically – enjoying it however because weather is good. No news today – no worry about that however! What matters anyway except the end of the war?
Friday [16 June]
Feeling less settled since muddle seems to grow rather than get less. Can’t do anything constructive because there seems to be no one in charge of sections to advise. Lying in tent this afternoon trying not to worry. First letters came today (by hand of latecomers). Two from my darling written on the Friday and Saturday – very brave [and] cheerful. Made me love her all the more. A reminder of a world outside this wicked senseless muddle. Can I stand much more of it? There’s nothing to go back on, unfortunately. Paddy enclosed letter from Flick at Culmhead. My worse fears are justified now I know they’re there. They have another M[edical] O[fficer] too! Why did I have to leave? New W[ing] C[o]m[mande]r arrived today – Ian Hay [Wing Commander Anderson had been wounded and evacuated]. It hardly seems possible [RNR had known him at Cambridge]. He’s very charming and doesn’t try to put it across me. Seems very efficient too. Sleeping with several others in a tent on floor. Time still going very quickly. Hardly time to read even.
Saturday [17 June]
Up early at last after a quiet night (My worst fear now is a noisy night). Shaved before breakfast for the first time I think. Sick parade at 9.30. Very few people. Scabies rather a problem. Found myself thinking what a difference Culmhead would be. Yesterday’s letters have shaken me. Sanitary round showed that conditions are slowly improving. Can’t do anything about it yet because of lack of materials. I think it will gradually shake down. Great thing is to avoid worrying. Hard when there’s so little doing during day. No news of war. No mail. Complete isolation. Time hardly exists. Hard to tell day of week. Happy band in our tent. Not worrying about rest of camp much. We’re still eating alone. Very well organised by Chappie [Chapman] – milk, butter etc. Could go on for weeks like this.
Outing with Padre in afternoon on m[otor]c[ycle]. A Saturday afternoon trip in perfect weather. What was my darling doing? I wondered. Clear roads mainly. 30 mph very comfortable. Bayeux. Shops. Scent (175 F) seems quite good. Tried to find book. Should I have bought scent for Mum [and] girls? I didn’t think I ought to buy too much, but someone else will get it of course. Visited Cathedral – complete antithesis of our field. Enquired after tapestry and were given rose by old lady [curator]. Very dusty journey to T[actical] A[ir] F[orce] in orchard. Mail and newspapers! Very like England. Well organised [and] happy. S[ick] Q[uarters] virtually complete. 2 M[edical] O[fficer]s. It didn’t seem fair! Given me ideas but shall I be able to do anything with such a small staff. My outfit is a travesty I’m afraid. Padre there very sympathetic. We left reluctantly. Nearly crushed by lorry coming back – guardian angel at work again. Face very burnt. Wizard meal waiting for us, well up to American standard. Missing Americans badly now – they add leaven to our life.
Future seems very boring to me. I can’t see any hope of anything interesting. Just longing to get away to something more substantial.
Sunday [18 June]
Senseless pottering about in the morning. Writing to Paddy most of morning and afternoon. Some washing too – the constant worry! Came across Capt[ain] Ballou by chance when looking for S[ick] Q[uarters] for H2O2 [hydrogen peroxide: antiseptic and disinfectant]. Everyone very cheerful. Great relief to me to have outside interest again. Away in Jeep from 21 W[ing] after very good service. Carentan approached until warned about shelling ?beginning of counterattack. Hurried retreat by 3 M[edical] O[fficer]s. Shell on second bridge as we went back! (Postcards in [Duggie] Highfield’s kit)
Monday [19 June]
Rain all day. Serious problem with outside cooking [and] leaky tents. Hard to remain cheerful. Visit [with] Padre to St. Laurent [1000 yards to south-east of Les Moulins]. Cemetery very muddy [and] cheerless. [Duggie] Highfield’s grave found.
Day went very quickly in spite of rain. Lay on bed drowsily quite a bit – couldn’t summon up energy. War situation not being followed closely owing to lack of radio [and] papers. Still no mail – serious inequality with rest of forces (US [and] British).
Tea with Capt[ain] B[allou]. Depression until we made some drink [and] retired to his tent. Reminiscences by “A” officer. Corner Club, Cheltenham. Ford RAF. Used to be in Canadian Army. Back 10.15 quite merry. Momentary relief anyway.
