She was a busy member of the community…talking, teaching, helping and listening to people in wartime Norfolk and when she went home she would gather her thoughts and write a diary.

Her name was Rachel Dhonau, who lived and worked in Sheringham and Norwich, and her diary was, and still is, an important and fascinating record of life at the time of Mass-Observation, the unique project established in 1937 looking at everyday life.

I last wrote about her diary in the book Wartime Norfolk 20 years ago when it was published by the Norfolk Record Society and now our readers have the opportunity to snap up the last few copies at a reduced price.Eastern Daily Press: Rachel Dhonau pictured in April 1933

Edited by two professors, Robert Malcolmson and Peter Searby, this is a diary that testifies to the diversity and tensions of wartime experience, as recorded by a sensitive and perceptive observer.

A time when Norfolk became a theatre of war and hundreds of people lost their lives in the bombing raids in the city and across the county.

Rachel Marguerita Piechowicz was born in October 1909 at Melton Constable. Her father Leonhard died a few weeks after her birth and she was brought up by her mother Maud Copland.

Her father had been the station master at Melton Constable and when he retired in 1918 they moved to Sheringham where she first met her husband-to-be Jakob.

Both had German roots, were staunch anti-Nazi, and when war broke out Jakob joined the army.

Eastern Daily Press: Rachel, Jakob. Tim, Nicholas and Max at Sheringham in August 1950

They didn’t see much of each other from then on and Rachel took up a full-time clerical position in the Sheringham food hall, which administered regulations for the control of food, while her mother looked after their son Timothy, then aged five.

In the middle of 1941 she joined Mass-Observation and her diary is described as one of the richest of all the wartime journals. She writes well, with clarity and vigour giving a vivid picture of life at the time.

Rachel left the food hall to work as a teacher at the City of Norwich School in 1942 – as the bombing increased causing more heartache and horror.

Let’s have a very brief look at what she was writing.

Sunday July 13 1941: Perfect summer weather – and in a place like Sheringham, war seems very remote – until one sees soldiers, barbed wire on the beach and planes overhead.

Friday July 18: It was a very busy day at the office again. The country buses come in today bringing all the farm labourers’ wives who want extra cheese for their husbands and sons. They find it very difficult to feed their families on the present rations.

Sheringham had a War Weapons week last week and raised £60,000 – Cromer, the neighbouring town, is having one this week, but is aiming at £20,000 only. People in Sheringham watch with bated breath in case they should pass our total. There is great rivalry about everything between these two places.

Sunday October 30: We are having plenty of excitement here – 24 ship-wrecked mariners were landed – their ship had got entangled with the invasion devices, so the men had to be brought ashore by our lifeboat.Eastern Daily Press: Rachel (holding Nicholas), Maud, her mother, and Tim, in early spring 1945

Monday, November 3: I went to the pictures to see something called Virginia which wasn’t good. But there was a lovely Micky Mouse called The Society Dog Show, which was good. And so once more to bed.

Saturday November 15: Expressions of regret everywhere because of the sinking of the Ark Royal. I learn the waters from Yarmouth to Sheringham are called “E-Boat Alley” because it is in this stretch of sea that the torpedo boats often attack the convoys which probably accounts for much of the banging I hear.

Thursday February 19 1942: General campaign today of “We must get rid of Churchill.” Mrs A says the soldiers at North Walsham were annoyed because Churchill had sent the Norfolks to Singapore without proper protection.

(t) It was in March that Rachel left her job at the food hall and started teaching at City of Norwich School and lodged at the diocesan training college which was destroyed in the April blitz.

Wednesday March 4: Another day over. And already I feel more at home. I conducted more lessons today and had one interesting debate about co-educational schools which was surprising in its revelation of the reactionary views of the boys. They referred to girls as females and disliked the thought of giggling females at the school.

Eastern Daily Press: The scene at historic Oak Street in Norwich following the April 1942 blitz

Monday April 27: I was awakened by the siren and suddenly some bombs, There was a quiet period, then the bombing really started and went on for about an hour. We sat in a supported scullery. It was all over in about an hour.

Tuesday April 28: Everyone looked pale, but cheerful and discussed nothing but bombs all day long, There were only about half the children there today. There was a good deal of damage done and heavy casualties.

We will end our look at Rachel’s dairies by looking at what she had to say about Wednesday April 29. The night of the second Baedeker raids over Norwich.

We went to bed as usual, but woke to the sound of bombs, The raid was short, but very intense and in our area there were some big fires started and the college to which the hostel belongs was burnt down. Only four or five firebombs on the roof – but we could put them out and the whole place went.

She goes on to explain in great detail about what life was like in Norwich following the raids and ends her book with a remark often heard:

“What good does it do? What a silly business this all is. They bomb us, we bomb them, and where does it get us? It doesn’t do us any good if the Germans’ homes are destroyed.”

Rachel also writes so well about the impact the arrival of the American’s GI’s had on the city and county and the racial tensions between black and white soldiers.

After the war Jakob concluded his military service as a sergeant in the Intelligence Corps and they settled down in Sheringham with their three sons, Timothy, Nicholas and Max. Both worked as teachers in Cromer, Sheringham and Norwich.

Eastern Daily Press:

Wartime Norfolk: The Diary of Rachel Dhonau 1941-1942 edited by Robert Malcolmson and Peter Searby and published by Norfolk Record Society can be bought via their website at

The price is £15 and EDP/EN readers get a 20pc reduction by using the code EDP 202024.

Eastern Daily Press: Harmers large clothing factory in Norwich  destroyed in March 1943