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Wartime Diary of a Customs Officer: Ch 3 - Jan - Apr 1940

by Bryan Boniface

Contributed by 
Bryan Boniface
People in story: 
Mr A.G.Pollard
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Contributed on: 
02 March 2005


1 Mon Fog prevails, all shipping at standstill. Rummage that old standby, the Batavier. Finished Robt Hitchens “Bella Donna” — a powerful story. Cleaning up the bedroom prep to embark on standing course of study. Wrote Kay & others.

2 Tue Still v. cold. Snow which has not cleared away has frozen to ground. Was careful to wear jacket & overalls when rummaging as protection against cold. Put in a good evenings work clearing up almost all letters written, and other jobs.

3 Wed This morning, hand wash — bowl trap frozen, but luckily, other water services working. Getting used to cold now. Recommencement of study classes. Mr Burgess C.P.O. took us in “smuggling” from 5 — 8.15 pm. Wish I had his knowledge.

4 Thu I did not mention that Monday was change of station for P.O.’s, and that the new men are now installed. Having been absent from the upper end of the river for a number of years, I met many old friends. Thaw set in making study conditions better. (Warmer)

5 Fri The thing of paramount importance in my life now is study for impending P.O.’s exam. (March). Even between periods of rummaging I manage to do some study, and to do fairly well at home when the wireless wasn’t blaring downstairs.

6 Sat Half day. Went to Saddlers Wells theatre and saw “Marriage of Figaro”. I greatly enjoyed it. By appointment, went to Kings Cross Road police station and collected a wallet containing £3.2s.9d and a book of stamps, which I found and handed to the police a month ago. (Dec 2) I am still liable should a claimant appear. Heard that Mum had purchased a 6 guinea hearing aid, so gave her a guinea towards from my find. Elsie came (alone).

7 Sun Last day relieving in “Harpy” rummage crew. Tomorrow i.e. tonight, I start my minute as a “Harpy” boarding officer. Great activity amongst those changing stations, parcels packed etc. and although it was foggy, gear was delivered at Surrey Dock & Shadwell.

8 Mon Terribly dark at night time, bulk of work done in morning. 6.45 onwards.My companion is Stan. Moe?r (?), a likable fellow, we shall get on well together. Went shopping, visited library, and studied. Sent Kay half my “findings” (see 6/1)

11 Thu Intensely cold and frosty. The runways and decks of launches were treacherous. Of the 4 stained glass windows in side of house, 3 had caved in seriously; probably also due to differences in temperature in & outside of house. Afternoon & evening spent similar to last 3 days. Sent off 8th preliminary paper to tutor.

17 Wed Still very cold, many people roundabout frozen up. Dad worked for 1½ hours on bathroom waste pipe outside house, finally cleared it. Studied in my room although electric fire insufficient to properly heat it. River duty 4/11.

18 Thu Spent some time writing to Kay, having received a letter from her today. This curtailed my study time but I was able to put in an hour before leaving for 4/11 watch. Now fully frozen out save main tap. 4/11 watch: normal for home 11pm to find pipe burst in loft. Dad & Jack busy.

20 Sat Reverted again to bitter cold. Patrolling the river and keeping a lookout was a painful business, it seemed as though my cheeks froze. To add to the dangers, a newly arrived vessel had a cargo of Esparto Grass over which we had to clamber. It was all disarranged with thin slippery planks over the gaps. This work has been most busy on the 4/11 watch. Glad to have it and the weeks work behind me.

21 Sun After the thaw on Friday, we are all frozen up again. Some people locally have even their main taps frozen and obtain their water from special tap off street mains. Snow fell later, taking the sting out of the air. 4/11 watch not quite so busy.

28 Sun Snow 1 foot deep this morning. Up 6am but waited ¾ hour for train on Raynes Park station, ¼ hour on Waterloo Junction. Difficulty in getting them out of sheds due to snow. Sleet fell all evening and on my way to night watch at 9 pm, Southern Railways withdrew service.

1 Thu Before arriving home, call for my suit at Burtons, fitting seems OK, but finish to suit seems ‘cheap’. Thence to library to return book and to look out details of Saturday’s travelling. Slept part of day, wrote usual end of the month letters. Received Christmas gift @ uncle Harry something.

3 Sat Caught the 10.40 am from Euston to Preston — and what a journey. Snow lined the permanent way, sometimes 8 inches thick, often engulfed the signalling wires, and putting system out of action. Proceeded very slowly and arrived at Preston 5 pm. Nearly 6 before left, and arrived in North Station at 6.40 pm. No buses to Layton, so eventually walked, arrived Drummond 7 pm. Kay waiting at Central Station, so had to walk there to find her. Returned by taxi. Kay, Betty and Beryl all fine and overjoyed to see me.