Tuesday [20 June]
No rain – great relief. Wind very strong. Difficult to work outside. Lunch [with] Capt[ain] B[allou]. Took Padre on cycle. Back soon afterwards because of sick parade. Writing Paddy [and] Mum all afternoon. Contact [with] “82” at tea. Hay very friendly. Couldn’t be more pleasant. Made medicine excuse to visit Capt[ain] B[allou]. Small tea [because of] stomach ache. Quiet evening reading – very contented. Being passive about medicine, but what else can one do? Keeping in with people well, I think. War news vague. Slow progress. Not very interested anyway. Night raids are only worry – and weather, which has been poor recently. Future still seems pretty hopeless. Camp beds arrived today for destitute. Much needed relief for the poor wretches. England seems hopelessly far away. I can’t take it really seriously. Writing easily but not very intimately. No chance of return post as yet. (21 Wing. Cinderella of A[llied] E[xpeditionary] A[ir] F[orce].) Main thing is that they’ve heard from me. I can wait of course. Lack of equipment is really an advantage, less worry.
Wednesday [21 June]
Away in Jeep to British lines collecting NAAFI packs. Dull weather, very high wind. Maze of notices. Base H[ead]q[uarters] looked very efficient. Offices with phones and light. Contrast to our place. Attempt to settle mail question not successful. Only unit without mail in Invasion. Lunch with R[oyal] A[rmy] S[ervice] C[orps]. Small mess as at Sopley. Real bread, which we didn’t eat. Very tired when finally reached home – fan hitting engine [and] making tractor-like noise. No real war news. Good to have seen some of English part – very much better than I had anticipated. Maybe we’re not so bad at war. (Powder for Mum, M[ary] [and] J[oan] and Mrs K[itto]. Good for conscience.)
Had to take patient round to Capt[ain] B[allou] as I had no materials for suturing. Stayed for tea [and] then poker against my better judgement. Very lucky to get away with 60 Fr. Very low hands all the evening. I felt out of my depth at first and then bored. Rumour that Cherbourg had fallen was false. General feeling of boredom now. Times goes very quickly however.
Thursday [22 June]
Feel lack of definite work badly. Time to worry about non-essentials (keeping uniform clean etc).
Small sick parade – very little I can do for them unfortunately. Lack of desk and room in tent makes it awkward for working. Letter to Paddy most of morning. Round to Capt[ain] B[allou] on m[otor]cycle. Lunch fair – not as good as before. Lent Jeep to take back patient. Letter writing after 2 pm parade. Felt ill for a while afterwards (probably due to boredom inwardly, I have plenty to do but subconsciously I’m unemployed.) Met Ian Hay at his tent and became involved in trip to Bayeux. I had hoped to have supper with Americans [and] had to return the Jeep quickly. Always happening that I have to make sudden decisions. Bayeux trip was surprisingly productive. We found another shop and I bought some lipstick. Drinks at “Lion d’Or” and then dinner (Soup Beef Peas Camembert 50 F). Not a brilliant meal but the first non-service one I had had in France. Reminded one very much of holidays in France [and] Belgium. Yellow wood furniture [and] gaudy painting. Surprised that we could have a casual meal. Mostly Americans eating. Ian unable to eat – gastric pain. Lent me money very generously. Search for Mag[nesium] Trisilicate [antacid] afterwards. At last located Gen[eral] Hospital. Looked very good. Met Col[onel] I[n] C[harge] on way out. Didn’t mind my depredation. Watched our light bombers going through flak. One hit but appeared to put out fire well. Perfect sunny evening made our outing holiday-like. It was fresh country to Hay, [Squadron Leader] Trollope and Tasker and they were quite excited. I feel a very old stager now that it’s ten days since I first visited Bayeux with Capt[ain] B[allou]. I feel now that I’ve had all the novelty I’m likely to get and long for normal life in England. A pre war summer holiday in an unattainable heaven, which M [and] D can still have! Future seems very bleak. No good worrying however.
Friday [23 June]
Lunch with Capt[ain] B[allou]. Not as good as usual but very much better than our cookhouse. At least able to wash mess kit afterwards. Feeling very much at a loose end in the afternoon – slept fitfully. Wandered round to “82” [and] as usual I picked something up immediately – the G[roup] C[aptain] wanted me to visit to new Chateau [Tocqueville]. Drove his heavily loaded Jeep after tea through Carentan. Very quiet in spite of the nearness to battle. Up coast road e[ast] side of peninsula. Many smashed gliders – impressive [and] depressing. Didn’t seem to have had a chance. Later came to site of naval bombardment – complete devastation. Towards Barfleur we were practically the first Allied troops. Bouquets – people almost hysterical. Small boy came in car to show us way to Reville. Wanted cigarettes badly.
