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Wartime Diary of a Customs Officer: Ch 1 - Intro, Aug - Oct 1939

by Bryan Boniface

Contributed by 
Bryan Boniface
People in story: 
Arthur George Pollard.
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
20 February 2005

Arther deliberately did not included official details of his working life in his diary “in case this diary should fall into enemy hands”
Italic printing = I’m not absolutely sure I’ve deciphered Dad’s writing correctly.
Question marks indicate where I cannot decipher what Dad has written.
Super script notes = my notes where I feel a comment necessary.
PO = Preventive Officer
APO = Assistant PO
When the war started, Dad was married to Kay with 2 daughters, Betty , born 21st November 1931 and Beryl, born 8th March 1939.
He had his mother and step father ( his ‘real’ dad was killed in 1st world war).
He was the oldest son with five brothers, one Roy, a half brother many years his junior. The others were: Sidney, Fred, George & Jack, not necessarily in that order!
His wife, Kay was from Blackpool. She had a mother and father and three sisters. Vera, an actress and a Tiller Girl, Aurea, married to a professional footballer and Myrtle.
Kay herself had been on the stage until marriage.
They had further children, a boy in 1941 and twins — boy and girl — in 1943. Sadly, the baby boy of the twins, died on Christmas Eve 1943 at 8 months.
Kay and the family were evacuated to Blackpool for three periods during hostilities. They lived in Dagenham, in a rented house, when the war started, but on evacuation of his family to Blackpool, he soon gave up the house and moved back with his parents in Raynes Park. Then, as the family moved to and from Blackpool, so followed two other addresses in Raynes Park.

24 THU Up to the present, I have excluded “war” as a diary topic: now however, the situation is serious and news bulletins are being given continuously. The radio was giving them up to midnight, and though in bed, I could hear them through walls from next door.

25 FRI Being on holiday, decided to ignore war scare news. Merely looked at daily papers and did not listen in. Spent a pleasant “lazy” day, giving Kay a hand, mending Betty’s bike (front fork nuts). Spl listening interval to R. Normadic, 2.45 — 3.45 serials.

26 SAT Quite a fine day but with the prevailing threatened storm. At first, decided to walk into Barking, but on this account, shopped locally (Valance). Begin to see through Kay’s eye’s now, the dirt and squalor of this district. Really owe it to her to get away.

27 SUN War — scare even more serious than expected. Tremendous rush to buy things stated as “necessaries” for children rehearsing (it is hoped) evacuation tomorrow. Betty should go (if at all) with Kay and Beryl, Tuesday. A day of worry for thousands.

28 MON The little kids went off today with their rucksacks and haversacks and their gas mask boxes bobbing about as toddled along. But they didn’t go away. Waited about all day, and played, but no news. So they’re home again.

29 TUE Have we been busy at work! The returns of shipping required! So often does the telephone ring that the 4/11 and 8/11 APO’s have to stay in the office. Clerical needs tend to keep me at the office late. Don’t study, have to ease off at home!

30 WED Another busy day with orders and counter-orders from those “on high”. Keeping up with it though. Relaxing by gardening! Of all disliked occupations. A little a day’s not so bad. But oh! How much this is to do in my 120 feet back!

31 THU After watching political events closely and talking the matter over with Kay, decided to send her home to her mother again (although they only returned 18th). Spent evening packing up and finally saw them up to Euston. Thousands evacuating London.


1 FRI On this day, the government thought it a wise policy to evacuate all school children from London, Blind persons and cripples, and expectant mothers, and Mothers with children under school age to follow. Pleased my lot had got away.

2 SAT No half day today, even though I was to appear for duty again at 10.30 (11 officially). Kept myself busy though with Abstract. First experience in travelling in complete black — out. No train or bus lights hardly. Dangerous travelling.

3 SUN As all the world will know in the future, war was declared on Germany at 11 am. I had not long been in bed when the air raid sirens went — an unholy noise — so jumped up, conveyed all into kitchen and lay on floor out of way of broken glass.

4 MON Another false alarm at 3.40 this morning. Mr Bell and I did as above- we on floor of office. There was rent to pay in, shopping to do, laundry to sort and bundle and a bath to have (besides cooking).