6 Tue Thawing rapidly here although thawing began in London before I left. Am getting pretty good rest, but principally from getting up very late. Kay, Beryl and I went down to town shopping. Woolworths, etc but it was very slushy underfoot. RAF boys were assisting to clear snow piles.

11 Sun My last day in Blackpool. Spent it in close company with Kay and the children, only going out to get medicines (including whisky!) recommended by Dr on his visit. Beryl much better, but not properly well yet. Ken came over. We had a “reading circle” around fire. (Dead quiet for 2 hours)

12 Mon Left Blackpool with a memory of Kay’s tears, Betty’s smile and little Beryl’s pale sleepy face. 10.10 am from Central, change Preston. An excellent journey by comparison with the outward one. Home by 5.30 almost. Warmly welcomed, Jack still convalescent from measles.

14 Wed Exchanged half days with obliging colleague and saw “The Importance of being Ernest” at the Globe Theatre, Piccadilly. Cast including John Gielgud, Edith Evans, Gwen Ffrancgon Davis & Peggy Ashcroft. Good production, acting good.

18 Sun The cold snap now has almost lasted a month, snow is common place, Friday’s melted away to mud in the afternoon. 8/4 River, cold hands and feet in launch nothing arrived up. Yet another blind up against “black-out” = bathroom.

24 Sat A beautiful sunny day on the river such as I had hoped for on my holiday at the beginning of the month and provided for accordingly. (suit). Our launch broke down and caused us a little inconvenience, but I was away in time to get a seat for the matinee at Saddlers Wells “Don Giovanni”, which I much enjoyed. My only grouse was an obstructed view, but this is one of the known drawbacks to Saddlers. Left home 9 again for 11/8 duties.

26 Mon Give due thought and prayer to my precarious chances in this exam. Felt I had not been fair to Kay for all her past sacrifices and to my children, whose care and education God has entrusted me. At 8 pm began an 11th hour endeavour.

29 Thu Lemon and antiseptic gargle eased throat took more food. Became aware of my disgraceful unshaven condition and after sleeping best part of day, got up for toilet and decided to remain up and to go to work as usual tomorrow.

MARCH 1940
3 Sun Off duty. A beautiful sunny day but rather chilly. Had slept with Jack in his single bed giving him a terrible time with my constant coughing. He did not complain. Long walk over Wimbledon common to windmill, Very enjoyable. Looked up “health” in evening.

5 Tue The great day. Found my way to Burlington Gardens alright, and there met many old colleagues now in other ports. Did better at the first paper than at the second where I did not know all the duties. Estimate 50% marks. To film “Stars Look Down” in evening.

8 Fri Beryl’s birthday. Just one bless her. Letter from Kay says frock is lovely, also my sleeping bag (see Wed 6). Had my oral exam at 4.30 pm: as with written exam, didn’t feel so happy about it. The agony is waiting for the result (June). With Mum to “Beggar’s opera” at Haymarket. FG.

16 Sat Worked through the half day, and went to the opera — “Faust” at Saddlers Wells. Had a good view, (that is the important thing at SW. in the pit seats, hearing’s quite OK) and enjoyed the show. Received an agreeable surprise when I arrived home — 4 letters from people with houses for disposal: too late to investigate when I had had my tea. Letter from Kay too. I had begun to worry.

18 Mon Pouring with rain, house hunting a miserable job. Cleared up a little towards 11 am: did some telephoning, made enquiries at two agencies, visited houses in Somerset Avenue, and in Lambton Road. Later to one in Tennyson Avenue which seems to be the thing.

19 Tue Being unable to see the landlord of the Tennyson Avenue property because I am on evening duty, I arranged an interview with his wife at their Wimbledon home. Competition for the house has been keen she said, but I could have it on a one years agreement (Doing interior repairs) for 23/- a week.

20 Wed Rainy come sunny. When sunny it was brilliant and a long white yacht passed “Harpy” going down. Received written confirmation of tenancy of Tennyson Avenue. Rent now 24/-. Wrote Pickfords re removal, and advised Kay.

22 Good Fri Spent the morning in my room sorting out matters consequent on our setting up a new home. I estimate an expenditure of about £10 at least. Went with Mum and Roy to tea with Sid and Doll, met cousin Cicely and her new husband Jack.

23 East.Sat Met my landlord Mr Hopkins for the first time at his Wimbledon home and there signed the agreement respecting the occupation of our new home. Also did some Easter shopping whilst in Wimbledon. George, Elsie and children were spending day at Mum’s and George and I returned to Wimbledon later to see a cinema show at the Elite. Received a letter from Kay. Seems rather apprehensive about the house in view of its low rental.