Chateau very impressive. Dusty. German notices. Villagers had plundered. Library intact – ancient mostly. S[ick] Q[uarters] fair. Smell queer. Feathers everywhere. Some beautiful rooms. News heard in garden when we could also hear battle noises from Cherbourg. Living in midst of history. Slept in camp kit on mahogany bed in large room. Canopy above in gold. Very incongruous. (Polish prisoner.) Chapman O[fficer] C[ommanding] cleaning etc. Wrote to Paddy mentioning as much as I dared. Very hard to become used to such a historic place. Hard to fit in one’s picture.
Saturday [24 June]
Up 7.30. Hot water. Tea. Scrappy breakfast. G[roup] C[aptain] suddenly suggests England to see about ambulance. Sudden complete change of outlook for me. When? Where? How? 11.30 back to original site in Piper Cub. Excellent view of front. Felt slightly sick. Told to await instructions by G[roup] C[aptain].
Took Ingham to Bayeux on m[otor]c[ycle] to buy book [for his girlfriend] – Arduous [and] dusty but felt I ought to do it. Smothered in dust coming back. Tea [with] Capt[ain] B[allou]. Full of English visit. Went to 9th [Tactical] A[ir] F[orce] to arrange trip. O.K. Still waiting for instructions.
Hard to settle down now I’m afraid. Mail ++. 11pm.
Sunday [25 June]
Perfect summer day at last. 10 o’clock service enjoyed again. Almost too hot then. Waiting anxiously for news of my job. G[roup] C[aptain] came at eleven [and] gave me OK. Hurried packing – parcels letters [and] scents for people. Could I manage all this in the time? No definite plans possible because I didn’t know where I was going in England. Down to St Laurent strip [with] Ian Hay. Everyone very vague – 9th wouldn’t play. A Col[onel] gave permission for his plane however – to Newbury. Wondered what good that would be – no good trying anything else. Left at 3.45 feeling very worried about future [and] airsickness! Had a very smooth trip, weather gradually got bad. Low cloud [and] rain in England. Wonderful to see land untouched by war. Seemed impossible to be back again ([compare] Exeter last year after Scotland). Immediately lift to Newbury. Where next?? London Leamington, Exeter? Suddenly thought of Mary. In with Joan as luck would have it. Overjoyed. Trunk call to Paddy – very surprised of course. Sherwood – bad line. G[roup] C[aptain]’s wife and Chapman’s [doctor]. All very quickly. Just squeezed a bus with very chatty conductress. M[ary] and J[oan] waiting for me. Drinks in pub – they couldn’t wait to hear all my news. Thrilled with powder. Saw Jo[an] off. Headache when at Bucklebury. No supper. Worked hard at phone. Tangmere – Nye Timber. Sherwood. Paddy. All pretty well arranged in the end. Bath at Mary s room!! Slept in gardener’s cottage. Sheets! Wonderful.
Sudden change to England (French dust on boots [and] all that) was very hard to believe. Excitement gave me headache I think. Tomorrow should be wonderful. Not bothering about getting back. It’ll work out somehow. It always does.
Monday [26 June]
Anxious to start early. Phoned Nye Timber. Advised to try Old Sarum. Better [and] better. A plan at last to work on. How to get to Salis[bur]y now? Mary drove ambulance to main road. Series of excellent hitches to Salis[bur]y 10.30!! Haircut. Shopping. Paddy 1 pm. Silent embrace. Much talk at lunch. * Afternoon in room, couldn’t wait. Tea with duchess type (“Guards chapel you know” “Everyone killed you know” [The Guards Chapel Tragedy, 18 June]). Waiting for M [and] D. Suddenly came on Pop at door of his room. Queer to have our room now. Felt very superior. Dinner fun. Cathedral walk in dull weather, but they loved it. Back for news which didn’t materialise. Read diary in my room. Hair washed. Bed for 10 o’clock. New experience for us. Tried falling asleep together – not successful.