5 TUE Things are getting a bit worrying. Relieve at 10.30, - ½ hour earlier; left at 8.45 = ¾ hour late. Additional business of shopping and cooking meals has led to little time for house cleaning, washing up (what an accumulation) and lawn mowing. How (and all last week) the Crown steal my time.

6 WED Grumbled at late relief yesterday, today left 10.15 am 2¼ hours late. This was due to an air raid warning 7 am — 9 am. Raiders only reached outskirts, radio reception evasive. Everyone doing defence arrangements.

7 THU A neighbour whose garden meets mine at right angles at the bottom has loaned his ARP shelter to Mr Higgs, in his own and families absence. Mr Higgs has invited me to “dig” in too, in the case of an air raid. Very pleased to agree! Second letter from Kay — worried.

8 FRI No news up to time I left home of whether O.K. to go to Mum’s for weekend. Want confirmation as she may have left London herself to a late neighbour’s at Eastbourne. Postal arrangements are upset just now. Busy day but achieved nothing extraordinary.

9 SAT Card from Mum on mat when I reached home, so cooked breakfast, shaved and left for Raynes Park. Arrived 12.30. great welcome. Lou and children living with Mum, Dad and Albert came in dinner-time. Also George after seeing Elsie and children off to Berks. George is now in British Red Cross. While Mum and Lou went shopping remainder of us took our ease. Jack and I practiced with good effect together on clarinet and piano. After tea, played radiogram.

10 SUN A very happy day after days of depression and loneliness. George came back again after being on Red Cross night duty, and F and M came in car with Pam and new baby Keith. We four boys went for walk (not forgetting our gas masks) over Wimbledon Common. With this war getting so serious, shall we all be together in the future?

11 MON Debated the question of Kay’s temporary return next ??? with Mum and our plans for the future. Finally sent a letter asking Kay to come home and arrange our future existence. Left Mum and Lou and children (now temporary living together) amid fond farewells 2 pm.

12 TUE Rather spoiled my day by getting up late. By the time I had seen to my toilet, and cleared up, shopped, cooked dinner, cut sandwiches, there was only time to get off an important letter. Cheap day tickets withdrawn! My fares now 1/2d a day!

16 SAT Had my first wash up for a week. Took me one hour. Not that there was a lot to do, but scouring pots and pans took half an hour. Mowed one back lawn, too. Neighbours previously self evacuated, returning. One next door neighbour back, “home-sick” I think. Much clearing up before Kay comes home.

19 TUE Well the telegram did not say “noon”, it said “morn”, and I was barely up when a ring on the bell came and Kay came flying in having travelled overnight. We had a joyous reunion and much to say, but I had to leave at 1 pm for 2/10 duty. Freed at 8 though, by CPO.

20 WED 6/2 watch. No vessels to board but visited Woolwich for GO’s etc. Left 11 am for half day. Kay and I talked (and argued) over future plans, visited Pickfords, Ilford, Barking Corp. re billets allowance, Betty’s education and baby’s gas mask, and finally reached home with a 36” trunk to send home any items she chose to take, as we have decided to close house and store furniture.

21 THU Kay was up with me at 5.30 am. and spent all day packing up things for store. At 2 pm, I made a round of removers for better storage terms than Pickfords (7/6 per week). Also, had a good turnout and found lots of junk. Took another suitcase to station for Blackpool.

22 FRI Said bye bye to Kay and left her waving to me out of the front window. 6/2 but spent a considerable time writing a memo to WS re working in district 2. Came home and wrote many letters, and did a little towards clearing out.

24 SUN To Mum’s to ask her if she’ll have me for a lodger. Glad she will and arranged terms. Had a fine carefree day, we four boys — Jack, Fred, George and I. Played “Monopoly” a very enthralling game. George and Fred were visiting like myself.

25 MON Up at 5.30 am and timed my travelling for future reference — 1½ hours door to door (North Woolwich). Very busy day. I did not leave till 4.30 pm again. (Very late last night, watch work). Left very little time before dark to work on clearance of rooms not blacked out.

