Days Like These

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The Independent Culture
3 September, 1939


writes in his journal on the outbreak of the Second World War:

"As 11 o'clock struck I had a certain feeling of relief that those 10 anxious days of intensive negotiation with Germany over Poland, which at moments looked favourable, with Mussolini working for peace as well, were over. Hitler would not & could not draw back from the edge of the Abyss.

At the outbreak of War at midnight of Aug 4th-5th 1914, I was a midshipman, keeping the middle watch on the bridge of HMS Collingwood at sea, somewhere in the North Sea. In the Grand Fleet everyone was pleased that it had come at last. We had been trained in the belief that war between Germany & this country had to come one day, & when it did come we thought we were prepared for it. We were not prepared for what we found a modern war really was, & those of us who had been through the Great War never wanted another.

The PM [Neville Chamberlain] came to see me in the evening. He was very upset but very calm that all his work of the past months had been of no avail to keep the peace of the World.

He knew that the Munich Agreement had prevented a European War last year & that he had been severely criticised after that for his foreign policy. He had at that time met Hitler face to face, & hoped that he had made an impression on Hitler, that a repetition of his behaviour then would be the end of our patience.

I broadcast a message to the Empire at 6pm.


theatre critic, wrote in his diary about the declaration :

"The Prime Minister's speech in the House last night was accompanied by tremendous lightning, but hardly any thunder. It was more like stage lightning.

At 10 o'clock today, Hibberd, the chief announcer, told us that the Prime Minister would broadcast at eleven o'clock. Next the country gave itself up to light music for an hour, ending with a "Selection from Princess Ida"! And then, at 11.15 precisely, the solemn tones of the PM. Speaking with an intensely English accent, Chamberlain told us that, since Germany had not replied to the ultimatum, England was now at war.

At half-past eleven the first air-raid warning goes. Orderly retreat. Nothing happens. "All clear" after half an hour. I see a man look at his watch and say, `They're open!'"