In the spring of 1943 Britain was enjoying exceptionally warm weather, the best for almost 50 years. It must have helped raise spirits as the war went relentlessly on, with no end in sight.
In London Vere Hodgson was still keeping her diary, which she had maintained throughout the worst days of the blitz. The war was now the backdrop to every domestic activity, with the pubs crowded with military personnel from every service and Allied nation, the food limited in availability and unexceptional, and death and destruction ever present in the background:
Sunday, 11th April 1943
A real Florentine Spring. Went with Mrs T. to find ‘Dirty Dick’s’. Have long wished to do this. It is a Pub in the City…
We found it opposite Liverpool St Station. Dirty signboard outside. We descended to an underground vault, filled with men of all nations having a drink. No women there. Mrs T. bravely approached and we had two glasses of port. We drank to her son in H.M.S. Sussex, and her husband serving in India.
We looked around. Innumerable sailors had scratched their names and ships on the walls. American soldiers were interested: Old leather bottles, heavy with dirt, hung from ceilings. One old scallywag seated on a barrel, gazed at us much amused. In spite of the dirt and cobwebs somehow the place was pleasing to the eye.
Upstairs was another bar done in the old style with notices inviting people to go below and see the Old Vaults. But no available history to buy during the war.
I suggested ‘The Cheshire Cheese` for lunch, not bombed. We poked our way up an alley. No lunches on Saturday. … But we found ‘Ye Old Cock Tavern’ in the Strand. … We had Fish and potatoes and Xmas pudding. Not much of anything, but we enjoyed ourselves. 3/- each.
Walked through the devastated Temple. The most serious scene of ruin concentrated on one set of historical buildings, just appalling! Went to the river and saw Discovery. The sea scouts were playing about in rowing boats…
Dr Remy and I had tea with Auntie Nell. He considered I was in an optimistic mood. I felt we ought to count our blessings. Sir Alfred Baker head of his legal firm, has died. He was Chairman of the L.C.C. and had done much for the refugees. A whole family, friends of Auntie Nell, the Smallwoods of Birmingham, had just been drowned at sea. She was very upset.
Actually a little cod fish this week – not much taste, but we have enjoyed it. Cheese ration to be lowered.
[An Air Raid] Warning last week. But the All Clear led to two Anglo-American horses running amok. They were just passing Ladbroke Rd Police Station when it boomed out. The horses started at a gallop. The brake broke and the unhappy driver could not hold them. They charged straight for the main road, crossed it and crashed into a tree at the corner of Holland Walk.
When Miss Ashton passed the ambulance was taking away the driver. Other people were coping with the horses. When I arrived both poor creatures were up Holland Walk, shaking with fright. One had a piece out of his shoulder and a damaged eye. The other was all of a tremble. A little boy had jumped clear, and he was holding them while a woman was covering the uninjured one with a rug. No bones broken. The Vet was putting stuff on the wounds of the other.
Worthing has had bad raids. Miss Jones was going there to stay with two sisters. She wrote and got no reply. Their brother sent word that they had both gone out to tea to a house with two ladies -it had a direct hit, and all were killed.
As to the war, we seem fast turning Rommel out of Tunisia, In about two months we shall attack Sicily. Perhaps this is too optimistic. Fatal for me to get cheerful – some awful disaster always follows rapidly.