26 TUE Went along to Ilford Lane, Pickfords to sign agreement for furniture storage, at £3/10s for removal and 7s/6d per week. Can’t be done till next Tuesday however. Hoped to get away Friday. No other removers available. Notice already given.

28 THU It seems that pressure of work will now depend on the arrival and sailings of convoys. Ships began coming up river at 2 pm. a convoy having safely arrived. Missed the rush fortunately. Still sorting out papers, evening.

29 FRI Continued sorting out and put all my books of instruction into a suitcase, for conveyance to Mum’s Sunday. Disposal of some old uniforms etc into willing hands. Wrote a couple of letters, one enclosing £7/9s/10p premium, and made out my registration form.

30 SAT Up to stores branch and to uniform contractors re bad fitting jacket. To be rectified. Dinner in the coffee shop opposite Woolwich police station, which I have patronised this last fortnight, as they sell excellent meals at a reasonable price. After resting for night watch, bathing, housework, letter to Kay and packing of carton holding electric fire by conveyance to East Ham Cloak Room tonight and thence to Mum’s tomorrow.


1 SUN The dear old launch broke down, so we had an uneventful first night watch. To mum’s for the day, taking gear previously mentioned. George in his Red Cross uniform was there, now reunited with Elsie and the children. Had to leave at 8.30 for 10.30 duty.

2 MON Running around the river in a tiny launch, borrowed from the “Harpy”. At home, substantially cleared out the largest bed and living room ready for removal. Received a visit from the national registration man, who gave me my identity card.

3 TUE Sugar ship from Cuba at Woolwich buoys kept us active during the night watch. Keeping up the schedule, today cleared front-room. Thus, almost half the house is now ready for Saturday. Disposed of about 1 cwt (I think) of reading matter.

12 THU Up 6 am. At Raynes Park station at 7.15 and there bought season ticket one month to London Bridge as I shall be stationed there or near it for the next month at least. Fare = £1/5/3d = 10d a day. In rummage crew for a few days. Companions good fellows.

13 FRI A river trip in the morning, and a rummage of a Yugoslavian in afternoon. Heard from crew of their hatred of Germans. Conditions on board their ship dirty and untidy. Evening doing some work in my room and to bed early. Jack Harris, Mum, Dad and Jack playing “pontoon”.

14 SAT Half day. Heard from Kay that she will be coming home on Tuesday. In consequence, down to Raynes Park station to make some enquiries re tickets and to Post Office for a withdrawal! Mum, Jack and I went to the Elite cinema, Wimbledon in evening and saw Lewis Stone and Mickey Rooney in “The Hardy’s Ride High” — a family story. It was so good that I deplore missing three others of the series previously. We were in good company and the seats were only 6d!

16 MON Proof of ARP in the pool. Two hospital ships, (late pleasure steamers), a fire float on which ?? constant jet playing and practice, many yachts and speed-craft. A (late) Polish vessel at the buoys still proudly flying her national flag.

20 FRI Half day spent with Kay and the baby. Beryl still queer but brightened up when we took her shopping. Mum had left on a visit to Roy (long evacuated to Barnstaple), so Kay took over culinary arrangements.

23 MON A night “on the march” with Mr Spencer PO but well enough at 11 the next morning to see Kay and Beryl to station. Beryl still teething. Parted at Euston without tears knowing she will be back next month. We “motherless” men managed well by ourselves in evening.

24 TUE Back to normal now Kay and the baby have gone. Hope to recommence studying Custom Regs. Exams postponed to March because of war, giving me extra opportunity. Mum returned home from Barnstaple at 8 pm, having had excellent time visiting Roy.

26 THU Full night and morning patrolling up and down our 5 mile (I think) station. Could not sleep very well at home. The intense cold of the night being carried into the day time. Up at 2.30, to hairdressers and post office. Wrote Kay. Did a very little study.

28 SAT The absence of shipping arriving or sailing somewhat alleviated our patrolling, half of which was quite unnecessary that we did so. Thankful when it came to 8 that the work was over. Home to bed till 1 pm. Pleasant afternoon, (quiet) and afterwards, Mum, Jack and I to Wimbledon, to visit cinema. I went off separately, but was unable to get into any cinema owing to popularity of the film, so came home and listened to “Band Wagon”

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