Tuesday [27 June]
Early awake. 6.30. * Bath. Walk round cloisters [and] Bishop’s garden before breakfast. Papers in Pop’s room. Surprised at our early rising. (Shook us too.) Anxious to get moving after breakfast. Attempt to get photo taken. But no luck. Padre prayer book. “The Seasons” (Later sent home!). “Bayeux Tapestry”. No room in “Bay Tree”. Cadena. Time going desperately fast. Beer for chaps [tent companions]. Back for lunch. Short drinks. Laughing over greyhound racing stories at lunch – tears down face. Canal walk with M [and] D before they left. Threat of rain. Dog left in water ?halfwit girl. Sad to say goodbye to Mum in room. Shopping. Tea at “Bay Tree”. Strawberries – sad child given some. (Book etc) Saw our duchess type again. Cinema 4.45 The Sullivans. A bit too near the bone, I thought. News recognised Carentan. A bit apprehensive about tomorrow. Would G[roup] C[aptain] be hard to deal with? London trip ordered? Would I be asked to account for time? Paddy very confident on evening walk that I wouldn’t be questioned. (Close. New bridge. Caravan [and] pub) Decided to leave worrying until morning. Early night after return from walk. Terrific noise from tanks 4 am. Slept again.
Wednesday [28 June]
Later than yesterday. * Bath. 9.5 B[reak]fast. Anxious about phone call to Group. Booked call [and] then shopped (“Sausage?” at breakfast.) Rain ++ Back at 10.40 promptly ?right number. Through to S[quadron] L[eader] Howat. Very cheerful. “Your stock is high here” G[roup] C[aptain]. Jeep booked. “Have a good leave!” Overjoyed in town. Dashing about excitedly. Scarf for me. Nothing for Paddy! Small Shakespeare (1904 not 1944). Lunch at “Bay Tree”. ?Thursday or Friday. Wandering contentedly round shops – no particular objective. Lunch as good as ever – look forward to meals. It’s a very good hotel. My resistance to returning is weakening. Result of our ever growing love and devotion on Paddy’s part.
Cathedral 3 pm. ?what sort of music. Organ started show (Still can’t concentrate sufficiently. Music seems blurred [and] out of proportion). Organist Sir Walter Alcock. Violin (Handel sonata) moving on other hand. Played by May Harrison – obese [and] middle-aged. Boy soprano very lovely at times – seemed very cool [and] collected. Dean (with glasses) made much fuss about simple announcements. Paddy recognised many faces from schooldays [Godolphin]. Catching glances at her during programme – sweet and serene. Terrific rainstorm afterwards, horizontal sheets.
Tea at W[hite] H[art] for first time – not impressed. Used own jam. Round to C S Ford in spite of rain afterwards. I was set on it somehow. Seemed very pleased to see us. Looked very much the same – slightly yellow. Away then to see if we could make Garrison Theatre (“I think married life must make you placid” in Theatre when waiting. “Oh sausage!”) Getting in near back seats. Average thriller. Good acting. Rain as usual when we came out. Still anxious about Friday in spite of Paddy’s advice and reassurance. I think I’ll find it was O.K. when I get back. Wonderful joint experience after early bed. Better and better. Seems hardly credible. Peace +++.
Thursday [29 June]
More rain. Weather unfair to R[ycroft]s! No bath [because of] no vacancy. B[reak]fast 9.5. Reading papers. Long wait. ?How to make most of our last day. Weather very much against us. Walk in rain (pullover for Paddy at Jaeger shop). “Blue Bird” dullish. Sat on close with young woman and small girl. Chased birds and dashed about joyfully. Would we have someone as sweet, I wondered? Airgraph to aunt in B[ritish] C[olumbia]. Windy still. Excellent lunch again (my last unfortunately).
(“Fancy wondering!” Paddy. 7 pm.) Away to catch 2.5 bus for old times’ sake. Fordingbridge in very overcast weather. Early closing. Suspicious looking convoy with airborne troops. Walked up lane to station. English countryside again. Quite like Normandy I thought. Singing happily with my Paddy. Went back to S[alisbury] for tea as there was nothing likely in F[ordingbridge]. [Picked up] “Listener” reserved [earlier] at small shop. “Cadena” coffee [and] toast. Really enjoyed it. Rain made further travels impossible so went back to hotel. Rested. Paddy journeyed alone – dear little P[addy]. No drinks before 7 we discovered. Started stampede by entering dining room first – undetected however. Took gins to room for consumption later. Waited for 8.20 phone call to L[eaming]ton. Out! To ring in morning.
Walked to Godolphin – met Miss Smith in gardens (I was scared at first about entering grounds. Good old D.). Very chatty soul. Shown swimming bath (small frogs!) Then visited studio, form rooms, science block. Discovered Cherbourg had Brest peninsula to west. Wanted to use Wimshurst machine. Perfect summer evening at last. Hurried home to drinks in darkening room.