25 EastMon A complete exodus by 3 pm: Dad and I to work, Mum again to Lou’s, where Roy has been staying overnight, and Jack out cycling with friends. (Only 2/3 of usual traffic this Easter owing to petrol rationing). Fred called over from Sid’s where he is staying. 4/11 watch uneventful.

26 Tue Out again on the 8/4. Only two ships on the south side but more expected. Learned by telephone of Pickfords inability to remove me Friday and wrote to Kay telling her of altered date = Tuesday Apr 2nd. Mum, Roy & Laurie playing monopoly.

27 Wed Final arrangements with removers and with Crown for moving in Tuesday Apr. 2nd. (Crown for necessary leave). Went down with Dad to look over interior decorations being done. Dad seemed impressed with the place — clean.

29 Fri Arranged for a half day’s holiday to show Kay house. Blithely set forth at 3 pm., Mum looking after Beryl for us. Kay not satisfied, determined to break agreement (see 23rd) and seek somewhere else. Saw a nice house nearby 29/-. Visited Hopkins & withdrew from agreement.

30 Sat Beautiful sunny day with rather a cold wind. Beryl was out in the front all morning watching passers by from her pram. Fine weather persisted and allowed Kay and I with Beryl in pram to view houses (exteriors) around Grand Drive. All of the 35/- & 32/6 variety. Phoned an agent regarding one in Greenway. Feel certain we shall find a house near enough 30/- a week somewhere in the locality. Off to work at 9 pm for the night watch.

31 Sun Our second day house hunting and it looks as though we have found something. After the night watch, I slept all morning, Kay and I with baby in pram viewed houses to north of Raynes Park station. An agent directed us to Elm Walk, later and we found a house which delighted Kay.

APRIL 1940
2 Tue Another busy day. Don’t know whether I’m sorry because of the tiring effect, or whether I’m glad because shipping is improving. Visited Hopkins (see Friday 29th) re a demand for two weeks rental in lieu of occupation of his house. Paid one week only.

4 Thu Typical April day of showers and sunshine and occasionally a strong wind. Fortunately was out on the launch during the latter weather. Mum offered to look after Beryl again and off Kay and I went to Raynes Park cinema. Splendid show, Dianna Durbin in “First Love”.

6 Sat Half day, and went to Saddlers Wells to see “Barber of Seville”. Had invited Kay to accompany me but she was not interested in opera. Show moderately good having seen better. All spent the evening in save Dad who went as usual to whist drive. After two late nights, Kay showed a preference for an early night in, for which I was profoundly thankful.

7 Sun Was given key of Elm Walk house by agent and went up with Kay to see it empty. Was a little less under Kay’s influence this Sunday and disputed on the score of excessive distance to the station. My side of the question wasn’t considered important.

9 Tue Today, Kay and I to Morden to local fuel office. Since deciding to take up a house have found out the effect of the war on the individual.- forms for food, forms for fuel etc. Explored the Morden shops with an eye on convenience for future shopping. Ordered coal. (3/6 a cwt).

11 Thu Kay and Mum went to Tooting Co-op in the morning for some blackout curtaining whilst I looked after the children. Betty, (under persuasion) was a great help in the house. Came home at 11 pm to find curtains ready made.

12 Fri Moving in day. Preparations in morning (window cleaning, paper laying) and van arrived noon. All furniture in by 3 pm. Only one breakage, Betty’s doll. (Which rather upset her). Spent remainder of day setting to rights.

13 Sat Great commotion, children bathing, feeding etc. but by 11.15, all dispersed, save Beryl whom Mum looked after until Kay, Betty and I had returned from shopping. Set off from Mum’s to take permanent possession of our house just like a colonising expedition, pram loaded up and each carrying packages. Once arrived, fixed up radio, de — vaselined Betty’s bicycle whilst Kay prepared meals. Mum came as I left. Work via Morden.

17 Wed Timed myself “Harpy” to home; bus, tube, bus and walk with good connections = just one hour. Fare 8/4 watch = 1d + 7d + 1d = 9d. Seems reasonable. Kay and I did a bit more ??? to ????. Would wish for similar opportunities this evening.

18 Thu Simple journey to Kingston to Dolland and Aicheson opticians, after work. Eyesight test and required glasses. Prescription to be £2/2s/6d, test 13s National Health and 4s HSA. Kay also requiring glasses. Called in on Mum, better. Turned to, and fixed front bedroom small.

30 Tue Shipping very slack in the pool; must be diverted elsewhere. Our work was confined to one ship. Increased rate of postage — 2½d for letters, 2d cards — takes place tomorrow, so did some letters writing. Called at Mum’s for sewing machine.

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