Insight found into Horncastle life during wartime

Shirley Bell Diary
Shirley Bell Diary

Wednesday 4, Thursday 5 and Friday 6 of September 1940. “Horncastle is no longer quite what it was: On Wednesday night Herr Jerry carefully dropped five fairly heavy bombs on our ‘East End’ and did a bit of damage, not much really, but he created no end of a commotion.”

This extract is from a diary written by Shirley Bell, of Horncastle, during the first year of the Second World War.

The diary was given to the News by her nephew Robert Bell, of Robert Bell & Company, and it gives a fascinating insight into some aspects of wartime life in the town.

Her first entry reads: “War! declared against Germany by France and Great Britain...We heard the bombers ‘go’ and ‘return’ tonight having done their dirty work.

“A spy is already reported to have been caught.”

Her writings also include a list of the Horncastle ‘Territorials’ including two family members A H Bell and R H Bell.

Robert said: “Robert (Bob) was my father and Anthony (Tony) was my uncle.

“There are also a lot of names that can be recognised from local businesses.

“Pte C D Spratt was from Achurch’s and Capt H R Tweed was of Tweed & Peacock which is now Chattertons.”

The Bell brothers were members of the Territorials but were sent to separate parts of the world.

Tony went to Norway and then spent a year in Iceland as there was concern that the Germans were going to invade.

He then served in North Africa before he was captured and taken in as a prisoner of war in Italy. Tony was repatriated in 1944.

Robert’s father was injured on campaign in Burma and also returned home in 1944.

“I’m incredibly proud of them and everybody who went through the war,” he said.

In February 1940, five months after the outbreak of the war, Shirley writes of how rationing had come into force and allowances were “four ounces of bacon, four ounces of butter and three-quarters of a pound of sugar”.

Robert added: “It’s interesting to see the perspective of someone who was living through it.”

March 2, 1940 - “Yesterday, yet one more rumour went round the town: - that at 8.15am and 2.15pm there had been heard loud explosions which most certainly had their origin in one of Adolph’s bombs.

“Today the ‘rumour’ was confirmed, however, as someone had been to Skegness yesterday and had actually seen a convoy being attacked by six Nazi planes!”

In April 1940, Shirley wrote that Bob had been inspected by the King and that Horncastle “swarms with soldiers like a city of siege”.

As well as writing about her thoughts on the state of war, she also includes information about the price of goods.

“Potatoes fetched 9/3 a bag a fortnight ago.

“Eggs are 1/8 a dozen owing to the invasion of Denmark, an unheard of price at this time of year.”

May 4, 1940 - “Horncastle plods along in its own sweet way.

“There is little news of the local Territorials though it is almost certain that they are now in Norway, as Lord Haw-Haw has announced that some of the 4th Lincolns have been captured at Steinjak.

“We see the funny side and think of the 100 or so valiant Horncastrians marching along in an unknown mountainous country headed by Reggie Tweed, Alex Greenwood and Brethren.

“All clad in bearskins ,etc. Surely enough to frighten any Nazi, however true.”