Godolphin cont[inue]d. Met budding medical student in library. Visited cloakroom [and] WCs. Scene of Paddy’s poems. Waiting list [to] 1949. ?Stalked to bathroom by Gunnings.
Friday [30 June]
Rang Pop 9.15. Out. He rang later. Wanted to tell me he was pleased. Packing – hard to fit everything in. Very heavy case. Bought bread [and] many papers. Read them in corner of “Bay Tree”. Life seemed good in spite of having to go back. Prepared mentally now. Rang Mum a farewell – cheerful. Last sit on close – drew Cathedral. Bus 12.10. Heat +++. Paddy away a W: 1.35. Sad, but deliberately forgot it. Chatting in S[tation] S[ick] Q[uarters]. Saw General. All fixed [and] then cancelled due to weather. Mad dash back. Reading John O’L[ondon’s]. Tea very welcome – met P[addy] coming along street. “Bay Tree” small table. Disappointed when rang M[iddle] W[allop] to ask about later journey tomorrow. Worried about early morning journey with no buses but felt I ought to attempt it. Couldn’t clear my mind of this worry. Very tired before news. Sat near window in our old “34”. Better after news. Listened to Invasion Service at 6.30 in Cathedral. Surprised by influx of ATS [and] Army during service. Prayers sounded dull. ?Any effect on individual’s protection. Discussion on way back. To ask Padre on return. Heavy rain prevented evening walk. Read notebook (part of this) and John O’L[ondon’s] in lounge until 8.45. Another “last bath”. Unable to remember much good about previous visit to “34”. To bed early because of early rise on morrow. Paddy kicked out of bed 1.30. I awake suddenly [and] think I’m in tent. Confusion [and] then giggling. Very amusing interlude.
Saturday [1 July]
Up 7.00 sharp. Not very depressed. Breakfast very fortifying. Weather very poor. Spire in cloud even. Collection of papers – more by telling France story. Waited at roadside 7.50 – 8.50. Not able to get lift. Very disturbing to be left in air. Phoned with some trepidation at 9.15 and learned that no planes could go at moment. Jubilation. Bought “Homage to Hymen” at Smith’s. “Bay Tree” front room reading it hard. Continued on close. Left owing to spots of rain. Couldn’t very well complain however. Gunnings have drinks 12.15. Lunch with them after. Fun talking with them. Beer made us sleepy. 2.30 rang up – would I have to go? Arranged to go tomorrow afternoon. Real triumph. Still worrying about reaction at 21 W[ing] however. Have I overstepped the mark?
Walk to Mill [and] church beyond. Very muddy path. Had to carry Paddy. Made notes about architecture. Ancient English. Read tombstones [and] condoled with young deaths. Gave myself to 50 as a minimum. Tea room at Mill very gloomy – escaped. Very long queue Cadena. Sat near queue head. Not very cheerful I’m afraid. Music playing above us softly. The close afterwards. Paddy lectured about being depressed. Read our Hymen anthology until wind rose [and] blew umbrella away. Back for news – not relayed. Letter to M [and] D in writing room. Huge crowd for dinner. Wonderful meal (chicken. Beans Raspberries). Lounge almost empty except for Australian F[light] L[ieutenan]t [and] ?nurse. Kept us interested. Rain pouring down outside. To room 9 o’clock. Reading anthology in front of window. Quite late in end when we went to bed.
Sunday [2 July]
Half awake 7 o’clock. Very confused [and] dropped off now [and] again. Pretty certain I’d be going today. Breakfast 9.0. Bath afterwards because of going back. Rang up “nothing yet”. On Close. Strawberries on seat, papers. “Rose [and] Crown” discovered. People waiting for 12 o’clock. Cowley atmosphere. Dalmation chases kitten in yard. Beer on small barrel table. Old women came in with jugs for dinner beer. Think of life in tent later in day. Seemed very likely I’d be going then. Early lunch. No movements expected. To Cathedral in heavy rain. Surprised at small congregation (40 or 50. RAF in numbers). Service hard to hear from behind rood screen. Singing not good. Dean reads second lesson very clearly. Sermon by Army Padre – reconstruction after war. Platitudinous. Sudden ending. A depressing experience on the whole. Feeling very Sunday afternoonish. Crowd for tea. Went to far room without result. Finally begged tea after Gunnings. Theatrical people, were not inspiring and made us more depressed with our fellow men. Walk in rain to get away from closed atmosphere. No film worth seeing – crowds everywhere. Back to dinner which was civilised at least. Unable to go out afterwards. Sat in corner and idly looked through Sunday papers. Glad when 9 o’clock came and we were released. A sad day on the whole – mainly due to weather. (Paddy waltzed up [and] down pavement outside hotel and annoyed me because I wasn’t feeling in the mood for such things. Lecture when we reached our room!)
