A wartime diary of a Norfolk schoolboy


Jot 101 Wartime schoolboy diary pic 001 Found among the papers of the academic and occasional writer Patrick O’Donoghue is this tiny diary covering the first four months of 1944, when, from the style of handwriting and the details of his leisure hours activity, he appears to have been around ten years old.   The document is interesting in several respects. Although the entries are often brief and record rather dull events (  I went on a walk’,  ‘ Libraries today’ ) they paint a vivid picture of the life of an ordinary schoolboy in wartime, both in the country and in London. But there are puzzles in this split existence. Although he lived near Ayslsham, north of Norwich,  over the Christmas holidays of 1943/44, he ‘went back’ on January 8th to school in London, where he visited Foyles bookshop and viewed  the bomb damage done to homes in Thorpedale Road, Crouch Hill ( presumably near to where he lived ). Patrick also recorded an air  raid  for January 21st.


London seems to have offered far more entertainment for Patrick than rural Norfolk had ever done. There were films to be seen, and one he particularly anticipated was ‘The Phantom of the Opera ‘ starring Claude Rains and Nelson Eddy (1943), which had eventually reached London by February 11th, which is when  Nora ( possibly his elder sister) saw it with Seymour ( possibly her boyfriend) . The previous evening the couple had seen ‘The Girls he Left Behind’. It is likely that Patrick, as a juvenile was barred from seeing both this ‘ romance ‘ as well as the horror film, though he did see‘ Behind the Rising Sun ‘ at the Astoria. One of the films he intended to see was shown at the library. One wonders if this, like ‘The Battle of Britain ‘, which he was to see in Norfolk in March, was a government propaganda film — actually directed by Frank Capra and made in the USA–of which there were quite a few during the War.  There were other forms of entertainment, besides films.  On January 29thPatrick recorded that ‘ Uncle Jim brought a huge load of comics today. I bought 3 comics too. We know that he favoured The Dandy, which had only been published for a few years. And of course, there were books available from the library. Those he borrowed were the usual adventure stories and thrillers ( The City of the Sorcerer and Scouts of the Sky) and T. C. Bridge’s Adventure Omnibus.   Then on February 22nd he ‘came home’ to Norfolk. Here he bought two books in Norwich and on the 23rd listened to the Charlie McCarthy comedy show on radio. Rather alarmingly, he and a friend or two on the following Saturday afternoon made a ‘ bomb ‘, as doubtless many boys did at the time. For every day of the following week he seems to have had a ‘good time‘, with or without his friend Derek. 


But then it was ‘ school again ‘ for the young Patrick on March 6th, but this was in Norfolk, rather than London. For entertainment after classes he saw two films, ‘ The Youngest Profession ‘ , a comedy about girls who sought out celebrities for autographs and ‘ The Battle of Britain ‘ as well as perfecting he and his friend’s ‘ hideout ‘. Books from the ‘ library ‘ ( presumably in Aylsham ), visits to pictures houses and reading The Dandy comic seem to have occupied much of young Patrick’s leisure hours, though there was also dutiful attendance at church on most Sundays. Patrick had friends—Barry, Derek and Ronnie– in Norfolk that he played with. So why in January and February had he spend six weeks at school in London ? If, late in 1943, the authorities had estimated that the German aerial bombardment had lessened, they were proved disastrously wrong in January 1944, when beginning on the 22nd, the ‘ baby blitz’ pummelled London for many weeks, killing hundreds of citizens. So why was Patrick allowed to live in London during the height of this bombardment?

To be continued. [R.M.Healey]


3 thoughts on “ A wartime diary of a Norfolk schoolboy

  1. R.M.Healey

    Yes, I agree about the different hands. I cannot understand why anyone would want to contribute to someone else’s diary, but I am working on it. Perhaps his mother wanted to remind her son about taking back the books he had borrowed, but the diary contains other hands whose presence is not easily explainable. Nous verrons…


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