Seventy Years Ago Today …

… Neville Chamberlain broadcast that Britain was at war with Germany. In Wartime Britain 1939-1945 by Juliet Gardiner she quotes from the diary of  a twenty-four year old civil servant living in Croydon on 3 September 1939:

The sun is shining, the garden never looked lovelier – everything is in bloom. Tiger [the cat] lies there in the sun; all looks happy and peaceful. But it’s not. War has broken out between England and Germany, beastly, beastly war.

 Winston Churchill’s frame of mind was rather different. He wrote in his memoirs, The Second World War Volume 1: The Gathering Storm, that he knew if war came a major burden would fall on him. On 3 September 1939 he wrote

As I sat in my place [in the House of Commons], listening to the speeches, a very strong sense of calm came over me, after the intense passions and excitements of the last few days. I felt a serenity of mind and was conscious of a kind of uplifted detachment from human and personal affairs. The glory of Old England, peace-loving and ill-prepared as she was, but instant and fearless at the call of honour, thrilled my being and seemed to lift our fate to those spheres far removed from earthly facts and physical sensation.

And so it began …

5 thoughts on “Seventy Years Ago Today …

  1. Two beautifully written examples from that day. I like the contrast between the two and yet they are the same. They know that tremendous personal tragedies lie ahead for so many people. A very sad day in history.


  2. Churchill’s words are interesting, because I do think there is that moment of calm when something dreadful that has been hanging around finally arrives and you can now face it. You know where you are at last, even if you don’t like where you are.

    On the subject of Neville Chamberlain – of course I live in prime Chamberlain territory and my absolute favourite blue plaque can be found on a house just a few miles away. It reads “Neville Chamberlain lived near here.” Opens up all sorts of possibilities, doesn’t it? “Queen Elizabeth would have slept here if she’d thought about it.” “Oscar Wilde thought about having a drink in this pub.” The list is endless.


  3. Margot, yes both are contemplating a period of calm, yet anticipating the worst.
    Rhapsody, I was surprised to to realise how long ago it was – to my parents (both dead now) it was their youth!
    Ann, I haven’t heard of that plaque – how funny!


  4. My dad is celebrating his 88th birthday on Sept. 7–he was just a few days shy of his 18th birthday when war broke out. He joined the RAF and was stationed in Montreal before going on to Manitoba for training–he met my mother in Montreal and she followed him to England after they married and she lived with his family throughout the war. Thanks for posting these two passages–my dad never talked much about the war but was thankful that he could fly instead of shoot. Now he is a victim of dementia and doesn’t remember much, so I will have to in his place.


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