Monday [3 July]
Better weather. Seemed just about possible. “Words [and] Days” at Boots. “Bay Tree”, sitting near window reading sporadically. Caught 12.10 bus. Off at “Pheasant”. Closed. (RAF mess). Bus away by then. Lift to fork. Miles [and] miles to walk. Found baker and bought loaf. Ate it behind hedge and thoroughly enjoyed picnic. Seemed to be last bit of civilisation before leaving. Given lift in lorry to Wallop village. Tea room with hot atmosphere and radio, felt. out of place as officer. Rang up – still on. Walked to station – much too far after all our walking. Guard room No planes today! Very unexpected release. Overjoyed. Difficult getting lift with Paddy – U.S. wouldn’t play. Finish in great style, Major in Wolseley drives us to W[hite] H[art] door! Quick wash etc and then Cadena for tea. Upstairs. My favourite coffee. Everything perfect once again – no worries. Away to “Picture House”. Saw a really well done Nazi thriller “Fallen Sparrow”. Tense all the way. Acting made up for weak story. Almost as good as a first class play. Came out (6.00) into brilliant sunshine. A change in the weather at last. Our last evening would be fine anyway. The Close looked wonderful – we walked to the Bishop’s palace by a road we hadn’t been on before. Looked up at the light green leaves overhead. Had to sit on wall on way back! Gunnings could hardly believe I was back again.
Perfect evening. Walked to “Rose [and] Crown” via the Close. No beer. Some very foul orange cordial instead. Robbery. Sat on river edge on iron seat and watched people in small rowing boat. Later two girls came to bathe. Very noisy and not at all attractive. Seemed very late for such exercise. We didn’t envy them. Back to an early night in our dark, smelly room. No sadness because we were determined to be cheerful [and] live in the present.
Tuesday [4 July]
Clear blue sky – obviously going today. Breakfast on time. Had bath last night. Socks damp from washing but had to be put on – all I had with me. Good meal as usual. Paid bill (£8-8 since Friday). Shocked at first. Just managed to collect money between us. Unable to get many papers – everywhere sold out. Market day ?cause. Felt shabby after so many days delay. I was very clean on Friday of course. Lunch at “Bay Tree”. Last moments on Close. Looking for papers. Wretched old man kept pocketing copies he found on the seat. Aided by woman with lupus. Given Telegraph by kindly type playing with his stick. Bus caught well on time. Looked for yesterday’s landmarks on our way. Lunch past ’drome in cornfield overlooking O[fficers]’ mess. Last sweet moments with my darling. Walked back to Guard Room. No room this afternoon! Black despair. To ring up later. Did so at 1.45 “See what he could do”. Up road to teashop for cup of tea [and] cake. Radio playing. Hard to keep cheerful. Had to look out of the window occasionally. Didn’t dare to think of past few days. Separated at guard room 2.30. Hurriedly. After much talk was allowed a plane (4 GIs came on later!!). Smooth journey. Reading John O’London’s. Coast appeared sooner than expected. Barfleur seen first. Shaky landing in heavy weather. An hour arranging a lift on truck. Last vehicle just leaving as I arrived old site. Just my luck. To “82” instead. Papers given out in lorry. (Not seen again.) Capt[ain] B[allou] 7 pm. Glad to see me. At Field Hospital with Graves. Compared evening with last evening. Anxious to get to 21 Wing. Quite cheerful. Slept on paliasse with only two blankets. Slept well in spite of everything. Tired.
Wednesday [5 July]
Up 7.30. First to breakfast – just about edible. Waiting all day for Hay. Very wearing with nothing to do except read. Completely without kit for eating. No one seemed to worry about my return. Just given up hope of reaching Wing when Hay turned up (7.30). Good run back – ran over dog near Chateau. Everyone pleased at Chateau. Arrived 10.30. Search for kit. Managed to find bed roll. Slept in Padre’s room on Cox’s bed.
Thursday [6 July]
Surprised at good food at breakfast. G[roup] C[aptain] wanted written report at first, then I explained. Very busy moving into S[ick] Q[uarters]. Cherbourg afternoon. Chateau on way back. Reading letters.
[Richard Rycroft has made additions and annotations to the original in squared brackets. He would be grateful to be informed of any errors detected. Email firstname.lastname@example.org]